[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched the season finale of The Walking Dead.]
RICK GRIMES IS BACK!!! There will be no more of this put down the gun and pick up the garden hoe nonsense. The transformation of Rick back into a fearless leader was complete right around the time in last night’s season 4 Walking Dead finale when he bit marauder Joe in the neck and then gutted his buddy who was set to do harm to Carl. The survivors will need that newly focused badass considering their current predicament as the season ended with most of the group locked up in a train car by the baddies of Terminus. We spoke with Walking Dead star Andrew Lincoln to get his thoughts on the evolution of Rick Grimes this season, filming those flashback scenes with Scott Wilson’s Hershel, that crazy cliffhanger ending, and why he can’t wait to get the battle started in season 5. (Also make sure to read our finale interviews with showrunner Scott M. Gimple and creator Robert Kirkman.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So you realize this is absolute torture you guys are putting us through by leaving us with this cliffhanger ending, right?
ANDREW LINCOLN: Well, we’ve been living with it for four months already, Dalton, so I don’t know what you’re worried about!
EW: True, I guess we have it easy in that sense.
LINCOLN: Believe me, all of us have been going “How the FUNK do we get out of the car? How are we gonna get out? That’s all we’ve been saying very quietly on email for the last four months. It was astonishing. I loved — I LOVED — that! I loved the fact that we do the cliffhanger. We haven’t done it yet and like most of the season, it just changes it up, kinda break the show up and then start it all over again and rebuild it again in a different form.
EW: Maybe more than anyone, Rick has really struggled with his humanity in this apocalyptic world. And this episode completed this season long arc of his evolution from a guy that wanted no part in being a leader into a guy ready to kick ass, take names, and do whatever it takes to keep his group safe.
LINCOLN: Oh, I don’t care what Scott Gimple has written — we’re improvising the first couple of episodes. We’ve already said that those Termites — we’re just gonna kick their butts! Honestly, it is so good to be playing Rick again. And you’re absolutely right, this is a man — his journey this season and since the beginning — it goes to the question of can we ever come back to be the people we once were, and certainly the first half of the season was about a man suppressing that, and suppressing his brutality for the sake of his son. And now you see a man totally accepting that side of himself, that brutality for the sake of his son. And it’s just a really neat play that you get a man who is completely at peace with the fact that he’s a man and a monster and he needs to be in this new world and he’s probably the most dangerous he’s ever been, but also the most capable he’s ever been. Which is why the final exchange is not anything but a call to arms. They have no idea who they’re dealing with.
EW: Even though the season ends with you all in seemingly the worst situation possible, I actually found that final moment with your line of “They’re screwing with the wrong people” to be actually quite invigorating. Like, hell yeah, Rick Grimes is back!
LINCOLN: Oh. We’re gonna open up a can of whup-ass! I’m so excited. I just know it’s gonna go off! It’s so cool! I have no idea how we’re gonna get out of there, but when we do, we will rain hell upon these Termites!
EW: There’s that scene with Norman where Rick tells Daryl, “You’re my brother.” I didn’t realize until that moment how much I missed seeing those two guys together.
LINCOLN: Aw, man. I think that was the intention. Because it was real. We’ve been meeting like ships in the night. We would see one person, but we were so isolated from each other, certainly for the second half of the season. And you’re right: I think that relationship is one of the most exciting, satisfying relationships. I speak for myself but I’m sure Norman would say the same. They just work so well together, these guys. And the writers Angela Kang and Scott have to be commended because you have one of the most brutal acts ever perpetrated the night before, and then that fine moment. And it’s the same thing in episode 14 where you have this astonishing thing that goes off with Carol and Tyreese and then there’s a moment of grace. And the same thing kind of happens. And so the audience, even though they are appalled, they feel like what Rick says that going through all of last night was worth it because we found you and we’ve got you back again. That’s how important it is that they found one another again for the sake of the group. And that’s the joy of it. It was such a laugh to play that scene, just because we don’t even have to rehearse. Me and Norman just sit down and start talking because we’ve lived with these people for so long.
EW: What was it like getting to film those flashback scenes with Scott Wilson?
LINCOLN: Scott Wilson is a legend. He’s the best. They broke they mold when they made that guy and just having him back for those two days you could feel the crew lift their spirits. It was right at the end of the shoot. He’s one of my favorite people on the planet. That whole flashback almost acts as a prequel to the very opening image you see of Rick as the farmer. It’s a steppingstone between season 3 and season 4 and we understand how Rick was able to withdraw back into the gates, renounce leadership, and we realize how instrumental Hershel was in all of that, in reclaiming the old Rick.
EW: Hershel’s death was so brutal, and maybe the most brutal one you’ve ever had. And you and I have talked a lot about wanting the stakes to feel real and therefore needing to kill people off, but maybe in the past it was a bit to much in the sense that the more people you kill, especially when they are old school original members, you invariably change the show itself. I kinda liked the fact that we did not lose more people in the finale, that we still have these people that we’ve been rooting for all for the most part there.
LINCOLN: Yeah, I agree with you. And there is always a concern that if you take one more person away and then the deck of card falls. And I think everyone in the writer’s room realized that. Losing Hershel was such a monumental blow that we didn’t need anybody else to go because everybody is still reeling form that bereavement and it was such a profound shock and it spun everybody else out into orbit. So I agree with you. But we’ve lost people, which is just as cool. Are Tyreese and Carol locked in one of those boxes at Terminus? Where are they? Where’s Beth? There are still people lost and still things to question. I agree with you. We have to tread that fine line between shock factor — which is one of the great strengths we have on this show, we can do that — and also holding together the integrity and not doing it just for the sake of the shock factor. It has to push on the story.
EW: What was it like having all that time off during this back eight, because until the finale we had barely seen you over the past month or so?
LINCOLN: I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the writers. My handicap dropped seven points! And I won quite a lot of money off of David Morrissey and Scott Gimple on the golf course! Initially it was quite a tiring job, but then it was too long and I missed doing it and I missed working and I missed being on set and I missed being present on set and I missed the crew. So initially it was great but then I started to go a bit stir crazy. So my wife kicked me out and said “Just go on set. Just hang around.” I get twitchy when I don’t work. So it was nice initially, but I think it was a little too much time off for my taste.
EW: Well, Scott says he plans to keep you quite busy in season 5, so no more golf for you, mister.
LINCOLN: R&R is done. And that’s the way I like it.