'Walking Dead' Star Andrew Lincoln: Season 7 Is More 'Lord of the Rings' Than 'Lord of the Flies'

The Walking Dead Season 7 Premiere - Rick on RV - H Publicity 2016
Gene Page/AMC

[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.]

Rick Grimes is a broken man. On AMC's The Walking Dead, the group's central hero had his spirit crushed during Sunday's season seven premiere by the zombie drama's most famous villain Negan.

As if losing two huge members of the group — Steven Yeun's Glenn Rhee and Michael Cudlitz's Sgt. Abraham Ford — wasn't enough, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) made sure to emotionally torment Rick (Andrew Lincoln) into obedience, with the group's strong leader falling in line after nearly having to cut off his son Carl's (Chandler Riggs) arm.

Below, Lincoln talks with THR about filming the jaw-dropping episode, losing Yeun and Cudlitz from the core cast and what's next in season seven.

What was filming this episode like for you?

I wanted to do justice for those two guys — two amazing friends of mine that had served the show so beautifully and I wanted to put it all on the line and leave it out on the field. It was what you saw: it was very intense and like nothing else we've ever shot. My chief concern was to tell the story of a defiant man [Rick] being turned into an obedient man through grief and trauma, which is why the chronology was in that way. You start with a man saying, "I'm going to kill you," and at the end of the episode, you get a man begging and thanking this monster who has killed two of his family for sparing his friends and family's lives — and arm. It wasn't a cake walk! If I had known — the script came quite late — I probably would have stayed on the plane if I got it before I came out to Atlanta. It was pretty hardcore.  

This show has seen Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) come back to Rick in visions. Given the trauma everyone went through here, is there a chance to see Abraham or Glenn again in flashbacks or visions this season?

The legacy they leave on the show will absolutely be there. The echoes of their deaths will haunt these characters until the show finishes. But that kind of question is above my imagination, I just say the words and show up! Both of those characters and both of those actors carved such heart, humor, love, gallantry and honor — they both embodied those characteristics. It's a devastating loss but I said the same to [showrunner] Scott M. Gimple when we lost Hershel (Scott Wilson) and I missed him terribly. I said the same thing this season and Scott said, "That's the point." 

How does losing Glenn and Abraham compare to the show's other deaths?

I can only talk on a personal level because this show is so personal to me. Losing Michael, he's a soldier and leader in his own right and is a vastly experienced and talented actor that when he was on set, brought energy and professionalism and great humor. Losing him was a terrible body blow but to lose Steven, the prospect of coming back another season without my friend makes that a lot less appealing. That's how seismic losing Steven is. He's one of my best friends. Period. He's also a founding father of the show. He knows what was required to make the show and has given every ounce of sweat to the show and grew up on the show. To lose my friend and another great leader is awful and has left a shadow over the set and the story. But it's the story we're telling. We're telling a much bigger story than we have for the last few years. It feels like we've jumped into the deep end of the pool now. 

What could be the glimmer of hope for Rick in coming out of this?

This is the lowest point in a whole calendar of bad days in the zombie apocalypse, this is Rick's worst. It's going to take an enormous amount for him to recover — and everybody else to recover — from this devastating double blow of grief and trauma. There's a great Nelson Mandela quote that has been bouncing around in my head the whole season: "The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling but in rising every time we fall."

Negan and Carl have a unique relationship in the comics. What might Rick's reaction to that look like?

It would make me happy as an actor. I'm very excited to see if they go down that route how Rick will react. 

Maggie isn't in great condition. Can her baby survive? Can Maggie survive this ordeal?

I think her tenacity and first reaction after losing the love of her life is incredibly powerful and it reverberates: We fight. We're very fortunate in our show that we have writers that really write well for all of our characters — particularly the women, which thrills me. All of these characters have been shattered by this event and every one of them will react in their own individual and personal way. This show is about hope. It may not feel like it sometimes — it may feel like it's about grief, tragedy and trauma but it is ultimately about hope. The thing about Rick and that family is they've been through so much pain and tragedy, but they still have that connection between them. The only glimmer of light in a dark episode is when Rick says to Maggie, "He's our family too." That's a key insight into where the rest of the season is headed.

Comic book readers know the All Out War arc is coming. How would you describe the rest of the season? Is it setting the stage for the battle between Rick and Negan? Is the first half about grieving? Where do we go from here?

All I can say is this season is more Lord of the Rings than Lord of the Flies. That's the best I can do. It's kind of glib but it's the best I can do.

There are several new communities being introduced this season: The Saviors' compound, more of the Hilltop and the Kingdom. Given this experience with Negan, how might Rick approach new people?

Pride comes to fore and last season he showed a lot of hubris and made some decisions that in hindsight were incredibly irresponsible and cost lives. You're going to see the after effects of that play out with Rick in all areas of the story.

Did you think the episode was too violent?

I didn't watch it. I don't watch the show so I can't comment on it. Judging by people's reactions … we asked everybody to kneel with us in that episode. It was a very brave call storytelling-wise to ask the audience to kneel beside us. 

What did you think of the season premiere? Share your thoughts in the comments section, below. For more Walking Dead coverage, bookmark THR.com/WalkingDead.