When the back half of The Walking Dead Season 9 kicks off, the show will definitely look different to anyone who hasn't paid attention since Season 2, with nearly the entire original character lineup having gone the way of the dodo bird. And the most important exit of them all is coming when Andrew Lincoln's Rick Grimes says farewell. But don't go thinking AMC will be hanging The Walking Dead's hat up when Rick's nine years are up, as AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan says plans are in place to keep the Dead franchise going for at last another ten years. In his words:
The Walking Dead is a universe...and we have a plan to manage over the next decade, plus. That plan is a careful plan to respect the world of the fans of that world.
AMC's Josh Sapan spoke earlier this week at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference (via THR), where he was asked about the drooping ratings for The Walking Dead, which still remains a top TV contender despite the smaller audiences tuning in specifically for live airings on Sunday nights. And as it's gone in the past, Sapan brushed aside any worries that the network is going to react wildly and impulsively to anything along those lines. I mean, I'm sure all the AMC execs would love it if ratings for The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead suddenly doubled and tripled in Season 9 and Season 4, respectively, but they're not putting all their eggs in that basket.
Because at this point, The Walking Dead is far bigger as a pop culture entity now than it was when the TV show first started. As Frank Darabont and comic co-creator Robert Kirkman were working together on the AMC adaptation, The Walking Dead was merely a bestselling zombie book that comic fans loved to talk about, and there were no guarantees about how successful it might be in other formats. But thanks in part to Andrew Lincoln's portrayal of Rick Grimes, on top of all the other qualities that make the TV series stand out, The Walking Dead is now a global phenomenon that produces video games, board games, clothing, toys, tie-in novels, glassware, and everything else in the marketing spectrum.
As such, AMC has to be invested in The Walking Dead TV series in much more macro ways that can't fully consider Lincoln's exit from the show as anything bigger than a wrinkle, since there are so many other moving parts to think about. Granted, there are undoubtedly lots of fans who will indeed stop watching The Walking Dead when Rick is gone, or when Maggie leaves, but for everyone else who is invested in the universe as a whole, we could be shambling along in the post-apocalypse until at least 2028. Could The Walking Dead actually stay on the air for a longer stint after Rick leaves than it did when he was still around? We'll be here to keep watch.
While we still have no real idea yet just how Andrew Lincoln and Rick will be saying goodbye, we don't have long to wait. The Walking Dead Season 9 will make its grand and extended debut on AMC on Sunday, October 7, at 9:00 p.m. ET.