Andrew Lincoln has said he is leaving The Walking Dead.
The British actor, 44, who has been the star of the post-apocalyptic US series since its inception in 2010, confirmed he is stepping away after the forthcoming ninth series.
Speaking at an annual popular culture exhibition in San Diego, Lincoln addressed recent reports his character, the former police officer and long-lasting survivor Rick Grimes, would leave the show.
He told an audience at Comic-Con: “There seems to be an elephant in the room and I think many of you want to ask a question whether or not it is my last year
“This will be my last season playing the part of Rick Grimes.”
Fans in the audience groaned at the news.
Lincoln added: “I love this show, it means everything to me. I love the people who make this show. I’m also particularly fond of the people who watch the show. It’s been the most extraordinary, beautiful experience of my career, largely because of you guys.”
The actor, known for starring in the film Love Actually, said a “part of me will always be” with the character of Rick and he praised his co-stars, saying series nine of The Walking Dead is the best he has seen.
Later, during a question and answer session with fans, Lincoln was asked what role he would like to take next.
The London-born actor said “I am going to take a break for a while”, and added that while the cast of The Walking Dead is his “surrogate family”, “I have a real family and it’s time for me to go home”.
Lincoln added: “I don’t really know. It’s been so much a part of my life, I breathed it for 10 years. But what I do know is I believe in the story so much and this is a really terrific season for Rick’s story.
“There are a couple of things I am thinking about doing but I am so in love with Rick Grimes I cannot put him down.”
He added: “The short answer is I am going to bed.”
The audience inside Hall H at the San Diego Convention Centre then gave Lincoln a standing ovation.
Fans at Comic-Con, an annual popular culture exhibition that attracts more than 135,000 fans, were also shown a trailer for the upcoming series of The Walking Dead.
The trailer opens with an aged Lincoln saying to the camera: “It’s been a long time since we’ve had one of these talks.”
Villain Negan is seen behind bars while trouble flares between the survivors in a world that looks noticeably worse than the previous season.
Angela Kang, the show’s executive producer, said the world is “crumbling” and the survivors will face different challenges as “nature retakes” the environment.
Norman Reedus, who plays Daryl Dixon, said the upcoming season feels like a “Western”.
The Walking Dead series nine is due to air on October 7 and Comic-Con continues until Sunday.