The worst-kept secret in The Walking Dead universe is Andrew Lincoln’s departure from the series in season 9. Lincoln’s exit has been reported by most of the major trade publications — Hollywood Reporter, Deadline, etc. — and speculated upon on all The Walking Dead fan sites. The catch, however, is that AMC has never confirmed it, and new showrunner Angela Kang won’t discuss it. “We don’t want to spoil anything,” Kang told The Hollywood Reporter earlier this week.
The fact that neither AMC nor The Walking Dead producers will confirm Lincoln’s departure has also left fan communities in a frenzy, and in some places, they’re speculating that Lincon’s exit is The Walking Dead’s greatest troll job. That Lincoln is actually not leaving but that AMC is using that speculation to drum up ratings.
In any respect, the swirl of rumor and speculation these last few weeks has led to a number of fan theories, some more feasible and logical than others. Here’s a quick rundown of the leading theories:
1. Maggie Kills Rick — The most logical theory — given the events at the end of season eight — is that Maggie Rhee ultimately kills Rick Grimes off the show about midway through the first half of the season. At the end of season eight, Maggie rages at Rick for refusing to kill Negan, and in the final minutes of the season finale, Maggie and Jesus plot their revenge upon Rick and Alexandria with Daryl looking on. Unless Angela Kang aborts the Rick/Maggie face-off, it’s the most likely storyline to do Rick in, especially if he is killed off early in the season.
This theory seems to suit what we know, namely that Lauren Cohan has signed on to six episodes in the 9th season and may return in the 10th season, while there are rumors that Rick Grimes could be killed off in the fifth episode, meaning that Maggie will outlive Rick.
2. Rick Leaves Alexandria (But Survives) — There’s another popular theory that follows a scenario that I think is more likely to apply to Maggie than to Rick, but it’s possible, too, that Rick isn’t killed off, but rather moves to another community. We know that there’s another massive community out there called The Commonwealth and that Georgie may be from that community. Having accomplished what he set out to accomplish — namely, rebuild Alexandria and pass the leadership baton onto a new set of characters — Rick may feel that his job is done in Alexandria. He could take Judith and escape Alexandria in that helicopter and relocate to The Commonwealth and live “happily ever after,” but also still have the option of returning to The Walking Dead down the road.
I’m less inclined to believe this scenario because, where it concerns the show’s lead, fans are going to want something far more definitive and less anti-climactic than a bittersweet wave goodbye.
3. Rick’s Death Opens a New Chapter on The Walking Dead — There are rumors that season 9 of The Walking Dead will actually have two time jumps, one of a couple of years and another longer one, of four or five years. That actually makes sense in light of two possibly conflicting messages about the upcoming season. At one point, Angela Kang said that Rick Grimes “opens up the season in a place where things are relatively good and peaceful for him,” but she has also said that “we’ll explore what happened as man-made objects and structures break down. Infrastructure like roads and bridges are changing and crumbling. And we’ll also explore what happens as resources are getting low.”
What if, when The Walking Dead returns, Alexandria has been rebuilt and Rick is in a “good and peaceful” place but that his death — via Maggie, The Whisperers, or some other outside force — is so demoralizing for everyone in the community that they just give up. That when The Walking Dead time jumps again, they’ve found themselves in a place where everything has fallen apart without Rick, and the remaining survivors have to finally figure out how to pick themselves back up again. That effectively reboots the series sans Rick.
4. Rick Commits Suicide — I do not like this theory — I don’ think The Walking Dead would go this emotionally dark — but it’s one that is circulating. It suggests that, without the two forces that have kept him going all this time — his son Carl and his wife Lori — that Rick puts his house in order, so to speak, by rebuilding Alexandria and putting the places in piece for others to lead the community. Once he’s in a place where he feels comfortable that the rest of Alexandria can move on without him, Rick chooses to end his own life, seeing little reason to go on without his family. This scenario could play into theory number three, which sees the rest of the community go to hell without Rick ahead of a second time jump.
5. Rick Doesn’t Die or Leave — Finally, some fans are suggesting that the rumors about Andrew Lincoln are not true, and one guy even claims to have heard from someone close to The Walking Dead that Lincoln is not leaving the show. The theory may or may not be bolstered by this tweet:
Personally, I don’t believe this theory for a second.
We should get some more insights when the trailer for The Walking Dead season 9 is released later this week before we get definitive answers when the series returns this fall.