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'Walking Dead' star Andrew Lincoln talks season finale

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Gene Page/AMC

[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “Conquer” season finale of The Walking Dead.]

When it comes to The Walking Dead, Rick is back where he belongs—in control. After taking down a zombie who made it within the walls, delivering a passionate speech, and then putting a bullet in Pete’s brain at Deanna’s request, Rick finally made the Alexandrians see the light in Sunday’s season finale when it comes to what is necessary to protect themselves from dangers both human and otherwise. We spoke to star Andrew Lincoln to get his take on Rick’s big speech (“It was a call to arms, but it was a restrained call to arms”), getting zombie blood poured on him in freezing cold weather, and a possible future love connection with Jessie.

EW: Let’s start with the very end. Rick certainly likes to give speeches or make bold proclamations at the very end of seasons. I’ve noticed this about him—his timing is impeccable. When the end of the season rolls around he always has something very important to say.

ANDREW LINCOLN: Yeah, it fills me with dread that every final script that has happened in the last three or four years, I have to sort of…it’s like a judge and jury. “Let’s just wrap it all up here. No pressure, Andy.” It was an extraordinary final episode. And of course everyone is there. You have to deliver it in front of all of your fellow costars that are still alive, and all the new ones that have arrived—and after seven-and-a-half-months of non-stop filming. So it’s a right of passage. I also look at Norman Reedus and he just laughs at me. He goes, “Yeah. I’d rather you than me, mate.” And he just rocks up and looks sexy. Now I know which part I should have gone for five years ago, you know what I mean?

Plus, he gets the crossbow. That dude gets it all! 

Exactly! I texted him—because we send ridiculous texts to each other—and I was signing some fan mail and there was this one photo of me looking suitably deranged in the foreground and Norman just had his crossbow up. And you couldn’t see anything apart from his hair. I said to my wife, “That’s what I love about Norman. He doesn’t care.” All the camera crew just goes, “Could you drop the crossbow, Norman, so we can see your eyes?” And he’s like, “I wouldn’t drop the crossbow. I wanna kill this guy.” That’s what I love about Norman, is that you can’t even see his face on any of these photographs. Brilliant.

Tell us about this climatic scene at the very end with dropping the zombie body and then giving that speech. How do you prepare for something like that?

Rick’s dilemma is that he’d said everything he needed to say in episode 15. Episode 15 could have been a season finale in its own right, I thought. It was a very ambitious final episode from [showrunner Scott Gimple] because he’s spinning maybe seven independent stories all at once. Rick was going through that quandary of whether or not he sides with Carol. There’s a lot of pressure coming from the Carol camp about what should be done. And he comes to a conclusion, helped by the memory of Bob and other characters that have tempered him into a more reasonable place. It’s almost like you’re recalibrating the man, and he did it very much in isolation.

We also got incredibly lucky. I think that if the town meeting had gone badly, he would have taken over—he would have taken the place. But we just got lucky, in as much as the gates were open. And I said to Scott—and  this is me trying to yalk myself out of the speech—I said, “I don’t think I need to say anything. I think it’s implicit in the fact that I show up with a zombie and I throw it down in front of them, covered in blood.” And he said, “I agree with you, but why don’t you say the words anyway and we’ll see what happens?” [Laughs] And I was like, “Alright, here’s the speech.” I think it was very much an episode about a man wrestling with leadership. He doesn’t want to have to do this thing. He made a mistake. He messed up, but he showed his cards in the episode before and it was a bad call. He’s not proud of himself at the end of episode 15. I think he’s embarrassed that it’s come to that, but it was a combination of emotion and feeling of wanting to control, losing something. We’re kinda damaged goods. We’re quite damaged, Dalton, but we’re doing our best.

I love the immediate response but also the expressionless face you have when Deanna says, “Rick, do it.” And you just turn and shoot Pete. There’s no hesitation, but there’s also almost no emotion when you do it.

I think you’re right and it was a very conscious decision. I didn’t want it to be full of, “You see? Now you understand.” It was much more, “I defer to you.” I think it’s a very important beat. He’s very mindful of the fact, but also there’s an inevitability in it, in that he’s waiting for her to call it. It wasn’t standing in judgment over her, it was just, “I’m ready. What do you want?” So he still gives the status, but there was no judgment. I don’t think that’s who he is. He’s a fair man and he knows that she’s been traumatized in the last three days. She’s lost her son and now her husband. 

And then on top of all of that, he sees Morgan. What’s Rick thinking there after all the other stuff that has transpired that Morgan is now standing in front of him?

Yet again, he’s like a mirage. This guy keeps showing up every two seasons. It was a beautiful ending and I think that it opens the door to so many questions. He seems like a changed man. It’s so incomprehensible that this guy is standing in front of me with Daryl and Aaron. All I can tell you is that everybody is champing at the bit to see what the returning episode is going to be like and we’re going to find out soon. I think there’s a storm coming. 

