For the first time in over a year, Andrew Lincoln is happily beardless.
It’s the morning of The Walking Dead’s Season 5 premiere in Los Angeles and Lincoln is almost unrecognizable with neatly trimmed hair and a distinct lack of “Biblical”-level beard on his face. His character on the AMC zombie drama, Rick Grimes, has had it rough over the past season, what with being beaten to a pulp by the Governor, having his prison retirement farm blown up, then finding himself lured into a so-called “sanctuary for all” that, it turns out, is mostly filled with insane people trying to kill him and everyone he knows.
So when we pick up again in season five, Rick is fresh out of human mercy. Now, he's a murderer, too.
“No Sanctuary” features a version of the Atlanta sheriff who’s come fully to terms with his dark side. While hints of Rick’s suppressed brutality have occasionally bubbled to the surface before (like that time he chewed a guy’s throat off), we won’t hear pained monologues about his morals, the Greater Good, or What Makes Us Human again anytime soon. If Rick registers you as “enemy,” he’s going straight for the kill.
Lincoln hopped on the phone with The Daily Beast to hint at a “revolution” to come within Rick’s group, their return to Atlanta, new characters, and his vision for where Rick ends up by the end of the series (hint: it involves Johnny Cash and a whole lot more beard).
The last time we spoke, you were about to walk into the writers’ room to read the script for Season 5’s premiere. I imagine a lot has happened since then.
Oh yes. Oh yes, Melissa. So much has gone down. It sort of doesn’t let up this season for the first many episodes. You can probably encapsulate the season in two songs: The first part of the season would be “Helter Skelter” from the Beatles, and the second one would be “A Day in the Life” by the Beatles.
This episode featured characters grappling with a hard fact of life in the post-zombie world, it’s either hunt or be hunted. Rick seems to have finally decided: he’s a hunter.
Yeah, I mean, the theme of this episode is an interesting one. For it was very much [about how] we’re in a terrible situation. We’re incredibly vulnerable. And we get incredibly lucky because Carol saves the day, or at least gives us an opportunity to escape. And then it’s about a reunion and a huge debt owed and a huge rift between two characters, Rick and Carol, is healed in one fell swoop. The emotional arc of this episode is very much about the reunion. Even though it’s a kinetic, high-energy, high action, terrifying opener, you get this emotional payoff. You learn about the history of Terminus. I think Scott did a very smart job of explaining what went down, through the character of Mary as well. You’re right, it is a very brutal, bloody opening. We hit the ground running after an end-of-season cliffhanger.
Rick has no internal conflict about what is morally right and what is wrong. You know, the brutality within him. The perfect example is if you stand beside Rick, then you’re family. If you stand in front of him, then you’re a problem. And he’s not afraid of getting rid of that problem.
Last time Rick went full-on killer, he almost lost his mind. What’s different this time?
That was grief. You know, when Lori died, I was interested in the five stages of grieving. There’s denial and eventual acceptance, but then there’s also anger—you know, all of these different qualities and for a time he did become unhinged. He was lost. I think that Hershel was instrumental in bringing him back.
[In Season 5] this is a different guy. He’s realized the brutality within him is just as important, if not more so in this new world, as to why they are all still alive. I don’t think there is any moral ambiguity. He’s a pragmatist. He goes, “That’s a problem. Let’s kill them.” I think it’s as simple as that. He’s not anchored by any of the old morals. I think it’s an interesting thing as well—you know, it may be he’s just letting go of the old world. That’s all it is, is just him relinquishing his grip on a past world that has no bearing on this new place.
Right. After last season, we knew he was willing to tear a man’s jugular out if it meant saving his son.
Very good point. We knew he was willing to do things that other characters perhaps weren’t able to do as well. He’s one of these people that jumps off the cliff. Shane tried to kill him—he couldn’t do it, but Rick could kill him. You know what I mean? There’s certain moments where you realize that this is a guy who, even if he’s pummeled to the ground, he’ll still pull himself up and try to defend his family. He’s a tenacious and ferocious leader. And I think you find him at a place where there is no doubt within him, which makes him even more dangerous.
Even knowing that about him, it was still a shock to see him take a machine gun and mow down around a dozen unsuspecting Terminans. We knew he could kill, but not necessarily massacre.
But there’s also a scene just prior to the reunion, where Rick’s digging up the weapons and he’s going back to kill. Maybe there is pride involved in that, and his flaws are tied up in that, but also we’ve just been the closest we’ve ever been to being hung, drawn and quartered and then, you know, smoked. [Laughs] You know what I mean? These are people that do not deserve to be here. In his mind, in his worldview, he’s like, “Done. They’re gone.” He also said it to Gareth’s face, he said, “I’m gonna kill you. You’re not getting away from me.” It is a different man, but it’s thrilling to play. I mean, it’s so much fun to play this guy.
