Andrew Lincoln on 'The Walking Dead' Finale: It 'Goes Off'

Yahoo! TV
Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) in "The Walking Dead" episode, "Clear."

"The Walking Dead" -- "Clear"

Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) in "The Walking Dead" episode, "Clear."

This Sunday's new episode of "The Walking Dead" promises to be violent, pivotal, shocking, and as the man at the center of most "Walking Dead" dramas confirms, "heartbreaking." We'll let viewers decide what that might mean for the fates of some of our favorite zombie apocalypse survivors.

But when Andrew Lincoln, the actor who plays leader Rick Grimes, tells you an episode is heartbreaking -- this coming after episodes in which he's already lost his best friend and wife (both killed by his son, oh by the way) -- you tend to think some major losses may be afoot.

Lincoln, who is nominated as best actor on television for June's Saturn Awards, talked to Yahoo! TV from his home in England this week, and he previews that the final two episodes of Season 3 will not disappoint viewers. Though, again, they may break our hearts.

You told Rolling Stone recently that 27 people die in the Season 3 finale. Are people taking that number too seriously?

(Laughing) Did that go out in print?

It did. And some people are taking that as an exact number.

I so have to be careful in what I say. It's safe to say that we finish in the style [viewers] have become accustomed to. I don't think people will be disappointed. We're coming up on Episode 15 this week?

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Yes, 15, "This Sorrowful Life," the penultimate episode of the season, airs on March 24.

It's an extraordinary episode because the essential two storylines, I think, are magnificent, and the acting … yeah, it's a really cool episode on many levels. It's quite an emotional, heroic, brilliant episode. Largely because of a couple of the actors in it that are doing some magnificent work. Then, the season finale … it all goes off. It's big, is what I will say. It's befitting everything that's happened this season, is what I would say.

Watch a sneak peek clip of "The Sorrowful Life": 

When we last really saw Rick, he met with the Governor and knows this guy is crazy. He knows some of the twisted things he's done, that he enjoys toying with people. But it still feels like he may not fully understand just how evil the Governor is. That he doesn't understand this is a guy who takes great pleasure in meticulously designing a torture chamber …

I don't think he's aware of the extent of the atrocities that this guy is planning. I don't think he can. I don't think he's met anyone quite like him yet. I don't think he is fully aware, absolutely. He knows that he's a very dangerous man. He knows that, from what he's gathered … he's getting remnants. But the thing about Rick is, until he meets a man, he's one of these people who has to make a judgment call on the person himself.

The Governor is incredibly manipulative. He's a true psychopath or sociopath. He's very manipulative, very charming. He's bright. He's determined. He's self obsessed. He's all of those things. … I don't think Rick's unaware of that. But the thing I loved about [that meeting] is the fact that he gives an option. He gives an option that could be a truth. The difficulty is, do you trust a man that you don't trust? Do you trust a man that has already killed and tortured members of your party, enough to bargain with him? That's the real call behind all of that, behind all of these decisions.

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Given all that, why is Rick even entertaining this deal the Governor has offered, to hand over Michonne in exchange for calling off another attack on the prison? Does Rick just not trust his judgment because he's just bounced back from a breakdown? Or is he just afraid not to take a chance that the Governor will keep his word and then everyone's safe?

He's exactly that. It's another impossible decision to make. He's savvy enough, he's smart enough, to realize that this could be the bargaining tool that enables two civilizations to stop careening towards conflict. But at the same time, at what cost to the group? He's still not the man he was. I don't think he can ever return to that man. There's a pragmatism that's in him. But there's a brutality that's in him that is willing to consider every option. To defend, to certainly serve his boy. It's all about the boy, now. It's all about the kid.

It also felt like, in that meeting with the Governor, there was the slightest bit of bonding, or at least of acknowledgement by both of them, to each other, that being a leader is tough. Obviously, the Governor has taken the responsibility and the pressure in a different direction …

Yeah, you're absolutely right. We wanted to play that. We wanted to realize this is the only time these two men have ever had this opportunity to share the common bond of leadership and to really be frank, to be open. That's the disarming thing … you have these two incredibly dynamic, dangerous men with the lives of lots of people at stake, and yet they're able to almost have this very intimate conversation. There was a kind of recognition of what they've done and who they are and what this world has pushed them to become.

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That's what I always loved about the comic book, is that you start in one place, and then you root for these people. But you realize, holy crap! They're doing terrible things, morally ambiguous things. Yet you still side with them. You get it. That harkens back to why people like the show so much, because they've put themselves in that position. They ask those impossible questions.

