Lincoln, who plays survivor leader Rick Grimes, will reportedly only appear in six episodes of Season 9. AMC has reportedly offered a substantial raise to second-billed actor Norman Reedus, who plays Daryl, to take over as the series' lead.
The Walking Dead has been going through a lot of changes and turbulence behind the scenes lately, with new showrunner Angela Kang coming on as longtime showrunner Scott Gimple exited to become Chief Content Officer of the Walking Dead franchise, lawsuits related to disputed profits and the on-set death of stuntman John Bernecker, and tense negotiations around the renewal of co-star Lauren Cohan's contract. Cohan is the lead on an upcoming ABC series called Whiskey Cavalier, so she will presumably be leaving The Walking Dead in Season 9 as well.
It's unknown at this point how Lincoln and Cohan will be written out of the show, but Comicbook.com reports that Cohan is also contracted for six episodes, so presumably their exits will come at the same time. Comicbook.com adds that Lincoln will be returning to the UK to spend more time with his family.
Lincoln's exit will come shortly after the departures of two of the show's few remaining original cast members, Chandler Riggs and Lennie James. Riggs' Carl, Rick's son, was killed in the middle of Season 8, while James' Morgan crossed over to spin-off Fear the Walking Dead. After Lincoln goes, Reedus and Melissa McBride will be the only actors from Season 1 remaining.
AMC declined to comment on the report.
The Walking Dead Season 9 will return for Season 9 in the fall.