This season for me has been certainly one of the most exciting. I just think the storytelling in it has been so ambitious and brave and really astonishing. I think Scott and all of the team and the writers have done such a magnificent job. It’s been a pleasure to watch Sonequa and Steven Yeun and these amazing, wonderful performances all around. It doesn’t feel like an ensemble anymore—it feels like a cast of leading actors. And certainly the writers are writing to that as well. They realize that they can lean on people.

What was like filming in Alexandria? Did it feel a little foreign at first, and, if so, did you like that it felt foreign because it was foreign for the characters?

It was a very uncomfortable, strange environment for all of us and I think that was the point. I think they wanted us to be like feral animals, and then you arrive at this relatively pristine, untouched safe haven. Episode 12, where I shave the beard off and we’re clean and I see my reflection for the first time since episode 9 [of last season] when my face is beaten up and I don’t recognize myself: He doesn’t recognize himself as much as when he last saw his reflection, with the beard and without. I think that was very much…it was uncomfortable, it was strange and it spun my character out and me. I think it was really helpful.

What’s interesting is that it was a great roll of the dice with this place and with this community because now that we’ve done this and established it, it feels like they’re gonna have to listen to us and maybe be educated by us in this strength that we have as survivors. We could be turning into a very, very different and exciting new horizon in the show, which is much more psychological and much more about reinventing oneself and how do we do that and how do we choose to form a society. It was different to play as an actor. We’re so used to everything being immediate and in the moment and high stakes, and it was lovely just to have nuanced scenes. You know—a romance, a potential romance, or feelings again with another character was really exciting to play. And to discover if this guy is capable of it. 

With Pete out of the way, is Rick gonna make a move on Jessie? Of course, he did just put a bullet in her husband’s head. 

It’s never easy dating in the apocalypse. [Laughs] There’s a slight bump in the road with the dating. I think the next candlelit dinner could be problematic. We’ve got a bit to talk about. Only on this show. Its like, “It’s going rather well apart from the fact we almost killed each other in the street the night before. And then I shoot your husband the next day. Anyway, should we move on from here?” [Laughs] I’m excited to read that first scene. I’m glad I’m not a writer on the show. 

I love those scenes with you and Tovah Feldshuh, playing Rick and Deanna, seeing two very different but effective leaders, arguing policy in a way.

What a talent. We’re so lucky to have her. The first scene that she came in, she was still jet-lagged and we gave her nine pages. She’s electric. She has this incredible energy, she’s fiercely bright. And she’s, in her own right, a formidable leader and a manger of people, which I think is a huge attribute in this world. I love working with her. It’s so lovely to have such an experienced and vastly talented actor on set, like Scott Wilson and Jeff DeMunn—it’s such a wonderful feeling to have that on set amongst all the youthful energy and brilliance as well. 

Okay, we need to talk about your fight with the zombie, which ends with him exploding all over you. How messy was that and how many takes did you have to endure?

Not many. The thing I’ve realized now, living and working in Atlanta, GA for five years, is that you bust a gut in 100 degree heat and pretty much 90 percent humidity in all of the summer. And all through the summer, the crew are going, “Andy, Andy, Andy. The fall is the most beautiful time in America. Don’t worry about it. It’s all good.” And of course, fall lasts two days, and then it’s just freezing. And what happened is that Greg Nicotero said, “I promise you, I’ll warm the blood.” And I said, “How are you gonna warm the blood? Between your knees?!” What we did, we were shooting and it was minus three, and of course I’m wrestling with Jake— who’s my go-to zombie wrestle partner, and he works for KNB and does all the makeup—and of course we have the fight. The rest of the crew is in four layers of gortex, and I’m just there waiting for a bucket of blood to fall on my face. That’s my life, Dalton. This is the job. It’s almost like a joke job. They go, “Okay Andy, this is the final episode. Thanks for all your hard work. We’re gonna dump a gallon of cold blood on your face and then you have to do a massive soliloquy and then shoot the man. There you go. And then you can go home.” But I just love it. After the fight and the scene in the street and the blood and getting messed up, getting the tie loosened and getting back into my jacket again and then having a sort of battle with the zombie was amazing.

And then being able to deliver it, it felt like Rick returned. I think he was frustrated. He always feels terribly responsible for bad decision-making. I think he feels he probably should have been on the run when Noah died. That’s one of the big reasons why he lost it in [episode] 15. And so it was a great episode, 16, because it felt very much like this isn’t a democracy anymore. It felt like, it was a very much in that pocket—it was a call to arms, but it was a restrained call to arms. I loved the line “How many of you do I have to kill to save your lives?” It’s a beautiful sentiment that Scott wrote, I thought. 

For more ‘Walking Dead’ scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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