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The Walking Dead: Michael Cudlitz recalls Abraham's biggest moment

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Gene Page/AMC

Ahead of the release of The Walking Dead’s seventh season, EW takes an inside look at the horror franchise. Entertainment Weekly’s Ultimate Guide to the Walking Dead is on sale now and can be found with a collectible cover on newsstands after October 14, 2016. As part of the book, we spoke to key Walking Dead figures to look back at one of the biggest moments from each season. Some may be major, others a bit more subtle. In the fifth installment of the series, we chatted with Michael Cudlitz about a key moment from season 5. (Also make sure to check out our season 1 Q&A with Andrew Lincoln, season 2 Q&A with showrunner Scott M. Gimple, season 3 Q&A with Norman Reedus, and season 4 Q&A with director Michael E. Satrazemis.)

SEASON 5 KEY MOMENT

THE INTERVIEW: MICHAEL CUDLITZ

THE MOMENT: EUGENE TELLS ABRAHAM THE TRUTH

EPISODE: “SELF HELP”

It was the lie that saved two lives. When Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) was at his lowest point and about to kill himself after the death of his family, a mullet-sporting scientist named Eugene (Josh McDermitt) needing to get to Washington, D.C. to help save mankind arrived, giving Abraham a new mission and purpose for living. It was a win-win situation, until that scientist revealed he was not actually a scientist, but rather lied to secure protection. And then, in an instant, all of Abraham’s pain returned — before he delivered some physical pain of his own onto Eugene. We spoke to Cudlitz to get his take on the brutal takedown.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So let’s talk about Abraham’s reaction to Eugene’s big lie that he’s not actually a scientist. We get both the calm and then the storm, don’t we?

MICHAEL CUDLITZ: It starts with the repeated failure of Abraham trying to get this mission going and make sure that he gets Eugene to where he needs to get to him. So while Abraham is at his most frayed and very much at the end of his rope because he’s barely keeping a handle on it, Eugene lets out this admission that it’s basically all a lie. For Abraham, there’s this huge flood of not only was this all falling apart and he was completely at his wit’s end, but then he realizes that every single thing he has done up until this point has basically been a lie and for nothing.

It’s not only the people that he has killed to keep this guy safe, but it’s the people who have died along the way to keep this guy safe. So there’s a tremendous amount of turmoil inside of Abraham, basically having a nervous breakdown because he can’t process all of this at once. And then Eugene for some reason thinks it would be wise to point out that he is actually smarter than him at that point.

And that’s the snapping point. Because up until that point, it looks like Abraham’s mind is in another place.

He’s trying to process everything that’s gone on. It’s like, “What, are you f—ing kidding me?” He realizes that this is the truth and he’s really just putting everything together in his head until he says that one specific piece of dialogue, and then everything turns to anger and gets unleashed on Eugene. It’s literally like, “How dare you, you motherf—er?!”

How do you transition from such a quiet place to immediate pure and utter rage?

I think it’s simmering. You push it down. The strength of the show is that the circumstances and the reality of the show is so heightened, but it has to be grounded in a very real place or else it doesn’t work. Because we have so many “ridiculous” things that we do, if it’s not anchored in reality, I don’t think it’s believable at all. Then you wind up transcending graphic novel and going into “cartoon,” and the show is anything but cartoon.

How do you sell that aggression when you go there and you pop Josh a bunch of times in the face into that fire truck. I know precautions are being taken, but how do you sell that aggression while making sure you don’t actually hurt the guy?

That’s when all the departments come into play. We walk through everything a number of times. Things are planned out very specifically and cameras are placed in the exact proper place. That particular fight sequence — or ass-whooping sequence, I guess you’d call it, because it’s more of a beating that is handed out — was shot in such a way that it was very easy to keep everyone safe, and I was very far away from Josh at all times. They shot it with a long lens, which compresses all the action. As long as I’m in between him and he’s reacting properly, it sells. All of that is just me selling the hit, the punch or the thrown elbow, and Josh snapping his head back the right way.

Sure, accidents can happen and they do. I’ve been punched square in the face many a time. Never on this show, but it happens. It’s what we try to not do, but everybody understands that there’s a little bit of a risk involved. Nobody’s going to die, you know? There’s not that type of risk, but the risk of getting punched in the face or falling out is high and real and it happens, and it’s kind of a great day when you get hurt a little bit. I know that may sound strange, but we enjoy what we do and, when you really get into it, you don’t mind the occasional bumps and bruises that come with it. It’s part of it, and it’s an exciting part of it.

What’s so fascinating about this scene is that while Eugene lied to Abraham to save himself, as we see in these flashbacks that also appear in the episode, he really saved Abraham with that lie as well.

Absolutely. He saved his life and it’s not lost on Abraham over the course of the series, and that is why there is such an affinity. You can go back even to when they hadn’t made up yet when Eugene goes to drink the water on the road that was left by Aaron and Abraham smacks it out of his hand, because protecting him is so ingrained in him that it has become a part of him. And he’s not sure any more at that point if it’s just a habit or if he actually has genuine feelings for this person. And as we realize through the series and up until last season’s finale, he absolutely does.

Check out the two collectible covers for Entertainment Weekly’s Ultimate Guide to the Walking Dead, below. And for all the essential exclusive Walking Dead scoop, pick up the book right here.