By Dalton Ross
October 03, 2014 at 03:30 PM EDT
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So this is what you get for trusting people. Rick Grimes and Co. heard a radio signal and saw painted sings promising peace and sanctuary at a place called Terminus. But all that awaited them there were a group of possible cannibals who funneled them into a box car. Man, people suck. First the Governor and now this?!? But to hear Andrew Lincoln tell it, that is what’s to be expected — and feared — in this new post-apocalyptic environment when season 5 of The Walking Dead kicks off on Oct. 12. We chatted with the star about what’s coming up — including the most violent season yet and a return back to downtown Atlanta — as well as his thoughts on how long he might like to remain on the show…assuming he is not killed off prematurely at some point, which is a terrible assumption to make when it comes to The Walking Dead. (Click through both pages to read the entire interview.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with generally talking about Rick. Where’s his head at now? The group’s in this terrible position, but they’ve got the guy they need back to help them deal with it.

ANDREW LINCOLN: This has been by far the most fun season for me to play. It’s the most difficult as well, because it’s a man who’s very single-minded, very determined, very much in control of whom he is, every aspect of his life. He’s gone through the soul searching and he’s come out on the other side. He’s in this new place, which is incredibly dynamic and dangerous. I think this is very much the season that he’s back. You stand alongside your family. You stand in front of me, you’re a problem. And that goes for people within the group, and also the world, the people you come across.

It feels like we’re moving to a new area now. It feels like we’ve got this incredible journey, and this incredible family of people with us. And we’ve gone into this room, and it’s a very dark room and it’s a very scary room, and we’ve locked the door and you’re not allowed out. We’re going to the other side now. And I do think it’s worth stressing— we’re really earning our rating this season. There are families that watch it together, but just so it’s on record, guys: It’s a grown-up show this season. And some of the violence is moving into a territory where it’s human violence, the most scary aspect of this show. In fact, some of the most lifelike moments are the zombies now. And I think that that’s a huge change. It feels real after these people have been inhabiting this world for two years, you know? The people left are going to be just as equally pragmatic and brutal, and tough, and resilient. So the clash in this season, and the conflict and the fear and the terror comes directly from the humans.

And obviously we know Gareth is the guy that’s trapped you in Terminus. I’m sure Rick is gonna be sizing his adversary up. What is it about this Gareth character that makes him dangerous?

I think what we were identifying is they may not be the strongest adversaries, but they have a system. The system there works, and it’s incredibly efficient. He has smarts. He’s a worthy adversary. He’s young, but he’s ruthless. You saw it at the end of last season. But he’s smart, as well. You will find out a lot in a very short space of time about Terminus and Gareth.

I know you guys are going to be in the city a lot more, going back to that urban vibe that we had in season 1. What’s it like returning to that?

One of the great things about this season is we’re in very similar locations to where the whole story began. And for me, it’s just kind of haunting. And there’s something about the urban environment and feeling the decay. And I know that the special effects department is having a lot of fun with that, and skylines and things, and you could see the effect of the erosion of the world, and I think they’re looking forward to creating that landscape as well. So I think every aspect is really fun. And also, just seeing what’s still left, if there are any people left in this city who aren’t dead. I want to stress as well that the last couple of episodes we had contain some of my favorite zombies for many years. There’s a breathtaking sequence in episode 7. And we walk into this environment, and we knew where it had gone now, and it was horrific. It was extraordinary.

Let’s talk about getting most of the group back together. We had these smaller stories at the end of last season, but now it’s like the band’s been reunited. How’s that vibe different?

It’s been great. Everybody missed each other. It was a very strange but necessary isolated band of nine last season. And I think what it did is it filled in the dots with a heck of a lot of characters. I don’t know if you saw it at Comic Con, but there was a banner with the principal cast, and there’s 14 of us. It’s ridiculous! We are an army now, and there is something incredibly formidable about that. But within it, I think, there is a pecking order, there is a hierarchy, and a lot of new people. People don’t know each other as well, so there’s a lot of people trying to work out where their place is in a group, if indeed there is a place. It’s not without its problems, but saying that, we are an incredibly formidable outfit, and quite a frightening one as well. I was working with another actor, and we were rehearsing a scene, and we were doing our thing and she said, ‘You know, you’re really scary.’ And, you know, you forget. But we look insane, and we’re crazy. We’re just a dysfunctional family that somehow is still there.

