SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains storyline and character spoilers for the “Conquer” episode of The Walking Dead.
Blasting his romantic rival, saving a town full of people by threatening them, having a walker explode in his face, and reuniting with his first post-apocalypse pal, Morgan… it was a very eventful Season 5 ender for The Walking Dead head survivor Rick Grimes.
Rick portrayer Andy Lincoln — he who should be receiving nomination love every time awards season rolls around — talks to Yahoo TV about the finale, the season he calls one of his favorites, the gross zombie melt that smacked him in the face, the memorable Rick Grimes finale line he was thrilled to utter, and his thoughts on whether or not Mr. Grimes is ready to loosen the reins of the Ricktatorship long enough to get his swerve on with the ladies.
Where does this season rank for you among all the other TWD seasons?
I remember reading it, just going, “What on earth?” And then, you know, the lovely thing was then [Executive Producer] Greg [Nicotero] called me up and said, “It’s going to be an hour and a half.” I said, “Thank, God.” I mean, there’s so much going on. For me, this was one of the most enjoyable seasons. Certainly for a while, I mean, it was just so… it just kept ahead of the curve, you know? It just kept changing, and I thought [showrunner] Scott [Gimple] and the writers managed to spin so many plates at the same time with brilliant storylines. I was talking to Greg because we did some press in London today, and he said the same thing. I said we were energized, the crew and cast, when we finished the season, because it had been such an exciting story.
Rick’s line, “How many of you do I have to kill to save your lives?,” what did you think when you read it? It sounds like the craziest line, but it was so perfect and got across what he was really trying to do and make these people realize about surviving. And then, of course, he gets his answer right away with having to kill Pete.
Well, there’s a story behind it. As is always the case with 16 episodes, the train’s running, and you’re building the track as you go, and the train’s catching up and catching up, and almost overtaking you. And this was the case here… the speech changed within the last couple of days [before filming], and that line… I remember being in Scott Gimple’s trailer. He was on set. And he said, “I’ve got an idea”… and then he sort of wrote that with maybe 24 hours to go. And he gave it to me, and I read it out loud and I went, “Oh!” And I kept going back to that line. I went, “That’s amazing! Thank you!” It was like Christmas. It was like a Christmas, where you just go, “Yes!” Because you’re absolutely right. It summed up all of Rick’s frustration and yet his sort of restraint, because he’s choosing not to do it. But also, it’s just a damn cool line.
The look on your face when Rick shoots Pete, and then Morgan shows up and says his name… is that look more about shock at seeing his friend, or is it more that it kind of pulls Rick out of that moment unexpectedly?
I think it’s a lot of things. I think it’s a mixture of a lot of things. I think he feels that’s a past life, and that’s a different man that he’s looking at now… both of them, both ways. Rick’s also going, “It’s like a mirage.” He recognizes Morgan, but he doesn’t. And also there’s a shame in that Morgan’s witnessed this strange execution. There’s a lot of things flying around. I remember saying to Scott, “What happens next? What happens next between these two men?” Because they feel like poles apart. They feel like… I can’t wait to see the fallout from this extraordinary night.
That has to be where we begin with Season 6, right?
Well, you’d hope so. But the thing is, they keep confounding us these days. They keep twisting and turning, and also what I’ve loved in this season, as with other seasons, is the changing and playing with time. I think that is a strange infatuation that Mr. Gimple has both onscreen and off, playing with the conventions of time. So I wouldn’t try to second-guess him. I’ve tried to, me and Norman [Reedus] and Steven [Yeun], and [Lauren] Cohan and all the gang sort of try, and constantly go, “I think it’s this.” And we’re always wrong. Always.
The map aspect of the story was also great, so serendipitous that Morgan found it. What do you think Rick’s reaction will be if and when he learns exactly how Morgan found him?
I think it’s an astonishing thing. I mean, incredible stroke of luck, but also sort of serendipity, tenacity, all of these extraordinary things. I loved when the jigsaw came together. I just thought, “That’s so great and eloquent.” And it’s something that Scott and the writers do a lot, these beautiful writers, they echo a lot. There’s a lot of circular plot and arcs that seem to be happening with characters, and things keep playing out in different guises in the show, which is really — it’s lovely and very satisfying.
And we can’t have a season finale without something really gross happening for Rick, last year with biting the jugular of Claimer Joe, this year having the walker explode all over his face.
That’s something that we haven’t done before. Really, really unpleasant night of filming, just so you know. Absolutely awful. Very cold, wrestling on the cold ground, and then a bucket of blood drops on my face at quarter past three in the morning. Lovely.
We cannot say you do not suffer for your art and for our entertainment.
[Laughs.] Yes, exactly. I always said that my biography should be called, Kiss My Art. That’s what I’m going to call it.
The end of the season and settling in Alexandria also revealed that Rick might be open to romance, maybe with Jessie, maybe — if a big group of fans have their way — with Michonne. Whoever it would be, is that something Rick is open to at this point?
You know, Alex Breckenridge, who is a brilliant actor, who’s joined us so seamlessly this season, we spoke about that a lot, about it not being just the smoldering looks and impulses… it was much more. [Rick and Jessie] are both damaged goods who somehow surprise each other with intimacy with each other. And I think she’s an incredibly subtle and true actress, and I love working with her. I think… if you put Rick on a lie detector test and said, “Do you have feelings for Jessie?” I don’t think he’d even know. I think he actually would be adamant and just like, “No.”
But I certainly think there are moments in their history where something is ignited. Certainly she’s the first person that makes Alexandria a viable place for him. She explains it to him. She says, “You know, we’ve all lost things, and this is… look at the future. You know, there was so much bulls—t in the past, and look at it now. People that would never be talking to one another, they’re talking to each other now.” So she opens up a kind of, you know, a side to him that he hasn’t accessed for two years. It’s a man attempting to feel again. And I think all of the characters are doing that. They’re all trying it out in their own broken ways, to see if they can be human.
This season the ratings were again phenomenal and only went up. The popularity of the show in terms of how enthusiastic the fans are has only grown. If someone had told you when you first signed on for the show that this would become the biggest show on American cable, one of the biggest shows in all of TV, what would you have said to that?
I would have said, “Thank you very much. I’d love to be involved in that project.” [Laughs.] I love it that we get this incredible response from the fan base and such a vocal, enthusiastic, opinionated, huge reaction. I mean, what it does is it gets everybody so geared up to try and attempt to give you a better season every year. You know, we handed ownership of the show [to the audience] in Season 1, when we first showed the trailer at Comic-Con. That’s when we realized, “Oh, this has got nothing to do with us. It’s got everything to do with those guys out there. We’d better not mess this up.” And I think that’s only continued. It’s [our] responsibility, and the passion is fueled. My passion to give everything I’ve got is fueled by the fans’ desire for the show and for the story to continue. Right before a new season starts [filming], all of us start going, “When do we start?!” I feel like it’s Christmas, the night before Christmas, and I’ve got all these presents to open, and I’m not being allowed to open them. Because you can’t wait to get back, and start reading the new scripts, and seeing where the story takes us next.
It works out perfectly then that the new season always seems to go into production shortly after the previous season’s finale airs. That must heighten the excitement for you to get back into it.
It does, it does. I think it’s just worked out fortuitously. Because you get some quiet time, and you can sort of, you know, chill out, have Christmas, have a holiday. Then it launches again, and you get this incredible roller coaster… and then just as it sort of culminates in the season finale — and it’s lovely that AMC had the grace to give us an hour and a half for this one — we’re off again. Well, in two weeks. I have to wait two weeks. I can bear two weeks.
The Walking Dead returns this fall on AMC.