Q&A: 'The Walking Dead' Star Andrew Lincoln on Season Three's Power Struggle

'We've tried to keep loading and loading the intensity and the drama'

Andrew Lincoln arrives at the premiere of AMC's, 'The Walking Dead' 3rd Season.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Andrew Lincoln arrives at the premiere of AMC's, 'The Walking Dead' 3rd Season.
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Andrew Lincoln, star of AMC's The Walking Dead, looks nothing like his character Sheriff Rick in real life: when he stopped by Rolling Stone's office last week on his way to Comic Con, his clothes were not even slightly caked in blood and zombie guts. He sounds completely different, as well; the actor is actually British, as fans of Love, Actually already know.

Lincoln sat down to chat about Walking Dead's dramatic new storylines, the madness of Comic Con and his appreciation for flamethrowers. Spoilers ahead!


So you're here for Comic Con?
Yes. You know the funny thing: one of my friends was saying to me the other day, "What's the difference between East Coast and West Coast Comic Con?" and I'm like, "You're not starting a war – I need diplomatic immunity!" I love them both in their own special way.

Come on, pick a side.
(laughs) No! I actually do love New York, but the weather's better over there. There's pros and cons. I was here last year and it was crazy – the Comic Con outcrazied all of them because we were in the big hall and it was wild, like nothing I'd ever experienced.

How many Sheriff Ricks did you see?
 The first season, I was very excited because I thought I saw two, but they were actually just cops. But the second season, out of 400,000 people there, I think there were three people dressed as me.

That's it?
I thought that was a small triumph, frankly. And then this year, I was particularly enamored by a woman who had stubble and it was very moving that she went full Rick Grimes. And she gave me a little pendant.

Awww.
Yeah. But there were quite a lot of Ricks. You know, Steven Yeun [who plays Glenn] generally gets lots of teenagers professing their undying love, and I just get people dressed as me, which is very unsettling and quite weird. But it's just – I love it there. I mean, the first time I went to Comic Con, I was able to walk the floor because no one knew who the hell we were. I just remember going past a He-Man and there was a woman painted green and wearing very little, and I said, "Who are you?" and she said, "Skeletor with boobs." And that was, like, within two minutes of being there. And I was like, "I get it. I get where we are. This is Comic Con." But it was the first time I remember hearing when we played the trailer, and it was a big, big moment – you know, we'd been shooting for eight weeks of the first season, and this was the first time I thought, "We got it right, tonally." They played the trailer and I don't watch it, I don't get involved in that, but you could just hear the audience and it was this boom of people going, "Yes, you're getting it right."

It was in development for so long, fans were waiting and waiting and waiting.
So it feels like we're sort of coming home. Because we wouldn't be here if it weren't for these places.

This is true.
You know, they're insane. It's so great. This is my third one, so I'm sort of battle-hardened to it now, the sort of shock factor of the extreme fanboy. I saw David Morrissey [who plays the Governor] – who's a very experienced actor from England, who's been working for 30 years – and he just looked at me and just went cold, because it's just ridiculous and it's like nothing I've ever experienced before.

And I'm sure there are lots of zombies.
There weren't so many zombies. Maybe they know we're there and we're going to kick their ass. I mean, Steven Yeun says, "Oh, you know Breaking Bad, they did this thing where they came on and…" Steven's all into doing something with dry ice, and I'm like, "Steven, we're just going there to meet the fans!" And he's like, "No. We need zombies, we should come on and just boom!"

People would love that.
So maybe we'll do that next year.

Maybe do a sketch where you're doing a song-and-dance and killing zombies.
To the tune of "Thriller!" We could work this out.

Okay! Let's talk about the show itself. So, last season, you guys were stuck on the farm for a really long time.
Yes. (laughs)

I know the fans were frustrated with that because it didn't quite stick to the graphic novel – the fact that you were on the farm forever.
Forever, yeah.

Was it frustrating as an actor that you were playing this beat of searching for Sophia for so long?
Well no, I thought – I mean, I know I heard mid-season, because I did a lot of press, that the first eight episodes were… Well, it was an extraordinary moment when we first see Sophia.

Absolutely.
And it was... you have to earn that. If it becomes too kinetic and becomes all action and less character, then you don't have those emotional pay-offs that I think make this show unique. Certainly, that's when it steps outside the genre. You know what I mean? It says, "We don't care about the genre, it's not important – all the zombie-zombie." What is important is the character development and the fact that you, as an audience member, get emotionally engaged. I think we probably did spend too long looking for Sophia, but I think there is a balance between the two that I think is one of the most important things that we're challenged with doing on this show: to get that mix of character-driven action, thrills, horror, romance and some humor as well. Some lightness within this bleak world.