NEXT: What motivates Rick to push forward?

It feels like an understatement, but Rick has been through a lot, particularly this season, with the death of Lori, the birth of the baby, the breakdown, the Governor … what motivates him to push forward?

It's the boy. It has to be the boy. [Carl] and Lori were the driving force that got him out of the hospital and drove him through meeting Morgan and eventually being reunited with them. That was one of the great attractions of playing this part, the fact that he wasn't an outsider, he was a cop, he's an ordinary guy. He's just your average Joe. But he was a father, and a husband in a problematic marriage. All of these things I loved, because I thought, "Yes, that's grounded. That's authentic." I do believe that people do extraordinary things, superhuman things in those situations. You hear about mothers moving cars to save babies, extraordinary feats. Almost on a primal level, your instinct to protect your loved ones can put you in a place that you would never imagine going.

It's funny, because I'm constantly … you know when you get something in your head and you start tuning into something? I'm a magpie when I do a job, I just collect things, and everything seems to inform the job. I start reading about survivors or heroes … my antennae are very much aware, they pick it all up. I was reading a book about Ernest Shackleton, an extraordinary English adventurer at the turn of the century. Last century, not this century. He tried to go to the Antarctic three times to do three different challenges, and he failed on every one. But he kept 27 men alive on an iceberg for two and a half years.

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It's the greatest story of survival I've ever read. It's mind blowing. You just keep … just Google it and read what he achieved. All of those people, he kept everyone that was on the trip alive. No one died, and it was astonishing. All the other 26 men, obviously, just said he's the greatest leader. He was lorded … [People] asked him, they said, "How did you do this extraordinary thing? How did you do it?" He said, "It was the men." He had to do it for the other guys. If he'd been alone, he wouldn't have made it. It's that simple with Rick. He's just one of those incredible people that other people just stand behind. The thing I love about him is the fact that he's right. He's one of these people who is certain, and he makes his decision. It may be a bad decision. It may be a morally corrupt decision, but he stands by it. There's something incredibly powerful about that, and incredibly dangerous about it. I think that he's also a moral guy, but he recognizes the danger in leadership in this new world. He sort of understands the possibly intoxicating effect that power has on leadership. I just think he's a complicated man and rightly so. He's Job, he's been tested beyond all tests. He keeps coming back. He's at his lowest with the death of Lori. But I think Morgan was a pivotal moment in him, recognizing that if he continues isolating himself he will turn into that, into Morgan.

Inside the making of "Clear": 

That episode, "Clear," was just brilliant. Can you pick one of the episodes from this season as your favorite?

Yeah, that one, I read it, I loved it. I was thrilled that they decided to almost complete the circle somewhat with the Morgan story. That's always the thing when I watch long running TV shows that capture you and ask the audience to really invest in the characters. There's something so lovely about planting something in the pilot and then going somewhere to resolve the story three years later. It almost rewards the audience. It certainly rewards me as an actor. And there's something amazing about working with an actor that you haven't seen for three years, and the last time you saw them [your character] was a completely different man.

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I also thought that "Prey" was a completely different episode, and it said a lot of things very quietly and very subtly. I'm really excited about Season 4 because of this. Because I think that we have the collective weight of three years of people knowing these characters. You don't have to do what a lot of movies have to do, which is that they have to explain who these people are in the first hour of the movie and then tell a story for the next hour and then resolve it in the last half an hour. People come with three years, 30 odd episodes, 30 odd hours of living with these people. … The most exciting thing is when you can just drop an episode like ["Clear"] in, or push it in a different direction, or completely pare down the storytelling and just make it about a boy going to find a photo of his mother to show his sister who doesn't have a mother anymore. That's breathtaking.

That's the thing that when people go, "Oh, zombies. That's a zombie show." I'm thinking, it's really not about zombies. (Laughing) But, of course, it is, and that's the cool stuff that we get to do, the brilliant stuff. We wouldn't be able to tell such grand things or such simple stories without the cool stuff and the exciting and the thrilling stuff. But certainly, yeah, that was an episode that I adored.

Check back for part two of our chat with Andrew Lincoln next week, when he discusses his cast mates, "The Walking Dead" crew, and what it's like to film outside Hollywood; the difficulty of bidding adieu to cast members and friends; and his hopes for the show's future, including his plea to the producers and writers: "Let me live long. Please!"


"The Walking Dead" airs Sundays at 9 PM on AMC, and the Season 3 finale airs on March 31.

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