Dalton Ross
October 22, 2017 AT 10:07 PM EDT

SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched the “Mercy” season 8 premiere of The Walking Dead.

“My mercy prevails over my wrath.” Those were some jarring words to hear come out of the mouth of a possibly future Rick Grimes near the end of the season 8 premiere of The Walking Dead, especially when present-day Rick was in process of promising to kill Negan and unleashing a horde of walkers on the Sanctuary.

We spoke to Andrew Lincoln to get his thoughts on playing different Ricks in seemingly different time periods, watching his on-screen son revisit his first scene on the show, and how all the action and actions of the premiere will play out over the course of the season. (Also make sure to check out our premiere Q&As with showrunner Scott M. Gimple and director Greg Nicotero.)

Gene Page/AMC

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, tell me all about getting to make that big inspirational speech. It acts as bookends in that it starts the episode with “It’s ours, by right,” and it ends the episode with “If we start tomorrow right now, no matter what comes next, we’ve won. We’ve already won.” What was it like getting to make that speech and fire up the troops, as it were?
ANDREW LINCOLN: I think it was really the calm before the storm. It echoes what was in my head when we had the showdown at the end of last season, which it is that he’s already won because they’re liberated, they’re free, and I think it is that feeling of since it doesn’t matter because we’re done, because we’re fighting it and whatever the consequences, we are free from this. So we’ve won.

And I think for Rick, he is a small-town cop that has been pushed to the front of the line, and apparently people follow him. I think it’s the best effort he’s got because there is an elaborate plan that will unveil itself as the episodes unfold. But you’ve only seen stage one of something. It’s almost like the laying of the table, and with 15 more courses of pain, punishment, and retribution.

We see Rick at three different stages and times and places in this episode. We see him waging war against Negan, we see the future Rick with the cane and older Judith, and then we see this Rick with red bloodshot eyes, talking about his mercy prevailing over his wrath. What’s it like putting yourself in and keeping track of all these different emotional stages seemingly at different times?
It’s a brilliant question — a very complicated question as well because [showrunner] Scott Gimple probably is a man who keeps his cards extremely close to his chest and there were several conversations where I was saying, “I kind of need to know who I’m talking to,” or “Is this reality?” And he was cagey. And rightly so, because it’s quite exciting. It feels like perhaps there are these variations in a future that’s being offered up perhaps. But I think that the idea is that they are intended to be abstract.

What we saw there at the very end seems to be the biggest question lingering over the season: Will mercy prevail over wrath?
I think you’re absolutely right. We have these overarching themes sort of sprinkled in that first episode. I wouldn’t want to speak for any other character, but we have this All-Out War and these are the opening gunshots of the most action-packed season that we’ve ever attempted by far. I think you’d certainly have each character question themselves as to why they’re fighting and what would be the cost of this war.

What was it like seeing Chandler Riggs recreate your very first scene from the very first episode with going to retrieve the gas?
It was so cool and incredibly moving, and not a little unnerving before shadowing the whole thing. I did get a bit jumpy, I have to admit, but it was such a nice idea. We had a few of those — you’ve got the flowers, there were little sort of references that they could refer to episodes, and certainly that call back is after 100 episodes to that sequence which was one of the first sequences we ever shot — it was particularly enjoyable to watch that.

And it’s a really nice moment after it, too, where Carl and Rick are arguing over Rick’s scaring away Siddiq there.
That is the beginning of the bigger argument actually, between a generational human parent and a son, and also a much bigger idea about the reasons for the fighting. There’s lots of excitement towards the second half of it. That’s just the beginning of a much larger conversation.

I thought it was also interesting that scene at the end where you’re not pulling out of the Sanctuary as the walkers approach and Gabriel has to remind you that it’s not about you. But you do stop to take that Polaroid before you leave, which feels like it might be sort of a personal comeback at Negan since his people have taken Polaroids before of human carnage they have inflicted.
Yeah, there is that. That will be answered in a little bit. The cutaway to an important purpose, is all I will say.

What else can you say about what’s coming up next?
It’s bigger than we’ve ever invented. What the writers have tried to do narratively, it’s a roller coaster this season. It’s real life, but it is anchored with I think some of the biggest deaths we’ve ever dealt with. And the second half I think is even darker and deeper and more connected than we’ve ever done. I’ve never been involved in the season that is so all-out. The crew are the glue that have kept this show together and this season they have worked harder than I’ve ever seen any human beings work, and I want this show to be the best ever for them, for what they’ve done. And, of course, the fans. I want this to be the best season we’ve ever done. In my heart, that’s what I want it to be.

Make sure to check out our Q&As with showrunner Scott M. Gimple and director Greg Nicotero. And for more The Walking Dead scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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