The Walking Dead’s Seth Gilliam shared a touching photo from the set of the series’ upcoming ninth season, sending off soon-to-exit Rick Grimes actor Andrew Lincoln.
 
The Father Gabriel actor captured a tender moment showing Lincoln embraced in a tight hug from longtime co-stars Danai Gurira and Lauren Cohan.
 
Lincoln is poised to depart The Walking Dead midway through season 9 after serving eight years as leading man. The British actor confirmed his exit last weekend during San Diego Comic-Con, speaking publicly for the first time on then-unconfirmed reports this season would be his last.
 
“This will be my last season playing the part of Rick Grimes,” Lincoln told Hall H attendees, eliciting cries from the audience.
 
“Now hear me out, please, please. I love this show. It means everything to me. I love the people who make this show — I promised not to cry, I’ve done enough crying on screen — I’m particularly fond of the people who watch the show. You people. This has been the most extraordinary, amazing, and beautiful experience of my career.”
 
The father-of-two admitted later during a press-only conference his oft-talked about exit “was something that I started to think about as my children got older and less portable.”
 
Many Walking Dead stars of both past and present have since paid tribute to Lincoln, including Negan actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan and real life “BFF” Norman Reedus, who dubbed Lincoln the dearly-missed “quarterback” of the series.
 
Gurira penned a sincere tribute of her own on social media, as did alum Andrew Nichols, who played problematic Alexandrian Spencer Monroe.
 
Lauren Cohan — who will make an exit of her own in the front half of season 9 — told EW she was grateful for the lessons she was taught by Lincoln, a leader both on screen and off.
 
“I remember coming in and being with Steven [Yeun], and both of us kind of sharing that gratitude of having someone like that to guide us,” Cohan said.
 
“Before Walking Dead, I had only done recurring roles on different shows, and to come in to get the opportunity to be so long on a show that was led so well, has set me up as an individual to go forward in my life, and my career, and my art, incredibly well because of you and because of what I’ve learned on the show.”
 
“Andy is a quintessial leader. I’ve said this many times, and I really couldn’t say it enough, I believe — and I know I’m right — he’s the best leading man on television,” added Gurira.
 
“There’s something so beautiful about his form of leadership, and it does come from those first moments that you’re on the set and you’re welcomed into the family, and he is right there, present, loving, generous, kind, supportive, so you immediately feel that there’s someone — the leader — wants you to succeed, and is thrilled when you do. And that can only make you better, and it can only teach you how to be better to others as well. I was saying to him – he’s left us with the example of how to carry on, because he gave such a beautiful example himself. I couldn’t say enough amazing things about this man, quite honestly.”
 
The Walking Dead returns Sunday, October 7 on AMC.
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