7 Big Questions With 'Walking Dead' Star Andrew Lincoln: Rick's 'Forced Back Into the Middle of Things'

Every cast member of "The Walking Dead" is saying the same thing in interviews this season: just wait. Whatever you think is going to happen, however bad you think it's going to get for Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors, it's going to be so much crazier, more dangerous, more out-of-control, and much more epic than you can imagine.

[Photos: Get a First Look at 'The Walking Dead' Season 4 Episode, 'Infected']

The series' fantastic Season 4 premiere — an episode that drew a record number of viewers and made the show the most-watched scripted series on TV, network and cable, in the prized 18-49 demographic — proved just how invested we are in this zombie apocalypse world. Rick's portrayer, Andrew Lincoln, talked to Yahoo TV about how wild the Season 4 ride is going to get, about the return of the Governor, about the show's influence on the younger cast members, and about specific upcoming episodes that will be the season's most shocking.

One hint: one of those shocking moments involves dynamite.

1. We still don't know exactly what it is, but we saw in the season premiere that Rick and the prison dwellers have a huge new threat, some sort of virus perhaps, to deal with. What was your reaction to this storyline?

I loved it. The thing that struck me about this season, is it sounds very grounded. The world we were inhabiting felt very true to what we lived through already. It just felt like the fact that we were farming again ... everything was getting less. It was being pared down. I really thought that that would be true. That would be the way things would be. We were reverting back almost to medieval times.

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And then there's this development. We can't even know what it is. It could be the common cold. It could be a virus. It could be ... who knows? That's the thing I love about our show. It's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern." We're not "Hamlet." We're Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, we're the guys who don't know the answers, which is ordinary folk trying to survive. It felt very true. That was one of the most appealing things to me about this story arc, because what's it done, in a very, very subtle way, it's put immense pressure, more pressure and terror on the group, than probably they could ever face otherwise, whether it's human or a zombie threat. You wait, it divides the group in ways that you wouldn't imagine as well, which is very, very interesting in the next three episodes.

Watch a preview of Episode 2, "Infected":

2. Rick is now a single dad. He has been since Lori died, but that particular role is so much more important to him this season, and it's such a human thing, a situation he could face if he weren't in this post-apocalyptic world. How much do you focus in on those human aspects when playing your character?

I think what we were struggling to do this season is to make some kind of normalcy, some kind of routine that has nothing to do with the horrors of the zombies. I think that, certainly for the first arc of this season, Rick is holding onto that ideal, saying, "I want to try and have as close to a normal childhood that my children are able to have under the circumstances." So much so that he's willing to sacrifice going on runs and being a leader with the group. Daryl and the others know that it puts the group at risk somewhat that Rick doesn't do that, but they respect him, because they know that he's looking after his children.

[Photos: 10 Creepy (and Real!) 'Walking Dead' Tattoos

He's got a very, very old fashioned relationship, I think, with his kids. It's almost like 50 years ago. He's a tough parent. He's a tough father. There's a routine. When people are in shock ... my mother was a nurse, and she always said, "When people are in deep shock they need routine." You see in Episode 2, Rick getting up, getting Carl up, feeding the animals, doing work. And getting into the rhythm, the cycle with nature, which I think, as parents, you do that. You have to make some kind of routine with your children, otherwise they have no place to anchor. That's what [Rick] is trying to do.

3. At the end of last season, we saw Carl lose it. How much of Carl's behavior was him going down some sociopathic road, and how much of it was his reaction to Lori's death?

That's a very good question. I think the grief that he felt, and the horror of what he had to do ... a child had to kill his mother under terrible circumstances. There's trauma connected to all of that. The thing is, they're children. They're young people. They just try to make sense of their own environment, and probably a lot better than adults do sometimes. Certainly this season this is an area that we're exploring. It's a very, very interesting area. How is the environment forming the personalities, of all of these characters, but more so with some of the children, the younger characters here? Chandler [Riggs, who portrays Carl] has done some of the most magnificent work throughout the last three seasons, but he's really coming into his stride this season. Episode 9 is one of the great episodes that I've seen him perform in. You're going to be blown away by this kid. Actually, I'm not going to call him that. I call him a kid all the time. He's a young man now. He's got a deeper voice than me!

4. Speaking of the younger cast members, for you as an actor and as a leader, both character wise and on the set, how do you approach dealing with the child actors and these incredibly deep, and complicated, and sometimes traumatic storylines?

The most childish actor on set is Norman Reedus. He's the one that I worry about most. The mental age there is about 12, and I love him for it. (Laughing) No, we take it very seriously. There are people on set to help talk to the children and also the parents of the children, to explain scenes, particularly if they're difficult scenes, or traumatic scenes, or very disturbing scenes. Of course we want to protect them. We take that incredibly seriously on our show. It's a story we're telling, a modern fable for want of a better expression. Hopefully the horror and the shock and the trauma of the show that we inhabit has a purpose. The purpose is generally to tell a very good, entertaining, moral story. We obviously don't want anybody hurt in any aspect of filming this show.

[Related: 11 Big Questions With 'The Walking Dead's' Norman Reedus

Interestingly, I'll just give you an example, the first time Michonne showed up at the gates last season and they did this gag with a samurai sword chopping off a zombie's head, and it went flying ... it was a practical gag and was just brilliant. But I didn't see it being filmed. Just so you know what we're dealing with here, Chandler was watching the scene, and the first take they did, all I heard was him saying, "Cool!" For him, he's just like, "This is the coolest job ever." All of his buddies see this. He's, "You know, come on, we are in a zombie apocalypse. There is a fun aspect." A lot of it is a great deal of fun. Even though we take the job very seriously and the scenes very seriously, we don't take ourselves very seriously. It's a very, very buoyant, supportive, family feel on the set. We look after each other. That goes for the children especially.

5. You touched on Rick stepping aside from the leadership position that he's had throughout the entire series so far. But his leadership is a huge, huge part of why everyone has survived as long as they have. Being a leader is also inherently who he is. How long can he stay out of that role?

I think you're right, and the rest of the [survivors] realize that. Also, Rick does. Rick knows. There's a moment in Episode 2, with Carl, where he gives the gun back to him ... he knows that there's a middle ground happening now. This [new] threat is so deadly, and it's a heartbreaking moment, because he's been renouncing the gun. And it's been working. You will certainly see in Episode 3 a man very much forced back into the middle of things.

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6. We didn't even see the Governor in the premiere. What can you say about him and his inevitable return?

I don't even know. I heard he's been around. I don't know. I heard he's been on set ... (laughing). No, [the writers] have done an incredibly neat thing, I think, this season. You're absolutely right. I'm so glad that you're responding in the way that I responded when I read these scripts. You wait. Just wait, because it just keeps building, and building, and building, and building. Episode 3's an extraordinary episode for so many reasons.

7. And the rest of the season?

The midseason finale is the biggest thing we've attempted, I think, so far in our show. I think the crew, and Ernest Dickerson, who directed it, everybody busted their guts to do that episode. Darrell Pritchett, who does the special effects — he's the man with the dynamite, was the busiest man I've ever seen. It was thrilling. Just thrilling. It just felt like an incredibly exciting episode. And then in the [final eight of the season], it's like we're spinning out into orbit, and it's a completely new show. It's really, really exciting.

"The Walking Dead" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.