Andrew Lincoln's The Walking Dead Exit and the Best and Worst Ways Actors Leave TV Shows

Find out how the AMC drama's handling of the exit compares to other major TV farewells

By Chris Harnick Nov 05, 2018 4:51 PMTags
Watch: "TWD" Stars Weigh in on Andrew Lincoln's Exit From AMC Series

The Walking Dead said goodbye to Andrew Lincoln and his character, Rick Grimes, in an explosive farewell episode…that turns out isn't really goodbye.

After the Sunday, Nov. 4 episode aired, AMC announced Lincoln will star in three TV movies as Rick Grimes, continuing the character's story after the events of his final episode, season nine's "What Comes After."

In his final The Walking Dead episode (but not final outing as Rick Grimes), Lincoln's character was wounded, hallucinated conversations with dead friends and saved the day for his friends and family. They thought he died in the process, but he was rescued and whisked away in a helicopter to mysterious location full of, what we assume are mysterious and potentially dangerous people.

Ranking The Walking Dead's Most Important Deaths

It would've been a vague and mysterious exit, one that would allow fans to dream up their own future for Rick Grimes, but immediately announcing three movies featuring the character cheapened the farewell.

Losing a lead actor is never easy for a TV show, and some have handled the exits better than others. Read on below.

BEST AND WORST: Andrew Lincoln

Who: Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead

Why: Lincoln wanted to spend more time with his young family instead of traveling from the UK to the US.

How: Rick Grimes was gravely injured, but still saved his friends and family from two zombie herds. They thought he perished in a blast, but he was rescued and taken to a mysterious location. His story will continue with three TV movies on AMC.

Reaction: Fans were heartbroken at Rick's sacrifice...and then excited and confused about the movies that are coming.

Verdict: C-. This would've been a solid B+ had AMC not immediately announced Rick Grimes would return in three movies. The news cheapened the impact of his exit.

BEST: Josh Charles

Who: Josh Charles as Will Gardner on The Good Wife

Why: "I thought that I felt however much I've enjoyed the experience, I was ready for the next chapter of my life, both creatively and personally," Charles said after his character left the show.

How: Will Gardner was gunned down in a courtroom, devastating his former lover/coworker Alicia Florrick.

Reaction: Fans were obviously upset—and shocked! The Good Wife kept Charles' exit pretty much a secret. Sorry Willicia shippers.

Verdict: A. Heartbreaking and surprising. The shock reverberated for weeks — if not months — and his exit invigorated the show and set Alicia on a new course. We hated the choice at first, but it got so much better.

WORST: David Duchovny

Who: David Duchovny as Fox Mulder on The X-Files

Why: Duchovny's contract was up at the end of the seventh season and he reportedly wanted more money and a lighter work schedule. There was also a lawsuit happening. He returned in seasons eight and nine, but not in the same capacity.

How: Mulder was abducted by aliens in the season seven finale and returned, near death, in season eight. He then went into hiding, only to emerge toward the end of the series to help bring out the truth.

Reaction: Mulder and Scully were the backbone of The X-Files. The show went on for two more years without Duchovny appearing regularly, but they episodes are largely considered...not the show's best.

Verdict: C-. Weak. Mulder and Scully forever! At least we get another six episodes with them coming to Fox this season.

BEST: Josh Bowman

Who: Josh Bowman as Daniel Grayson on Revenge

Why: In season two, after a bit of a creative downfall, Bowman did an interview saying he wanted Daniel to be killed off the show. Harsh! But then showrunner Sunil Nayar said he didn't mean it, and then Bowman said he didn't mean it. One season later, the death happened regardless, which Nayar told us was a "creative collaboration "with the actor. Bowman, meanwhile, told us his words were misinterpreted, saying, "I'm extremely appreciative of the show." Um...Got it?

How: After learning Emily's true identity and kind of becoming a total d—k, Daniel redeemed himself by taking a bullet, literally, for his ex. And it was just after he found out he was going to be a father! Sob!

Reaction: Fans were very, very upset over the death of Daniel, meaning the show totally did its job in redeeming  the character, who just the season before shot Emily on their wedding night.

Verdict: A. While we still think having Daniel be the body on the beach in season one would've been a bold and awesome choice, his death had so much meaning on a show that sometimes treats death the way a garbage man handles trash.

MEH: Michael Vartan

Who: Michael Vartan as Michael Vaughn on Alias

Why: No reason was ever given, but rumors swirled that Vartan's exit had to do with his breakup with lead actress (and on-screen love interest) Jennifer Garner (Sydney Bristow).

