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Danai Gurira and Norman Reedus on Walking Dead Without Andrew Lincoln

Loss has always been a big part of The Walking Dead, obviously — it’s a post-apocalyptic show about survivors grappling with a world overrun by zombies, after all. But there was a decidedly melancholic undercurrent in the air when Danai Gurira and Norman Reedus stopped by the HFPA’s Comic-Con lounge. The reason? The impending departure of Andrew Lincoln, who has starred as sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes, the moral center of the Golden Globe-nominated series, since its debut in 2010.

It was confirmed at Comic-Con that the show’s upcoming ninth season will be Lincoln’s last. “Andrew can never be replaced,” said Gurira. “He’s an amazing number one on the call sheet and, to me, the quintessential leading person of the show. He set a standard of excellence — 150 percent at all times, the first in and last one out. He loved everyone, taught everyone and made sure that we were loved and welcomed. It really created a family, the standard he set. So to not have him there, of course, is a massive adjustment.”

“Andy is my best friend on that show,” added Reedus. “We share a trailer, he is the first phone call I get in the morning on the way to work, we shoot scenes, and then he is in my trailer the whole lunch break — usually losing money to me at backgammon. But he came to me and he said, ‘I have to be with my family, I am going to miss this time with my kids.’ And you can’t be mad (or) fault him for wanting to do that. So did I want to see him leave? Of course not. I was heartbroken. But did I understand? Of course, I did.”

As for what fans can expect from The Walking Dead moving forward, Reedus stressed it wouldn’t be as simple as any one character stepping up and immediately becoming a new leader around everyone else can rally. But there is a new energy. “This show, especially right now, is being driven by women, all the way across the board. We have women characters stepping up and doing bigger things — including the writing, our show-runner (Angela Kang). And it’s great,” said Reedus. “We had a couple of seasons where there were two guys chest-bumping. But women don’t chest-bump.” Here Reedus paused, laughing. “So it’s a different world this season, but it’s still great.”