WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for The Walking Dead#192, by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Stefano Gaudiano and Cliff Rathburn, on sale now.
Despite warnings from series creator Robert Kirkman, the death of Rick Grimes caught many fans off guard. With Rick no longer alive in the comics, there's some question as to if his death will end impacting the AMC television series where, from a narrative standpoint, Andrew Lincoln's Rick appears "dead," when he's actually just missing in action.
AMC's producers wrote Rick out of the show when Lincoln wanted to return to England to spend more time with his family after working on the series since 2010. Rather than officially kill him, the show had Rick get swept away by a river after an explosion outside Alexandria and carted off via helicopter to some mysterious community.
The network made clear Rick's story will continue in a trilogy of movies, allowing Lincoln a schedule over which he has a bit more control as compared to having to be constantly on set season after season in Georgia. So in that sense, the main series did remove its star from the equation and kill him off in terms of how he'll factor into its storyline. However, Rick's death in the comics makes some wonder if the show will have to follow suit and finally kill the character for real. Ultimately, no; it doesn't have to.
While the series hews relatively closely to Kirkman's books, it takes a lot of creative liberty. We've seen characters like Andrea get their lifespan cut short on TV as opposed to the books, while other characters are actually still alive on the show, such as Ezekiel and Carol. With that in mind, even if AMC wanted to truly kill Rick off, the network will follow its own formula, as its path is very far gone from Rick's in the comics. In the latter, he died trying to create unity at the Commonwealth after getting shot by Sebastian Milton. Carl put his zombified father down and, guided by Michonne, is taking him to be buried.
Rick's Season 9 arc is incredibly different, as Carl died the season before and Rick had a child, Rick Jr., with Michonne before he went missing. Of course, the Commonwealth hasn't even appeared on TV and it's not clear if it'll be used in the films, so if AMC ends up killing Rick off, it'll most likely be under a very different set of circumstances. However, the network didn't pull the trigger the first time, making clear it doesn't want to waste its biggest asset and the recognizable face of the franchise. Lincoln's Rick is more than a character, he's a sub-brand for the show, and the mere fact he's getting his own movies proves AMC wants to max out the mileage on him.
Could he be killed at the end of these three TV movies? It's definitely possible. However, the network and Lincoln may have by then figured out a way to have Rick appear in the final stages of the series in a major or minor role. After all, little is known about the plans for his character, so Rick could reconnect with the series at some point.
What is clear, however, is both groups will be soldiering on without Rick. With Danai Gurira (Michonne) and Lauren Cohan (Maggie) also exiting the show, there is a lack of leadership and star power, which really seems to indicate AMC will prefer to write them out but still keep them alive to work back in at some point -- whether in the show or in their own movies. Again, these are the strongest characters to whom fans are the most drawn, so it just doesn't seem feasible to start putting them in the grave.
The comic has the advantage of still having Michonne, Maggie and Carl as Kirkman revamps the series as he sees fit. He doesn't have to worry about schedules or if they're missing their families, they're creations on a page he can run with for as long as he wants. Rick's story ran its course, and so Kirkman fired him, so to speak. In real life, however, it's not that easy as actors might want to leave.
That said, the comic and show are two totally different mediums. Although they have some similarities, AMC is on a totally different path -- and has different concerns -- than what Image Comics is putting out. Ultimately, they're providing two different products which should be treated as independent entities.
The Walking Dead #193 goes on sale July 3.
AMC's The Walking Dead stars Norman Reedus, Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride, Josh McDermitt, Christian Serratos, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Nadia Hilker, Dan Fogler, Angel Theory, Lauren Ridloff and Eleanor Matsuura. The series returns for its 10th season in October.