By the time its ninth season rolled around, Rick Grimes and Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) seemed to be mainstays who would last until the end. For fans of the comics, Rick was there until the end of the story, and when Rick's story ended, the comics pretty much ended as well. However, that changed on the TV series during season 9 when Rick Grimes left . However, he did return for one . The truth is that Andrew Lincoln left because of his desire to be close to his family.
Andrew Lincoln is the father of two young children, and they live in the UK. Since 's production takes place primarily in Atlanta and lasts several months, Lincoln wasn't able to spend as much time at home as he'd like. Ultimately, Lincoln realized that, in order to spend more time with his family, he needed to leave . "," Lincoln said (via ). "."
Regardless of why , it proved to be a turning point for the series. Without its biggest character, the show had to turn its focus elsewhere and reinvent the story. season 9's six-year time jump coincided with Andrew Lincoln's exit, which allowed to show what happened to the core group of characters without Rick Grimes around. For the creators, writers, and viewers, Rick Grimes departure seemed to be a blessing in disguise. has been incredibly well-received afterward, and manged to carry itself through to the season 11 finale without the group's leader.
Why Rick left in season 9 was because he is a hero. In the episode, "What Comes After," a hoard of Walkers headed for the survivors and Rick knew he needed to act fast. With Michonne, Daryl, Maggie, Carol, and his own daughter Judith in danger, Rick did what he thought was best. He sacrificed himself to save his friends and family. Rick blew up the bridge filled with walkers to save those he loved. It was an ultimate sacrifice - except that Rick didn't die. , and they took Rick away, and off the show until the series finale.
That made Rick's reappearance in series finale so shocking. In the last moments of the series ending, Rick writes a letter to Michonne about both the dead and the living. Rick can be seen on a beach, packing a backpack. He puts his message in a bottle and then throws it into the lake, when a helicopter can be heard from off-screen. He quickly throws the backpack into a nearby boat, when a CRM helicopter says via loudspeaker, Rick ends up putting his hands in the air, smiling as the helicopter descends.