Photo: Gene Page/AMC 

☠️☠️☠️ DON’T OPEN. DEAD INSIDE. ☠️☠️☠️

🚨🚨🚨 THE WALKING DEAD SPOILERS AHEAD. 🚨🚨🚨

It’s not the beginning of the end, it’s the end of the beginning. Last night, Andrew Lincoln made his exit from The Walking Dead, appearing in his last episode ever after nine seasons as Rick Grimes. Chief content officer of TWD universe Scott M. Gimple announced that while Lincoln left the show, this won’t be the last fans see of him. Gimple is currently writing the first of three big-budget, feature-length TV movies for AMC featuring none other than our favorite cowboy hat wearing, zombie slashing sheriff Rick Grimes.

TWD fans were anxiously awaiting Rick’s final episode, titled “What Comes After,” waiting to see if he would be killed off or not. After falling off his horse and being impaled in the stomach at the very end of the previous episode, all signs were pointing to yes. Rick’s life was in limbo for basically the entire episode, and fans finally got to see the much-anticipated return of Shane (Jon Bernthal), Hershel (the late Scott Wilson), and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) as a woozy Rick met with the ghosts of each of them à la The Five People You Meet in Heaven. But at the end, Rick lives, getting whisked away in a mysterious helicopter to tend to his injuries, all thanks to his frenemy-turned-friend Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh). That can’t be the last we see of Rick Grimes—and it’s not.

“The story of Rick will go on in films,” Gimple told The Hollywood Reporter. “We’re going to dig into the past and see old characters. We’re going to introduce new characters and new situations.” Lincoln’s reasoning behind leaving the show was to spend more time with his family back in England, but the new plan will allow him to be in production on each movie for two months at a time rather than the nine months he spent every year filming the show.

“Rick Grimes is an amazing character and Andy has done an amazing performance,” Gimple said. “There were story ideas brewing that, as the years went on, seemed very compatible with continuing to tell the Rick story in another format that would allow him time with his family.”

The Rick-focused movies are meant to expand the Walking Dead universe, and will be AMC Studios Original Films at around two hours each. “We think this is a franchise that could live across formats. We want to do it carefully, be strategic and do it right,” AMC programming president David Madden told The Hollywood Reporter. “There is a multiple-year plan that could include additional series, digital content, and specials. We’re looking to broaden this into a universe where the movies that Andy will be in are the highest-profile things that we do.” Each movie will tell a complete story about Rick and what happened in the years between the helicopter rescue and the time jump that the episode ended with.

In the expansion, Gimple plans on exploring new destinations as well. “A variety of locations is absolutely critical to this. Seeing other parts of the world and making sure that we’re not trying to do the same thing that Michonne, Maggie, and Carol and everybody have been doing,” Gimple said. “We are going to be introducing a new corner of the world in The Walking Dead and it has its own history, its own rules and its own situations going on.”