Ask Andrew Lincoln what four seasons of The Walking Dead can do to a man and he points to his beard.
“Can you see my gray hair?” he laughs, stroking the salt-and-pepper patches that have taken residence on his once-boyish face. The British actor now wears every one of his 40 years, and it’s no wonder, given the incredible physical and emotional demands of playing Rick Grimes, the de facto leader of a group of ragged survivors in AMC’s gruesomely successful horror show.
It helps then to have familiar faces to go through all that with, but this being a zombie apocalypse series, Lincoln and the rest of the remaining cast and crew (not to mention the rabid fan base) have had to deal with frequent, and often sudden, departures.
Amy, Sophia, Dale, Shane, T-Dog, Lori, Merle, Andrea … the list is sure to continue in this season, which is shaping up to be one of the more anticipated television events in recent memory. Or, you know, at least since last season.
“In spite of the trauma and action and characters you grow to love and then have to leave, it’s the single most exciting journey I’ve ever been on,” Lincoln says. “The toll is [in] the responsibility. That’s where I feel it, keeping the standard and quality consistent with all the past seasons. And improving it, in fact. I just want it to be the best show we can possibly make, and I suffer a little bit sometimes just with sleep. I don’t want to miss a scene.”
With a show as highly scrutinized as The Walking Dead — which again will be immediately followed by its very own postmortem talk show Talking Dead — Rick has been targeted by fans more than most for his leadership style, which has fluctuated from benevolent ruler to a full-on Rick-tatorship.
The end of Season 3 found that tough veneer softening a bit as he agreed to take in several Woodbury refugees, many of whom are children, and welcome them into the prison. Season 4 will find Rick at a crossroads.
“He’s a man that’s wrestling with a modus operandi that didn’t work last season,” Lincoln says. “This is a very different Rick you meet. How long that can last is another question.”
A New Threat
Try to get details about the new season from the cast and crew and you might as well be talking to a walker. They’ve all come to San Diego’s Comic-Con equipped with a thick folder full of talking points, what they’re allowed to mention and what they’re not. Lauren Cohan, who plays Maggie, consults it before (not) answering one journalist’s relatively tame inquiry.
But one refrain you do hear from many of them is that there’s some sort of “new threat” that faces the group — one that cannot be killed quite so easily with a crossbow, katana or any of the other cool weapons usually on display.
“There’s a new threat in that the zombies aren’t really as manageable as they became for a second there in Season 3,” says Norman Reedus, who plays Daryl. “There’s more people now, so there’s more personalities, alliances in some weird ways. We’re all living under the same roof.”
The show does have a new show runner in Scott M. Gimple, who follows Frank Darabont and Glen Mazzara. Gimple, who as a writer penned some signature Walking Dead moments (Sophia coming out of the barn, Otis’ demise) says he isn’t out to change much.
“I didn’t want it to be a brand new show — I love this show,” Gimple says. [I’m] taking the greatest hits approach of all the things I love that we’ve done, grabbing from all the different seasons and torqueing it up.”
Greg Nicotero, the makeup guru who has gone on to write, executive produce and direct for the show, also offers some broad hints. There will be a bit of a time jump from the end of last season, and the first episode will be the only one with any real lightheartedness before things get really dark again. And one episode in the series is taken nearly verbatim from an issue of Robert Kirkman’s comic, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this month as well.
We also know that there will be at least one new major character, Bob Stookey (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.), an Army medic who is haunted by his past. In the comic he is an acolyte of The Governor, but as we have seen over and over again, the comic is not necessarily a reliable blueprint.
Speaking of The Governor, David Morrissey knows his character has done some awful things, yet he bristles when people call him evil.
“One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist,” he says. “The victors write history, so you look at things in the past and you think, ‘That’s a terrible thing.’ You weren’t there. You didn’t see. You don’t know the choices that led to that point.”
The Walking Dead Season 4 premieres at 9pm Sunday, Oct. 13, on AMC.
Photo: Credit: Frank Ockenfels/AMC