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'The Walking Dead' star Emily Kinney on Beth's disturbing lollipop scene and more

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Walking Dead 04
Gene Page/AMC

[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead.]

Oh, there she is. After being absent for the first three episodes of season 5, Emily Kinney made her return Sunday night to The Walking Dead as Beth, and in a big way. Beth woke up in a hospital only to be physically and sexually abused by people who demanded compensation for supposedly saving her out in the wild. Along the way, she was forced to share a lollipop with a super-creepy cop, got to dine on guinea pig, and made a daring escape attempt that ended up being only partly successful. We caught up with Kinney to get her thoughts on the episode and one of the most uncomfortable scenes in Walking Dead history. [Also check out our interviews with Tyler James Williams (who plays Noah) and Christine Woods (Dawn Lerner).]

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You were not in the first three episodes at all, so what was it like to watch those unfold — knowing what was going on, I assume, but still not seeing them until they were all put together?

EMILY KINNEY: Yeah, it was fun to be an audience member for a minute and watch those episodes. It was hard because anytime I see basically anyone it was always “Where are you? When are you coming back? What’s going on? Are you dead? Are you this?” So it’s hard to keep quiet. But it was fun to watch those episodes. I knew what was going to happen because I had read the scripts, but it’s fun to watch as more of an audience member and see how they all unfold. Very sad, scary, violent — as usual.

Was it difficult having to wait a bit to show Beth’s storyline and where she picked up? Just wanting to have everyone see it and put a stop to all those questions?

There is so much anticipation that was building, and going to the premiere in L.A. everyone was asking me questions, and you feel like you can’t tell when because it’s supposed to be a surprise. So it is nice to finally have it out there and have some of those questions that everyone has had answered about where I’ve been.

So you finally do get to come back, but then it is with a completely new cast. I’m sure they’re all lovely people, but that must have been a bit odd at first to suddenly be among strangers, at least in the cast.

It still felt like the show because we have the same crew and Mike Satrazemis directed it and he is the [director of photography], so someone that I knew really well. And it was all the same producers on set, so there’s still a lot of the familiar faces that I’m used to, so it felt very homey to me to be filming and everything. But it is different having a different cast. Also some of the cast members actually visited the set while I was there, like Norman and Andy. They were so encouraging and supportive. But it was a whole different cast and it was interesting in that I’m so comfy with Lauren and Steven and Norman, and I felt just like Beth, like, “Who are these people? Do I know them? Do I click with them? Do I not?” So I was sort of very much feeling the same way as Beth was as far as how to learn about these new castmates. And they’re all really great and really cool. But it’s a whole new world for Beth, and it was for me too.

Take the creepy sexual advances out of the equation, but if staying there at the hospital is presented as voluntary and if the people do seem okay and the place is safe, then do you think Beth might have considered staying, or is she too focused on getting back together with her crew?

I don’t know if she would stay. I think she just would rather be with her family and with her friends. I think if they were nicer she maybe would have been like, “You can come with me!” or “Lets go find my family members and bring them back to the hospital!” Maybe there would have been more of a joining of forces rather than “Okay, I have to escape. I have to run away from these people.” Because she did sort of form bonds with Noah when she realized how trustworthy he was. So I don’t think she was totally necessarily against this place, but she quickly realized that they were not nice people and that it was a very physically and mentally abusive type of situation.

We’ve seen Beth underestimated before, and there’s this one scene between the woman running the place, Dawn, and Beth where Dawn says, “You’re not strong enough.” To me, though, this was the episode where we saw just how strong Beth is, with her aggressively taking steps to get out of this situation and consistently standing up to Dawn. What’s your take on that?

I think Beth is really strong. I think she’s really smart and very aware, and when she needs to step up, she does. This episode just pushes her. There’s a moment too where Dawn grabs her wrists and is like, “I see that you’re not strong,” and basically is pointing out her suicide attempt from season 2. But I think that in that moment Beth is so far past that, and in a way Dawn thinks that she has something over Beth, but Beth knows, “Oh, no, I’m way past that now. Now I’m in this world and I’ve chosen to stick with it.” And even Dawn doesn’t realize how much Beth is past that moment and ready to fight for herself.

Okay, we need to talk about the lollipop scene.

Oh my God.

Officer Gorman takes your lollipop, he sucks on it, and then forces you to start licking it. That was extremely uncomfortable to watch. What was it like to film?

Luckily, the actor who plays Gorman is actually a really nice guy, but he was very, very good at being really creepy. It was uncomfortable, but it’s uncomfortable for Beth. Unfortunately, I do feel — maybe not to that extent — but I do feel like most women and most girls know what it feels like to have that kind of male aggressiveness. Unfortunately, I do feel like I understood that feeling — even though maybe nothing that extreme, but I do feel like a lot of women and girls have felt that unwanted attention and power trip kind of thing. So unfortunately, I did feel like I knew how that felt. I knew how Beth felt in that moment.

We always talk about having to sometimes cover your eyes when you watch this show and it’s usually referring to brutally violent acts and heads being split open and stuff like that, but I actually had my hands over my eyes during that scene for part of it because it was so difficult to watch.

Yeah, it’s awful. No one should be pushed in that way. It’s totally awful. It’s good that you felt that way because it shows that you can understand why Beth is like, I have to get out of here. I’d rather be fighting zombies and barely alive than living in this situation.

NEXT: Kinney on eating guinea pig and getting left behind by Noah