By Dalton Ross
Updated October 11, 2015 at 12:00 PM EDT
Credit: Gene Page/AMC

[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s season 6 premiere of The Walking Dead, “First Time Again.”]

Rick Grimes is not to be trifled with. Andrew Lincoln, on the other hand, is about as pleasant as can be. So while Grimes probably wouldn’t have much to say about that time he threw a gun in Carter’s face, or that time he stabbed Carter in the back of the head (granted, a mercy kill as well as a necessary one to keep the zombies from approaching), or anything he did involving anyone, Lincoln is more than happy to discuss.

With that mind, we chatted with The Walking Dead star to get his take on the season 6 premiere. What was it like welcoming and then bidding farewell to Ethan Embry, who played Carter? Why did Lincoln punch a hole in the wall before a take? What are to we make of the disagreements Rick had with both Morgan and Daryl? Read on for answers to those questions and more, as well as a look ahead at what to expect next. (Read through both pages for the entire interview. Also make sure to check out our premiere Q&A’s with Greg Nicotero, Robert Kirkman, and Ethan Embry, as well as Nicotero’s exclusive storyboards.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, dude, you killed Ethan Embry. What’s up with that?

ANDREW LINCOLN: I know! Ethan was the sweetest. Such a talented amazing guy, welcomed to the show, and then had to take him out again. He said, “No, it’s great! I watch it with my son, man! I’m thrilled you’re taking me out! And I get bit, I get the whole zombie experience.” There was one day on set I was like, “What are you doing?” It was his first day. We killed him on his first day, as we like to do. He had a big hole in his neck and I think he was smoking one of those electronic cigarettes, and I thought it was going to come out of the side of his neck. I think he was Skyping someone or doing FaceTime with someone, and he got all the zombies to do the “Thriller” dance behind him. He was looking at me like, “Are you kidding me? Check this out!” He was completely like a tourist sending all these links back to his son.

He was a brilliant actor. It’s that thing I say every time we kill someone off: “Do we really have to take this guy down?” Because he’s amazing, and also he gave voice to the rebellion that was happening in Alexandria, and did it so well, so grounded. I really bought the fact that he was a working man, but someone who wasn’t willing to concede to this maniac Rick.

I’ve watched you psych yourself up for a big scene before, but what’s this I hear about you punching a hole in the wall before you pull that gun on Carter as he’s trying to organize a coup?

I didn’t realize that the great design team had put in a false wall. I’m not going to pretend that I have superpowers that I can punch through walls. I was getting psyched for a scene and I just thought I’d hit the wall a couple times. They’re setting up this shot and Greg Nicotero’s directing. He went “Andy, Andy,” and I just pushed and it went all the way through the wall. I went, “I’m so sorry. Is that in shot?” They went, “Directly in shot.” I felt like an idiot. I think they had to re-patch it for the actual take, but I just got a bit overexcited and got carried away with it.

Tell me what it was like working with this scale and size with 300 zombies. I mean you’ve worked with a lot of zombies before, like in the pilot in downtown Atlanta, but this was just absurd.

I think that was always Scott’s intention. He wanted to come out punching this season.

Literally in this case, it seems.

[Laughs] I just took a literal note from my director. “Just keep punching things, Andy!” I think we are unashamedly a zombie show this season, and certainly you’ll see it’s unrelenting up until episode 9. The fallout from these 30 seconds is like an arrow shooting through, and that’s the thrust of the story. You see the fallout from these 30 seconds play out over the next seven episodes. That was always the intention to do bigger, grander. You know what it’s like: We set the bar, and we keep having to jump over it. This feels like we’ve maxed out. You look at the crew and everybody who’s busted a gut in an eight day shooting schedule, it’s brutal. The ambition of the show and everything we’re trying to attempt every single episode, we’ve maxed out. Fingers crossed that the work that everybody’s put in really shows, because I think it’s the bravest most ambitious storytelling that we’ve done for a long, long time. I just hope it plays out.

Credit: Gene Page/AMC

But yeah, the zombie thing with 300 zombies. All I will say is I got five ticks in the first three days of filming. That’s how epic this was for me. I was running up and down those woods. And then Norman arrives late one day, and he gets changed. He takes all his clothes off on the street and gets wardrobed cause he was so late. Gets on his motorcycle and has the coolest shot of the episode! That’s the story of my life with Norman Reedus in this show: I bust a gut, I get taken out by chiggers and ticks and sweat, I lose weight, I get sick. Norman just swans in, has a lot of time in hair and makeup, gets on his motorcycle — and like the Pied Piper leads them, just saves the day! This happens more than once this season, just so you know.

