'Walking Dead' Star Andrew Lincoln Previews Cautious and Diplomatic Rick as Season 7 Gears Up for All Out War

"Rick leads a group of people who are freed from shackles of oppression" when the AMC zombie drama returns in February, the actor tells THR.
Gene Page/AMC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode 708, "Hearts Still Beating," of AMC's The Walking Dead, as well as the comic book series on which it is based.]

Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) is back.

Following eight episodes of being under new villain Negan's (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) thumb, the leader of the Alexandria community is finally ready to fight back.

Of course, the road to redemption didn't come easily as Rick and his people were traumatized by Negan and his ruthless group of Saviors that included the deaths of Glenn (Steven Yeun), Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), Spencer (Austin Nichols) and Olivia (Ann Mahoney), the latter duo coming during Sunday's season seven midseason finale.

What's more, Rick was practically the last man to want to fight back. The beleaguered former sheriff confessed to Maggie (Lauren Cohan) that she was right all along and that the group instantly needed to band together to fight to topple Negan and his Sanctuary of Saviors.

Rick now will rise up to lead key members of the group, including Michonne (Danai Gurira), Carl (Chandler Riggs), Rosita (Christian Serratos) and other communities such as the Kingdom and Hilltop.

For more on the midseason finale, a newly galvanized Rick Grimes and that mystery figure, THR caught up with star Andrew Lincoln.

Rick is finally galvanized to fight back. What had to shift for him?

It was the chaos of that final episode. From Rick's point of view, it was the journey of him really understanding that this is an untenable situation. The Saviors are going to be unrelenting and they're going to keep squeezing and squeezing until there's nothing left. They're going to lie and keep terrorizing the community with no let-up. The experiences of going out on this crazy, daredevil mission [on the lake] with Aaron (Ross Marquand) and returning with this bounty and the seeing Aaron being tortured almost to death. Then the subsequent murder of two of his citizens [Olivia and Spencer], that was a slow drip of him coming to the realization that this was never going to work. The final straw: the two murders. Then Michonne was able to articulate what we were already realizing in Rick's mind with the pep talk scene in the cell.

Let's talk about that cell at Alexandria that Morgan built. Did that pep talk intentionally take place at the cell? If so, that's a huge piece of foreshadowing from what comic book readers know is coming during the All Out War arc. 

It was specified in the script that they were in the cell. I took it as Rick trying to find balance after such a traumatic day. Morgan (Lennie James) has always been the voice of reason and he created the cell. So it was almost like Rick was reaching out to his old friend, trying to find balance in this argument. Whether or not it's foreshadowing a potential victory [over the Saviors] and [Negan's] capture, I do not know. But if it were, it would be kind of cool.

How does this new, re-awakened Rick compare with the man we've seen in the past? How has this experience with Negan changed him?

Rick has had the pride beaten out of him over the last eight episodes. You saw a man last year who was at the peak of his power and hubris got in the way of a lot of his judgment calls. What you'll see in the back half of this season is a more compassionate, considerate leader and a diplomat; somebody who is more cautious, free, liberated and lighter than he's ever been. In the back half of the season, Rick leads a group of people who are freed from shackles of oppression. They've been beaten so low that there's no further to go. In that, there's an almost joy in the fight again. You see a man being able to rebel again and even in that, you see a lightness and a charge that has been reignited in this man. He's had a lot of pride and impulsiveness beaten out of him this half-season.

Carol had the best reaction upon meeting King Ezekiel. What can you say about Rick's first impression of him?

I'm not sure but you'll find out pretty soon! We spent a lot of time in first half of the season world building and now it almost feels like a very familiar show again. This second half is the opposite of that. We have the added bonus of getting certain members of the band back together [Daryl, Maggie and company all reuniting with Rick].

Comic book readers know the "All Out War" arc is coming. What kind of obstacles might Rick encounter as he attempts to unite the Kingdom and Hilltop with Alexandria, where he has now seen the entire Monroe family wiped out?

I don't have much of a track record at Alexandria! (Laughs.) What kind of obstacles? Lots. That's been some of the thrill of the back eight episodes, which have been trying to honor the All Out War issues of the comic. But some of my most enjoyable parts have been divergent from that. It's given a sort of free license to push Rick and the other characters into places emotionally that they wouldn't necessarily go in the comic. I love honoring the big set pieces [from the comics], like Spencer's death; you have to chime those chords. But there's been a lot of exciting thrills and potential to see other things happen. Who does that shoe belong to? I wonder! (Laughs.)

Speaking of that shoe … that mystery person is following Rick and Aaron and peeping in on Father Gabriel at Alexandria. What can you say about who that is? Is that someone viewers have already met? 

I'm not going to tell you anything! What I will say is that the back half of the season moves very quickly. There's a lot of ground that's covered. You will find out relatively quickly who that mystery person is.

We have a few theories

Interesting!

Carol (Melissa McBride) and Morgan are both still very much pacifists. How might learning of Glenn and Abraham's deaths change that?

I know Carol has been in a very different, sort of isolated place for the first half of the season and Morgan has made his feelings quite clear that he's not returning to Rick given where he stood on Rick's leadership. I think it would have just as an emotive effect on those two characters in the back eight as it had and will continue to have on the rest of the characters. 

The poster for the second half indicates the uprising to come as Rick attempts to unite the Kingdom and Hilltop with Alexandria to "rise up" and take on the Saviors. Does the second half set the stage for All Out War? Do they strike against the Saviors? With the first half of the season being so fragmented, what does the back half look like, structurally speaking?

It feels very much closer to a show that I recognize, certainly with Rick having a newfound sense of purpose and freedom. It's a very dynamic season. The back eight episodes are a little bit like the Magnificent Seven — or the Magnificent Eight (laughing). It's very much about trying to forge relationships and getting other communities in order. But there is the small matter of we need some guns.

And someone from the Kingdom has his own stash of weapons in an RV. Does everyone on this show have an RV?!

Everybody does seem to have their own really shitty RV, yeah!

And then there's the Oceansiders, who have a ton of guns. Maybe that mystery person is from that community checking to see if Tara's group is a threat.

Possibly! That's what I loved about the midseason finale. We got the script and I asked [showrunner] Scott Gimple, "Who is it?!" You will find out in the first episode who that person is [who was following Father Gabriel, Rick and Aaron]. 

Is that person a threat to Rick's people?

You have to wait two months to see!

What did you think of The Walking Dead's season seven midseason finale? What are you looking forward to when the AMC drama returns Feb. 12? Sound off in the comments section. For more Walking Dead coverage, bookmark THR.com/WalkingDead.

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