How: In the fifth season premiere, he was shot by a rogue agent after being told that his wife Sydney was pregnant.  

Reaction: The fans completely freaked out, begging J.J. Abrams to bring Vaughn back, and…whether it was planned from the beginning or not, Vaughn was discovered miraculously alive, 10 episodes later, living in Nepal and having faked his own death.

Verdict: C+ The whole thing was ridiculous and shocking, but all water under the bridge when we got our precious Vaughn back, and the fans got the happy ending for Sydney and Vaughn that they so desperately wanted in the very end.

BEST: Julianna Margulies

Who: Julianna Margulies as Carol Hathaway on ER

Why: Margulies turned down a big payday—we're talking $27 million—when she decided to leave ER and get some other type of life fulfillment. "I'm a smart girl," Margulies, told More. "I had a year's worth of work waiting and a mortgage completely paid at age 32. I was under no illusion that I was going to be some big movie star. My dad said, 'If you got hit by a bus tomorrow, were you living your life truthfully, or were you waiting to get rich?' If I died and my soul started leaving my body, would I be looking down going, 'You idiot. You could have gone to Prague, you could have been on Broadway'? Those are the things I wanted to do."

How: Nurse Carol Hathaway left Chicago and got in a plane to Seattle where she met Doug Ross and they lived happily ever after. Her exit was made even more enjoyable by the surprise cameo George Clooney did!

: Carol and Doug ended up together so…yeah. People were pleased.

: A. Great. The right ending for the characters.

WORST: Christopher Meloni

Who: Christopher Meloni as Detective Stabler on Law & Order: SVU

Why: After 12 years on the show, contract negotiations reportedly fell through and Meloni went on to do True Blood and some flicks, including Man of Steel.

How: Stabler shot a girl in the season 12 finale and at the start of season 13 the show revealed his character decided to retire after the events. No goodbye to Mariska Hargitay's Benson. She's gutted.

Reaction: There are some fans who turned on the show, now closing out its 16th season, and refused to watch without Stabler. But under a new showrunner—Warren Leight—and with new additions Danny Pino and Kelli Giddish, SVU has marched on.

Verdict: C. Meh. There was no real closure for fans, but SVU under Leight has been able to highlight character development, a welcome change for the long-running drama.

BEST: Columbus Short

Who: Columbus Short as Harrison on Scandal

Why: After Short was arrested and charged with battery after an alleged bar fight in March 2014, he announced he would not be returning to Scandal. A source told us it was not his decision to leave and that the choice was made for "creative purposes."

How: In the season three finale, Harrison's fate was one of the major cliffhangers after Papa Pope pulled a gun on him. And in the season four premiere, Olivia and the Gladiators were rocked when it was revealed he was actually killed.

Reaction: Considering Harrison was always more of a behind-the-scenes Gladiator, fans weren't left too devastated by his departure, and found Harrison's death to be one of the more interesting things about the character.

Verdict: A. The Scandal team handled one of their own "scandals" pretty darn well. And people ended up caring more about the character after his death. That funeral scene? So many tears.

BEST: Claire Holt

Who: Claire Holt as Rebekah Mikaelson on The Originals

Why: In an interview after her exit, Holt, who only signed a 16-episode contract, admitted she missed Los Angeles (the show films in Atlanta). "This show has been so amazing for my career, and I've had such unbelievable material, it was just never my intention to be away from home this long," she told Buzzfeed.

How: In a heartbreaking yet uplifting twist, Klaus finally let Rebekah take off and be free of all the drama of her family, something she always wanted.

Reaction: Fans were shocked, but ultimately satisfied by her exit. But rumors of the writers running out of storylines for the character soon spread, which lead to Holt doing an exit interview to shut that s—t down.

Verdict: B+. Good. The door was left open for Holt's return, which she did several times, before the show introduced body-jumping  via witchy woo-woo, giving them the opportunity to keep Rebekah around, just in a different actor's body. Enter Maisie Richardsons-Sellers, Rebekah 2.0!

WORST: Charlie Sheen

Who: Charlie Sheen as Charlie Harper on Two and a Half Men

Why: You remember the #winning and tiger blood meltdown of 2011, right? Of course you do.

How: Sheen's character was killed off camera in an "accident"…or was he? In the series finale, the character resurfaced, alive all these years, only to be killed again. Sheen did not reprise the role.

Reaction: Fans weren't surprised when Sheen's character was written off and Ashton Kutcher joined the show. In fact, a huge audience tuned in to see what happened to Sheen's character.

