'Walking Dead' Star Andrew Lincoln on Brutal Season 6 Finale: "It's Negan's Land Now"

The star talks with THR about making a pact with the cast to remain in the dark about the victim and how Rick's pride may have cost the group everything.
Courtesy of Gene Page/AMC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season six finale of AMC's The Walking Dead, "Last Day on Earth," and the comic book series that the show is based on.]

It's a bold new world for The Walking Dead's Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln).

Sunday's season six finale dealt the leader of the survivors what may likely be its biggest blow yet after Rick and his group of not-so-merry followers finally came face to face with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

As in the landmark 100th issue of the comics, the charming sociopath bashed in the skull of one of 11 survivors who were lined up on their knees before him and held accountable for killing multiple members of Negan's deadly group, the Saviors. That means either Rick, Michonne (Danai Gurira), Glenn (Steven Yeun), Daryl (Norman Reedus), Rosita (Christian Serratos), Carl (Chandler Riggs), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Aaron (Ross Marquand), Eugene (Josh McDermitt), Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) or Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) won't live to see another day. (Glenn meets Negan's barbed-wire-covered baseball bat, Lucille, in the comics.)

But before the series cut to black and shifted its point of view to its unseen victim, the camera zeroed in on Rick — whose ego and kill-anyone-who-is-a-threat philosophy may have been responsible for Negan's big swing and the group's eventual loss.

THR caught up with star Lincoln — taking a break from vacation in Costa Rica — to talk about Rick's fall from grace, how Negan changes everything and the "All Out War" that awaits as Alexandria, the Hilltop and the as-yet-unseen but newly introduced Kingdom will likely unite to take on the Saviors.

How does Negan's deadly arrival change the show as we know it?

The final episode, [exec producer] Greg Nicotero [who directed the finale] and I talked about seeing Rick's slow dread as he realizes the world is a much bigger, darker, scarier place than he first imagined. A lot of his hubris and pride that you'd seen in this man since the battle for Alexandria disappears. You're left with a man who realizes that he's crumbled and everything that he did and fought for may be disappearing before his very eyes. So in short, it's Negan's land now.

Nicotero said the death scene hasn't been filmed yet. Do you know who it is? Do you have a theory?

We made a pact because it was such an intense two days [filming Negan's scene] when we shot it to keep our heads down and let it play out as it was intended. I have theories and thoughts but I'm not going to go on record and tell them quite yet! Maybe sometime midseason next year! All I know is we haven't fully shot the scene yet, and I'll only know when the scene is completed how Rick feels. One of us is going to get it and that's going to be terrible personally and professionally. We made a deal when we got down on our knees that we wouldn't talk about it.

How does Rick now feel being completely powerless? There's a shot of him we see when he's on his knees before Negan and we've never seen him at that point.

I was very adamant that we needed to see a guy who is completely broken. It was such a great focus on set. It was very exciting. I haven't felt that kind of intensity on set since season one; everybody is very much galvanized. Everyone knew what was coming. It was dark, and probably 10 minutes [before] Negan's introduction there's a scene with Rick and Carl where Carl inherits part of Rick's pride, and for the first time he calls him son just before the attack happens. Rick is very much in a plight. I wanted him, in the same way when he fell and dropped the gun, I wanted him to be off in his own private hell where everything he's worked for, for the past two years, has fallen around him.

How much guilt will Rick feel over this death?

Guilt is an emotion that is never very far away from Rick Grimes. He's a man that shoulders the responsibility, and it's one of the forces that keeps pushing him on. He takes responsibility for the rest of the survivors. With the Saviors, people were probably mixed morally but Rick was instrumental in that plan that people had never been through before — to kill people in their sleep in the night. And Rick is probably suffering enormous responsibility and guilt. At the moment he's on his knees, he knows the game is up. I think it's going to irrevocably change who that guy is and how he feels as a leader when the scene eventually plays out.

As the series heads into "All Out War," will this galvanize him or will it be harder for him to come out of it?

That's further down the road. It's a double-edged sword that we have with our show. We have this rich source material that we mine and a landscape of incredible characters we have with a smart and opinionated audience. Imagine watching the show without knowledge of the comic book: It would be a completely different experience. If you jump too far ahead, the thrilling bits may be further away from these immediate episodes and you may miss out on some choice character work or story arcs that don't actually come from the comic. But that being said, I'm excited about the bigger world we're entering. It does feel like this is a watershed moment in the show and the show has gotten a lot bigger.

Rick will have lost a key member of his group — which is the price he is paying for killing members of the Saviors. Does this change Rick's philosophy about killing other humans?

That's yet to be decided. I'm in [showrunner] Scott Gimple's hands and the rest of the writers'. Rick is a leader and he's adaptable to his environment and sensitive to it with his leadership, and one of the great things about playing this part after six years is I'm trying to calibrate what the perfect leader would look like. Rick keeps going down the wrong dead end or keeps morally pushing himself into a place that doesn't fit and has repercussions. There's definitely a re-evaluation happening in whether he can be a leader or if he even wants to be a leader. He's one of those brilliant people, but you've seen him in the past renounce leadership and he stepped back in the past for the sake of his family. Yet people still stand beside him. And this is going to be such a traumatic episode [when the show returns for season seven] that I'm really excited to see where this pushes him next.

At this point, do you think Morgan was right? Could this have been avoided if Rick didn't kill so many Saviors?

I'm not sure that Rick has had time to process that. He's just dealing with the immediate trauma of being trapped and being in a situation that is terrifying. Rick is stubborn; he knows who the Saviors are; he has a weird sense that they are an incredibly organized, arrogant and brutal outfit and [Rick killing them] won't be taken lightly. So to go in and raid the compound was a huge call — that preemptive strike. It's hubris and pride intervening because he thought it was a much smaller outfit. That's the slow dread that grips Rick in the final episode — it's a very slow and painful realization that his pride may be what tripped him up.

The Kingdom is on its way. Will Rick be eager to battle Negan after seeing the way he was herded in the finale? Do you have a dream casting for Ezekiel?

I don't know when or where or how or who. But it does seem like the world is growing. I may have to return to the comics and look through those pages if we do get to the Kingdom next season!

What did you think of The Walking Dead finale? Sound off in the comments section below. For more Walking Dead coverage, go to THR.com/WalkingDeadClick here to read what Jeffrey Dean Morgan had to say about Negan and his future; here for our in-depth interview with EP Greg Nicotero; and here for our deep dive with showrunner Scott M. Gimple.

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