Lori, T-Dog, Axel, and last week, Merle … it's been a tough third season for Rick Grimes and his prison-dwelling pals on "The Walking Dead," and this Sunday's season finale, "Welcome to the Tombs," promises to tick up that body count at least a few more notches. And that may even include another fan favorite or two among the victims.
In Part 2 of our recent chat with Rick himself -- played by British actor Andrew Lincoln -- the star tells Yahoo! TV his beleaguered widowed dad character is -- well, almost -- back to his old self after making the decision in last week's episode to keep Michonne out of the Governor's psychotic clutches.
He also talks about the difficulty of having to say farewell to those castmembers who become victims of the bitter apocalypse, how much he and his castmates and the show's crew love filming in Atlanta, his strategy for staying in character, and how he's itching to return to the South for Season 4 … assuming Sheriff Rick isn't among those rumored 27 who die in the finale, of course.
Is Rick back, the closest version of the Rick we first met, anyway, after deciding he could not hand Michonne over to the Governor?
It's cold and it's brutal, but that's where Rick's been, and he's been isolated. That was him going from the jungle through the wilderness and back. I really wanted it to feel like the man, he's been out. He's been … there were some images, coming out of the Vietnam jungle … you see these boys with these faces that have seen something that no one ever should see. I wanted [Rick] to have gone there. In a similar way, there are echoes with where the Governor has been, where everybody's been. No one's untarnished by this place, by what's happened.
So rest assured that [in the finale], a lot of things are resolved, and a lot of things are called into question. I don't want to give too much away, but in my heart, there's a part of me that always wants the sheriff to return. I want the sheriff to come home, but whether or not we'll ever fully get that is, well, I'm not sure that's how the show will end. (Laughing)
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But I do think that there … are distress signals about where [Carl] is at the moment, how lost the boy is since the death of Lori. And also, if ever he needs a father figure or some male role model, responsible role model, it's now. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that Rick's quite been there this season. There are lots of interesting beats that happen in the finale.
Watch a preview of Sunday's finale:
Rick and his crew have lost a lot of people this season … no one's spilling specifics, obviously, but several of your cast members have said fans should expect a lot more deaths in the season finale…
Well, you know, they killed my wife this year, so I don't think anybody's safe in this show. I was shocked when we lost Jon Bernthal (Shane), when we lost Jeff DeMunn (Dale). I'm continually shocked.
It is the one downside to the show. You make these extraordinary friendships. These amazing actors that you get to work with create these phenomenal roles and these characters, and then you lose them. It's the only downside, really, in this beautiful show.
Do you have to kind of just accept that that is the trade-off for working on this great show that's really not like anything else on TV?
Yeah. I've never worked on anything quite like this. It keeps surprising me in regards to the story and the scripts. Also, I've never had the luxury of spending three years with a character that's been so brilliantly drawn, and also that's changed so much in three years. Which has been a real privilege, really. I love it. I love playing Rick. "Please don't bite me yet." (Laughing) You know what I mean? That's what I keep saying to [the producers and writers], pleading with them. "Let me live long! Please."
What do you think has made the show a favorite of people who don't usually like zombie dramas?
You're always asked the question, "Why has it caught people's imaginations so much?" The truthful answer is I don't know. I really don't know. But I know that it is the first script I read [where I said], "I've never read anything quite like it." That's always, for me, quite a good indicator. Something happens with this show that people seem to engage in a way I've never experienced before.
Do you think it's that the show makes people think about what they'd do in similar situations?
Yeah, you've identified something that seems to be coming up more and more, with people's identification with the characters. The fact that they really put themselves into this place and really talk about it and talk about how they would react … it's amazing. It means that they're buying the world. They're buying the zombie universe. Do you know what I mean? It's an extraordinary thing. That was what [producers] Frank [Darabont] and Gale Anne Hurd and AMC always spoke about when we first got together to do the pilot. They said it's about ordinary folk in this extraordinary place. There's nothing else. People hanging onto a life raft. It's all of these things. Our job as actors is very much to ground it in this reality -- in a very truthful, emotional, raw place. Let the genius of Greg Nicotero and this wonderful film crew that we work with shoot it in this epic way. And of course, the storytelling genius of all the writers on the show. It's been an extraordinary journey so far and it's one of these -- I can't believe it, actually, because it's still playing out. We began the conversation, and I can't wait to keep telling the story. It's one of those jobs that soaks me to my bones, really. It's a bonus that people seem to be engaged with the story as much as we love doing it.
You were joined this season by another fellow British actor, David Morrissey, as the Governor, and it always seems to freak people out a little bit the first time they hear you speak with your British accent, because we're so used to hearing this fantastic Southern drawl from Rick. Do you stay in character throughout filming with your Rick voice?
Yes, I do, yeah. It just was something that Frank asked me to do, Frank Darabont, initially. Also, I'd done it twice before, and I found it really, really useful. Particularly as we film in that part of the world [Atlanta], and I'm surrounded by [local] people -- it just helps with the subtleties. There are other actors that can pull in and out and do it very well, but I'm just not one of those actors. I prefer just staying submerged. I love it. I just love doing it. It helps me not worry about that side of things.
I always thought that it's like being a tourist in my own life. I love traveling. I love going away. My whole family does, and it's one of the great luxuries and thrills of doing my job, that I get to go to different places around the world and pretend to be from there. It's more fun for me to order coffee in the [Rick voice]. If I can order a coffee and not get found out, I'm halfway there … acting in front of zombies is going to be fine. (Laughing)
How important is it to you and to the rest of the cast that you film the show in Georgia, away from Hollywood and all the distractions that can bring when you film there?
It helps enormously. I love it there. I love L.A., I love New York, but I [had] never been to the South, and I've fallen in love with it. There's something about it that is completely unique and completely of itself. The fact that we're in the middle of the countryside and there are no … cell phones don't always work. I'm a bit old-school. I'm the only person on the planet that doesn't have a smartphone. When I work, people can't get a hold of me. It's infuriating for everybody, I know, but actually that's the way I work. I keep my head down, and I keep in it. I just don't want any distractions. I want it to be as truthful or as real as I can make it. It sounds mad, and it probably is a little bit mad, but that's the way I am.
The culture of the show is such that everybody keeps coming back to do it again. It's really hard, it's brutal. It's really tough filming down there, in the heat. But the crew, they're the toughest bunch of people I've ever met. They're incredibly well mannered. They're very enthusiastic. They care. They really throw their bodies on the line for this show -- that's how much they love it. I'm convinced, I'm absolutely convinced, that the care that everybody puts into this show comes out at the other end, and people feel it. And that's what I love about working down there … that we have this army of … they're a family. They're my family. I love them to bits. It's my gang. I miss everybody, you know?
I love coming home. I love being a dad, and after 7-1/2, 8 months of filming, I get exhausted. But then it gets to around about now and I get itchy, and I'm like, "I want to keep telling stories. I want to go back to my American home."
"The Walking Dead" Season 3 finale airs March 31 at 9 PM on AMC. Season 4 begins filming in Atlanta in May.