'Walking Dead's' Andrew Lincoln: 'We Ran Into Hell'

The Walking Dead Season 4 Finale Episodic Rick - H 2014
Gene Page/AMC

The Walking Dead Season 4 Finale Episodic Rick - H 2014

[Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the season-four finale, "A," of AMC's The Walking Dead and the comic series it is based on.]

Prepare to meet a new Rick Grimes when AMC's The Walking Dead returns for season five.

Following the bloody and deadly season-four finale that found Andrew Lincoln's beleaguered former sheriff stuck in a railcar with his friends -- as well as a new crop of like-minded survivors -- Rick's experiences with The Governor and Joe's "claimers" have drastically changed him.

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Seeing his son, Carl (Chandler Riggs), almost raped triggered something primal in Rick, star Lincoln tells The Hollywood Reporter. Watching the group's father figure, Hershel (Scott Wilson), decapitated at the hands of The Governor and now literally tearing Joe's (Jeff Kober) throat out have made Rick less than trusting of new people -- including Gareth. The mysterious leader at Terminus reunited Rick and company with the rest of his former group -- forcing them into a railcar with Glenn (Steven Yeun), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and company. The move came after a shootout with what Lincoln called the "Termites," who were aiming for everyone's feet and pursued them through a community that would indicate the group had turned to cannibalism in order to survive.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Lincoln to break down the episode and get the inside scoop on how Rick's experience in season four will impact him moving forward. (Head here to see what showrunner Scott M. Gimple and exec producer/comics creator Robert Kirkman have to say about the finale and here for a recap and analysis of the episode and how it compares with the comics.)

What was it like taking a "bite" out of Jeff Kober's neck?

It was brutal. It was 4:30 in the morning. We did 95 setups or so of that scene alone leading up to the bite. I remember [EP and VFX guru] Greg Nicotero looking at me earlier in the day and saying, "We're doing the gag. Do you want chicken or beef?" I asked for the chicken, and Greg asked if I wanted it cooked or raw. I asked which was the closest to flesh. He said uncooked, and that is what we went with. It was a rite of passage. It was the gnarliest thing I've ever had to do. I didn't realize how my body would feel with raw chicken flesh in my mouth among all the other blood gags in the scene. There was one take where I felt close to a wretch. After that, I picked up the knife and stabbed this other guy, and he kept spitting a full mouth of blood into my eyes every take. (Laughs.) It was beyond gruesome. Sometimes that happens in this show and it just became wrong again. It was so shocking reading it that I actually asked [showrunner] Scott M. Gimple if we were overstepping a mark. "Is there a line in the sand that we're going over?" When I did the scene and saw my son being attacked by these guys, it just made sense. He had this completely animalistic reaction. 

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Rick has been through a ridiculous amount this season. How will his experience with The Governor and the claimers change him?

Rick's journey can be encapsulated by a question: Can you ever come back? Can you ever be the man you once were before this happened? You saw Rick at the beginning of the season as a man repressing his brutality for the sake of his son. At the end of the season, you see a man accepting brutality for the sake of his son. Rick is a man who has made peace with the brutality within him that's inherent in him along with the moral sense that is just as valid a part of him. Rick is psychologically the strongest he's ever been. Because he's realized that the only way to stay alive -- to keep his son alive in this new world -- is by actively embracing all sides of his personality including darkness, fury and rage. After meeting these teenagers and the fact that they were herding us into these boxcars and seeing everyone in that reunion, that galvanizes Rick. Think about what we've seen and done -- this is a guy you've just seen tear the throat out of someone who has been surviving on their own for two years. I don't know what the fallout of that is going to be, but you're seeing a man returning from the wilderness stronger than ever and more terrifying because of it.

Rick savagely killed the man who tried to rape Carl -- with his son watching that whole attack. How will seeing that impact Carl considering the kid already thinks he's a monster?

That scene was supposed to be more graphic, and we played it more graphic than that, which was a justification for the throat rip and everything, because it's something any father seeing his son about to be raped would probably do. It's interesting territory to explore: Can the man and the monster live in the same body? How does that work? Is it possible? Can that schizophrenic idea exist? It's very disturbing; the gloves came off in a couple of these episodes in the back eight. The child witnessing that and saying it didn't affect me. Carl has that scene with Michonne where she thinks he was frightened by his father. Carl says it's the opposite; that he wasn't disturbed or frightened by it; he wanted to watch. That's a deeply disturbing area that we're possibly heading toward next season.

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The gang is now trapped in a railcar at the mercy of what we're led to believe are a group of cannibals…

They're a teenage bunch of hooligans! It's a shop of horrors that we were running through and hearing screams of people caged. We ran into hell is what it feels like.

How much darker can we expect Rick to get?

That reminds me of Spinal Tap: "How much more black could this be?" "None more black." So none more dark than we've just seen. (Laughs.) We've had these ridiculously grand and Greek tragedy kind of moments in our show -- the death of Lori, Sophia coming out of the barn and having to be put down -- and you think, "No way can we buy this." That's been the scale of the writing on the show; they find a way to make it justified. When I bit Joe's throat, it made sense to me when I did it. It may not have made sense on the page, but the intention of it was telling everybody that he's like a wolf; he's so primal. It was so guttural and animalistic. The short answer is we're trapped by these guys, and I imagine it'll get pretty messy. Frankly, there's nothing I like more than playing crazy badass Rick Grimes -- and he is pissed at the moment. I don't know what Scott has planned, but I've been texting other castmembers, and we should improvise a few scenes because these kids -- we call those who live at Terminus the Termites -- are going to get it! 

How are we going to see all these alpha males work together to get out of Terminus?

I don't know. It's exciting getting the band back together, but there's still three band members out there -- Tyreese, who is no slouch and an alpha male; and Carol, who is frankly beyond an alpha male; and we've got Beth out there as well. We've been sitting with this for four months, wondering, "How the f--- are we going to get out of the car?!" We still don't know; they won't tell us! (Laughs.)

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Might Rick and Abraham use the fact to their advantage that Eugene claims to know what caused the outbreak and how to cure it? 

Possibly, but I'm seriously distrustful of a scientist with a mullet. (Laughs.) I remember going, "What does he know? Is he a scientist? Are we supposed to be following him?" Rick is really suspect. I think there is a point -- which I don't know because we haven't added it up yet -- where there's milk outside the railcar, so they're feeding them formula to fatten them up or something. There's a point at which where if they are going to eat us, they're going to have to transport us, kill us, and there will be time -- but this is all speculation.

Rick has yet to be reunited with Carol and Tyreese. What might that look like?

I can't imagine. I'm so excited about that because one of the greatest things the writers did -- the most traumatic episode I've read, 414 with the children -- is among that terrible tragedy and the bomb going off of what just happened, the only way that there is any sort of grace or redemption is Tyreese's forgiveness. It was the only way that would play out. I don't know, but I like the idea of them coming in and shooting up Terminus with a baby on their back. I'd love Judith coming in to help save the day. But I'm not sure about that. They could be one of the screamers. 

The Walking Dead returns in October on AMC. Stay tuned to THR's The Live Feed for full coverage.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
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