AMC has leaned into the promotional benefits of Lincoln leaving — the season is being heavily promoted as “Rick Grimes’ Final Episodes” — ratcheting up the pressure to craft a meaningful, satisfying sendoff.
The more formidable issue, however, is making the case that there’s life after him — hardly an academic exercise for an expensive show, whose ratings have slipped sharply from their heyday, about to lose its most tangible connection that remains to what set the whole story in motion.
In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Kang pointed to the benefits of Lincoln’s departure, citing the “very rich” storylines that the shakeup creates for other players. “As our characters navigate ‘a Rick-less world,’ we get to see who they become in the aftermath of that,” she said.
To its credit, these episodes do feel like the series is back on track, and it’s true that change in any creative endeavor can help energize a long-running franchise, at least temporarily. That said, there’s a nagging feeling that the whole enterprise has moved into a brand-management phase, including the wholesale makeover of spinoff “Fear the Walking Dead” and a host of licensing offshoots.
Even with this promising start, then, “The Walking Dead” still has several hurdles to clear before fully making the case that keeping a “Rick-less” show alive won’t turn the series into the TV facsimile of its title.
“The Walking Dead” returns Oct. 7 at 9 p.m. on AMC.