It was the most explosive and shocking Walking Dead episode of the season, and if you have not yet seen it for yourself, then cease reading immediately and come back once you have. In an episode that saw one other character (T-Dog) definitely dead and yet another (Carol) missing and presumed dead by the others, the most jaw-dropping development of all occurred when Lori went into labor only to suffer complications and ask that Maggie cut her belly open to save the baby (while killing her in the process). After helping Maggie pull the baby from his dying mother’s belly, Carl then had to put a bullet in his mom’s brain before she turned into a zombie herself. It was gruesome and harrowing, and yet poignant as well, as Lori said goodbye to one child, while sacrificing herself to bring another one into the world. We spoke to the actress who played Lori, Sarah Wayne Callies, at the time of the character’s death and got the details on that big scene, how she found out she was being killed off, why she prepped by watching Full Metal Jacket, what happened after the cameras stopped rolling, and the ending she secretly wished for Lori and Rick.
For more stories behind this year’s top TV and movie moments, click here for EW.com’s Best of 2012: Behind the Scenes coverage.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me about how you first learned that Lori was going to die?
SARAH WAYNE CALLIES: Well, I was at home and had just gotten off the phone for an interview, and I’d just come back from Thailand. I had gone to work at a refugee camp there for a little bit. I was stumbling through this interview because my head was not at all anywhere near the television show. The last question, she said, “Are you afraid to be killed off the show?” I said, “Absolutely not.” She said, “That’s confident.” I said, “Oh no, I’m confident it will happen, but I’m not worried about it.” You don’t take a job in acting at all expecting 25 years in and a pension. You certainly don’t take a job on a show called The Walking Dead knowing your character gets iced in the book and think, I’m safe. Frank Darabont and I argued about this several times, because he wasn’t sure he ever wanted to get rid of Lori. I fought with him about it. I said, “You have to. Lori’s death does something to Rick that you cannot do any other way. Eventually, you’re going to have to do it.”
We kicked that can down the road, and ultimately it ended up being on someone else’s watch. So I hung up the phone. Put it down. And then the phone rang again. I picked it up, and he goes, “Hey, it’s [showrunner] Glen Mazzara.” And I go, “Hey, what can I do for you?” And he said, “I wish I had the time to say this right, but I’m in the car on the way to the airport because my mother is on her deathbed. And I wanted you to hear it from me — you’re being killed off the show.” Then there was a pause. And he said, “What do you think?” I said, “How’s your mom?” He said, “What?” I said, “How’s your mom?” He started explaining some of the circumstances, and I said, “How are you?” And there was a long pause and he goes, “Did you hear me?” I said “Yeah, I heard you. I’m sure I’ll have a bunch of emotions about it, but it’s a television show, and your mother is dying. So how are you?” And so it was a really interesting, bizarre way of hearing the news. Before we got off the phone, I said, “Listen, Glen, I’m a big girl. I’ve been doing this for a while. This is fine. I loved this show. I poured my heart and soul into this show. I will pour it in until the very last frame. But I’m not going to cry, I’m not going to pitch a fit. You’re doing what’s best for the show. And thank you for calling me on the way to the airport.” That could have gone down real differently. And I wouldn’t have blamed him at all if he had someone else call me.
EW: What about when you found out how your character was going to die?
CALLIES: We talked a little bit about how it was going to happen. I didn’t necessarily want to know too much, because Lori doesn’t know she’s going to die, so I figured I’d wait until the script came out. And the script came out, and I thought, “This is a scene about a mother dying.” And I called Glen, and I said, “Don’t come to set. Don’t be here, we’ll handle it. There will be other people who can make sure we do it right. But don’t come to set.” And in the end, he didn’t.
EW: Glen told me how the scene in episode 2 where Maggie is talking to Hershel was based on what he said to his mother when she was dying, and he also told me that what you say to Carl here in episode 4 before dying was him “thinking about my own mom if she could have responded to the conversation in episode 2.” Did he share that with you, that it was that personal?
CALLIES: He did. We worked on those lines together for a couple of weeks and some of those lines are his and some of those lines are mine. Some of the things that I put in there came from things that I heard him say that he hadn’t put into the script. I just thought, it belongs there. Like “You’re the best thing I ever did.” I heard him say that, but it wasn’t in the script and I thought, that’s how parents feel.
EW: And then you had to feel it with your on-screen son, played by Chandler Riggs.
CALLIES: There’s all this resonance because I watched Chandler grow from a child into a young man in the time that we’ve worked together. And so there is the level of the characters being proxies for Glen and his mom, and there’s also a very literal interaction between Sarah and Chandler. It’s a profound relationship you create with children when you work with them. I remember the day Jeff DeMunn was killed off the show. It was emotional for all of us. We were shooting it at night and I turned around halfway through the evening and I just saw Chandler standing in the middle of the field — completely alone, this little boy in the dark, in the cold, and in the mist surrounding him. And I just thought, we’re adults. We know what it’s like to leave a show and to just have your heart break into a million pieces. Chandler hasn’t had that. That night, I went and put my arm around him and he leaned into me and we just stood there with our arms around each other for 5 minutes. And then I looked down at him and I was like, “I’m not gonna tell you it’s not going to hurt again, but we’re lucky. We’re lucky to love the people we work with enough that it hurts.” And then we went and we ate a bunch of cookies. [laughs]. At a certain point I was like, “I feel like a hot chocolate and a pack of Nutter Butters is gonna make this better.” And he said “That’s the first thing you’ve said to me that’s made any sense. Let’s go do that.” But that whole week, Chandler and I really couldn’t look at each other while we were shooting that episode. We just couldn’t really do it.