By Dalton Ross
November 02, 2014 at 12:00 PM EST
Gene Page/AMC
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[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead.]

Oh, there she is. After being absent for the first three episodes of season 5, Emily Kinney made her return Sunday night to The Walking Dead as Beth, and in a big way. Beth woke up in a hospital only to be physically and sexually abused by people who demanded compensation for supposedly saving her out in the wild. Along the way, she was forced to share a lollipop with a super-creepy cop, got to dine on guinea pig, and made a daring escape attempt that ended up being only partly successful. We caught up with Kinney to get her thoughts on the episode and one of the most uncomfortable scenes in Walking Dead history. [Also check out our interviews with Tyler James Williams (who plays Noah) and Christine Woods (Dawn Lerner).]

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You were not in the first three episodes at all, so what was it like to watch those unfold — knowing what was going on, I assume, but still not seeing them until they were all put together?

EMILY KINNEY: Yeah, it was fun to be an audience member for a minute and watch those episodes. It was hard because anytime I see basically anyone it was always “Where are you? When are you coming back? What’s going on? Are you dead? Are you this?” So it’s hard to keep quiet. But it was fun to watch those episodes. I knew what was going to happen because I had read the scripts, but it’s fun to watch as more of an audience member and see how they all unfold. Very sad, scary, violent — as usual.

Was it difficult having to wait a bit to show Beth’s storyline and where she picked up? Just wanting to have everyone see it and put a stop to all those questions?

There is so much anticipation that was building, and going to the premiere in L.A. everyone was asking me questions, and you feel like you can’t tell when because it’s supposed to be a surprise. So it is nice to finally have it out there and have some of those questions that everyone has had answered about where I’ve been.

So you finally do get to come back, but then it is with a completely new cast. I’m sure they’re all lovely people, but that must have been a bit odd at first to suddenly be among strangers, at least in the cast.

It still felt like the show because we have the same crew and Mike Satrazemis directed it and he is the [director of photography], so someone that I knew really well. And it was all the same producers on set, so there’s still a lot of the familiar faces that I’m used to, so it felt very homey to me to be filming and everything. But it is different having a different cast. Also some of the cast members actually visited the set while I was there, like Norman and Andy. They were so encouraging and supportive. But it was a whole different cast and it was interesting in that I’m so comfy with Lauren and Steven and Norman, and I felt just like Beth, like, “Who are these people? Do I know them? Do I click with them? Do I not?” So I was sort of very much feeling the same way as Beth was as far as how to learn about these new castmates. And they’re all really great and really cool. But it’s a whole new world for Beth, and it was for me too.

Take the creepy sexual advances out of the equation, but if staying there at the hospital is presented as voluntary and if the people do seem okay and the place is safe, then do you think Beth might have considered staying, or is she too focused on getting back together with her crew?

I don’t know if she would stay. I think she just would rather be with her family and with her friends. I think if they were nicer she maybe would have been like, “You can come with me!” or “Lets go find my family members and bring them back to the hospital!” Maybe there would have been more of a joining of forces rather than “Okay, I have to escape. I have to run away from these people.” Because she did sort of form bonds with Noah when she realized how trustworthy he was. So I don’t think she was totally necessarily against this place, but she quickly realized that they were not nice people and that it was a very physically and mentally abusive type of situation.

We’ve seen Beth underestimated before, and there’s this one scene between the woman running the place, Dawn, and Beth where Dawn says, “You’re not strong enough.” To me, though, this was the episode where we saw just how strong Beth is, with her aggressively taking steps to get out of this situation and consistently standing up to Dawn. What’s your take on that?

I think Beth is really strong. I think she’s really smart and very aware, and when she needs to step up, she does. This episode just pushes her. There’s a moment too where Dawn grabs her wrists and is like, “I see that you’re not strong,” and basically is pointing out her suicide attempt from season 2. But I think that in that moment Beth is so far past that, and in a way Dawn thinks that she has something over Beth, but Beth knows, “Oh, no, I’m way past that now. Now I’m in this world and I’ve chosen to stick with it.” And even Dawn doesn’t realize how much Beth is past that moment and ready to fight for herself.

Okay, we need to talk about the lollipop scene.

Oh my God.