Cool as can be, right?

Yeah, one hand! There was so much argument about that. Greg Nicotero was like, “Put both hands on.” He’s like, “I can’t ride that way.” So laid-back. I’m like, “There’s 40,000 walkers behind you! What are you doing?” He goes, “I’m trying to ride my motorcycle right.’

Speaking of not being on the same page, let’s talk about the Rick and Morgan dynamic, because these guys definitely are not seeing eye to eye philosophically. They can’t agree on whether to bury Pete, or whether to help Carter when the zombies are coming towards him. How much does their past good will buy them in terms of working together?

I think that’s a good point. Morgan is the audience’s voice: Where is Rick? Where is the group at this point, particularly after the killing of Pete last season? I think that there’s goodwill, there’s history, there’s respect, but they don’t know each other. These two men are both formidable people in their own right, and I think that’s what I loved about playing the scenes with Lennie and continuing to play scenes with Lennie. He’s like granite, this guy. He has an ideology that is in direct opposition, seemingly, with Rick. It’s a voice you haven’t heard.

It’s almost a continuation of Carter. Carter’s the first voice of dissent and opposition, and actually Morgan picks up on him, “Whoa, whoa, slow down.”I think you will see a continuation of that argument. There is only so much goodwill can keep this without fracturing. There’s only so much that’s gonna last, I think. Having Lennie back is just awesome because he’s such a fine actor but also to have that relationship of Morgan and Rick back — it kind of reins him in and also gives him access to a part of himself that he doesn’t share. You know that admission about Carter on the step where he hands the baby to Morgan? I don’t know who else he would have said that to but Morgan. That’s one of the great gifts of having Morgan back.

A bit of a disagreement with Daryl here where Rick wants to shut down the recruiting and Daryl doesn’t agree with that. And that comes up a few times in this episode. It’s very rare you see these two where they’re not on the same page.

Yeah, we loved that scene. We played it like a betrayal. I found out from Morgan what had gone down. He didn’t directly tell me that, so that wasn’t scripted, that was something me and Norman just riffed about. I was like, “Why don’t we do it like a betrayal? A brotherly betrayal.” Because otherwise it’s just exposition, like this, this, this. It set the scene for something much more complicated and brilliant. I do think that’s an argument that’s going to continue as well. Like a lot of Scott’s first episodes, but particularly this one, he’s spinning themes and ideas and story arcs that play out along the greater 16 hours this season. Certainly that is an argument with a lot of push and pull between these guys that will continue to cause friction.

So there’s this lady Jessie. She’s fetching. You go and shoot her husband in the face. And now you’re having to get a bit rough with her son. Probably not the best way to win this lady’s heart.

He’s not making things easy for that first date, I agree with you. Killing the father and roughing up the son — yes, there are a couple of hurdles that he has to jump. I do love Rick. I love playing Rick, cause he doesn’t give a s–t, man. He was saving the kid’s life. What I love about the scene with Jessie is Rick doesn’t tell the context of him touching. That’s what honorable about the guy, that’s what’s cool about the guy. He’s one of these people who does a good deed, maybe not in the best way possible, but he doesn’t tell anybody about it. That’s cool, that’s deeply cool. I wish I was as cool as that in real life.

But I think that’s also one of his Achilles heels. If he feels that somebody is doing something that’s going to jeopardize his life, their own life, maybe even Jesse’s life, or cause pain to somebody he cares about, he’s not going to pull any punches. Even with teaching Carter and the gang how to kill zombies, it’s school of hard knocks the way he’s doing it. He’s saying, you run with us or you die. You will see in an episode coming up that there is a very literal example of Rick’s ideology: If you can’t keep up, you’re not gonna make it with us.

What else can you tell us about what’s on the horizon?

The next two episodes are insane, 2 and 3. I’ve always said this, episode 1 is like a bow being pulled back, and in the last 30 seconds are the bow being released. Two and 3 are nonstop crazy action. It’s insane. The next eight episodes are all huge. I mean they’re kinetic, but also the scale of it. It feels like a season finale each episode and the ambition of each episode. They’re very different. Four is incredible, it’s like an indie movie in the middle of Walking Dead, it’s crazy. And then 5, 6, 7, 8 — it just keeps building and building. You’ll see that the show opens up. We’ve been looking internally for so long, it’s like everybody lifts their eyes to the horizon this season and it opens up a whole new world. It’s amazing.

Click on our video below to watch talk more about season 6. Also make sure to check out our finale Q&As with Robert Kirkman, Greg Nicotero, and Ethan Embry as well as Nicotero’s exclusive storyboards. And for more ‘Walking Dead’ scoop, 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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