With the bomb that was dropped on the world of The Walking Dead in the form of the announcement of Andrew Lincoln’s departure from the series at some point next season, it is truly the end of an era for the zombie apocalypse drama. Lincoln’s portrayal of Rick Grimes has been the driving force of the show from the pilot’s opening scene until now. It’s all been about Rick, his choices, and how they effect the others in his group and those that oppose them. So what does the one-time ratings giant do now that it’s losing its star? Who can step into that lead role?
This is actually a situation that has been building for quite some time in the comics on which the show is based. Rick’s son Carl has been just as much a focal point as his father in story arcs over the last several years. The series’ creator, Robert Kirkman, has implied on more than one occasion that Rick is going to die in the relatively near future, and that Carl will take over as the lead character. It makes perfect sense. And it would have made perfect sense for the show as well…but unfortunately, Scott Gimple idiotically (and I’d say rather shadily) fired Chandler Riggs from the show last season. Carl is already dead. So the character that is literally a product of that world, who has been raised in it, lived a good portion of it without the safety of walls, had to fight to survive, and has killed both people and walkers alike to do so, is not an option. Which is a shame as even Negan commented last season after discovering that Carl had outwitted him in the bombing of Alexandria, that Carl was “made for this shit”. And he really was.
But I digress. I could write an entire article on how stupid the decision to kill off Carl was….but I won’t, and that’s not what this article is about. Another strong choice would have been Maggie, played exceptionally by the lovely Lauren Cohan. Sadly, she is only signed up for 6 episodes this season, and has accepted a role on a new show on ABC, meaning Season 9 will almost assuredly be her last. This is even more notable in that with Carl gone, and now Rick and Maggie following shortly behind, that three major characters that are still alive in the comic are now going to be dead on the show.
So with Carl and Maggie sadly out of the picture, who is really a prominent enough character and actor to take over? Daryl would have been a decent choice a few seasons ago, but his character has devolved down to a shell of his former badass self, speaking mostly in grunts, living in a constant state of anger, and continually making stupid decisions that cause horrible outcomes. Maybe Carol? While I know she has a large fan following, I’m personally not one, but even looking at her objectively, I just don’t see enough in her character to be a lead. Same with Michonne and Ezekiel. Love them both, but they’re just not big enough personalities to take over that role.
The only character I really see with that kind of personality and is played by a large enough star to build the show around is Negan. But how crazy would that be? That the man that murdered fan favorites Glenn and Abraham, scarred Dwight’s face, ordered the attack that killed most of the people from the Kingdom and Hilltop, and bombed Alexandria could take over as the lead of the series. I would think that would have to be the biggest character turn in television history. To go from the primary antagonist for 2+ seasons, and being the baddest of the big bads in the series, to the lead protagonist. But in all honesty, I don’t know how they could go with anyone but him. If nothing else, should they choose to go that route, it would certainly make seeing his progression over Season 9 particularly interesting.