Officer Gorman takes your lollipop, he sucks on it, and then forces you to start licking it. That was extremely uncomfortable to watch. What was it like to film?

Luckily, the actor who plays Gorman is actually a really nice guy, but he was very, very good at being really creepy. It was uncomfortable, but it’s uncomfortable for Beth. Unfortunately, I do feel — maybe not to that extent — but I do feel like most women and most girls know what it feels like to have that kind of male aggressiveness. Unfortunately, I do feel like I understood that feeling — even though maybe nothing that extreme, but I do feel like a lot of women and girls have felt that unwanted attention and power trip kind of thing. So unfortunately, I did feel like I knew how that felt. I knew how Beth felt in that moment.

We always talk about having to sometimes cover your eyes when you watch this show and it’s usually referring to brutally violent acts and heads being split open and stuff like that, but I actually had my hands over my eyes during that scene for part of it because it was so difficult to watch.

Yeah, it’s awful. No one should be pushed in that way. It’s totally awful. It’s good that you felt that way because it shows that you can understand why Beth is like, I have to get out of here. I’d rather be fighting zombies and barely alive than living in this situation.

NEXT: Kinney on eating guinea pig and getting left behind by Noah

What was a more uncomfortable scene for you, that lollipop scene or the one where he later forces himself on you?

I feel like the lollipop one was more uncomfortable. The one where I smash him in the head with the jar and all of that where he forces himself on me —  that time was more fun to play because I remember reading the script and that scene I was like, “Oh, this is going to be a fun scene.” Because even though he’s kind of forcing himself on me, there’s so much action to play, like noticing that Joan is down on the floor and deciding, “Oh, maybe I can get him,” and then smashing him on the head with the jar and him falling down — there was a lot to play with. And rather than just being scared, it was more of: How am I going to get out of this situation? So that scene was really fun.

And it was payback too.

Yeah, total payback.

I’m going to assume that was not an actual guinea pig you ate in that scene with the doctor. What was it you were chowing down on?

You know what? We actually did have real guinea pig. But we didn’t do guinea pig for every take because the pieces were so thin and not very able to cut off very easily off the bone, so we did have chicken for some takes. So I don’t know what was in that take, but we did have guinea pig. And I don’t eat meat, but I do for The Walking Dead, I guess. But what was interesting for that scene is they day that we shot that scene is the same day that we shot the scene where Noah and I are talking in the room with all the guinea pigs in the cages. So in the morning of that day we were shooting scenes with live guinea pigs running around and making noises, and then that evening we’re eating dead guinea pig. It was so gross.

What’s up with Noah at the end of that escape scene? He kind of took off and left you back there. What’s that all about?

I know! Why’d he leave me? But I feel like Beth is really happy for him when he gets out. And I hope that the audience knows that in that moment, even though she’s caught, that she is not caught. Yeah, they got her and they’re going to take her back into the hospital and all of that, but she is in a new place. I get the feeling that she’s just going to keep trying to run out of there. They don’t have power over her, in a certain way. She’s gained a fearlessness. And I think she’s really proud of herself, even though she didn’t get out — that she knows Noah got out.

At the very end we see Beth walking down the hallway with that stabbing instrument in her hand. She stops when she sees Carol being wheeled in, but what is she planning to do there? Take out the cop? Take out the doctor? Take everyone out?

I don’t think she knows exactly what her plan is. Those last two scenes with Dawn and Edward are moments where you see Beth at a different level, where it’s almost like, I know I don’t like these people. There’s almost a numbness and a fearlessness and there’s no filter anymore. She’s not trying to make friends with anyone here. She’s just going by gut instinct, like if she wants to grab a knife and stab someone, she’s gonna do it. If she wants to run down this hallway, she’s gonna do it. She’s just gonna do whatever she wants. She doesn’t care what these people think and they can beat her up as much as they want. But then I do think that moment where she sees Carol does snap her out of it, and she starts to remember her family and she thinks, oh, maybe we can do something here. It’s not just me on my own in this place now.

Watch Kinney playing a game of ‘Walking Dead: GOTCHA!” in the video player below. Also make sure to check out our interviews with Tyler James Williams (who plays Noah) and Christine Woods (Dawn Lerner), as well as Kyle Ryan’s episode recap. And for more ‘Walking Dead’ intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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