SPOILER ALERT: This post contains details from tonight’s The Walking Dead episode, the fate of the Andrew Lincoln-portrayed Rick Grimes. 

(Updated with Andrew Lincoln statement) To paraphrase another voice from another apocalypse, Andrew Lincoln will be back.

While the much hyped tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead would be the last fans see of the actor on AMC’s zombie apocalypse series, Lincoln and his seemingly fatally impaled Rick Grimes character have a future with the franchise. A series of AMC Studios original films, starring Lincoln and written by Chief Content Officer Scott M. Gimple, are planned to continue the story of Rick Grimes, with the first expected to begin production as early as 2019.

“It’s not the beginning of the end, it’s the end of the beginning,” a clean shaven Lincoln said later on aftershow Talking Dead of himself and the character he has played since the very beginning of TWD in 2010.

“And I like the idea that we get to tell a bigger story, maybe with a sort of wider vista,” Lincoln told Yvette Nicole Brown in a sitdown interview. “And I’ve always been interested in what’s going on out there, you know, whether or not there is contact with the wider world. I want to know the meta of it all. And I suppose to be able to kind of touch upon that in a contained story for me is a very exciting proposition … Maybe it’s the start of a bigger story.”

The Rick Grimes movies are among the first projects in development from Gimple as part of a multi-year plan for The Walking Dead Universe, which also includes other projects currently in the works: additional films, specials, series, digital content and more. According to Gimple, some of the stories will relate to The Walking Dead as fans know it while others will be standalone stories that break into new creative territory.

“We have a lot on the horizon – starting with a new epic featuring one of the greatest leading actors in television history and one of the best people I’ve ever met,” said Gimple. “These films are going to be big evolutions of what we’ve been doing on the show, with the scope and scale of features. We’re starting with the first part of the continuing story of Rick Grimes, and there is much more on the way, featuring yet-unseen worlds of The Walking Dead and faces from the show’s past, as well as new characters we hope to become favorites, told by TWD veterans and emerging voices. We want to break new ground with different, distinct stories, all part of the same world that’s captured our imagination for nearly a decade of the Dead.”

Starting with a TWD and spinoff Fear The Walking Dead crossover bridged by Lennie James’ Morgan this year, AMC has made it very clear they see a larger Walking Dead world coming. In September, AMC CEO Josh Sapan told an investors’ conference that “we have a plan to manage it over the next decade plus …a very careful plan.” With that mandate, to shepherd “potential brand extensions on a variety of platforms,” former Walking Dead showrunner Gimple was named Chief Content Officer for the brand back on January 13.

AMC

In Lincoln’s final appearance on The Walking Dead’s episode tonight, written by Matthew Negrate and Gimple, the character of Rick Grimes is mortally wounded and last seen being flown away by helicopter to an unknown destination. The first film will explore the story of where the Rick is taken and what he faces in a new corner of the zombie apocalypse.

Though it became known in that Lincoln was making a move away from the being the lead he’s played on the series based on the comics created by Robert Kirkman since its 2010 debut, there were hints that something else was in the cards. At  San Diego Comic-Con this summer, Lincoln confirmed that he was leaving the now Angela Kang-showrun show when he said that “this will be my last season playing the role of Rick Grimes.” Yet, at the same time, Lincoln also added that his “relationship with Mr. Rick Grimes is far from over.”

It is already known that Lincoln has been inked to direct an episode of the now dramatically reset TWD next season. Of course in Kirkman’s TWD comics, Rick Grimes may only have one arm but he is very much alive, though the series and the printed story have diverged significantly several times. For instance, in the comics, Rick’s son Carl is still alive while the Chandler Riggs played character was killed off in Season 8 to the surprise of many.

Today both Gimple and Kirkman took to social media with mentions of “a new journey” and the “future” ahead on the episode:

As well as Lincoln appearance with Brown on Talking Dead, the aftershow tonight also had Gimple and cast mate Melissa McBride as well as video tributes from stars of the show past and present.

“We believe this is a world and narrative with many possibilities and opportunities for character development and we’re excited to expand the series into a franchise that can live across multiple formats,” said David Madden, president of original programming for AMC, SundanceTV and AMC Studios. “For many years, fans have talked about things in the apocalypse they want to see and now we have an opportunity to explore those stories, beginning with the character who started it all, Rick Grimes.”

Based on the comic book series written by  Kirkman and published by Image Comics, The Walking Dead tells the story of the months and years after a zombie apocalypse and follows a group of survivors who travel in search of a safe and secure home. The series is executive produced by Gimple, Kang, Kirkman, Gale Anne Hurd, David Alpert, Greg Nicotero, Tom Luse and Denise Huth.