[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead.]
He is often referred to as the moral compass of the group but that compass was sliced and diced by a katana-wielding maniac on last night’s episode of The Walking Dead. Yes, the unthinkable happened as kindly veterinarian/farmer Hershel Greene was killed by the Governor after Rick refused to acquiesce to demands that they evacuate the prison. It was a brutal slaying, with the Governor taking several chops at Hershel’s neck. (Although the Governor would be on the receiving end of that sword himself shortly after.) We spoke to the man who played Hershel, Scott Wilson, about how he learned of Hershel’s demise, details on his last day of filming, and what’s it like watching your own head get chopped off. (Also make sure to read our Q&A with Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, who explains why Hershel had to go as well as what’s to come next.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I spoke to you when you were filming episode 405 this summer and asked you about working with all the different showrunners over the years and you told me the following: “You don’t know when your number will be called. But ultimately it will be called, and that’s probably the showrunner I will like least. Because I like being here. So I don’t know when it will be. But whoever it is, just remember I will like you least. “ So I guess that means you like Scott Gimple the least, right?
SCOTT WILSON: No, that’s not true. I didn’t know at the time. I thought I was making a joke, and the joke was on me. It’s a very tough position for him to be in, and let’s face it — they gave me some great episodes there before they did take me off so I ‘m appreciative of that. I have a world of respect for Mr. Gimple.
EW: That’s the kiss of death now when they give you these big juicy episodes. It happened to Melissa McBride with her character, Carol, and now it happens to you.
WILSON: Well, it’s the nature of the show. It has been one hell of a fun ride. It’s been very interesting and very fun working with very talented people.
EW: You mentioned you didn’t know yet when you were filming episode 5, so when and how did you get the news of your impending fate?
WILSON: Actually, I found out right after that episode, which was kind of ironic. And I kind of truthfully expected it after episode 403 when Hershel had this great speech about risking your life and what you’re risking it for. I had a suspicion then. And then when I read 405, that really confirmed my suspicion in a way, but I wasn’t officially told until after we were finished shooting 405
EW: Did you plead with the producers for a stay of execution like Rick pleaded with the Governor?
WILSON: He called me into his office and I went in and talked to him. He explained to me that I was going. I said to him, “I think you’re making a big mistake, but it’s yours to make and I’m not going to try to talk you out of it.” Someone from the show was going to go. I would not want to be the one to make the decision that he had to make there. And I respect him for how he told me, and I am grateful for the scenes and episodes they gave me before they took me off. So, it’s all good.
EW: Or good enough, I suppose. Tell me about the filming of your last scene. What was the atmosphere like around set?
WILSON: It was really quite moving to me because I came on the set and everybody from the cast and the crew that were there in town were all on the set and they were wearing suspenders — because Hershel wore suspenders. And I came onto the set to applause and it was really quite moving. It was fun to see the people that I worked with every day had so much appreciation for my involvement with them on the show. It’s interesting too: The first episode I ever did Ernest Dickerson directed, the episode where I lost my leg he directed, and then he took my head. So there was a symmetry to it. It
EW: Whenever a cast member dies they get their big Death Dinner. How was yours?
WILSON: Yes, we had a Death Dinner and it was touch and moving. You know, I wasn’t the only one that died that episode. The Governor died and David Morrissey did a fantastic job and I loved working with him. The badder he was, the more meaningful it was to take me out, so he delivered — big time!
EW: Hershel had that smile on his face right before the end as he’s listening to Rick try find common ground with the Governor. Why is that?
WILSON: I think that was a really a culmination of the first scene that Rick and Hershel had together on the front porch of Hershel’s farm, talking about the world, and about disease, and about the place of man in the new order of things. And really that’s kind of a theme that went through the two-and-a-half seasons I was on the show. Where do you stand? Where’s the humanity in this situation? Where do you keep your humanity? And that was a recurring theme with Hershel and Rick. So I think basically he was hearing some of what he had been imparting to Rick or exploring with Rick coming out of his mouth at that moment, so it made him feel that Rick got it — that he saw what was going on. And that Hershel’s legacy would be carried on by Rick and the rest of the people, even if he was not there. Some ideas are maybe stronger and can survive the person that is going. So I think that was what was going on there in Hershel’s mind.
EW: Describe for me the bizarre sensation of watching someone slash your neck on TV? That has to be an odd thing to watch.
WILSON: It’s even odder to have your head in the closet in a bag. And I do have my head in a bag in the closet.
EW: They gave it to you?
WILSON: Yeah, so that’s even stranger, I believe. Greg Nicotero and his group made a head for the episode and they made an extra one for me.
EW: What do you do with something like that?
WILSON: Well, you put it in a trash bag and you put it in the closet. [Laughs] At least that’s what I did.
EW: How does this compare to getting hanged for In Cold Blood?
WILSON: Well, there is a connection there since both had to do with the head. Certainly I’ve had more recognition from this than anything I’ve ever done. I just hope this is not a bookend and that it’s over. Hopefully I have a chapter or two left for Scott — if not for Hershel.
For more ‘Walking Dead’ scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.