Those moments of lightness are amazing.
You can count the times I've smiled on two hands, and I love that. Because when the audience sees that, well, everyone's talking about that moment in the premiere because I smile. They're like, "You smiled!" And I go, "I can smile! It's within my range as an actor!"

Will you ever laugh? Will we see that?
I don't think that's ever going to happen.

Also, going back to the end of Season Two: so much of that season was about your power struggle with Shane, and now he's a double-dead zombie.
Don't sleep with my wife.

That's definitely the answer.
That's the short answer. If you sleep with my wife, then I stab you in the chest. And then my son shoots you in the head. That's the way us Grimes roll.

What's it like for you not having Shane to play off of now?
I miss him! I miss him terribly! Just because he's a tremendous actor. And it is one of those things where I didn't read the small print. You know: "Zombie. Survival. Horror." All these great mates you make, and terrific actors that you grow with and explore this world with, and create this world with: they get bit! And they leave. It was always planned that that was going to be the case but it's about honoring the story, and the story is the key. This story is an extraordinary story about humanity. And I can only speak from my point of view, but it's an amazing journey that I go on in the comic books and they are honoring that.

So you've read the comic books!
No, I stopped when they cut my hand off. Why would I read anything after that? No, interestingly, I am going to go back and revisit in between the seasons. If there is a fourth season – and fingers crossed there will be – I'm going to back to the comic book and really mine them because I think it's about time.

Interesting. So, Season Three! You're at the prison. It's about time, as a fan. Hooray, you guys are finally there. You've obviously established yourself as the leader of your group. I mean, Season Two ended with your character declaring that you were establishing, let's call it, a "Ricktatorship." And now, at the end of the premiere, we see other human survivors. What does this mean for Rick if his leadership could be challenged?
Well, I think you hit the nail on the head there. The first season was very much about setting up the world and the man and his family and seeing what has happened with people coming to terms with the immediacy of this apocalypse. The second season was very much about a challenge of leadership, a real struggle for leadership.

The third season, I'm very excited about, because it's much more about opening up the world of the show and introducing these really cool characters like Michonne and the Governor. And Merle's coming back, so don't worry about Merle. But also, just Woodbury. And knowing that we've been following a very linear path about: these people, this man, on this journey. And then suddenly, it's sort of like a Wizard of Oz moment when they go, "There are other people and they have their own civilization." So it's very much about at Woodbury, there is a clash between two men and two camps, the Governor and Rick.

What are you most excited about in this upcoming season?
Well, I don't watch it.

But you shoot it!
I live it! Well, in every episode, they really up the ante. I think the scale of it in the first couple episodes – they've tried to just keep loading and loading the intensity and the drama. And the action is extraordinary. And episode four – no, four, five and six, well, and seven... and eight is pretty damn good. And nine's awesome. People have been doing really great, good work. When we talked about Jon [Bernthal, who played Shane], it's interesting because you take one of those extraordinary characters out – which very much the second season was written around him. But I think that's the enduring strength of the show, that you don't keep rehashing the love triangle or the power struggle. It's done. And for the writers, I think it's a very rewarding experience, that they can go, "Shit! We have 12 more people to bring in," and a new location. We've got so much to talk about,  how we describe ourselves in this new world now. I think they've done a smart thing by jumping forwards in time.

What did we miss this winter? Lori thinks that you hate her and Carl hates her. What went on that we didn't see?
We spoke about all of this in rehearsals before we started filming the season. We discussed that the walkers slowed down during the winter so that we were able to develop a way of living. Everything slows up but as spring gets here and it starts to warm again, we're under pressure. Also, there's the powder keg of the baby. I think if we'd started right on the back of leaving Hershel's farm and seeing the prison then, we would never have attempted it. I think because now we have this incredible pressure – you know, the first scene is so quiet. You learn everything you need to know.

There are no words in that whole sequence!  No dialogue at all!
I love that. It's beautiful because they just can't speak. That's how desperate these people are. And it's that dog food moment, but it's also like – this is where they're at. It's just their lowest end.

Do you have your own zombie-preparedness kit just in case the zombie outbreak starts in real life? I have a pickaxe at home.
A pickaxe?

Because you can break down barricades and spike zombies in the brain with it.
I've used the pickaxe! And it's a very effective weapon. But I think we need to explore chainsaws and flamethrowers a bit more.