By Dalton Ross
October 26, 2014 at 12:00 PM EDT
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SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead.

Rick Grimes my be many things, but a liar is not among them. He promised Gareth back in the season 5 premiere of The Walking Dead that he would kill him using a machete with a red handle, and he followed through on that promise at the end of Sunday’ s episode. It was a brutal end for Gareth, but the man who played him is still around to tell the tale. We caught up with Andrew J. West to ask him all about tainted meat, his last scene, when he knew he was being killed off, and what his final day of shooting was like. (Click through both pages to read the entire interview.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Well, this was a good news/bad news situation for you, Andrew. The bad news is, you ate tainted meat. The good news is, you got to be a part of one of the most iconic moments from the comic book with that scene, and a scene that TV fans are not likely to soon forget either.

ANDREW J. WEST: There are so many iconic scenes from the comic book that have been translated so well for the screen version. You have the scene at the end of episode 2 with “If it makes you feel any better you taste much better than we thought you would.” That’s directly from the comic book. I read the comics before we went into season 5 and I was very familiar with the Hunters arc, but I did not know going into season 5 that Gareth would be so closely inspired by that character. So just to go back to episode 2 for a minute, when I was reading 2 and I saw that monologue pop up at the end of 2, I jumped off the couch in my apartment. I was reading a script and I couldn’t stop pacing back and forth because I was so excited to go in and shoot that scene because of the language, which is so good and so intense. And then to go in there for episode 3 and have the whole tainted meat scene, which, again, is taken directly from the comics — it was just too much for me. It was too good to be true. I was like, I don’t just get the one amazing scene form the comics, but that whole sequence! And yeah, I felt pretty lucky.

It’s funny because I, like a lot of people, theorized last season that the folks at Terminus were going to be cannibals based on the Hunters from the comics, but because Terminus does not appear in the comic book, it sort of was a misdirection where I figured, okay, so I guess they’re not going to do those scenes out in the woods. So I kind of got faked out.

It really did for me too, because now that finally I can speak freely about this stuff — which is in a lot of ways a huge weight off my shoulders because it’s nice to be able to talk about all this great stuff now and not have to worry about spoilers with the Terminus and Gareth arc — going into the finale of season 4, [showrunner] Scott [Gimple] did tell me when I got the job that there was a cannibal element to these characters. I knew that was borrowed from the comics, but I didn’t know to what length that would extend and how closely it would be inspired by the comics. So I didn’t find that out until we got back into production and I was reading the first couple of scripts, so it was a big surprise for me too. And, honestly, a pleasant one. It’s such a memorable arc from the comics. They did an amazing job with that on the show too. I absolutely loved it.

When you showed up for that last episode for season 4, or when you showed up at the start of season 5, did Scott Gimple let you know, “Hey, this is going to be a short ride?” or did you find out later about your demise?

They told me right up front. The way the whole thing went down is I got the job and went down and shot the finale. At that point I didn’t know for sure that I would even come back for season 5. They had an option on me and had me on hold, but they didn’t say that it would be a guarantee. So we shoot the finale and then over hiatus I’m sort of waiting around hoping that they decide to bring me back, and Scott Gimple gives me a call and he says, “We’d love to have you back, but full disclosure: Gareth will be killed in episode 3.” So they told me going into season 5 that would be how it would play out, but the cool thing about it was that I didn’t even have the time to really mourn the loss of this character because I basically simultaneously heard that I was coming back to the show, so I was just excited about that. I was absolutely thrilled to get back into the show in any capacity and it was thoughtful of them to let me know just in terms of logistical things and organizing your life and whatever. It wasn’t a big surprise reading the third script — I knew that it would happen; I didn’t know how it would happen. So that was another pleasant surprise because it’s such a monumental and brutal blaze of glory way to go out. So there wasn’t some big traumatic shock reading the episode. I knew what was coming and I could just enjoy it at that point.

So let’s chat about the start of this last episode and the whole “join us or feed us” sales pitch with the bears eating their cubs and all that. It sounds like this was the first time you laid that pitch on Bob, so were they then not offered that choice when they arrived at Terminus because they brought the DC thing up so quick that you all never got to it?

Yeah, I think that’s where we were going with it. It probably was not unlike what happened with Rick and Daryl and Michonne and Carl when they came to Terminus. We’ve seen in the season 4 finale that they didn’t even get a chance to eat before they’re pulling their guns out because they know something’s up. So we never even have that conversation with them. They’re going right into the train car. And you get the feeling that it was probably similar with Bob and the group that he came in with too. And I think that speaks to the immediacy of these characters and how they know that they’ve got to accomplish something and accomplish something quickly. You can ‘t just hang out at Terminus and eat well. There’s a bigger picture here and they probably jumped right into that whole thing when they got to Terminus and, of course, that’s not what Gareth wanted to hear.

