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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode 505, “Self Help,” of AMC’s The Walking Dead and the comic series it is based on.]
AMC’s The Walking Dead turned its lens on one of its newest castmembers Sunday, offering up a nearly straight-from-the-comic adaptation of Abraham Ford’s (Michael Cudlitz) backstory.
As the former soldier marched on toward Washington, D.C., with his bus of followers, including Eugene (Josh McDermitt), Rosita (Christian Serratos), Tara (Alanna Masterson), Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Glenn (Steven Yeun), flashbacks reveal how Abraham met the man who claimed to know a cure for the zombie apocalypse.
As it is in the comic, Abraham left his family with a group of men, whom viewers are led to believe raped his wife. After watching the husband and father savagely kill their attackers, Abraham’s wife leaves with his young son and daughter in tow. Worse: He discovers their bodies, savaged by walkers, and puts a gun in his mouth to end his life.
But before he can, a helpless Eugene comes charging his way, begging for help from the walkers who are hot on his trail. Abraham comes to his rescue and, as a way of avoiding his feelings about his now deceased family, believes Eugene’s tall tale that he knows how to cure the outbreak.
Back in the present day, Eugene — faced with the task of making their way through a massive wall of walkers in a bid to get to D.C. — instead opts to reveal something nearly everyone has believed by now: that he’s full of crap and lied about knowing a cure so that total strangers would protect him. The reveal puts everyone back to square one and leaves Abraham to force the stark reality he’d been avoiding for years.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Cudlitz to break down Abraham’s backstory, what Eugene’s lie means and why the Tennessee top hat freak enjoys watching the soldier and girlfriend Rosita’s, ahem, personal time. (Click here for our interview with McDermitt discussing Eugene.)
Abraham’s backstory has been revealed, and it’s strikingly close to the comics. How much of his history did you know when you signed on?
When I signed on, nothing. I didn’t know who I was auditioning for. When I finally knew who it was, I asked [showrunner] Scott M. Gimple if I should I read the comics since I knew the show doesn’t always stick with them. I asked if it would be helpful or a hindrance for me to read the comics, and he said to absolutely go back and read them. He didn’t know if we’d match it exactly by the time we got to it, but Abraham’s emotional weight of the story and all that emotion will be connected with it. As it got closer, it was pretty darn dead-on. There are a couple of elements missing, but they’re there in evidence yet not spelled out as clearly as they are in the comics when Abraham tells Rick what happened in the past. He’s very detailed when he tells the story, and we were less on the nose and a bit more vague about it.
Abraham’s wife and two children left after he brutally killed the men. In the comics, it’s clear that his wife and daughter were raped and his young son was forced to watch. But it’s not as clear on the show. Is that still the case?
It was vague for a reason. In the comics, his wife and daughter are raped and his son is made to watch, and when Abraham finally finds them, the son and mother were eaten so badly that there was nothing left to come back, and he wound up having to shoot his daughter in the face. I don’t think that’s necessary for us to see because we get it — he lost everybody. It’s definitely hinted that the woman has been beaten, is bruised and her clothes are torn. It’s there if you look for it. What we do spell out very clearly is that he was killing these men in defense of his family, which is the core of that story. What ultimately happens, as in the comics, is he becomes worse than those people in eyes of his family. He went into full soldier mode, and they’d never seen him as a soldier — only as a father, husband, coach and active in the community but never as a soldier.
Now that Eugene’s secret is out, do you think we’ll see Abraham deal with any of the emotions from his personal life?
At this point, he’s got a tremendous amount to process. Last we left him, when he was dealing with these issues, he almost blew his brains out. At the end of the episode, he’s back to the literal end of the flashback to where he meets Eugene and Eugene pulls him away less than moments from taking his own life. We’re right back at that point again. We’ll have to see what he has to live for now — if anything — and what can pull him forward, if anything.
