By Dalton Ross
September 22, 2014 at 03:00 PM EDT
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After following the signs promising safety and sanctuary to Terminus for half a season, Rick and Co. were trapped in a box car thanks to the seemingly diabolical dealings of the train yard’s leader, Gareth. Even worse, several clues appear to hint that Gareth and the folks of Terminus plan on EATING their guests. But just who is this Gareth? And who is the man who plays him? We caught up with actor Andrew J. West after his epic road trip to Terminus to find out how he joined The Walking Dead, what he knows about what’s coming up when the show returns on Oct. 12, and how he views the man holding the keys to train car A. (Click though both pages to read the entire interview.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So let’s talk about the big Walking Dead program. Tell me, sir, exactly what it’s like becoming part of what may just be the biggest show in the world.

ANDREW J. WEST: [Laughs] You know, I’m still in the process of figuring out what that’s like, exactly. But it’s amazing. It’s sort of a whirlwind, really. The whole casting process is interesting because I went in and I read with Sharon Bialy and Sherry Thomas. And because the material of the show is so sensitive and because they can’t let out any spoilers, you use fake sides to audition with, fake material. So when I found out I got the job, I didn’t even know what character I was playing. I didn’t even know my character’s name, in fact. All I knew was that it was going to be for the show obviously, and I was super excited about that. I was ready to do pretty much whatever they wanted me to do because I was a fan of the show, I knew how great it was.

So I went to Atlanta last fall to do the finale, and even then I was just, still not exactly sure what I was getting into. And then you slowly start to kind of discover through rehearsals and through fittings and these kinds of things, where you fit. But jumping on the set with these actors, you would never know that it’s the biggest show in the world. I mean, these guys, everybody that I got to work with, they’re just having a good time. They love it. That was one of the coolest things about the show. You could tell that everybody really cares about it a lot, they really just want to make something great. So immediately you just feel like you’re with a bunch of creative friends. And you’re getting together and trying to make something really good. It was kind of all that I hoped it would be, really. Being on set it almost feels more like shooting a film, in a lot of ways, than a lot of TV, because you really take the time to get it right, you explore different ways of approaching scenes, and stuff like that. A lot of times with a lot of TV the schedules are so cramped that you kind of just have to move through it as quickly as possible, but this was special. It was a special experience.

I remember talking to Pedro Pascal, who had a huge role in this past season as Prince Oberyn on Game of Thrones, and he was  a huge fan of that show before he got cast in the role. He was telling me it was really hard for him to not geek out a little bit when he had his first scenes with these people. Did you have anything close to that at all when you shot that first scene with Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus and those guys last fall?

Yeah, a little bit. You definitely have that feeling of, you know, when you first walk on that set, “Oh my God.” You’re so familiar with those faces and that world that yeah, it’s a strange feeling. I don’t know how to describe it exactly. But there’s a sense that you want to just step back and watch them do their thing because you know how great it is and you’re so just sort of fascinated by it, and you have to remind yourself that, wait, I’m actually supposed to say things and do things in the scene. So yeah, I definitely had that my first day when I started last season. But like I said, Andrew Lincoln especially, they’re so just collaborative and enjoy it so much that you quickly forget about all that and just sort of sink into the work. And then it feels like you’re making your own little film with friends or something like that. But yeah, it’s weird — it was definitely weird at first.

I’ve been on The Walking Dead set a fair amount, and I love watching Andrew’s process. He kind of freaks out a little bit before takes. He might start just moaning or hitting things violently or whatever. Did you get to experience a little of that, and what was your reaction at first when he started doing that?

I did, absolutely. I love it. I love the lack of self-consciousness that he has. And that’s kind of what you need. You know, whatever helps you get there. And he has got to do a lot of heavy lifting on that show, obviously. And I think that plays into just how seriously he takes it and how he’s willing to kind of do whatever it takes to get there. And yeah, he’s got his grunts and his moans and his sounds that he makes, and that stuff is fun. And it helps you get fired up about the scenes that you’re about to go into, too. Watching him in his process and preparing, and then it gets you excited about it, and it makes you really want to go there and kind of play, too. But I love that. I love that stuff. There would be times where he would almost kind of catch me off guard before we’d start doing takes, with that kind of stuff. And it challenges you to really jump in the scene and have that tension with him.

You mentioned how through the process of getting the role they told you as little as possible, almost until you even got down there. What did showrunner Scott Gimple tell you before you were filming that finale last season? What did he tell you about Terminus? And how much did he tell you about what the people there were all about and what exactly they were doing there?

Really the bare minimum. He kind of only gave me the information that I needed in order to play the scenes. And honestly, it wasn’t much about Terminus or what these people are doing here. It was more character-specific stuff — just things about Gareth, him being a leader, but potentially exploring the idea of him not being a natural born leader but maybe somebody who kind of grew into this role, and someone who sort of has to take the reins. And also we talked a lot about the complex nature of the character, too. Which I think will come out very soon. When the new season starts, we really start to meet this person who is very complicated and multidimensional. And that was one of the things that I loved so much about it, kind of getting into the conversations with Scott. And kind of slowly learning who this guy was that I’d be playing, and just how layered he is, and how much you kind of learn about him as we go along. It’s going to be fun. It’s definitely going to be fun to watch. And as a fan of the show, I know that if I wasn’t involved with it, I would be super excited about it for sure.