You mentioned that Scott let you know your demise was coming up in episode 3, so when you first read that line in the season premiere script where Rick talks about killing you with the machete with the red handle, were you like, “Yep, that’s how I’m gonna go?”

Yeah, that’s a pretty telltale line right there. You know, the number one is probably going to follow through on such a sincere promise. I kind of expected that that’s the way that things would go down, and also, again, having read episode 2 and seeing how closely Gareth was inspired by the Hunters arc, my mind immediately went to how they go out in the comic, which is similar. It’s not exactly the same, but the Chris character who inspired Gareth goes out in a very similar bloody and brutal way. Especially at the end of episode 2 I was like, “I think I know where this is headed.” That dang red machete — I should have taken it while I had the chance.

NEXT: West takes us inside the filming of his final scene, and the goodbye that followed

You had to do a total shift in that last scene in the church once Rick has Gareth down on the floor and all of a sudden he’s not in the position of power and strength, and we see a new side of Gareth — one that we have not seen outside of the flashbacks. What was that scene like for you?

It’s tough to shoot because you see this guy who is so confident and so in control and so just detached and calculating through this entire run, and then we see him in a position of vulnerability, and we see a guy who is scrambling and fighting for his life. But I love that they put that in there because it gives you another dimension to who this guy was. And a little of it goes back to the flashbacks in the premiere episode where we see glimpses of him before they decided to adopt this way of life, while they’re still being held prisoner by these awful people. But what’s cool in episode 3 when he is essentially pleading and begging for his life even though he says, “There’s no point in begging,” but he wants to survive desperately so he’s going to try to talk himself out of that situation — we see him back in that vulnerable place, but it’s different though.

And that’s what I loved about it so much. There’s a fire and a strength and a darkness that I think is still in that character that wasn’t necessarily there before in the flashbacks. It’s similar in tone, but there are subtle differences. And a lot of that was in the language too. I could see it — “You don’t know what it is to be hungry.” It’s a spooky line, and it was cool to be able to go in and say something like that in such an intense situation, and it just gives you another side to this character.

We never got the backstory as to how you and the folks at Terminus made the switch from the cattle to the butcher. Did Scott ever create any backstory for that we never got to see, or is that something you’ve worked out at all in your head in terms of how you guys escaped that situation and turned the tables?

Well, it was talked about that we do turn the tables and we do figure out a way to take Terminus back. The details weren’t necessarily worked out. There were some things that I thought about in my mind just to help me approach the arc of the character. For me, the fact that Gareth was able to take Terminus back — it wasn’t even so much about how he did it, but the fact that he was able to, really displayed to me the resourcefulness of the character and the fact that he is a very intelligent guy in that he is going to use his mind to figure out how to survive. And that revealed a lot to me about the character and it helped me approach everything else that I was able to do as this character.

And that’s one of the cool things about this character as opposed to Chris from the comic book who inspires Gareth — Chris is totally different in that aspect. I always saw Chris as a somewhat intelligent guy, but he’s not nearly as resourceful and organized as Gareth is. Fans of the comic know that they kind of live in this abandoned house and they’re not really good at hunting and whatever. But the fact that Gareth was able to take it back shows how powerful he can be as a leader, not in terms of toughness necessarily, but in terms of organization and commanding a group, essentially, because he would have to be in order to take it back.

What was your send-off like on set after your final day of shooting?

That was an interesting day. It was just so bloody and so crazy and it was even pushing boundaries for this show, which is saying a lot. So we were shooting that scene late, late into the night and it’s draining and it’s so intense, but that’s what we live for as actors is to jump into scenes that are that intense. So when we finished that scene it was just this collective exhalation and this long sigh of “Oh my God, we got through it.” And then, of course, everybody hugs and there’s a big moment, and then we had a cast and crew dinner the next day or the day after and a kind of send-off and they treat us all really well. And there’s definitely a sense of sadness, certainly for me, but even for some of the people I worked with even after only being around for four episodes.

Yeah, you only appeared in 4 episodes, but obviously left a big mark. How would you sum up your experience working on this show?

Unlike anything else I have ever experienced. This is a once in a lifetime experience. It’s a once in a lifetime job. I was talking with Josh McDermitt, who pays Eugene, the other day on the phone about it and talking about how this is unlike anything else we will experience in our careers ever again. Not to say there won’t be great things to come for him, for me, whatever, and obviously he’s still on the show. There won’t ever be a job like it. It’s a special, special thing: The fan base, the construction of the story, the way the show is executed — it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and it was a dear experience for me.

Make sure to also check out our theories for who might be hiding in the woods with Daryl. And 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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