Is playing ass-kicking Rick more fun than playing Farmer Rick?
Well, don’t get me wrong, he’s always been able to kick ass! He just went into retirement on the farm. When the veritable poop hits the fan, he’s going to stand up. But the challenge of this season has been modulating this guy, because when you have somebody who is certain about a world view, it’s making that interesting. I love all the action sequences and all the kickass stuff, it’s all fun, but it has to be made real. It has to be sort of grounded in the world. That’s been the challenge for me, is making it different and change and move and not the same thing, not playing the same note.
What does this new Rick mean for the others? You mentioned the scene where Rick digs up the weapons and wants to charge back into Terminus, even though the others are like, “Uhh, no. We just got outta there.” It seems like there’s a lot of room for tension within the group.
Yes, I think that you’ve identified a theme that will run through the rest of this season, is the fact that we’re the largest group we’ve ever had. We’re exposed. There are also new people in this group that we don’t know, that we just met, who have their own agendas and have been very self-sufficient on their own terms, with different ideas and different wants. So I think that you’re absolutely right, you’ve identified the kernel of something that will grow into a greater, perhaps problem or revolution later.
We saw Tyreese in this episode caught in the middle of the “hunt or be hunted” dilemma. He wants it both ways: he wants to stay alive but without hurting anyone. If you were in the zombie apocalypse, would you be a hunter, the hunted, or Tyreese?
I think I’d probably be closer to Tyreese. I’m a lover not a fighter, but I’m willing to fight for love.
Ha! Great. On another note, Rick is getting pretty hairy. Is the beard driving you insane at this point?
[Laughs] Yes. It’s become Biblical. I realized this season that we were gonna need a bigger beard, you know what I’m saying? I mean, we just haven’t—I haven’t had time! I’m too busy fighting! The guy has not seen a mirror for quite some time. Not since the midseason return of last year, that was the last time he looked in one. And that time, his face was pummeled to a pulp by the Governor. He’s not a guy that looks in the mirror much, so please forgive me for my facial hair. [Laughs] My wife was dying for me to get rid of it. She was ready for it to go and she’s very relieved that it has gone.
In this episode, we got our first real look at what’s going on inside Terminus. After reading the script for this episode, did you formulate any theories about why the Terminans do what they do?
We didn’t know anything about this, obviously, until a couple of weeks before we started filming. And then we got some answers. But when we went to that almost-shrine to the dead, you obviously realized there were names of people and candles. Like it was some—yeah, a shrine. Something terrible had obviously happened to important people that still live in this place, so we knew something bad had befallen it. I don’t know what, but that was the one clue that we could glean.
And then the fact that they were incredibly organized and they weren’t trying to kill us. Very suspicious. They wanted us to be still alive for whatever reason. And then, very quickly, after being dragged after the stun grenade goes off in the [boxcar] and we’re seeing people’s legs, the guy that I sort of pulled into the line of fire, he’s the guy who’s being chopped up on the abattoir. You know the guy that’s got the drill? So as soon as I see that guy and I see that they’re drilling human bodies, I know we’re in a whole lot of trouble.
Where you want to see Rick by the end of the series?
When it’s done and dusted? I would like to think that I’d be dead before we get to that point, before we start going, “Let’s wrap it up neatly.” I think that he should just be—you know, I’ll just get taken out. That’s the beauty of the show. I think that if you start thinking [about] the long game...I suppose there is something to be said about just walking off into the wilderness.
You wouldn’t want him to go out in a blaze of glory?
No…I keep telling the makeup team and everybody this, eventually I want Rick to have this sort of gray buzzcut and a full gray beard. I want to look like granite. And then just walk off into the sunset. And they’ve got to play “Hurt,” by Johnny Cash.
What are you most excited for people to see this season?
Every single [minute]. It’s a very ambitious, fast-paced story but also we move locations very, very quickly. We go back into the city which is thrilling to be back there again. It’s wonderful. Every story thread that was left untold last season gets answered this season. We also meet a lot of new amazing actors that have joined the show. Also at some point in this season is an episode that I always wanted to make. If we had started [the series] there, we wouldn’t have gotten any viewers. But now we’ve come on this long journey, we’re able to make this episode. It’s amazing.
Did you have a hand in writing or directing it?
No, I had nothing to do with it. I just sort of say a few lines and look busy, you know what I mean?