Credit: Gene Page/AMC
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[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s midseason finale of The Walking Dead.]

What the hell has happened to Rick Grimes? The dude has gone from refusing to carry a firearm to gunning down anyone and anything in his path. And then, after he guns them down, he tells them to shut up! Does that make any sense? Beats me! So we went to the source himself for answers. We checked in with Andrew Lincoln to talk all about the big Walking Dead midseason finale, and the star was more than happy to spill secrets. What kind of secrets, you ask? Secrets like whom Rick is actually addressing when he tells dead Bob to “Shut up.” (Hint: not dead Bob.) Secrets like an awkward Beth-Rick storyline Lincoln proposed a few seasons back that was shot down. (No pun intended.) And secrets like giving us some intel about what is coming up in the next few episodes and whom to keep an eye on. Read through our two page deep dive to get your full Walking Dead midseason finale scoop. (Also make sure to check out our midseason finale Q&A with Norman Reedus, our emotional chat with Emily Kinney, and our burning questions with showrunner Scott M. Gimple.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me about the emotions of having to say goodbye to Emily Kinney, who played Beth on the show?

ANDREW LINCOLN: Yeah, man. That was such a body blow. I really didn’t see it coming. I had absolutely no idea and I think everyone was reeling from that one. Always when you get about three episodes without a death you know it doesn’t bode well. Everybody starts getting twitchy. Emily is such a beloved person on set and such an incredible actress. I understood it. You get it in hindsight because you know if she hadn’t done such a magnificent job portraying this character she probably wouldn’t be in the firing line, you know what I mean? It’s symptomatic of such a great performance that we needed an emotional impact, and unfortunately, Beth was the character to do it this season, and it was harrowing.

The whole experience of shooting it was, as always, painful. And also you do feel robbed as well because I did not get enough time with her. I remember doing a scene with Emily during the Hershel beheading and she’s such a fine actress. I was in the middle of the scene and I walked forward to the fence having this exchange with the Governor and I remember putting my hand down and reaching out, and as he brought Hershel and Michonne on to their knees and my hand came out, she held my hand. She just knew it was there. It was that kind of amazing sense that she had. I really regret not having more time with her. I actually pitched an idea, I think in season 3. I said, “I think Beth should have a crush on Rick. And Rick doesn’t have a clue how to deal with it. And also, Carl is really upset about it. And then Hershel gets involved as well.” And everybody ignored me as usual. But I thought it was quite a good pitch.

I’ve seen you on set before and you are an intense guy and this was an intense sequence at the hospital. What did you do to get in the right place for filming that?

We all go off and do our own sort of crazy stuff and I think the crew is used to us being a little crazy. Certainly when you do a scene like that which is so odd and upsetting and strange I kind of just listen to music and get quiet before I do it. And then if it’s a physical scene you need to be amped up and I’ll do a physical preparation, but with that one it was just an odd experience because it was a new environment. It was a strange environment with new people, having what should have been a hostage exchange that just goes wrong. It was uncomfortable. I didn’t enjoy it. It’s not an enjoyable scene. And also, to lose somebody that is so important to the group that we would be fighting to find, was unbearable.

And it’s a funny thing because there’s a scene where we come out of the hospital in the aftermath and Norman is carrying Emily and I am sort of leading the way. And I had made a conscious decision that Rick is driven on this, he’s just done on this. He’s gonna push people forward and not get emotionally engaged. I tried to do it. And then having Lauren Cohan and Steven’s reaction to seeing the body carried by Norman was unbearable. I kept having to turn away from the camera because my eyes were just weeping. Tears were rolling down my face. Watching LC and Steven’s performances in that scene, my mind exploded reconstituting that stuff, and then exploded again. They were so good. It was just a bad day at the office, dude. I hate saying goodbye to people at the best of times. But when Emily Kinney, who is such a fine actress and one of the sweetest human beings you are ever going to meet — it was a terribly sad episode. And we’re still reeling. She was family. It sucks.

I know it’s tough for you guys off-screen, but what does the loss of Beth do to Rick and to the group moving forward on-screen?

I think Rick is one of these people that can partition and put it aside and actually use it for fuel to push him and the rest of the group forward. I think he has to because everybody is yet again lost. We have a reunion and we’re back together, but we’re lost. And yet again we’re in a desperate place and we’re in the middle of Atlanta that is overrun. We’re compromised, yet it’s one of these places where he has to step forward as a leader. There isn’t time to dwell on this. He has to keep pushing his troops forward. But whether or not that happens with the other characters is another thing.

Let’s talk about that first scene. You’re chasing this cop who’s fleeing, you hit him with your car, break his neck, then shoot him, then tell him to shut up, which seems a bit out of order. Usually you tell somebody to shut up and then you shoot him!

