12:30pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'Walking Dead': Michael Cudlitz Admits Cast Lied About Who Was Being Killed Off
[Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the season seven premiere of AMC's The Walking Dead, "The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be," as well as the comic book series it is based on.]
Sgt. Abraham Ford reported for duty one final time on AMC's The Walking Dead.
During Sunday's season seven premiere, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) claimed two victims: Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Glenn (Steven Yeun).
Abraham's death came as a result of Negan's cruel random selection — and after the former Army soldier seemingly volunteered to sacrifice his life in order to protect Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and company from Negan and his barbed wire-covered bat, Lucille.
But before Negan delivered the final devastating blow, Abraham was able to get in one last epic quote when he told the charismatic nut-job to "suck my nuts."
For Cudlitz, meanwhile, Sunday's season seven premiere was a long time coming. After the cast united following the season six finale to say that the death scene(s) hadn't been filmed, Cudlitz told reporters Monday that both Abraham and Glenn's slayings were filmed at the end of season six and both actors knew they were being killed off more than a year ago and filmed the scene just before Thanksgiving.
"I found out about a year and three months ago when they told me they were going to take me and Steven out at the end of season six," Cudlitz told The Hollywood Reporter during a conference call. "They were talking about doing it at the end of season six or the start of season seven; [showrunner] Scott M. Gimple wasn't sure how to structure it for the greatest impact."
"We filmed the scene about a year ago. It was the last episode of last year. … We finished just before Thanksgiving. We've been sitting with it for a year now," said Cudlitz. "We were able to spread the rumor that not even the cast knew what was going to happen. We said we filmed every cast [death] scene just in case and were redoing contacts. All that was a lie. It allowed us not to defend or hide who was dead for five months, which was great."
That the series would go to such great lengths to protect the reveal — THR reported that every actor had filmed a death scene with Lucille — should come as little surprise given AMC's history with leaks surrounding The Walking Dead. That included a brief moment Sunday where the trailer for episode two of season seven was released early by The Walking Dead's international partners (it was subsequently removed) and that time when the DVD marketing materials spoiled Shane's (Jon Bernthal) death.
"They had to balance knowing people who were trying to get that information out there," Cudlitz noted, admitting AMC is aware that it has some "in-house leaks."
Cudlitz revealed he only told his wife and children about his pending exit and went so far as to keep Abraham's red hair and massive mustache for months to ensure he held up his end of the deal. He said he also took every opportunity to travel this season in a bid to keep fans on their toes. Other castmembers, including Lincoln, were also able to take trips this season because of the massive cast list of season seven. (Heading into the season, there are 21 series regulars, which, even without Yeun and Cudlitz, is still a record for the zombie drama.)
As for how Abraham's story concluded, Cudlitz said he went out the way the character would have wanted: as a hero sacrificing himself for his family.
"He would give his life to protect anyone in this group," said the actor. "He became a soldier in arms with all these other people and was willing to give the ultimate sacrifice."
Cudlitz noted that Negan's "eeny meeny" selection process wasn't really random at all, but instead was the new villain surveying Rick's group in a way that didn't include any dialogue.
"It's a chess game for Negan: Do you take out the strongest guy to prove a point? Or the weakest to show you don't care — which shows you're even more twisted?" Cudlitz said. "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, directed at each person, [allowed Negan] to look in their eyes and see who he was dealing with."
As for going out in the same episode as Yeun's fan favorite Glenn — who has been with the series since its debut — Cudlitz said he was concerned only about Abraham's death taking away from Glenn's.
"Glenn, we've watched him grow up from a kid, and we're so much more invested in the whole journey of Glenn than Abraham," he said, stressing how much he loved both Glenn and Melissa McBride's Carol before boarding the show in season four. "From an emotional standpoint, the emotional weight all falls on Glenn. I'm happy with how that was scripted and they made Abraham look like a soldier who gave himself up. But the emotional weight of Glenn and Maggie [Lauren Cohan] and Glenn wanting that last moment with 'I will find you,' that transcends the show. … That is a proclamation of love that transcends the physical reality of our show. We say goodbye to Abraham in a great way, but the primary emotional impact of what happened to the show was seen through the eyes of Maggie and as a direct result of Glenn's passing."
The actor also noted that he bonded with Yeun over having to both go out in such a horrific fashion. Cudlitz called Yeun an amazing actor and said that Abraham and Glenn's deaths further illustrate comic book creator Robert Kirkman's point that nobody is ever truly safe in this world.
"If you come on the show after the third season and are surprised you're going to get killed, you're a f—ing moron," he said. "After last night, if you're in any situation where you think you're safe — even if you're Michonne [Danai Gurira], Daryl [Norman Reedus], Carl [Chandler Riggs] or Rick — there's no safety in the show right now."
What did you think of The Walking Dead's season seven premiere? Will you miss Glenn and Abraham? Sound off in the comments. For more Walking Dead coverage, bookmark THR.com/WalkingDead. Click here to read exec producer Greg Nicotero's thoughts on the episode and its violence.