“Motherd—k!” We’re guessing we might all be quoting one of our favorite Abraham Ford-isms after The Walking Dead’s Season 5 finale, at least according to what Abraham’s portrayer, Michael Cudlitz, hints to us about the March 29 season ender.
“It’s going to piss you off,” the actor tells Yahoo TV. “There will be tears, but also, once again, like the writers have been doing pretty consistently, it tees up a new beginning in a very, very different way.”
Cudlitz, who’s completing his first full season on The Walking Dead, also tells us what’s motivating Abraham after his D.C. dreams were dashed, why Abraham is more at ease when life is in chaos, what he thinks about that weasel Father Gabriel, and how much he revels in the lighter moments of playing one of the series’ most colorful (and we’re not just talking about the hair and beard hues) characters.
In “Spend,” right before the walkers attacked at the construction site, Abraham seemed to be having a panic attack, or maybe sensed something was going to happen. What was going on with him?
I think a little bit of everything you just mentioned. He’s very aware. He doesn’t want to be out there anymore, from a very real standpoint. None of them want to be out and unprotected. I think he’s processing everything. This is his downtime. This is something he has not had before [since the apocalypse happened], and it’s almost like idle time is not good for him, because he doesn’t want to process what he has to process. He’d rather keep moving forward. As long as he’s moving forward on whatever mission it is, there’s not that time where you’re left with yourself and your own thoughts. Now that they’re in Alexandria and the basic necessities are taken care of, there’s much more time to think. Thinking is what’s going to be the thing that rocks the boat quite a bit in Alexandria.
Is Abraham almost more relaxed in battle than he is when things are peaceful?
I think he terrifies himself, because the thing he’s good at is the thing he wishes he was not good at. The thing that he is good at is what cost him his family. It’s a constant reminder.
What do you think motivates him at this point?
I think his motivation’s changed and is changing. It obviously was the mission to D.C., and that was destroyed. Then there was a time where he was floating completely aimlessly. Now we’re into a phase where, as he said to Michonne at the cocktail party, things have worked out pretty damn good for him. He looks back and, OK, he almost killed himself. He was saved from that situation. Ultimately, he’s in a place where he sees that there’s potentially a future in Alexandria. Now the mission becomes shifting to his place in this new world. Unfortunately, his place in this new world is the same place that he had in the old world.
There are things that he is good at… that can’t be denied. And there’s things that he probably wishes he could deny. But he is definitely in his element when doing that. He is definitely at his most relaxed. That is something that [showrunner] Scott Gimple really wanted to make sure that we got across — you see it way back even when Tara says to him, “You were smiling when you were killing those walkers,” when you meet Abraham. He’s completely unaware of how relaxed and how in his element he is, and how effortless it is once he goes into that killing machine mode. It is literally what he was built for.
As you said, Alexandria potentially could offer this safe haven, this chance to start over for everyone. Could Abraham ever imagine himself starting over, in terms of creating a new family, or is the idea of that just too painful, considering what happened to his wife and kids?
I think possibly. One thing that the show always holds on to is hope. I think that all the characters have to have hope, because if anyone’s given up or has sort of said, “This is enough,” I think you’re setting yourself up for disaster. There has to be hope for the future. Even if you think that it probably won’t happen, there has to be the possibility that it might happen. So, I think that he hopes for and he wishes that things can be different, but ultimately in his heart of hearts, and the audience’s view of what’s happening, it’s not really going to change. Nothing’s ever going to really be normal. The people who have it best right now are the children, the youngest children, because they didn’t know the world in any different way, so they will learn to adapt and be happy in this world, not knowing what they’ve lost. I think the adults have a much, much harder journey and much harder transition.
Do you think that there’s a chance for Abraham and Eugene’s relationship to be repaired?
We’ll see. We were talking about that. Somebody said, “Well, you know, you knocked the water bottle out of his hand, because you still care about him.” I was like, “Do I care about him, or is it habit?” I think those are the cool things that everyone can, in their own mind, decide, and all of those things will be answered down the road. I think that’s one of the fantastic things that [Robert] Kirkman does in the graphic novels and Scott does a great job of bringing them to life on screen, he and his team of writers. The characters are so rich, and the character development… that’s what everybody tunes in for, I think, is to see the journey and the twists. Like with Father Gabriel, where you were just like, “You motherf—ker.”
Did you think he was justified in going to Deanna with his rant about Rick and the others?
