SPOILERS! 'The Walking Dead' Fools Fans Again, Andrew Lincoln To Star In Three Universe-Expanding Films

This season of The Walking Dead has had a melancholic tone to it since the beginning, ever since it was revealed just ahead of Comic-Con that longtime star Andrew Lincoln would be exiting the series. It was strange because AMC and the show's producers openly discussed his exit and the potential demise of his character, Rick Grimes, who has been there literally since season one frame one. And each episode fans grew nearer to Grimes' departure, wondering how he would leave. Would it be ripped apart by zombies? Killed by Negan or some other wacko with an axe to grind? Nobody leaves happily ever after, right?

And last night gave us the answer. In the penultimate episode, an explosion left Rick with seemingly fatal injuries, and it was expected last night would be the end for him. Well, it was...for him on The Walking Dead TV series. But The Walking Dead movies? That's another story. Grimes somehow survived and was airlifted away by a mysterious helicopter. To where? Well, that's where the movies come in.

In short, all that teasing of Rick's death was one giant ruse.

Lincoln will return as Rick Grimes in at least three films, written and exec-produced by Scott M. Gimple. He tells THR...

“The story of Rick will go on in films. Right now, we’re working on three but there’s flexibility in that. … Over the next several years, we’re going to be doing specials, new series are quite a possibility, high-quality digital content and then some content that defies description at the moment. We’re going to dig into the past and see old characters. We’re going to introduce new characters and new situations.”

Lincoln added on last night's episode of Talking Dead"It's not the beginning of the end, it's the end of the beginning. And I like the idea that we get to tell a bigger story, maybe with a sort of wider vista," Lincoln said on "The Talking Dead," AMC's after-show about the zombie hit. "I've always been interested in what's going on out there, you know, whether or not there is contact with the wider world."

With Lincoln gone, show creators have taken extra steps to keep other popular stars in place. Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride, who play fan-favorite characters Daryl Dixon and Carol Peletier (if Carol ever dies I riot!!!), have both signed new contracts, while Danai Gurira is close to doing the same.

So what does this do for fans of the show right now? I know a lot of folks who have seen Rick's exit as a perfect place to finally quit the show. But do these plans to keep him around, albeit in a different way, do enough so that viewers want to stick around?  For me, I think I'm in for the long haul no matter what at this point. This season has been full of ups and downs in quality, but I still have too many characters I love to simply walk away.

What about you? Sound off in the comments.