In the end, he did the right thing… kinda. Rick Grimes finally had Negan in a one-on-one showdown during The Walking Dead’s season 8 finale. Rick explained Carl’s dying wish of the two of them putting their differences aside to share a vision for a new future, and just when it appeared Negan might possibly get on board, Rick cut his throat.
However, Rick then thought better of it and saved his arch-nemesis so he could “rot in a cell” and watch the future they built without him. It was an intense and personal finale filled with moments both big and small — including some flashbacks to a key father-son moment from the past. We spoke to star Andrew Lincoln to get his take on the big Negan battle, that blast from the past scene, what to expect moving forward, working with a new showrunner, and his big secret Fear the Walking Dead crossover scene. Read on for answers! (Also make sure to read our TWD finale interview with showrunner Scott M. Gimple, where he reveals what didn’t make it into the finale while previewing season 9.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, to be clear, when Rick is asking Negan to give him 10 seconds and then feeds him that line about how Carl wanted them to work together in peace to find a better way — it’s all BS at that point, right? Because at that point he’s still planning to kill him.
ANDREW LINCOLN: That’s right! I told [showrunner Scott M. Gimple] “You want me to do the Scoundrel’s Play?” And he said, “I didn’t know there’s a name for it.” “Yes, there is. It’s the Scoundrel’s Play, where I use my dead child’s name in vain in order to kill my arch-nemesis. If you’re comfortable with it, I’m comfortable with it.”
Because it was a concern of mine, because I was like, “Okay, we’ve done the beat in episode 14,” but he realizes it doesn’t work. You can’t kill pain away. Almost in the act of doing it and winning victory, whatever that looks like, he realizes what will happen if he kills him. Then he becomes him. Or he reneges on his child’s dying wishes. What Negan says after is a huge pivot point where then Rick goes: “No, I am not you.” And that’s when he asks to save his life. So it all happens very, very quickly. It’s almost like there’s a moment of recognition when he sees the dying Negan that brings him out of his torture.
You know, technically Rick did on several occasions promise he was going to kill Negan, so I don’t want to call him a liar, but he kind of went back on his word, didn’t he?
Yeah, but I went back on my word in episode 14 and killed them all! Apparently, he’s become a liar this season! He does not hold true to his word. It’s a funny thing because I thought about the aftermath. You’ve got Maggie’s reaction, which is extraordinary and incredibly powerful. It wasn’t like a victory speech. It’s a man looking at an army of people all looking very bewildered and shocked and traumatized, looking at their leader saying, “We’re not going to kill him,” and that’s what he’s been promising them this is all about. I liked it because it was a very confused, but it was what Rick had to do to save himself, and it upset a lot of people in the process.
Does this give us a profoundly different Rick Grimes in season 9, then?
I think it does. I think there is always going to be a sense of he’s lost all of the most important parts of himself, and yet he has the legacy and gift that Carl gave him that is going to fuel his ambitions for the future. He’s got a renewed purpose because of this and because of his son. So it’s absolutely a new man. This is the man who couldn’t see what Deanna saw about the future and still couldn’t see it for a long, long time even throughout all of this and the battle he was hell-bent on vengeance. And now you will meet and find a man — depending on how much time after the events that we just witnessed — that has changed, radically, in ideas and purpose.
How was filming the brawl scene with Jeffrey? I hear you all shot that entire sequence in one day.
It was a long day. It was one of those days where I spent the morning getting kicked around by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, which is fun, to a point. And then I slit his throat without actually slitting his throat. And then turn around and be faced with a screaming widow begging for blood. And then give a declaration of peace to 500 people on a battlefield. And finally, before the lights fall, because its winter and we only had 10 hours to shoot the whole day, start weeping for the death of my son.
And so that’s my day! I was little anxious, to say the least. It was one of those days where you go, “We should have three weeks!” But we had 10 hours. And I don’t think it was my finest hour. I think I probably had to apologize to Greg Nicotero a couple of times. And probably when I get back to Atlanta I will again. I think I was a bit short-tempered because I was quite anxious. But it went pretty good in the end. I went home feeling that we got something that was truly epic and worthy losing Carl.
How did it feel shaving and putting the deputy sheriff’s uniform back on again?
It was mad! It was crazy! I shaved, and then dyed my hair — because it’s been a while. [Laughs] They had to take out the uniform a little bit — because I’ve been working out so much. [Laughs] And then I got off the bus and [new showrunner Angela Kang] had tears in her eyes. And I think it was probably because I had aged, badly. But I like to think it was also because it was such a powerful moment.
And people who were there in that third season were all kind of gobsmacked, you know? I did campaign for the use of the uniform. It had an important resonance for what the kid was asking of his father — that he wanted that man back. Of course, it’s not going to be the same man. But there is a sense that restraint rather than revenge is what that man represented back then — law and order and control and safety. That is a vision that the boy had and is the gift that he gives to his father.
What is it like moving over from Scott M. Gimple to Angela Kang as the showrunner?
There’s a renewed vigor and energy to everything — just by virtue of the fact that it’s somebody different at the helm. Of courses, Scott is still here, but he’s a very respectful boss. He believes in creativity and allowing people to create, so he’s standing back and letting Angela do this. And so it is very exciting. Angela has always been a writer that I really admire. I love her episodes and always have since season 2. For her to be leading the ship, there is a real sense of purpose and energy and vitality and new direction.
I can’t wait to see this next episode. It’s really interesting. It’s very different in a good way. In an exciting way. It’s more reminiscent of the pilot than any other season that we’ve embarked on, which makes me very happy. It’s a good time for it. It’s a really exciting time for it. I feel like season 1. It’s a big year and I’m excited for it.
How does it feel now to have crossed over to Fear the Walking Dead as well? We knew Lennie was going over, but there you were also. How did that come about?
I called up Lennie in order to try to get him back on the show and so we’ve always had a very respectful relationship, and he asked me, “What’s it going to be like? Is it worth it? Is it going to be worth my while? What’s the attitude like? Is everybody cool? What’s the deal?” And I said “You’ll have the best time on set. It’s certainly the greatest, craziest experience on a set in my career. And I promise you’re going to have a great time.”
So when Scott mentioned this idea to him, he’s such an extraordinary, gracious, and cool dude that he just said, “Well, there’s someone I need to ask first.” So he called me up and said, “Are you cool with this?” And I said, “You gotta do what you gotta do. Of course, I want you to stay but it’s your life and it’s a great opportunity.” And I don’t blame him. You’re the greatest leading man there is! It’s a great idea! So he said, “Will you come and send me off?” And I said, “With the greatest of pleasure.” So that’s why I’m in it.
Well, it is the perfect send-off.
Because the fact is you could put somebody else in there asking him to stay, but it’s not the same. These are two men that are the oldest friends and oldest relationships they have left. Because everybody else is gone. It’s the oldest friendship they have. He wants Morgan to share in this vision for the future because they’re twins. They’ve saved each other’s lives on multiple occasions, and he wants to do it again. But he chooses to run.
The Walking Dead showrunner reveals what DIDN’T make it into the finale
The Walking Dead director answers season finale burning questions
The Walking Dead‘s Rick–Negan war fate revealed
Surprise! FOUR Walking Dead characters crossover to Fear
Fear the Walking Dead showrunners explain those OTHER secret premiere crossovers
Fear the Walking Dead‘s Lennie James breaks down the season premiere