Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Remember Rick Grimes’ final line at the end of season 4 of The Walking Dead after he and his pals had just been locked in a train car at Terminus and seemed all but done for? “They’re screwing with the wrong people,” he confidently told the others with nary a speck of fear nor hesitation in his voice.

Those days are gone.

Rick’s confidence had shot so high over the past few seasons that he promised their new buddies at the Hilltop that he could rid them of the Saviors without having any clue whatsoever how many Saviors there were and what sort of threat they constituted. In the season 6 finale, the realization of what he was up against slowly started to dawn on our hero.

“As the season finished, the story was about Rick being broken,” says Andrew Lincoln, “and realizing that basically everything that he thought has been turned upside down in the space pretty of much of a day. The world that he fought and strove for for so long has irrevocably changed.”

And it seems as if that changed world will lead to a changed Rick Grimes… if he survives the season 7 premiere on Oct. 23, that is. “You meet a man who’s powerless, terrified for his own life and his son’s family’s life, and everybody else beside him,” says Lincoln of Rick’s thought process as Negan’s bat descended down. “And he realizes that there’s a new world, a much bigger, scarier, and formidable world.”

The cast was reintroduced to that world when they first showed up for filming on season 7 and had to finish the conclusion of that harrowing cliffhanger scene in which Negan begins bashing in the face of one of the Alexandrians. Even Lincoln’s mom felt bad for the actor having to go back and experience that all over again. “I remember my mother said to me, ‘That’s going to be quite a challenge to get back into that state that you were straight after a break,’” says Lincoln. “And I just said, ‘Thanks, mom. That’s kind of my job, thank you.’”

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And while Lincoln may try to convince us that “it’s a hysterical episode — there’s so many laughs,” the truth is that the cast had to finally say an emotional goodbye to at least one of their castmates. “Norman [Reedus] put it very eloquently,” says Lincoln. “He said, ‘You know, somebody’s going to lose their job at the end of that.’ It’s a big deal, man. It’s a big deal. It’s a family on set.”

Lincoln also echoes the comments of fellow cast members and producers who say that Negan’s carnage will set up a completely new dynamic. “It’s just a continuation of a much bigger story,” says Lincoln. “We’re heading towards a bigger end point.” The question is, what kind of Rick will get there… if he gets there at all.

For more Walking Dead scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

Episode Recaps

The Walking Dead

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

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