While the departure of Andrew Lincoln’s character Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead did not come as a surprise to viewers, the way AMC handled the star’s exit shocked many fans who, based on the show’s marketing, assumed the main character would be killed off.

Instead, Rick’s final episode ends with him alive—if not necessarily well—as he’s swept away at the last minute by a helicopter, ready to fight the zombie apocalypse elsewhere in a new life that AMC plans to chronicle with a series of original films and other content.

“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,” David Madden, president of original programming for AMC, SundanceTV and AMC Studios, said in a statement. “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.”

Projects such as specials and digital content are all part of Chief Content Officer Scott M. Gimple’s multi-year plan for the franchise, which will kick off with the first film expected to begin production in 2019.

“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,” Gimple said in a statement.

“It’s not the beginning of the end, it’s the end of the beginning,” Lincoln added on AMC’s Talking Dead. “And I like the idea that we get to tell a bigger story, maybe with a sort of wider vista. 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.”

Meanwhile, AMC’s The Walking Dead series will take a significant time jump. AMC’s trailer for the next three episodes following Rick’s season nine departure showcases a future set roughly six years in the future, features Rick’s daughter Judith around the age of 10—and donning his signature sheriff’s hat. It also heavily teases the introduction of The Whisperers—humans who cover themselves with the skin of zombies and kill survivors—from the Image Comics series by Robert Kirkman on which the show is based.

As AMC starts to expand The Walking Dead franchise, it also signed stars Norman Reedus (Daryl) and Melissa McBride (Carol) to a year-three deal—said to be worth between $50 to $90 million— that allows them to freely transition to multiple projects within The Walking Dead universe.

“Our deals with Norman and Melissa allow us the flexibility to either move them or use them in more than one place, depending on what seems creatively right to Scott and to his partners,” AMC Programming President David Madden told The Hollywood Reporter.

A similar pact is said to be in the works for Danai Gurira (Michonne).

READ MORE: The Hollywood Reporter


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