'Walking Dead's' Andrew J. West Talks Gareth's Appetite for Revenge

"The way that the episode ends will be explored," the actor tells THR in our weekly episode dissection
Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC
Andrew J. West

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode 502, "Strangers," of AMC's The Walking Dead and the comic series it is based on.]

AMC's The Walking Dead remixed a major scene and introduced a key character from the comics Sunday during the second episode of its fifth season.

Following the bloody blowout at Terminus, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his sizable group of "survivors" hit the road — until they encountered Seth Gilliam's Father Gabriel and looked to his well-preserved church for shelter. Realizing that he's low on supplies, Rick, who doesn't quite trust Gabriel, takes the preacher on what turns out to be a harrowing supply run.

See more 'Walking Dead' Comes to Life: From Comics to the Small Screen

While Gabriel can't — and won't — defend himself against the undead, Rick's group is forced to navigate a party of walkers in water as they raid a food bank that had been completely overrun. While everyone makes it out alive, Bob comes this close to being walker bait before girlfriend Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) comes to his rescue after he gets pulled underwater by a walker.

Back at the church, Daryl (Norman Reedus) — convinced the group is being watched — attempts to get Carol (Melissa McBride) to open up about her time on the road without the group. Carol refuses and, just as she's plotting to leave the group to go out on her own, she and Daryl spot the car that took Beth and make off after it — together.

Following Bob's (Larry Gilliard Jr.) close call, he retreats to the woods while the rest of the survivors are feasting and enjoying a rare celebration. It's then that he's knocked out and, after coming to, realizes Gareth (Andrew J. West) has not only cut off his leg, but his group of cannibals are feasting on it.

"Your people took away our home; that's fair play. Now we're out here like everybody else trying to survive, and in order to do that, we have to hunt," Gareth tells a visibly shocked and shaken Bob before confessing that their people evolved to become the so-called Hunters from the comics. "No matter how much we hate all this ugly business, a man's got to eat. If it makes you feel any better, you taste much better than we thought you would," Gareth says.

It's a scene nearly straight out of Robert Kirkman's comic series, where Dale is the one who loses his leg to the Hunters. Dale, however, had the last laugh, as the Hunters were eating his leg after he'd already been bitten by a walker and had left the group to die on his own.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with West to talk about Gareth's shocking scene, how the character compares with Chris, his comic book counterpart, and yes, if Bob was damaged goods at their time of "consumption."

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Gareth is, without a doubt, the head of this group of cannibals. Did you know how dark he'd get?

We shot the premiere and, going into episode two, I had no idea. I read that script, and when I got the last couple pages, I was just shocked — but in a good way. I was smiling from ear to ear. All Scott had told me was that I was in episode two. I kept reading and got to the final pages, and my God. I'm a fan of the comic book too, so that was informing what I was reading, and I recognized certain things. But it was a huge surprise, and a pleasant one at that, for me to be able to get to do something like that.

There aren't many people who can say it's a "pleasant" surprise to play someone who chops off a guy's leg and eats it for dinner.

(Laughs.) It's such a shocking scene, even on paper. That's the thing: You watch the episode and it's terrifying, but it's terrifying on paper when you read it. I was up pacing all night because I was so excited to shoot it. It was a big surprise, but I loved it.

What did you actually eat to double for Bob?

They've got some culinary skills! It was some type of pork, and it was pretty delicious! I'm a pork fan, and I don't know if it was pork shoulder, but it was tasty stuff! I gladly skipped lunch that day. It was good, and it made shooting that scene much easier to have something so tasty. The last line of the episode wasn't that hard to say!

So how did Gareth and his goons amputate Bob's leg without him waking up! Seems like when he comes to, he has no idea that he's now missing a limb.

The way that the episode ends will be explored, as will that whole world and that scenario. We'll get into more details about that whole situation.

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Bob was outside the church crying — just hours after a close call with a walker. Did Gareth and company make sure Bob wasn't bitten when he was underwater? Comics readers may recognize that element of this story.

Right! Obviously the scene is not just inspired by but also heavily drawn from the comics. Some of the language is the exact same. A lot of the language is similar or the same. What's interesting is in the comics, it's Dale that they pull off from the church and into the woods. And in the comics, we know what happens to him. What's cool about the show is that it does draw directly from the source material, but it's not always the same. Bob is a completely different character than Dale. I wouldn't recommend people speculate too heavily on if the show is following the comic; it veers in and out of that world, and that will continue. How this whole situation with Bob and Gareth plays out is going to be interesting. There will be more surprises to come.

Is there hope for Bob, or is he a full-course meal?

I feel like there's hope for everyone until you see them with green skin and rotting flesh or a bullet in the brain. It'd be wrong to say that it's hopeless for anyone. We saw Hershel get around for a long time on one leg. I wouldn't want to say it's hopeless for Bob; that would be misleading.

Somebody within that church group is going to have to say, and pardon the bad joke, but "What about Bob?" Right?