Verdict: D. It's Two and a Half Men, did anything really make sense? Did they need to kill him? Probably not, but after such a public meltdown and continually bashing the show, Sheen didn't have many friends left on Men. Did they need to bring the character back in the finale? Nope. The whole situation was just a mess.

MEH: Colton Haynes

Who: Colton Haynes as Roy Harper on Arrow

Why: In an unusual and unique move, Arrow producers let Haynes sign a two-year deal, not the standard six-year deal.

How: In order to save Oliver, Roy turned himself into the police as the Arrow, and then faked his own death and went on the run.

Reaction: After his death turned out to be a fake-out, fans seemed sad, but OK with Roy on the run. Phew!

Verdict: B-. The door was left wide-open for Haynes to return, which he has. We do think his exit could've been a little more explosive though.

MEH: Crystal Reed

Who: Crystal Reed as Allison Argent on Teen Wolf

Why: After three seasons on the MTV hit, Reed went to producers and asked to be written off the show in order to pursue other opportunities.

How: Oof, this one hurt. Allison died in the arms of her first love, Scott, killed by one of the Oni in a epic showdown in the penultimate episode of season three.

Reaction: GIFs were gifed. Tweets were tweeted. Feelings were felt. Basically, the Internet had a meltdown.

Verdict: B. Heartbreaking, but good. And it proved the show could go on without one of its original stars. Later that season, Daniel Sharman also asked to leave, and season five will be down a series regular in Tyler Hoechlin. "It's an interesting thing when the actor says, ‘Hey, I want to try something new,'" boss Jeff Davis told us. "You to have to decide whether you're going to say, ‘Can we convince you to stay?' And as a producer, I don't want anyone to work on the show who feels like they want to move on."

BEST: Chris Pratt

Who: Chris Pratt as Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation

Why: Because he needed some time off to become one of the biggest movie stars, duh! Fortunately for us, Pratt had no intention of permanently leaving Parks and Rec to film Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World, so he was graciously given time off.

How: Andy went to London for his charity work with Sweetum's for most of season six, and also lost 50 pounds after giving up beer.

Reaction: Everyone loved Pratt for staying. Everyone loved Parks and Rec for giving him some time off. And everyone appreciated Andy's new superhero muscles. #Blessed

Verdict: A. See, it is possible to be part of a show and make movies at the same time. Sure, it can't work for everyone (and, let's be honest, not all actors are like Pratt a.k.a. perfect), but it is possible!

BEST: Nina Dobrev

WhoNina Dobrev as Elena Gilbert on The Vampire Diaries

Why: After six years of playing four characters, Dobrev announced she was ready to move onto the next chapter of her career in April, saying, "I always knew I wanted Elena's story to be a six season adventure." Showrunner Julie Plec added, "Saying goodbye to Nina is both bittersweet and beautiful."

How: The season's big bad Kai did a spell linking Elena's life to Bonnie, so she can only come out of a coma-like state if her witchy best friend dies. After sharing goodbyes with each main cast member, including a final dance with her love, Damon, via a neat vampire trick, Elena was placed in the Salvatore family plot, and will wake after Bonnie lives out her life.

Reaction: Fans were heartbroken, but prepared since Dobrev announced her exit so early. And when we polled readers after her final episode, 71% loved the way Elena went out. Not bad!

Verdict: A. Heartbreaking, surprising yet totally satisfying, as Damon and Elena can still get their happy ending, and we got to see Elena share an emotional goodbye with each and every character. Bravo. 

WORST: Patrick Dempsey

Who: Patrick Dempsey as Dr. Derek Shepherd on Grey's Anatomy

Why: No official reason has been given for Dempsey's departure, despite rumors of tension behind the scenes. "It is incredible how devoted and passionate the fans are, and I will forever be grateful and humbled by the experience," Dempsey told TVLine of his exit.

How: After just missing a horrible car crash and rescuing the victims, Derek was hit by a truck as he was about to leave the scene, leaving his wife Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) to ultimately pull the plug on him. Then, he got about 10 seconds of a funeral before the show sped forward weeks at a time. 

Reaction: Fans were wrecked. Shocked and angry. And some went as far as to start a petition to bring him back. Which obviously, isn't gonna happen. (Deaths are only faked on old J.J. Abrams shows, sadly.)

Verdict: F. The way in which Derek was killed off was unnecessarily cruel, and robs the fans of the one reason they loved the show from the very beginning: The chance for some kind of future/closure for Meredith and Derek. There were so many other ways he could have been written out. This one just felt...Wrong. So very wrong. We are probably never getting over it.

PHOTOS: The most shocking TV deaths

The Walking Dead airs Sundays, 9 p.m. on AMC.