The good news for Rick Grimes is that he is still alive. Annnnnnnnd that’s pretty much it. He had a front row seat to the execution of his good friend Hershel, the Governor beat him within an inch of his life, the prison has been overrun with zombies, and, oh yeah, as far as he knows, his baby daughter Judith just became someone’s afternoon snack. So not exactly what you’d call the best of days so far for Mr. Grimes. (I mean, just look at the photo above for chrissakes!) What happens next? We’ll find out when The Walking Dead returns with season 4’s final eight episodes Feb. 9 on AMC. The first episode back features a battle of wills between Rick and Carl as they seek shelter and safety. We spoke with Papa Grimes himself, Andrew Lincoln, about what to expect in episode 409 and beyond.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So with the prison gone, everyone is going to be splintered off in these smaller groups and we’re going to see people having to fend more for themselves. What can you tell us about what’s in store?
ANDREW LINCOLN: I’m really excited about the back 8 episodes. I think there’s a different tone to the back 8, and I think you’re going to see a lot of characters that you haven’t seen under the microscope as much all have their chance to shine. And people are putting in some tremendous performances. I think there were three scripts that were some of my favorite that I’ve ever done in the back 8. But it’s different, and that’s what’s so admirable about it with Scott Gimple’s vision. It’s a very different tone for the show and I think you learn a lot. It’s very character driven, very soulful — much more reminiscent of the first season, I think, just because they’re all out and alone and they’re much more vulnerable. And also because they’re apart from each other you realize that without each other their family is dying. It’s almost like vignettes; it’s like character studies in all of the characters. The underpinning of all of this is the great hope they can find each other again.
EW: For the most part, everything we’ve seen on this show has been as a big group, albeit with scattered separations here and there when smaller groups go on runs or what have you. But now we’re going to have a lot more individual or smaller group stories since everyone is scattered out. Is that a nice change of pace?
LINCOLN: I think so. It’s not only a change of pace but what it does is it rewards the audience that perhaps doesn’t know about certain characters’ backstories and histories. There are some very witty pairings is what I will say. Really, really witty.
EW: At this point, after seeing that empty bloody car seat, viewers are wondering: Where’s baby Judith? What is Rick assuming as far as Judith?
LINCOLN: She’s gone. I think, as you’ve seen in the episode, she’s gone. That’s it. That’s the feeling for Rick and Carl. Rick is has been putting so much of his ideology and hope and change on Hershel and the prison. Now these people have been ripped away from him. The back 8 for him are very much a story of self-discovery for him, of finding himself knocked to the floor and finding yet again another way of picking himself up again. And it’s about fighting to be a father. I think episode 9 very much explores that — about becoming a man and a man accepting that fact. It’s a time-honored story. But it’s set under these incredibly difficult circumstances. There’s a heck of a lot bubbling for all the characters. They’re at the weakest they’ve ever been probably since I woke up in the coma. Of course, they’re incredibly tenacious survivors. Bear in mind, the only other people inhabiting this world who aren’t behind walls are also tenacious survivors as well.
EW: What about the aftermath of seeing Hershel executed? Especially for Rick, because Rick was the one negotiating for his release and ultimately failing in that. How is that going to weigh on him?
LINCOLN: Man, he never gets a break. It’s not an easy guy to play. There aren’t many calls that he makes that go right, let’s be honest. That was the death knell to that way of living. That’s done, that compromise Rick was attempting to make and had made with the offering of peace to the Governor. Hershel was a father figure and a mentor, he was the bedrock for everybody, he was the moral conscious. I think that Hershel’s spirit lives on always. Everybody that has an impact in your life you carry with you always, but I do think that Rick is in a very low ebb. And I think physically, in episode 9, you’ll see a man who is frightened for the first time in a long, long time. He’s frightened not for himself but for his son because he’s weak. He’s very, very weak and that makes him belligerent and aggressively challenging towards his son because he’s scared. So he’s physically weak, spiritually he’s lost, mentally he doesn’t quite know where to begin because he’s just seeing his home demolished. He’s in the worst place he’s been.