By Dalton Ross
April 03, 2017 at 05:07 PM EDT
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SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched the season 7 finale of The Walking Dead, “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life.”

Perhaps the biggest shock of The Walking Dead season 7 finale was when Jadis and the Scavengers turned their guns on Alexandria, having struck a secret deal with the Saviors. Viewers were stunned, and they weren’t the only ones. It turns out star Andrew Lincoln had no idea either — not when he did earlier episodes with the group, not when he spoke with showrunner Scott M. Gimple about the episode, not until he sat down and read the finale script right before filming it.

That’s just one of the nuggets The Walking Dead star spilled to us when we spoke about the action-packed season-ender. The man behind Rick Grimes shares what it was like on set for that huge confrontation with Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan, how he feels about being saved by a tiger, and what we can expect to see coming up in season 8. (Make sure to also read our Q&As with Sonequa Martin-Green, showrunner Scott M. Gimple, and finale director Greg Nicotero.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Well, that was exciting.
ANDREW LINCOLN: Yeah, everyone can breathe again. When everybody read the script, everyone said, “How are we going to manage to do this again?” And everybody just charged all the way through that episode. For everybody, there was a real sense that we had earned this moment, and this episode, and possibly season 8. That was the feeling in the air among the crew and the cast.

To me, the moment of the episode is when Negan is about to take off Carl’s head, and you just get all up in his face and tell him, “You’re all already dead.” What a 180 from last time Rick was on his knees. That’s pretty much the arc of the entire season right there, right?
Yeah, I think so. It was so painful losing Glenn and Abraham, and it was a very pivotal point in his leadership. At that point, he said it was enough. There had been too much death on his watch. And it smashed him and pulled apart the leader. And what happened during the course of the first 8 episodes is you see him be diminished, and the back 8 was him being rebuilt, largely a lot by Michonne and the strong women in the community.

Tell me about filming that scene where you get in Negan’s face because I know you were pretty excited about it.
It was nice to give a little bit back to Mr. Jeffrey Dean Morgan! This is what you’ve got now, my friend, now that I’ve got a little bit of bite back! It was quite fun. I went back to set with a little spring in my step because I knew a tiger was showing up at the party! It was the first time that I got to push back a little bit. It had been a season — certainly from my view of things — of one-way traffic. And to be able to give him a bit of energy the other way was a relief and also kind of exciting. And I won’t speak for Jeffrey, but I think we’re going to get a little bit more texture in the relationship in season 8, if you know what I’m saying.

It was fun. The crew was excited to see us back together again and get a flavor, a taste of Rick returning and not bowing down anymore. And I love the line “You’re all already dead.” Because he is. He doesn’t have anything. That’s the realization is that unless you have love, unless you have friendship, unless you have something worth fighting for, you’re dead. And I think that’s the victory already, and he sees it in his eyes. He sees a coward. He sees a bully. He sees a man with nothing. He assumes he has everything, but he looks him square in the eyes and he goes, “I know what you are.” And then he calls him on it.

I can only imagine what was going on between you and Jeffrey in between takes on that scene.
I’m not going to say anything, but there were a couple of comments thrown around. It got a little testy. I hope they don’t show a couple of takes on the DVD or Blu-ray. They got a little bit more than they bargained for.

Credit: Gene Page/AMC

What was it like getting everyone together for that one big action spectacular scene?
To see the big bad wolf on the run was particularly enjoyable. We had a lot taken out of this season, and I know the audience has as well, so it was kind of nice to begin to push back. And also being reunited with really good friends. It was just great to see Lennie and see Melissa and to be able to hang with them on set and be able to watch their scenes. There was a real excitement on set. You could feel it. Even for Jeffrey. He was carrying a lot of story this season. He was a fan before he did this, and he said there’s something weird about being attacked by all these people I’m rooting for as a fan.

Well, it was neat not just to have old friends reunited but have characters like Ezekiel and Maggie — who had never even met — all together in one spot.
Everybody felt it. Everybody felt it was like an all-star game. It was such a thrilling atmosphere with the cavalry returning to push them out and save the day. The tiger comes and saves the day! It’s hilarious. I never thought I would be saying that. Seven seasons in, and it’s a tiger that saves my ass!

Hey, better a tiger than a dude in a giant blue unitard.
That’s true! He had such a spring on him. One of the weirdest experiences. I’m there baring my soul in Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s face, and then this guy gets in my eye-line and he’s 6 foot 3 and blue! And it was absolutely bizarre. What is happening?!

Did you know all along, even when you were filming episodes 709 and 710, that Jadis and the Scavengers were going to eventually turn on you guys?
Nope. Nope. Nope. No clue. I’m serious when I say that I don’t ask for any information. I don’t want to know. Obviously, if there are things like his relationship with Michonne I would prefer to know that there are seeds being sown, but with big reveals like this, I love learning on the day. I think it’s much, much stronger. Because no matter how good you are, there’s an inherent sense that you might play something that may signal.

I actually gasped out loud when they turned on you.
I was the same! I read it, and I went, “Ooooooh, it’s so smart!” Because you know what the writers did is they put that really good joke in before and it diffuses, and it’s such a smart way of going, “Oh, they’re never do that,” because you just think, “Oh, they’re funny.” It’s so good because it deflects and then it reveals. All the EPs asked me, “Did you see it coming?” And I went, “I didn’t see it.”

You also have that one very quick but significant moment with Morgan where he kills that guy next to you, and a simple nod is exchanged, but it kind of says everything.
That’s what excited everybody. I think where we’re heading is much more of that — that sort of unspoken history between these friends and warriors and survivors. And you don’t have to work too hard for it. It’s already there. And you want that, because it’s been a rough season for these characters, and there was that huge payoff and relief and joy and verve in sharing this air with these old friends.

Make sure to also read our Q&As with Sonequa Martin-Green (Sasha), showrunner Scott M. Gimple, and finale director Greg Nicotero. Also, follow @DaltonRoss on Twitter for all the latest Walking Dead updates.

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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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  • Frank Darabont
  • AMC
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