NEXT: Why West does not see Gareth as a bad guy, and how Gareth sees Rick

Gene Page/AMC

How do you see Gareth? Do you see him as a bad guy, because he’s on the opposite end of Rick and our protagonists? Or is he a practical guy in bad circumstances of this zombie apocalypse? What is he to you?

I think he’s definitely a practical guy. And I think he’s a guy who is concerned with surviving. He’s very much concerned with figuring out a way to live in the new world. What’s interesting about the character, too, is that Gareth isn’t really the Governor. Really he’s more like Rick or even Glenn in a lot of ways. He’s a guy who’s searching and struggling for a new way to exist, because he has acknowledged and accepted that the old way just doesn’t work anymore. Society is different now. The world is different now. And the old rules just need to be reexamined. And he’s willing to do that. And I think that’s where the leader qualities come in. He is willing to sort of abandon certain ideas about the way the world used to be and find what the world needs to be now. And he’s he’s sort of a strong-willed guy, too. So, to answer your question, I don’t think of him as a bad guy. And really, when you’re playing a character, you can’t really think of them as a bad guy. Even the Governor, for instance — a lot of people would definitely say “The Governor is the bad guy of season 3 and season 4 ,or whatever.” I’ve never talked to David Morrissey about this or anything like that, but I would imagine that he wouldn’t want to go into those scenes thinking “I’m the bad guy.” You want to go into scenes thinking not that you’re the good guy or the bad guy, but that you’ve got a job to do.

And I’m not talking about as an actor, I’m talking about as the character. The character has something that they need to accomplish. And no one’s just trying to be evil, or walking around saying, “I’m just trying to do good.” Everybody, of course, wants to believe that they’re doing good, but you’re thinking about what it is that you’re trying to accomplish. And that’s what I love about Gareth. He’s got things that he’s after. He’s got things that he’s trying to accomplish and things that he’s trying to do. That’s the main thing. And what’s so cool about the way that the relationship between him and Rick is set off in the finale, is that we immediately see some tension between them because you see two characters who are both strong-willed, and who both want to survive, and who have histories and ideas about the best way to do that. And right off the bat in that finale, they seem to sort of be at odds with one another. So I think it’s going to be really interesting to see how that relationship continues to play out when the new season starts.

How does Gareth see Rick? How does that character view this guy? I assume he views him pretty naturally as the leader of this group they’ve brought in, but what’s his sort of take on that character?

I think he probably sees Rick in a lot of ways as a kindred spirit. Obviously, right off the bat he identifies him as the ringleader. It’s kind of the nickname that he gives Rick in the finale. And right away he can tell that this guy’s tough, that he’s survived and that he knows how to survive. And that he is a really strong-willed guy. And I believe that Gareth respects that kind of person. So yeah, I think that’s generally how Gareth views Rick when he meets him in the finale. Even after the brief encounters that they have.

So you mentioned that Scott didn’t tell you much when you got the role, so after the finale aired, were you then out looking at the theories that everyone is putting out there, “Oh, it’s like the Hunters, they’re cannibals, this or that.” Were you reading that stuff?

Yeah, I was. Because I didn’t know. Even when we finished up the season, I didn’t know where it was going. And Scott and the rest of the writers, rightly so, keep a lot of it kind of close to the chest. As they should. So yeah. I was looking at all of that stuff. And a lot of the theories are so fascinating. And exciting frankly, too. And some of the theories about where the show is going, I don’t even know if they’re true or not because I don’t see everything that the writers write. And I’m still not privy to a lot of the material that doesn’t directly involve my character. So no, I do look at that, and I’m endlessly fascinated by it. And you know, we’re going to find out pretty quickly if a lot of this stuff is true, or what is true or what isn’t.

Have you had any fan encounters yet?

There definitely are a lot of diehard fans in Atlanta. They camp out at the side of the street. They’ve got their signs that they’re holding up as you’re driving off of set or onto set. I mean, personally, I haven’t had real personal encounters with a lot of the fans. But it’s funny, they’ve all got their boards with their own signs with their own theories about where the show is going, and they’re trying to flag you down to grill you, interrogate you a little bit about some of these things. I love that. I love how passionate these fans are about it — to see how quickly word travels about a character like Gareth who has only been in one episode so far, and people are already having this reaction to it, which is super exciting for me. And it’s definitely a testament to the writing.

Well, if you want to stay on fans’ good side, my one piece of advice is: don’t touch a hair on Norman Reedus’ head. Just don’t hurt Daryl Dixon.

You gotta call Scott Gimple and tell him that. Tell him to keep that guy safe. That would be a rough day. I wouldn’t want to be on the end of that.

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

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AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.
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