Rumours have been swirling that Andrew Lincoln will be exiting “The Walking Dead” after the upcoming ninth season, and the star has finally confirmed that the show will indeed be facing a future without Rick Grimes.

Prior to a “Walking Dead” panel at Comic-Con on Friday, Lincoln addressed his impending departure for the first time.

“I don’t want this to turn into either an Oscar acceptance speech or an obituary,” Lincoln said during a press conference before the panel. “This has been… there’s nothing but gratitude that I feel for this whole experience, and love for this bunch of people. It’s changed my life, in a myriad of different ways.”

Added Lincoln: “[Showrunner Angela Kang] and the writing staff this season have been amazing. It’s so good, and so energised. There are two episodes this season that are possibly two of my favourites since the pilot.”

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Kang jumped in to tease Rick’s exit. “Rick has a really cool story this season,” she said. “Andy is always amazing, but he’s doing such incredible work alongside this cast, so we’re telling a story about where he’s at after the incredible soul-crushing loss of his son Carl, his really surprising decision to save Negan at the end of the war and [exploring] what are the after-effects of that and how we build from that.”

On Thursday, Robert Kirkman, creator of the comic book upon which “The Walking Dead” is based, confirmed Lincoln’s departure from the show.

“It’s looking that way,” answered Kirkman, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

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“It does make the differences between the comic and the show more pronounced,” he added (Rick is alive and kicking in the comics). “But at the end of the day, it’s all about Andrew Lincoln. This is a human being. This is someone I have known for almost a decade, somebody that I love. He’s been sweating in Georgia, away from his family, for so long.”

While Lincoln’s exit has been rumoured for a while, THR points out that Kirkman’s comments mark the first time anyone connected with the show has offered confirmation.

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Without revealing any spoilers, Kirkman promised that producers will pull out all the stops to guarantee Rick’s exit from the show will be a memorable one.

“He cares about the fans,” Kirkman said of Lincoln. “He cares about the show deeply. He wants to do something special on the way out. We have something amazing planned. I wouldn’t want to spoil anything, but anybody who has been a fan of his journey, who loves Rick Grimes, who loves the world of ‘The Walking Dead’, you’re going to want to see what we do.”

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Meanwhile, “TWD” showrunner Angela Kang spoke with THR, and while she didn’t confirm Lincoln would be leaving, she did offer some hints about the upcoming season.

“Rick opens up the season in a place where things are relatively good and peaceful for him,” Kang revealed. “He made that unexpected decision to let Negan live at the end of season 8, and we’ll deal with some of the after-effects of that because it was such a momentous thing. And the trauma of losing his son Carl, even with the passage of time, is something that is still painful for him. We’re going to see him try to turn that pain into something positive for everybody. Rick will face some real challenges along the way. The thing that I hope the audience will respond to is seeing how Rick’s underlying goodness and leadership will shine in moments of great adversity.”

Check out this trailer for season 9 that debuted at Comic-Con:

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Spotted At Comic-Con 2018