SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead, “New Best Friends.”
Rick Grimes entered the Thunderdome on Sunday’s “New Best Friends” episode of The Walking Dead, and he lived to tell the tale. After being taken prisoner by a mysterious new group and their enigmatic junkyard leader Jadis, Rick sought to strike a deal, finding them guns if they agreed to spare their lives and join them in the fight against Negan. But first he had to prove himself worthy, and that proof came in the form of a fight to the death against the undead — specifically an armored, spiked walker named…Winslow?
We spoke with star Andrew Lincoln to get the behind-the-scenes scoop on the epic pit battle, Rick’s new foe turned potential ally, and what’s coming up next. (Also make sure to read our episode Q&As with Norman Reedus and the woman who plays Jadis, Pollyanna McIntosh.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, what it was like when you first saw that incredible junkyard set, built right back in the old prison yard from seasons 3 and 4?
ANDREW LINCOLN: It was wild. We were still shooting other episodes while it went up and it happened within something like three days — they delivered this junkyard. And they kept building and building and building this crazy Mad Max landscape. And then we did the CGI with the blue screen for several scenes, and I haven’t seen it, but you get this maze that just goes into the distance.
Tell us about going toe-to-toe with that crazy helmeted walker with spikes protruding out everywhere.
We got lucky with the weather and Atlanta took pity on us that day when I got thrown into the pit of hell and had to wrestle with my dear friend Gino, who played the spiky pinheaded monster there. It was insane. I lost my mind that day. It was so much fun. Mike Satrazemis, who does the camera work, loves getting hurt as much as I do, and he sent me a shot of me all bandaged and bruised and cuts and blood everywhere, looking as happy as I’ve ever been in the pit — in this dirty, smelly environment, and it’s just like, what a life! It was just such a gas, that whole episode. It was just a breath of fresh air. It’s insane.
Knowing you, I was thinking while watching it how nuts you were probably getting in between takes to fire yourself up.
Well, Norman came and there were quite a few people watching. And also the people at the top as I was climbing out of the thing, they were looking at me going, “Wow, that’s a workout.” I was like “Yeah!’ But it was such fun, man. It was such a wild, strange departure for this show — in a good way, in a really invigorating way, because it was pushing the envelope of what we’ve been known for. And the landscape and the characters, in all areas — it’s just flexing ourselves and seeing if it fit, you know what I mean? And I think the new guys that joined us were magnificent. I called them Kraftwerk. I kept looking at them going, I’m in some ’80s Kraftwerk movie! It was very strange.
What was it like working with Pollyanna McIntosh, who plays their leader, Jadis?
I don’t know how it plays on screen, but I instantly loved what she brought to the show. And there was a combative but also kind of a sexual, flirtatious, strange, weird dynamic that happened quite instantaneously. And Jadis was so odd and strange, and I think Rick is kind of amused by them, but also inspired. Because she’s so strong and because she is so clear in what she is doing, and the way she is delivering the message is so impressive and so concrete, you kind of go along with it and go, “All right, you talk in a very strange way. No idea why. But this can work.” As soon as she said “Up-Up-Up” I thought, there’s the T-shirt right there: Up-Up-Up. It’s so weird, and yet she really, really landed it.
It’s interesting how you say it’s kind of like a flirtation between the two because you feel that a bit in the big negotiation scene between Rick and Jadis at the end there, where they’re still feeling each other out, right down to the left-handed handshake because Rick’s hand is all bloody.
Yeah, because I’m bleeding to death! [Laughs.] There’s a kind of lightness, and we spoke about it. [Showrunner Scott M. Gimple] gave me a heads up. He said, “I want this back half to explore this freedom and this humor that comes with this liberated guy. And there’s a sense of discovery and lightness.” He said to think about it like Indiana Jones and try to push into that area, which I took and ran with. And this episode is definitely feeling out that area. And it’s really good fun, especially after such a battering first half, to move into an area that’s still in the world but a different suburb than we’ve been before.
What can you tell us going forward? I guess Rick’s got the army and now he’s got to get the guns, right?
He’s got to get the guns! And we’ve got an intelligent audience. I think they may know where some guns are stashed.
You think they can connect the dots?
[Laughs.] I‘d like to think so after seven years! I think they may have worked it out. But somebody hasn’t told Rick yet! But anyway, to be continued. All I will say is that the episode coming up that I’m not involved in I think is a beautifully written episode. But a little bit of fun and hijinks still to come with Rick and Michonne.
For more Walking Dead intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.