7:15am PT by Josh Wigler, Lesley Goldberg
'The Walking Dead' Family Says Goodbye to Andrew Lincoln
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, numerous Walking Dead stars opened up about their favorite Rick Grimes memories, some of which occurred before their tenure on the show. For instance: Seth Gilliam, better known to fans as Father Gabriel Stokes, cited the time Rick bit open Joe the Claimer's throat, which occurred in the season four finale, several episodes before Gilliam's first appearance. It's a memory near and dear to co-executive producer and frequent director Greg Nicotero as well.
"I went to Ralph's and bought steak and cut it into little pieces," the horror legend remembers, "and I stuck the steak underneath the prosthetic and said [to Lincoln, 'You're alright with raw meat, right?' He's like, 'Yeah, just do it.' We filled his mouth up with blood, and there was just hair and blood everywhere, and him going in and biting and ripping that piece of meat out… it made me happy."
It's a gory tale of joy, and it doesn't stand alone: Norman Reedus, whose friendship with Lincoln is the stuff of legends within the Walking Dead circle, says he now has a bloody monument to the outgoing Rick Grimes.
"He sat in my chair in my trailer the day he left, and he was covered in blood," says the erstwhile Daryl Dixon. "I won't let anyone clean the chair, so I just have this big bloody chair in my room as a little ode to him."
Throughout the cast and crew, members of the Walking Dead family are effusive with their praise for Lincoln, whose final episode as Rick Grimes airs Nov. 4. According to Avi Nash, who joined the cast in season eight as Siddiq, Lincoln is best remembered on set as "a true actor's actor. Every time I was in a scene with him, even if I was struggling, I knew I could just take the risk and jump off and he would be there to catch me and throw that ball back and forth. Every scene with him was a gift."
"You could share anything with him and he'd be there for you and support you through whatever you were dealing with," says Danai Gurira, whose work as Michonne has been deeply tied to Lincoln, given the romantic relationship between their characters. "He cared deeply about everyone's experience. He was so generous as an actor. He would want to share things that one could hoard. He'd want everyone to have a chance to shine. And I think there were just so many manifestations of how his leadership left us better people, and that's what a great leader does."
Indeed, even the leaders behind the Walking Dead franchise attest to how Lincoln inspired them. Scott M. Gimple, chief content officer of the Walking Dead franchise and the man who served as showrunner from seasons four through eight, sums up his feelings toward Lincoln in six simple words: "He has made my work better."
"There's a speech he gives in [the season three episode] 'This Sorrowful Life' that I wrote for him, and I remember sitting there on set and seeing him do it… it was like [watching] sundown," says Gimple. "It gives me chills, thinking about it now. I was a fan of the first season — I didn't work on the show, I watched it live — and to have been able to build that relationship with him where he respects my stories? That's crazy. That's crazy."
Much like Gimple, current showrunner Angela Kang's favorite memories of working with Lincoln draw origin from the show's third season: "It was still early on in my time on the show. I wrote this episode that was immediately after Lori [Sarah Wayne Callies] died, and Rick basically goes on a rampage. It's one of the first times we see Rick do a 'Rick Rampage.' I just remember how lovely and kind he was, even though he was amping himself up to do something that was really serious and kind of dark. His sheer commitment always stands out. He never phones it in."
Even with Lincoln gone, The Walking Dead marches on. In considering a future without Lincoln as a member of the flagship Walking Dead cast, AMC programming president David Madden says, "Saying goodbye to Andy is really painful and was not something we long for or wish for, but it was what made sense for Andy in his life. But it is an opportunity to see what can the show be without Andy. … There are a lot of other characters to keep going with. It was time for the show to make a jump anyway."
The jump away from Rick Grimes begins in "What Comes After," directed by Nicotero and co-written by Matthew Negrete and Gimple. All three of those parties are tight-lipped on what exactly to expect from Rick's final ride, with Gimple allowing this much: "It's deadly, right out of the gate. It's pretty heavy. It's deadly immediately. There will be a pause of deadliness for a little while, and then? Giddy up."
Watch the Walking Dead family's final farewell to Lincoln in the video below:
Follow THR.com/WalkingDead for more coverage of Andrew Lincoln's final episode.