Andrew Lincoln is minutes away from finding out what happens at Terminus.
The British actor, who plays former Atlanta police officer Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead, is just about to step into the writer’s room of the AMC zombie drama and get a “general sketch” of what’s going down in Season 5. (“It’s an incredibly exciting day,” he says.) Meanwhile, the rest of us are still reeling from the Season 4 finale that aired last night. “A” debuted the most vicious version of Rick Grimes we’ve ever seen, who’d rip through a man’s jugular with his bare teeth, then repeatedly stab a man to death for attacking his son. Rick, Daryl, Michonne, and Carl reunited with Glenn, Maggie, and the others at Terminus, but there was no “sanctuary” awaiting them there. With snipers’ rifles aimed at their heads, the group was herded into a cargo container and locked inside—which actually made Rick smile. “They’re gonna feel pretty stupid when they find out,” he says. “They’re screwing with the wrong people.”
The Daily Beast caught up with Lincoln to discuss last night’s explosive season finale, Rick’s new embracing of his dark side, and what he thinks of fan theories about cannibals at Terminus.
Let’s start with last night’s season finale. I feel like the point of the episode was to show us that this time, Rick has changed for good. He’s resolved to kill or be killed—no more farmer, no more tortured leader. Is that what you think as well?
Yeah, I think he’s a man who’s made peace with both sides of his character and, as a result, he’s a much more powerful and lethal leader. The thing he’s been struggling with, probably since Season 2, is the fact that ever since killing Shane, he realizes that there’s an animalistic, feral nature to his DNA that he was scared of or in conflict. But now this is a man who realizes that both sides of his character are essential and probably the main reason why he and his son are still alive.
He’s gone back and forth on the issue a lot, whether he’s willing to do whatever it takes to survive or whether he’ll continue trying to be a good guy. What do you think was different this time? What allowed him to finally resolve that inner conflict?
Well, I just think he overstepped every barrier by the very action of what he did. What he did was shocking. It had to be something that was profoundly beyond the realm of any morality, so much so that these Marauders, these Claimers, have never seen anything quite like it. What I loved about it was that it wasn’t a conflict, it was just a necessity. You know those stories of mothers lifting cars off their children in order to save their lives? It’s that thing. Something doesn’t snap, he just accesses a part of himself that he has been terrified of and trying to repress for so long. Hershel was helpful in that, almost like a counselor, but he’s gone. The shackles are off.
But the thing I loved about this moment is it was very calm. It was a realization that this is an extraordinary, vital ingredient of survival in this new world. He doesn’t see it as a weakness or a problem anymore. He sees it as an equally important part of himself to access when need be. Don’t get me wrong, in the scene with Norman [Reedus, who plays Daryl], Rick accesses that other side of himself which is incredibly open and moral and gentle. He says, “You’re my brother.” I’m in awe of the writing in that scene because something terrible has just happened. And yet he says, “It was worth going through that because we found you.” He sees very clearly for the first time in a long time, unfettered by morality.
He used to be really concerned about how violence was affecting Carl, is that still on his mind?
It still is. And you see it in the episode. There’s a moment when Michonne hugs Carl and Rick looks over, very, very concerned that his son is afraid of him. He’s seen this monster, this tsunami of brutality come out of him. His son is afraid of his father. Then there’s a beat after that, at Terminus, when Rick says, “No, they deserved it.” And the kid just unequivocally says, “Yes.” That’s a huge moment because it means that he understands what his father had to do in order to survive.
I’m not saying that the father, son, and the monsters (in both of them) are resolved. I think it’ll be very interesting to see next season how you resolve the idea of a monster and a man—and a father—inside one human being.
Were you as surprised as we were to find out that no major character was going to die in the season finale? I was sort of relieved.
I know! You and me both! The thing is, we didn’t want it to be Survivor. This is a story we’re telling. That was never the intention of the show. We’re very lucky that we have the ace up our sleeves and we can do that and reinvent the show, but I think the most important thing is that a death should always change a character or move on the story. I think that’s exactly what happened—rather than someone being killed, Rick killed, which irrevocably changed him.
Can you tell me about what it was like shooting that scene, where Rick tears a man’s jugular out?
It was very strange—I mean, yeah. (Laughs.) It was a long shoot. I think there was 95 seconds of the scene before you even got to the bite. It was 4:30 in the morning, I had a mouthful of blood and raw chicken and it just—you get yourself into a very strange place. Jeff Kober, who played Joe and did a magnificent job, was very sweet. He was sort of holding me and I was getting myself psyched up for it. But I think he was a bit concerned for my mental health. And then of course, I had to pick the knives up to brutally stab Keith, who played the other character, and he just kept spurting all the ink in my eye, every take. It turned into just an unbelievable bloodbath. Even Norman came up and said, “Man, you look crazy.” Donna Premick, who does makeup, just said, “Are you okay?” I said, “I’M FINE! I’m fine!” I was really sort of hyped up. She said, “You’ve got blood all over, let me get the blood out of your eyes,” and I said, “I’m fine!” I had blood completely in my eyes, it turned into quite a wild night.
Have you heard the fan theory that Terminus is full of cannibals?
I haven’t, no.
So there’s this theory that stems from the comic books that Terminus is full of cannibals and that’s why they lure people in, that’s why the gates were unlocked, that’s why Mary is always by the grill and she says “we’ll make you a plate” when she welcomes the first group in.
(Laughs.) Oh my god. I hadn’t heard that. I’m such a Luddite, I’m not on any social media so I don’t really hear about things like this. I have a flip phone, Melissa. That’s all I’ll say about that. But no, I hadn’t heard that one, that’s good. I mean, the other thing about this season is there are so many open ends and so many things that are left out that people can think about. You know, I love the fact that people have these conspiracy theories, I love that. [Terminus] is the weirdest place that we’ve ever been. There’s loads of teenagers and Mary’s like the witch in Hansel and Gretel. Like what is going on? We are at our apparently weakest point, and yet I think Rick is at his strongest he’s ever been in four seasons. It was an exciting moment doing that last scene, that call to arms, because it feels like, “Wait a minute. They really have no idea what they’ve locked in that train car.” Everybody’s been emailing each other, we don’t know what’s going to happen. You’ve all just found out, but we’ve been living with this for four months! We’re just like, “Tell us what happens next!” It’s very exciting, that’s why I’m just about to go into the writer’s room and get some secrets.
In real life, do you find that you tend to take on a leader-like role among the cast members? I remember David Morrissey telling me that he tended to isolate himself from everyone else, like the Governor might, sort of like life imitating art.
It’s a funny thing, leadership. I’ve learned from playing Rick that the way that Rick leads is something that I try to emulate. He shows, he doesn’t teach. He’s one of those people who would never ask you to do something he wouldn’t do himself. I think that’s the way that I try to be when I’m on set. It’s just such a neat way of doing things—I mean, I don’t respond well to someone telling me what to do. In that way I think Rick is very smart, it’s rare that he will call someone out. He doesn’t mean to, because he’s the first guy in battle. He’s always actively stepping up and saying, “I’ll do it. Let’s get on with it.” And I think that’s very much the attitude that I have toward filming. “Let’s get on set, let’s go, let’s have some fun.” I suppose that when I’m not working, I’m a much quieter human being, I’m a much more private guy. I just kind of plant trees, mess around with the family.
Aw, like Farmer Rick.
I’m Farmer Rick, yeah, it’s very unimaginative, the writing for those scenes. “What do you do?” I just step back, I farm. “Okay, you’re farming.” I should say that I surf in Barbados, just to see what happens in Season 5.