“This will be my last season playing the role of Rick Grimes,” Andrew Lincoln told Comic-Con today on The Walking Dead panel. “I love this show,” he declared. “It means everything to me. I love the people who make this show. I’m particularly fond of the people who watch this show.”

“I don’t want this to become an Oscar acceptance speech or a obituary,” a clearly emotional Lincoln said to the packed and eerily quiet Hall H as he addressed “the elephant in the room” of his departure – which Deadline first reported back in May and creator Robert Kirkman all but confirmed yesterday at SDCC.

“My relationship with Mr. Rick Grimes is far from over,” Lincoln added, telling the fans how “amazing” the role has been for him professional and personally. Turning to thank many of his cast mates and the EPs on-stage with him, the Love Actually alum made a point of saying he was departing to spend more time with his family back in the UK and taking some time off. The sometimes-close-to-tears Lincoln added that the long running TWD still a lot of runway to go, because “no one is bigger than the story.”

Lincoln’s statements came soon after the more than six thousand fans packed into Hall H learned the debut date for Season 9 and saw an action-filled trailer for the upcoming episodes.

Moderated by interim Talking Dead host Yvette Nicole Brown, today’s panel featured Lincoln, Kirkman, new showrunner Angela Chang, Whiskey Cavalier co-star Lauren Cohan, Norman Reedus, Danai Gurira, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays villain Negan on the show. Former showrunner and now Chief Content Officer Scott M. Gimple was also on-stage again, with fellow EPs Gale Anne Hurd, Dave Alpert, and fellow EP Greg Nicotero. The latter directed the Season 9 opener that Kang penned.

The Walking Dead returns for its ninth season of October 7.