After almost 10 years, it’s time for Rick Grimes to walk out of The Walking Dead. With Andrew Lincoln’s exit for AMC’s juggernaut horror series confirmed, new series showrunner Angela Kang revealed how cable’s biggest zombie series will carry on without Sheriff Grimes.

As it turns out, The Walking Dead has never really been about Rick Grimes, but the people and the community he created.

On Wednesday, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, executive producer Angela Kang says that the goal of Season 9 “was to just pay homage” to Rick Grimes, “somebody that people have loved watching.”

“He is this man who was looking for his family, and found them, and lost many of them, but has fought on and on. And I think that’s meant a lot to people,” Kang says. “And we just really wanted to be respectful of that character and send him off in a great way. So that was the charge for us this season.”

But Kang, who has been staffed on The Walking Dead since its second season, says that the story has never been just about Rick Grimes. “[I]t’s never been a story just about this one man,” she says.

“It started with him, but it’s always been a story about this group of people that have each other’s backs, that help each other survive, that help each other be more human. And that’s the story that we’ll continue to tell.”

Rick Grimes The Walking Dead
Andrew Lincoln, behind the scenes of AMC's 'The Walking Dead.'

While the direction of the AMC series has diverted in several big ways from Robert Kirkman’s comic book series, the departure of Rick Grimes will be by far the biggest.

In the most recent issue of The Walking Dead, issue #181 released today, Rick is still alive! And he will likely stay alive as the comic continues without any sign of slowing down.

The Walking Dead Season 9 will premiere on October 7 on AMC.*