We also learned that Eugene effectively saved Abraham from suicide after he found his family’s walker-attacked bodies. How much of their mission to D.C. was about repaying that debut, and how much was Abraham really avoiding his grim reality?
They’re hand in hand. It was a lot easier to bury it in the mission. That’s why the mission was so important. The mission is purpose. The mission is a reason to live and to not think about what happened. It completely serves the purpose of burying that memory. But it resurfaces. It’s not always active moments; there are times when he’s left alone with his thoughts and you see that. The metaphor of the blood on his hands and the old wound opening — it’s all over it.
Eugene finally reveals that he doesn’t have a cure for the outbreak, which sends Abraham into a spiral. What’s his thought when he falls to his knees?
It’s just total loss. Everything hits him all at once and everything that he’s not able to process fully when he’s sitting with his family — it’s all of that loss, it’s all of Eugene’s lies. Eugene talks about the people who died during this mission, and all that Abraham can think about is all the people he’s killed for this mission — people killed over stupid shit, killed because they might have gotten in the way and had to be eliminated because they posed threat to the mission. It’s so loaded. Everything he’s done for the last two years has been a complete lie. If he wasn’t stopped, he would have killed Eugene. And Rosita does a great job of talking to him in a completely binary level of soldier with her hand on the gun. That cuts through everything, and he has to stop. It brings Abraham back to a more level plane than that rage. And Eugene says all this stuff, including that he’s smarter than Abraham — it’s a big f— you. Because in a lot of ways, Eugene is. But in a lot of ways, he isn’t because Abraham lets it all go and chose to not see the signs because he chose to believe in something instead. It’s a huge commentary on society; it’s how we operate. We buy into something 100 percent, and if we don’t, you may see the flaws in it, and then everything starts to unravel.
Rosita and Abraham, as in the comics, are a couple. Does he love her at this point? She seems to be the only one who can stand up to him right now.
It serves two purposes. I think he loves her, but it’s also a relationship of convenience for both of them. It’s wartime, and every day could be your last. You don’t know what happens during wartime with soldiers overseas. You’re f—ing and fighting. It’s your life, and you want to be alive. There would be a lot more of this going on in the world if it were a real world. There would be more Shane (Jon Bernthal) and Andrea (Laurie Holden) knocking it out in the car in the middle of the street like they did in season two. That’s the kind of stuff that would be going on. There would be lovemaking, I’m sure, but there would be a whole lot of f—ing. (Laughs.)
Why does Abraham let Eugene watch his intimate encounters with Rosita?
He’s like, “Whatever.” It’s totally an alpha-male thing as well. I can’t personally identify with that, but it’s a bit of a fratboy thing: “F— it, you want to watch me f—? Watch me f—!” I don’t think Abraham cares who is watching. He tells Glenn, “I need some ass!” He could have said he was going to get some sleep. He just doesn’t care. Everything about him is worn on his sleeve. Everything is open. If he’s upset, he tells you; if he’s upset with you, he tells you; he’s going to go f— Rosita, he tells you. There’s no agenda. Everything was taken from him, and he has nothing to hide from anybody.
Where does their group go from here considering there’s a massive wall of walkers directly ahead and the church is 15 miles back.
There’s no more mission. What is turning around? There is no turning around because there’s no longer a forward. This is going to take a long time for Abraham to process. Hopefully he comes out of it because the last time he had something like this dumped on him, he almost took his own life. Now we’ll see if there really is anything left to live for and if the things that he has come across in his life since have made an impact on him. We’ll see what he finds as valuable or worth it.
What kind of emotional impact will Eugene’s confession have on Abraham? Could he pull back on his leadership role considering how much blood he has on his hands?
Possibly. That would make anybody doubt everything. I imagine this is going to take him a while to recover from. There’s a lot of healing, if it’s even possible. He’s very damaged at this point.
What did you think of Abraham’s backstory? Hit the comments below with your thoughts. Click here to read our postmortem with McDermitt (Eugene).
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