Jon Bernthal, who played Rick Grimes’ friend-turned-rival Shane Walsh on the first two season￼s of The Walking Dead, will return for one final appearance during season 9 of the AMC zombie series. Rumors recently began circulating of a possible Bernthal return after the actor was spotted on the series’ Atlanta set with old co-stars Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus. Rick Grimes actor Lincoln will leave the series during season 9, handing over the lead actor spot to Reedus.
Bernthal debuted the character of Shane, the pre-apocalypse policeman partner of Rick, in the very first season of The Walking Dead. But the friends’ relationship naturally became complicated when Rick was thought to have died during the zombie outbreak, leaving Shane to take care of Rick’s wife Lori and son Carl. After Rick’s return, he learned that Shane had impregnated Lori, further damaging their friendship. Shane would ultimately die after a protracted descent into villainhood when Rick plunged a knife into his chest.
With Lincoln himself now set to exit The Walking Dead after 8-plus years, a reunion of sorts is set to happen, as Bernthal reportedly will return to the show for one season 9 episode (via TVLine). Specific details on Bernthal’s appearance are not known but speculation is that Shane will show up in a flashback or perhaps a hallucination like the ones Rick suffered after the death of Lori. Bernthal did previously show up in season 3 as part of one of Rick’s grief-stricken delusional episodes.
After the season 8 death of Carl (Chandler Riggs), Rick together with Lori and Shane’s still-surviving but seldom-glimpsed daughter Judith are the only ones left alive from the Grimes family. With Lincoln now exiting the series, there’s a very strong possibility Rick too will soon meet his end. But there are of course no guarantees the show will do away with Rick by killing him off. New showrunner Andrea Kang could instead choose to give Rick a more hopeful send-off, allowing him to walk away from the show alive (and possibly available to make his own return when the series finally ends somewhere down the line).
Bernthal coming back to take one last bow alongside his old co-star Andrew Lincoln is sure to give Rick’s send-off, whatever form it takes, an extra note of poignancy. And after Lincoln leaves, Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride (Carol) will be the only main cast members still left from season 1. Of course, with the show being set after the zombie apocalypse, and with a lot of bad people like Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) running around, one expects a fairly high rate of character turn-over. Season 9 indeed may also be the last go-around for Lauren Cohan, who has played Maggie since season 2. Cohan has signed on to return for season 9 but will only appear in a few episodes as she also works on her new ABC series Whiskey Cavalier.