The Walking Dead has been on forever, at this point, and over the last decade it’s been one of the most popular shows on television. It used to be one of my favorite shows, but eventually I had to jump off the misery carousel as seasons ran together with a lack of significant development in plot or character. It just became the same thing over and over, punctuated with scenes of increasingly spectacular cruelty, particularly as the show began indulging in fan-baiting dramatics like the is-he-or-isn’t-he-dead Glenn psyche out. (To be fair, I quit reading the long-running comic for the same reason, just too much of the same thing over and over.) But though ratings dropped over the last year—as they have for pretty much everything except Game of ThronesDead remains popular as it heads into its ninth season sometime later this year. 

But it’s looking more and more like the ninth season will be the “last” season of the show as we’ve known it. The Walking Dead has always been a series with high character turn-over, but a handful of core characters have held it together. And then Glenn got killed off, and last season Carl joined the dearly departed. Now, it’s looking like season nine will be the last for Maggie—Lauren Cohan’s pilot Whiskey Cavalier got picked up by ABC, so she’s on her way out—and, somewhat shockingly, OG protagonist Rick Grimes. Collider is reporting that Andrew Lincoln will exit during season nine, apparently intending to appear in only six episodes.

What will The Walking Dead be without Rick? He’s defined the show, for better and worse, since the beginning. Collider goes on to say that Daryl (Norman Reedus) will take over as the central protagonist, but that’s still a different show. At the point I stopped watching, Daryl had turned into one of Rick’s most trusted lieutenants, so I see the logic, but when Rick Grimes left in the comics, it became a different story. I say “left” because Rick doesn’t die in the comics. I wonder if the show will give him a similar send-off, or will fans be treated to yet another miserable death? (I also wonder why Michonne isn’t taking over as the main character.) And what will this do to the show’s eroding ratings? Fans LOVE Daryl but it seems like this last season tested the base’s belief in the show. When Officer Rick goes, however he goes, how many will follow?