In a somewhat confusing and startling turn of events, it has been confirmed that Andrew Lincoln will be leaving "The Walking Dead” after its upcoming ninth season, according to a report released by The Hollywood Reporter. This news comes as a shock to fans all over the globe as audiences find themselves asking: Who’s going to take the place of the leading character, and what’s the reason for his early departure? Likewise, it leaves the continuation of the show itself hanging in the balance.

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Andrew Lincoln will be leaving 'The Walking Dead'

The show first debuted on AMC in 2010 and introduced viewers to the character of leading man Rick Grimes – who is portrayed by the one and only Andrew Lincoln.

The show quickly escalates as it follows Rick’s battle through a zombie-filled dystopia after waking up from a coma to find a post-apocalyptic world. Based on the comic book series by Robert Kirkman, the television portrayal – which has an impressive rating of 80 percent on RottenTomatoes – has been adored by fans around the globe for many years. Keeping the zombies coming, the bullets firing, and the action rolling, audience members continuously found themselves hanging in the balance and waiting for the next episode to air.

However, it has now been confirmed by a report released by The Hollywood Reporter that the main lead of the show, Andrew Lincoln, will indeed be making his final appearance in the upcoming ninth season. Whilst Lincoln himself hasn’t spoken about the confirmation of his exit, some say it’s a long time coming, as he previously alluded to the fact that his character’s life is coming to an end in an earlier interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

The continuation of 'The Walking Dead' is unclear

One of the biggest reasons as to why this comes as a shock to audience members and fans of the show is narrowed down to the fact that Rick Grimes continues to be the main focus of the comic book series. Whilst it’s true that the show hasn’t followed the storyline of the graphic novels down to the tiniest of details, it is wondered how the television series is going to continue when it’s making such a dramatic leap from the narrative of the comics it is based on.

In light of this new information and the news of Lincoln’s departure, many fans are now speculating that it’s about time the series just comes to an end once and for all. It has previously been hinted at that Lincoln’s contract was due to be up at the end of the eighth season, and the television network AMC was hesitant to renew a ninth season for the series as well. However, it seems that, despite the departure of the star, the show will go on.

Norman Reedus could receive a $20M contract to be the new lead

Without Andrew Lincoln starring as the infamous yet beloved Rick Grimes, fans are left wondering who’s going to take over as the main focal point of the show.

At this moment in time, it seems likely that co-star Norman Reedus – who plays the motorcycle-riding and crossbow-wielding Daryl Dixon – will take over the role as the main character. Whilst it was said that Reedus’ contract was also due to be up at the end of the eighth season [VIDEO], it has now been reported that he has begun shooting season nine in Atlanta with the rest of the cast. Unnamed sources close to the series have released details noting that Reedus is currently in contract negotiations, and, in turn, he could be awarded a new deal worth more than $20M to become the leading star.

Whilst fans are understandably upset to see the departure of Rick Grimes and the show is going to feel somewhat hollow without the seemingly ever-present character, Daryl Dixon is beloved by fans of both the comics and the series far and wide. If it turns out that Norman Reedus is the new lead, audiences can only hope that he’ll carry the mantle and continue to bring the show to new heights.