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The Walking Dead: Michael Cudlitz on the Abraham-Rosita-Sasha love triangle

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All guts, all gory! Entertainment Weekly takes you behind the scenes of the series that lives to shock. In this week’s cover story on the pulse-pounding return of The Walking Dead, we’ll take a deep dive into the jaw-dropping twists, scripts that made the cast physically ill, and a new villain who’s more terrifying than any zombie. To buy all six collectible covers, head here – and subscribe now for the exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW. And for more Walking Dead scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

Abraham and/or Sasha almost got murdered by a sassy-talking Savior on a motorcycle at the start of The Walking Dead’s midseason premiere. But they didn’t. That was thanks to some quick thinking and fantastic aim by RPG-packing comrade-in-arms Daryl Dixon.

So now that they’re alive and almost everyone (R.I.P. Anderson family) is back and still alive in Alexandria, we can return to more pressing matters, like what is up with Abraham making moves on Sasha when he still has a perfectly perfect girlfriend in Rosita? What the hell is that dude thinking? We asked the man who plays him, Michael Cudlitz, exactly that. Here’s what Cudlitz had to say about the big midseason premiere and Abraham’s future with Rosita and/or Sasha.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I want to start from the very beginning of the midseason premiere because it was a continuation of that prologue scene we saw a month or so back, and this dude stops you on the road. He’s got his biker gang with him. He demands your weapons.

MICHAEL CUDLITZ: It’s not looking good for us, right?

Not looking good. Sasha turns over her weapon. Daryl turns over a weapon. Then he gets to Abraham, and there’s a pause there. Abraham doesn’t want to give his up. He’s just sort of sitting there staring him down a little bit. What’s going through his mind right there?

I think Abraham knows exactly where this is headed, and if he gives up the weapon, he knows what may happen. But look, the people who follow the show know that we have a fuel truck and an RPG. What could possibly go wrong?

Well put. Then Daryl blows them up with the rocket launcher. Tell us how you all staged the explosion.

Well, that, obviously, is such an epic moment. It’s done almost completely in special effects after the fact. So everything is filmed with the guy standing there. We go through the entire scene where the explosion would’ve taken place. Then the guys come in, and they redress completely. You know, the bikes are laid down, pieces of bikes are put in there, pieces of prosthetics are put in there.

And then they reshoot the scene again with everything completely blown up in the aftermath. When we do gunfire, we’ll actually have blanks, and you hear things, and you can react to things in real time. This is something that’s completely manufactured, because even the guys ducking, everything is so much bigger than what you can do that it is actually all done after the fact.

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So Greg Nicotero, who directed this, is yelling “BAM!” off-camera or something?

There’s a “BAM” because we react, and I get blown to the floor. So there is that, but it’s completely manufactured. I mean, it literally is somebody yelling, “BAM!” It’s not like we’re going to do an explosion, but it’s not going to be as big. It’s just not there.

And because we know the Saviors leader Negan is coming and will be played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, this is really setting the table ahead for everything that’s going to come.

Oh, yeah. And it’s handled that way. Greg and Scott Gimple, our showrunner, he’s very keenly aware of specific moments in comic books and the payoff that that moment brings. So you wind up shooting those moments in very different ways and making sure that they have a lot of different takes on it, because they have to use the perfect sort of moment when you hear the name Negan.

Even if you don’t read the comics, it has to have a tremendous amount of weight to it, and if you do read the comics, you want it to have a tremendous amount of weight to it. You want it to sort of have that tease be epic. Even if it’s subtle, it still has to be like, “Oh, man, Negan’s coming. What does this mean?” And people who don’t read the comics, we just blew up these guys. So they’re like, “Well, maybe they’ve taken care of Negan.” So that’s the implication, and if you know the comics and if you sort of pay attention to the stuff online, you know that this is just the beginning.

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Abraham and Sasha later then save the day for Glenn. What was it like filming this big final assault all at night as opposed to the daytime.

Yeah, these gunfires at night are awesome. It’s fantastic. I’ve been very fortunate in my career. I’ve shot a lot of military stuff and stuff with firefights. Nothing compares to gunfire at night. Nothing compares to gunfire. You know, when we use the blanks on the show when you’re acting like you’re shooting something or doing it, you want that recoil. You want that burst and the flare that comes out the front. It feeds into the scene. So when you’re doing an entire sequence that happens at night, it brings everything alive that much more.

Just everything goes to the next level, and this one we have lots of gunfire. We have actual fire. We have the RPG, the explosion, the whole thing igniting, and the effects. They just blew the heck out of that lake. There was actually a huge gasoline fireball that they blew up in the lake, and you could literally feel the heat. They were very concerned about us getting too close. So there was a lot of safety meetings, and then when this thing finally goes off, it’s just insane. So all of those reactions are pure actual reactions, and you can feel the wave of heat coming off the lake when those firebombs go off. It’s insane.

And we see the town banding together to clear out the zombies. So does this mean we now have a town united going ahead finally?

I would say that’s a pretty fair assessment, and not only a town united, but a Rick who believes that there’s a future for these people. He sees what they did, and he was the one who doubted the most and was ready to let them die. You know, if they can’t defend themselves, they’re going to die, and he said that multiple times prior, and guess what? When put in the right circumstances, most people will rise to the occasion and will defend themselves at whatever level they’re able to. I think Alexandrians more than step up. I find it to be a very exciting sequence seeing the underdog rise up. It’s what the show always hinges back on, there’s hope.

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Okay, let’s get into this now. Abraham has a girlfriend in Rosita, and they’ve been through so much together. Yet now he’s putting the moves on Sasha. What the hell is that all about?

He’s a genius!

In what way?

It’s the zombie apocalypse. What, now there’s rules? No, look, he sees a lot of himself in Sasha, things that he has respected his whole life — the strength that she has on her own. I think in a lot of ways he feels like he’s protected Rosita, and he’s brought her to this point through training her, and here is someone that he’s looking at, and he’s seeing an equal who will call him on his bull. So he’s attracted to that. So, you know, we’ll see what that really evolves into.

I don’t know if at this point he really knows what it is, but he knows he likes it. He knows he’s attracted to it, and he knows at this point, there’s nothing denying it. I would equate it to somebody when they know they’re going to die. You have to do changes in your life, and I think he’s in this sort of world. He’s sort of said, “Okay, this is where we are, and I’m not going to live any lies.” I’m going to move forward, and I’m going to do what I have to do.”

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And Abraham has this arc in the comic books. It’s just with a different woman named Holly.

Yes. I think when characters have hope and they know that there’s a future, they reassess, and I think he’s going through a major reassessment right now knowing that, as he says in the episode, we have walls. You know, we have a future. And beer.

Beer is certainly important to him. But how does Sasha feel about “dolphin smooth”? Because different women have different takes on this.

Yeah, I don’t know if we really know that yet.