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The Walking Dead: Andrew Lincoln breaks down season finale

Says Lincoln: Rick is ‘suffering for his sins’

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Gene Page/AMC

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

We have already heard from the showrunner of The Walking Dead about the controversial cliffhanger that ended Sunday’s season finale. And from the director of the episode. And from the villain who made his long-awaited debut. And from the viewers in terms of who they think was on the receiving end of that beating courtesy of Negan and his barbed wire covered baseball bat Lucille.

Now it’s time to hear from the (hopefully not now bashed in) face of the franchise, Andrew Lincoln. The man who plays Rick Grimes called in to chat about the controversial finale, whether Rick is to blame, and what’s coming up next.

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ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Is this cruel and unusual punishment to make us wait over six months to learn the identity of who died? That’s brutal!

ANDREW LINCOLN: Same with us! Fortunately we’re kind of getting to the point now where we’ve had our six months off and we get back to where we left off. This is a cruel and unusual show, Dalton! And the wonderful thing that Scott and the writers have always done is try to change it up and try to keep moving the story. It’s a terrible, horrendous situation Rick and the gang are in. And there is no way out.

I spoke to Greg Nicotero, who directed the episode, and he said that even the actors in the scene did not know who was being killed. I find that fascinating.

It’s a double-edged sword, our show. Because we have this incredibly rich source material — beautiful. And this incredible landscape has been drawn and continues to be drawn by Robert Kirkman. And yet the other side of it is that people sort of are ahead with the Negan situation, so perhaps if people were just viewing this without any knowledge of the 100th issue, it would be a different experience. You know what I’m saying?

Without a doubt. Even if you have not read that issue, I think every fan is already familiar with the basics of Negan’s entrance there.

I think what Scott and the team have done, which is beautiful, is that it is very much about Rick and the hubris that you see in a man who has come full circle, unified Alexandria, and suddenly thinks the world is his — and then realizes very bleakly and very shockingly that the world is a completely different place. And I think that was very much Scott and the writers’ intention. And Greg’s. To focus on a man who is crumbling before your eyes and in front of everybody else.

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And he had been so cocky lately! Talking about how the world was theirs, and they can handle anything.

I think you’re right. He was a man who was breathing his own inflated sense of self. His hubris is a big part of his journey. Like a lot of leaders, they can get caught up in their own press, I think there was a feeling of invincibility. And he was wrong. He made some calls that were probably damaging to the group. Although it’s much, much easier to say that in hindsight. He’s a man trying to do right in all circumstances, but yet he did some sloppy things and went into an area morally that was unknown territory and very dark. And probably is suffering for his sins.

Take me through being there filming that last scene on your knees at the mercy of this lunatic with a barbed wire baseball bat. What was the mood like there? And what sort of head space were you trying to put yourself in for that?

It was incredibly intense. It was two nights. And I just wanted to position him as if he was lost. It’s almost like I wanted him to go inside himself and realize that everything he had built, everything he had done, everything he had thought was all crumbling around him in real time.

The atmosphere reminded me of season 1. It was a very exciting time and it felt like everyone was terribly focused on creating the right atmosphere. We wanted Jeffrey Dean Morgan to come in and feel this suffocating, oppressive tension. And he rose to the challenge. That was one of the most phenomenal entrances I’ve seen in my career.

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One of my favorite moments from the episode was the look you and Chandler give each other before dropping to your knees. I feel like so much is being said at that moment with no words.

That’s what I wanted the episode to be — and Greg was instrumental in this as well: marking the slow horror that everything was unraveling and you see a man truly in fear for his family’s life. There’s a very small scene where even Carl has inherited this hubris when they’re carrying Maggie through the woods. And it’s a tiny little scene but it’s a moment that I loved playing. We wanted this slow unpicking of this leader. He’s met in match and then some. And you see that realization in that scene where he’s like “Oh, God. We are in a world of pain. We’re really entering into the Heart of Darkness.”

So it was an intense two days but we came out of it quite euphoric because we thought we had positioned the story into one of the most exciting and dynamic places it’s been in a long, long, time.

Who much do you know right now about season 7?

Well, we all know Mr. Gimple. He likes to play things very close to his chest. Because it can change, it’s a loose sketch. It’s ambitious, but there’s a great sense of shape to his storytelling coming up in the next few chapters.

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Scott talked about the cliffhanger on Talking Dead Sunday night, and said that when the show comes back “We have to do an episode that justifies it to you. We have to do something so great and so intense that you’re like ‘Okay, all right, fair play.’ That’s the challenge we have and we’re going to do it.” Do you agree with that, that there’s a lot of pressure on you all now to make that cliffhanger and that wait worth it?

I think there’s always been a pressure on the show and it continues and increases year by year. That’s why its so exciting and terrifying. But I agree with you that there’s a theory that if you finish with the death of one of us, it’s a hugely impactful emotionally relevant finish — period. Which gives an audience time to grieve or get used to the idea. This is quite an ambitious and terrifying return because usually the season begins with a big euphoric rise and call to arms, like when we escaped from Terminus. Generally you want the fireworks.

This is what I love about Scott and the writers: This is not the usual way to do it. This is the much more challenging way to do it as a writer and a storyteller — to ask the audience to return and suffer. Because we know someone’s dead. And that’s the beginning of season 7. And it’s going to lead to incredible writing and storytelling, and it will forge the beginning to this next chapter. We’ve got a big challenge that we have to rise too.