'Walking Dead' stars Danai Gurira and Jeffrey Dean Morgan on Andrew Lincoln's exit

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

When The Walking Dead returns this fall, longtime fans may feel like they’re watching a show in its first season rather than its ninth. That’s how star Andrew Lincoln felt anyway. “Andy was saying it reminded him of those early, early, early days,” Danai Gurira tells Yahoo Entertainment. “We’re in a new world now; we had a time jump, which is really refreshing to do. It’s this whole other time where people look different, things have happened, we’ve made transitions in various ways. The world is kind of reverting back to a Western.” (Watch our video interview above.)

Every Western, of course, has its sheriff and since the show’s first episode, that lawman has been Lincoln’s Rick Grimes. But the actor is about to hand in his tin star and arrived at the San Diego Comic-Con to bid the show’s audience an emotional farewell.

“These guys here and everybody back in Atlanta are the greatest surrogate family I could wish for, but I do have a real family, and it’s time for me to go home,” Lincoln remarked during a Walking Dead panel Friday.

That’s a choice that co-star Jeffrey Dean Morgan tells us he understands completely. “I get it — he’s got two kids and they’re growing up and he’s missing most of those lives. We’ve known for a little while; we knew last year he wanted to go, so it’s time and I’m happy for him.”

Watch: The trailer for The Walking Dead Season 9:

The Walking Dead will be a whole new show without Lincoln around and, as Gurira notes, their former colleague seems like a whole new man since his announced departure. “He looks 15 years younger,” she says, laughing. “I was like, ‘Is that what happens?’” Yes, but on the downside, he has to buy his own brains.

Naturally, Yahoo Entertainment couldn’t let Andrew Lincoln go without our own farewell. Here’s our Love Actually-inspired goodbye, helpfully performed by Jeffrey Dean Morgan

SHOCKING: We caught Jeffrey Dean Morgan cheating on Lucille with this sorry excuse for a weapon at Comic-Con. Lucille would never. (GIF: tumblr)

Season 9 of The Walking Dead premieres Oct. 7 on AMC.

Read more from Yahoo Entertainment