NEXT: Lincoln on the future of the show and if he feels restless after five seasons

Gene Page/AMC

It’s funny, because you’ve alluded to new characters you haven’t met, and maybe some tensions within the group, and I was gonna ask you about that, because Rick just showed up in that train car, and there are all those new people there. How does he feel about them? There are a few specific ones I’ve wondered about. One was Abraham, because they get off to a very rocky start in the comic, and we saw maybe a little bit of that in the trailer.

Yeah, and I do think there’s a clash of opinion. I don’t think either one of those guys are gonna back down. So I don’t want to say too much, but I do think they’re both alpha males, and there are a lot of alpha males in our group. Rick doesn’t back down, and certainly I don’t think Abraham really understands who these people are yet.

What does this trip to Washington to try and find this cure represent to the group? Is it the chance for hope? Is it the chance to find a home? Or is it a wild goose chase? How do Rick and some of the others look upon this thing, generally?

You know, it’s a very good question, and I think everybody has their own individual take on it. As a leader of this group, I think Rick is clutching at straws. All the evidence so far has been pretty bleak for Rick. So there isn’t much to hold on to. Then he realizes, as a leader, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the horizon, and I think that’s what he’s looking towards. He’s a smart psychological reader, instinctively there. He f—ing needs to believe it. He needs something. We need to look forward and we need to get somewhere. We need some semblance of a beginning, and at least let’s get to Washington, let’s get there and see if there is anything, see if there is hope, see if there are pockets of something there. And I think that it’s not necessarily decided yet whether or not they’re going. So there are a few curveballs in that trail. Don’t think it’s a sure thing yet.

Do you feel restless, doing this show for five years now?

Yeah. I mean, it’s a very good question, and there is a part of me that is going “I love this.” And I don’t know if my time is going to be up this season. But, there is a side of me that is actively looking to fill the hiatus if I am indeed doing the show next year. But this is like no other job I’ve ever experienced. Part of this is I realize I’ve become sort of Rick, I just want to drag people with me. I’m like this kind of dredging net that just goes, “Come on, let’s put everything into it and just try to leave a lasting story,” that people really have a great affection for. I will say that there are a couple of things that have been said that are very interesting, and in development, and one of which seems there’s maybe more excitement than anything else in the last four years. So we’ll see how that goes. But for the time being, you know us, I go to Comic-Con realizing how invested all the fans are, and they’re just as invested as we are, so until they roll the dice on Rick Grimes, I’m ready for the long-term.

For a show that’s so popular and has such a passionate fanbase, it seems that whenever awards time comes around, you guys really get left out a lot. Is that lack of industry recognition something you guys think about? Or do you just figure it’s the type of show where kids are shot in the face — probably not really an awards type of program?

I never choose a part because I think I’ll get the critical recognition. That’s no way to enjoy my job. There’s no way I can do that. On every level, I’ll take what we have. If someone gave me a Golden Globe, of course it would be nice to have it, don’t get me wrong. But I’ll take this every day of the week. This is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced in my life, this kind of reaction, or fun, or investment in a story is bewildering and beautiful and unique. Yeah, of course, the it would be lovely for Scott Gimple or some writers to get some recognition, because I think that the story is — you know, it’s difficult to sustain a good story in sixteen hours of television year in and year out for five years. I think is an astonishing achievement. Look how many shows don’t make past one season, and they’re great shows. We get fan mail, and just to have the respect of my fans is what I wish for, and the people who want to come and act with me. That’ll do.

Check out our ‘Walking Dead: One-Minute Refresher ‘below. And for more ‘Walking Dead’ scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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