[Laughs] Your reaction is exactly the same reaction I had when I read the script! I went, “Let me just get this right, Scott. I say ‘shut up’ after I’ve shot the dude?” And he went, “Yep.” And I went “Okay. I’m going to find a way to do this.” I guffawed. Sometimes you have moments playing this role where you just go, “Oh, thank you!” Because you know what? The last episode I was furious. I kept saying, “Why don’t I shoot the bald dude?!? Why can’t I shoot him, Scott? Let me shoot him!” I said, “Scott, I want to shoot this guy.” And he goes, “You’re being tethered by Daryl. Daryl’s your emotional anchor. You’re still anchored by people — your friendships and your family.” And I’m like, “Uggggghhhhhh. I still want to kill him, Scott! I mean, the plan was to slit their throats. Help me out here.” And he goes. “No!” So I was quite relieved when I read episode eight, because of course as usual with Scott Gimple he’s always like, “Wait. We are going to get there. Don’t worry about that.” So I read the teaser and I just went, “Oh my lord! It’s beyond badass. It’s ridiculous.”

But the “shut up” thing was really interesting because the way I justified it was when I echo Gareth by saying “Can’t go back, Bob” — I think that part of it was him going “shut up” to Gareth. Because otherwise, really? I’m saying “shut up” after I shot the guy? Which really made me laugh. And to their credit, [writer] Angela [Kang] and Scott were laughing when they told me. They were like, “Yeah, we thought it would be really cool.” And I was like, “That’s not good enough! You’ve got to give me some help here!” So that’s the way I justified it, is that it was to Gareth. It was extraordinary shooting that scene.

It’s interesting because when Rick says that same line Gareth said with “Cant go back, Bob” — that made me worry for Rick and is this guy going to that place and going that far to where Gareth was?

That’s what I love about this show and the writing the past few years are the echoes. And its almost like there are certain moments and things that we do that resemble the Claimers. Like we’re whistling a lot this season, which is what they did. There’s a scene on the rooftop where I signal to the family that the deal is on, which is that hand clench that Gareth did as well. There are a lot of echoes that we’re putting in that makes you ask: How far gone are these people? How far gone is Rick? Is he too far gone? Is he becoming one of these people? And that’s the exciting thing going on in this journey. The writers keep throwing in these strange moments where you ask yourself: Who are we rooting for here? What line have we crossed? But then, Dalton…he should have stopped! I did say stop! C’mon! I gave him fair warning. And he was going to go back to the hospital. He had to get it!

You were very clear in your instructions, sir.

I was so clear! So clear! Couldn’t have bee more clear. He should have stopped!

Credit: Gene Page/AMC

It is curious, however, then that Rick invites anyone in the hospital to join with their group. Why do that considering how untrusting he is of everyone in general at this point?

It’s a very good point to identify and I think it was much more directed towards the people behind the cops. It was more like, you’ve taken one of us so I’m gonna to take what I want. It was a power play. Also, I played it kind of like — let’s finish this. Let’s finish it right now. I was furious and I wanted to take on more people. I wanted to provoke. That’s the way I wanted it. I wasn’t done with the situation and I was so hurting that I wanted to vent.

You’ve had to play Rick in a lot of different emotional states. He’s a guy of extremes. There is no middle ground. We’ve seen him crazy and seeing ghosts, we’ve seen him refuse to engage in any violence, and we’ve seen him now be super violent. I have to imagine it is at least a lot of fun to play him this way.

I mean, there is a recklessness and freedom to this Rick that I haven’t experienced before which is really exciting. As an actor, you feel like you can push a lot more. There’s a lot more freedom to play lots of different emotions. And when you read a teaser like that with “shut up” — it’s such a treat. I just go, I can’t believe I get to do this job for a living. It’s the coolest job. And certainly it’s worth saying that episode 9 is one of the great episodes we’ve ever done. And 10 is the episode I always wanted to make. And then we do something very, very different in the back half, but believe me when I say it comes full circle and I think the back eight is some of the most interesting storytelling we’ve ever done on this show. It’s so exciting to do. It’s been scary, but also it’s been thrilling because it’s so different.

I was talking to Norman Reedus and said how I feel like we’ve had some seasons of The Walking Dead with a lot of action and others with a lot of character development, but this one feels like it’s done the best job so far of combining both of those elements. Would you agree with that?

I think you’re absolutely right. And that’s why when we finished this season four days ago the crew and the cast were the most buoyant we’ve ever been, because it felt like we got through this incredible roller coaster of a season that had everything — the big set pieces, the thrill rides, the intense character moments, the horror. But also in just ambition and scale, you’re right. It feels, certainly for me looking at the performances around me, it no longer feels like an ensemble — it’s a cast of leading actors. You watch out for Steven Yeun in this back eight. You watch out for this young man. I think he’s a rare talent, amongst other people.

We also introduce a lot of new characters in this back eight, and Scott and the writers have done a tremendous job of servicing maybe 24 principal characters. It’s been an astonishing feat from their end as well. But I do have to say that losing Emily — it was so painful on so many levels. I adore the girl. I think she’s amazing. We lost the voice, her song. And after her having such a tremendous episode that she led in in episode 4 to not even get the chance… I mean, I had three or four seconds to act with her and then she was taken away. It’s just cruel, this job, man. It’s just cruel.

Also make sure to check out our midseason finale Q&A with Norman Reedus, our emotional chat with Emily Kinney, and our burning questions with showrunner Scott M. Gimple. And for more ‘Walking Dead’ intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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The Walking Dead

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

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