(Laughs.) All of a sudden, Bill Murray's face pops up in one of the windows of the church! "What are you guys saying?" Oh man, I spoiled it for everyone! But you'd think someone has to notice Bob is missing. It's a tight-knit group; these people keep tabs on one another. It would be very far-fetched to think that would go unnoticed for too long.

After Rick vows so boldly in the season premiere to kill Gareth, what will their next interaction look like?

The show thrives on person versus person tension, and there will be no shortage of that to come — and in many different forms. It's two strong personalities going against each other and often not face to face as we see in episode two. It'll be interesting to watch their relationship continue.

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Since Gareth is without a sanctuary like Terminus, could he be working with Father Gabriel to lure Rick's group there so they can slowly pick them off? That's something that also stems from the comics and would make sense because he's been spying on Rick's group.

It's an interesting theory. It goes back to the resourcefulness of the character. He's probably thought of most, if not all, the angles to negotiate the situation that he now has with Rick. They're in a bit of a grapple with one another, and it's a bit of a cat-and-mouse game. Gareth has considered many avenues, and that's what's going to be exciting about the show, to see what Gareth — and Rick — ultimately decide is the best way to contend with this issue that they both have with one another. Gareth thinks things through; he's very diligent and calculated about the best way to go about approaching something. So whatever he thinks is going to help achieve that goal, that's what he's going to do.

Looking at the comics, Gareth is a remix of Chris, the head of the Hunters. How much of the comic did you read to prepare for the role?

I can't say that I was a longtime fan. I started reading the comics immediately after I got cast. It wasn't so much to help me with the job; I didn't know if my character was based on any of the characters in the comics. I wanted to pick it up as a fan, and now I'm addicted to the comics and devoured them very quickly. I read the Hunters arc before we even got back into season five. When I read that, I had no idea that some of that would inspire Gareth down the road. When I read episode two, I recognized it and was surprised because I didn't know that's who Gareth was going to be — or that he'd be so closely inspired by that character. It was cool. I don't use it as a research tool. I don't think it's necessary since the show is its own thing. You don't need the comic to do your job well because it is its own world with its own story.

Gareth's line — "You're either the butcher or the cattle" — seems like it too is a remix of Chris' "Eat or be eaten" from the comics. Having read the Hunters arc, how does Gareth compare to him?

There are some similarities between them, but there are a lot of differences too. Chris in the comics struck me as somebody who is somewhat intelligent but isn't nearly as resourceful as Gareth. I've always seen Gareth as a resourceful, intelligent and much more organized guy than Chris is in the comics. We see Chris, who with the Hunters lives in an abandoned house, and they don't have their shit together that well. They have this thing they do, but it's all fly-by-night. Gareth is just more powerful than Chris was. We see that immediately in the season-four finale, when he's running this major operation that we come to know as Terminus — which is very different from Chris in the comics.

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As Gareth tries to survive in this world, is he looking to start trouble with Rick's group, considering his mother, Mary, was left by Carol to die during the attack on Terminus?

People may not believe this, but I don't see Gareth as a vengeful person. He's not a guy who is concerned with revenge. He's more concerned with doing whatever it takes to survive. Because of the history he has and the decisions he's made, it's clear that for him it's either us or them. I don't think Gareth is the kind of guy who would go after Rick or anybody else just to go after somebody. Because he's ultimately concerned with the best way for him and his group to survive, that may entail going after Rick and eliminating them. It may entail trying to somehow create some sort of tenuous bond. The answer to that question of how do we best survive is something that he's trying to figure out ,and he's open to multiple answers to that question. I don't think he's hell-bent on vengeance; he's got a bigger-picture perspective.

Do you think Gareth can coexist in this world with Rick? What are your long-term hopes for him?

Gareth's whole philosophy is "We need to call into question what is socially acceptable." The rules aren't what they used to be; they're totally different now. Gareth has subscribed to this new way of living that may seem to be much darker and terrifying to people, but for him, it's what life has become now, and he's willing to accept that. Because he's willing to alter his viewpoint on how to treat people and what's socially acceptable, that greatly increases his ability to exist in this world. I wouldn't write him off based on what we've seen from him and what we've heard Rick say or how the tension has grown between them. The question of them coexisting is interesting, and we'll see what happens with that. Gareth has been around a long time and has seen some shit and survived and come through the other end. Whether you agree with his methods is one thing, but he's made it work for himself. You wouldn't want to write him off too quickly.

How much more of Gareth's backstory will we learn? We know from the premiere that Terminus was once really a sanctuary and he was turned. Does he have any humanity left?

We will learn some more, and there are things that will be revealed. The process of revelation is gradual, but I don't think it's complete yet.

The series may be headed to Alexandria at some point this season. Is this also on Gareth's radar?

A lot is on Gareth's radar. If it is an opportunity to exist and survive, it's probably something he's aware of. He's not a dumb guy. He has figured out how to negotiate people and the landscape. I wouldn't put anything past him. He's serious about his business, and if that means finding multiple locations, whatever that may mean, I wouldn't discount any of it.

What did you think of Gareth's food selection? Have theories about what may happen next? Share them in the comments section below. The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit