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And it comes down to this: Eight episodes of new zombie threats, an infection that threatened to wipe out the entire prison group, and a bitter rivalry with the Governor comes to a head in the "Walking Dead" midseason finale.
Series star Andrew Lincoln, who finished filming Season 4 last weekend and is back home in London reading movie scripts before he heads back to begin Season 5, talked to Yahoo TV on Thanksgiving eve about this season’s unique storytelling formats, and what promises to be a shocking and sad midseason finale.
He also hints that the second half of the season, which premieres in February, is even more of a departure from storytelling of the past, and teases that it features an episode he considers the series’ most controversial ever.
Before the Season 4 premiere, you told us that the midseason finale, which airs this weekend, was the most ambitious episode the series had attempted. Do you still feel that way?
I've just done the season finale, so I'm not so sure anymore. [Laughs.] This is quite a big episode coming up. But then I think from this episode onwards, it spins off into a different orbit, the show, which for everybody concerned has been thrilling. It's so neat that we've just … [viewers] don't get to see it obviously until next year, but the season finale is just, it’s so clever what [showrunner Scott Gimple] and the writers have done. It's just really clever.
[Related: Take a Bite Out of Our 'Walking Dead' Recaps]
We do have a tendency to try and up the ante. I will say that the story, as you can tell from the structure of the first seven, the Governor and our people are about to meet proper. I really can't go into great detail, but it is probably the biggest we've attempted in every aspect, the midseason finale. Saying that, the last episodes this season, I'm still recovering from. But I do think loyal fans of the show won't be disappointed by this midseason finale. I think it's a showdown that we always promised. I think this time we certainly deliver.
This showdown between Rick’s group and the Governor and his new group is different this time. We have more perspective on the Governor, how he became this man he is. Does that make for a more intense, more personal showdown?
It's funny: Before I got the midseason finale from Scott, I was reading a book, and there was a quote in it that I really liked. I think it's by a philosopher called Hegel. It says, "Tragedy is when right collides with right." I texted it, because I do a silly thing where I text Scott and share things like that with him, thoughts of the day. [Laughs.] Or quotes that I like. He said, "Oh my God, that is very much the mini arc within the bigger arc … it’s where I wanted it to finish," which is Episode 8.
In answer to your question, I absolutely think that Scott did a very smart thing by filling in a lot of spaces in the backstory of the Governor and not sympathizing with the man, but certainly asking the audience to understand him a little bit more. One of the things I dig about the show is the fact that you can be rooting for a psychopath. You can feel sympathy for a man that has lost everything, and yet he collects heads in fish tanks. That's the strength of the writing this season and also David [Morrissey]'s portrayal.
I think that what you'll find is, it's a man wrestling with two parts. It's a very similar story to what Rick is going through. There's the beast in Rick, and then there's also the love in Rick. I think there's a man inside the Governor that he's trying to contain, or at least trying to diminish. Whether that's possible is another thing.
The last time we saw Rick, he was about to tell Daryl what happened with Carol. Before this showdown happens, will Rick have had a chance to talk to Daryl and Tyreese about Carol?
Certainly you've identified something that needs to be addressed, and fear not. I think you won't be disappointed. I really don't want to spoil anything. But I will say that I was in my trailer with a few of the actors — Norman [Reedus] and Steven [Yeun], and a few others. I won't mention too many names, because obviously you'll know who may or may not be alive. [Laughs.] But we were so excited, because there's so much drama this season. There were so many open-ended, extraordinary storylines that even our mouths are drooling at the prospect of what's going to happen in the future.
I think that's been one of the most satisfying things, shooting this season, is realizing that Scott, who is orchestrating all these 16 hours, has really gone to town with the most dramatic combination of characters and circumstances, because you can tell he loves the story. He's honoring, as a fan of the comic books, some of the most extraordinary and challenging and controversial story arcs in the comics, and playing them out in a new fashion in the TV show. So rest assured, Rick's call with Carol … it’s there.
You are less than a week out of finishing Season 4. How do you feel?
[I’m in] an incredible place. It's relief, mixed with sadness, mixed with excitement, because we now know the full shape of the season, and it's an extraordinary season. It's one of the most exciting and diverse and bold and brave seasons we've done since the first. Also, it's a tough seven and a half months. It's strange how, instantly, you get back a couple days and have a couple of good nights' sleep, and you start missing it. It's such an intoxicating job, and also the people … a lot of them have been on it for four years, as I have. We've got this incredible bond. Also, it's made all the more exciting by the fact that the world is watching it as it goes out. It's a real thrill ride, actually.
You also aren't filming this on some air-conditioned soundstage. This is full immersion, filmed on location, in Georgia weather.
That's right, and famously it is one of the most beautiful places on the planet in the fall. But fall lasts for about two weeks. Then it just gets cold. [Laughs.] It goes from extremes of brutal summer heat and sweating to desperately trying to scavenge some long-sleeved jacket. It's an amazing place. I agree, I think it's one of the strengths of the show that we [film it] on one location. We shoot on 16 mm film. We're one of the last shows to keep doing it. We have this extraordinary film crew who lug and put the camera everywhere. It does give that extra sense of authenticity, I think, being on location.
Get a sneak peek at this week's "Walking Dead" midseason finale right here:
Before this season, you mentioned there was an exciting and very interesting new way the stories were going to unfold. We’ve seen what you were talking about, with episodes that have focused in on certain characters. What did you think when you first heard this was how the story was going to unfold?
I was thrilled. I think it's bold, and I think it's a necessarily thing. We're four years into a show. We've been blessed with incredible [ratings] throughout those years. I think we owe it to the fans to change it up a bit. One of the things that attracted me to the project was always the fact that it was a story that kept changing. Not only the cast keeps changing and recycling and moving forward, but the story. It's a very, very smart move by Scott and the writers and AMC to do this. As for me, reading the script, and I hope the audience has the same reaction, I was always behind. It was always ahead of me. I couldn't second-guess it. I think that that's a brilliant sign that the writers are still able to do this at this stage in the show.
I will stress this as well. You haven't even seen the half of it yet. The back eight is more radical than ever before. It's almost a tale of two seasons. It really is that radical, the difference between the first eight and the back eight.
The show is always incredibly intense, and while it’s hard to believe we’re already almost through eight episodes, so much has happened, so many huge things, that it feels like we've seen 20 episodes.
I'm glad you say that, because we wanted to get the balance between action, horror, and character. There was anxiety when we were filming it: "Are we slowing it down too much? Is there going to be enough of that?" But then you realize just in the first two episodes how much you learn about characters that have been in the show for maybe a couple of seasons. The storytelling and the character development by the writers this year has been magnificent. I'm so thrilled you say that, because I feel the same way. I feel that so much is learned.
And really, trust me, I think that three of the strongest episodes we've done this season are yet to come. Probably four. There are two episodes that I absolutely adore in the back eight, one of which I think is going to be the most controversial episode that we've probably ever been involved in, and that's saying something. [Laughs.]
“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.