I was talking with my wife earlier, and she’s like, “Yeah, you’re like, ‘You motherf—ker,’ but then you’re like, ‘But you’re right.’” He’s not lying. He may be wrong, but he’s certainly not lying as to what’s happening. He’s saying, “You brought these people in, and they’re taking over.” Then you see [Abraham], and he’s taken over the whole construction crew. Rick is talking to Carol, and she’s like, “You’re going to have to kill him,” about Pete. Glenn is with [Deanna’s] son when he’s taken out. You’re just like, “What the hell?” You realize at some point, you have to question. You go, “Wait, are we rooting for the bad guy?” If our team was to come across their team, we’d kill them all. I don’t trust them. They’re dangerous. They have an agenda. It’s like, “Yeah, you’d be right, but because we know them, and we care about them …”
I obviously feel that [Rick’s group] is right, and we do have a bigger world view that deals with keeping everyone safe and moving forward, but you see very quickly with Alexandria, it’s like these people wouldn’t survive half a second. They’re just so easy to manipulate. And Gabriel is willing to throw somebody to the wolves.
And Gabriel is also more like the Alexandrians than he is like Rick’s group, because he hasn’t really dealt with a lot of the realities of this new world either.
Exactly. He hasn’t dealt with his own guilt. He’s still trying to process that, and there are these people who know everything about him and know what he’s done. I think that he’s trying to get rid of all those people. He’s like, “I can get rid of all of my witnesses.”
Right, which actually makes him quite evil, for all his accusations about Rick and the others.
Absolutely. Look back at what he’s done. To people he knew. He locked everybody out, women and children and everybody. I don’t know, if you really step back and look at it, if there’s a weaker character on the show.
Abraham, in much needed moments of levity, has so many great lines, so many quotable lines. “Motherd—k” was an instant classic from “Spend.” Do you ad lib any of them? Do you discuss them with the writers?
No, those are all wonderfully written by the writers. We’ve played around with stuff. I’ve given suggestions over time with certain things, but all those iconic ones, they are all specifically scripted. There’s more coming. I like to say there’s some really wonderfully complicated ones coming.
What is your favorite so far?
I think my favorite so far is still “dolphin smooth,” just because it was such a light moment and a moment of hope. He’s being playful, like he knew he was being a little bit naughty with Rosita, so it comes from that place. I’ve enjoyed them all, even ones that I didn’t even at the time think were necessarily quotable things. Some people I saw this weekend [at a convention], they were like, “Can you write, ‘The world’s going to need Rick Grimes’?” I was like, “Oh, cool.” Then somebody brought me a photo that said, “And the dead will die, and the living will have this world again.” I’m just like, “Oh my God.” It’s not just the “son of a d—ks” and the “motherd—ks” Abraham just talks in this wonderfully poetic way that is so dark blue collar and weird and strangely prophetic. I think it really separates him. He’s such a character with everything, with the mustache and the red hair and the way he walks and the way he talks to people and the way he enters the room. There’s no filter. It’s like, “You guys got to come see Deanna” … “Who’s Deanna?” [Laughs.] It’s like, “What the hell? Dude, slow down. Ease up.”
Did your castmates crack up when you said, “Who’s Deanna?” Because it’s already a fan favorite.
Yeah, they did. I was way in the back, and it’s just sort of like, he’s not engaged in conversation at all with these people, and he’s just like, “Rooooar!” We did a couple of takes, and Josh [McDermitt] came up to me, and he’s like, “I can’t even…” He’s like, “I stepped like three feet out to the side so I wouldn’t be in the shot, because I just kept laughing, because it was just so, so Abraham.” It’s so wrong on so many levels, and it’s so much fun to play. Between the way they have him dressed and the way he chooses to look, it’s just a huge permission slip, and I’ve decided that I’m taking full advantage of it. “Alright, I got a hall pass. Guess what, I’m going to go run down the hall!”
The Season 5 finale has been expanded to 90 minutes. What can you say about the episode and how it compares to previous season finales?
I love that they’ve given them the extra time, because it means that they’re able to let some of these scenes breathe, ones that sometimes we don’t have that opportunity to, because the show is so action-packed and so full of story points. I think that that extra time we’re going to have is going to be wonderful for character development, because I know some of the scenes that potentially would not have made it in had they had to keep it at an hour, and there’s some wonderful lyrical moments in the show. It’s going to be very satisfying. It’s going to piss you off. There will be tears, but also, once again, like the writers have been doing pretty consistently, it tees up a new beginning in a very, very different way.
The Walking Dead airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.