The Walking Dead The Walking Dead

[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Sunday's episode of The Walking Dead. Read at your own risk.]

The Walking Dead's Rick Grimes is a man of his word.

On Sunday's episode, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the rest of the group learned that Gareth (Andrew J. West) and the remaining survivors of Terminus were still nearby when the Terminans returned Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) — minus most of his left leg — to Father Gabriel's church. Rick quickly assembled a search party to hunt for The Hunters, but as soon as they left the church, Gareth & Co. came calling.

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After a tense stand-off between the Terminans and those left behind at the church, Rick returned to save the day, wounding Gareth and taking out a couple of his men in the process. Although Gareth begged Rick to let him go, promising a clean slate and no more violence, Rick reminded Gareth of the promise he made in the season premiere: that he would kill Gareth with his machete. And just like that, Rick led the brutal slaughter of Gareth and his men.But everyone may not have been so impressed by Rick's display. Maggie (Lauren Cohan

) and Glen (Steven Yeun) both agree to go with Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) to D.C. while the rest of the group hangs back to bury Bob and wait for the (hopeful) return of Darryl (Norman Reedus) and Carol (Melissa McBride). Has Rick crossed the line from cattle to butcher? TVGuide.com chatted with Lincoln about Rick's brutality and what it might mean for the rest of the group. Plus: What does Rick think about Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) after his big confession?Were you surprised to learn how quickly Rick was going to take Gareth & Co. out?
Andrew Lincoln: Yeah. When I read the premiere episode, I was so surprised that we got out of [Terminus] that quickly. I think there was a decision made in the writers' room that was, "Let's push it on." ... It gave this kinetic energy to the show and the audience can be shocked by what just happened in the way that Maggie and Glen are. You see it on their faces. They don't recognize this [Rick]. A lot of people didn't witness me biting a man's throat out. They don't know that Rick is here yet.

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Right, we've seen Rick go to the extreme before, but he's always wrestled with his humanity. Is his brutal killing of Gareth a sign that he's no longer carrying that conflict?
Lincoln: It was something I asked of [executive producer Scott Gimple] when that scene happened. I do think that this season is very much about Rick letting go of the past and the old world in order to navigate this new world. I think it was a watershed moment of clear-cut decision-making. The scene at the trough that began the season was the most perilous [situation] they've ever been in. I think that probably scared Rick. He's hyper-vigilant now. He has to be in this world. Getting rid of the problem is, in that situation, the only solution. It is a brutal killing, but I was very keen for it not to be an indulgent moment. You just see a man getting exhausted by it. It wasn't an emotional moment. This is about squashing this and getting rid of the threat.

But as you said, Maggie and Glen were shocked to see Rick's behavior and ended up leaving with Abraham. Will others in the group have reservations about following "new" Rick?
Lincoln: It is dealt with... and it's a very interesting area. Bear in mind, not everybody witnessed it. That's an important story point. Those that did, some of them came with Rick. Rick is one of these people that we've seen throughout the years who's willing to step into the abyss. I think perhaps a lot of the story arcs this season for the rest of the characters are whether or not they're willing to go with him. That may cause conflict and opposition and stresses and strain and fear within the group.

But is Rick self-aware enough to consider whether these people are following him into the abyss or if he's dragging them with him?
Lincoln: I don't think he's necessarily in a contemplative place because they're still very much at risk. He is doing everything in his powers to eradicate all threats so the family can live. That's his only modus operandi at the moment. I think introspection and self-reflection happen in peace time and in safety. In his quiet moments, possibly, but I don't think he's sleeping many nights at the moment because they're on the run and they're very, very exposed and very weak.

The interesting thing about him at the moment is that he doesn't care what people think of him, which is incredibly powerful. If people can't stomach it, I'll still push them forward and let them go their own way if and when we reach a safe haven. I don't think he's a dictator. I just think he's a fierce pragmatist. He's not encumbered anymore. He's not in doubt of what needs to be done anymore. That doesn't fill him with shame or remorse. It's just who he is...  That doesn't stop him from having moments of tenderness. There's a moment with Bob at the bedside, which was very, very moving. I didn't really know him, but he's still one of our own that's dying and you recognize the pain, the shellshock that was going through the group. The pain is still the same even if the brutality that you just witnessed is horrific.

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Speaking of internal conflict, Abraham and Rick almost come to blows in this episode, but seem to have a newfound respect for each other by the end. 
Lincoln:
 There is some movement toward understanding each other. Even though [Abraham] is a brutal man, there's also righteousness within him. Even though they almost came to blows, it's probably the most intimate they've been with each other because at least they've got some honest reaction from each other.  It was a very difficult thing for Rick to understand why anybody would leave. Abraham has his own motives for always wanting to keep moving. He doesn't want to wait for people. He's distrustful of people, whereas Rick knows Carol has just saved everybody's lives. We're not leaving until we know exactly [why she's gone]. He knows Daryl wouldn't leave, and if he has, he's gone for a good reason and he will be back. There's a great sort of loyalty within the original family group. I think that's what Abraham has come to understand.

And unlike other characters who might be turned off by Rick's actions, Abraham seems bolstered by them.
Lincoln: I think so. This guy has kept his group alive for just as long as Rick, so he has seen and done things probably just as violent or as painful or distressing as that massacre scene.

Is Rick worried about Tyrese (Chad L. Coleman)? Obviously we know that Tyrese claimed he killed Martin, but he was there with Gareth in the church. Does Rick know about that and, if so, is he trying to sort out where Tyrese's head is at?
Lincoln: No. I chose that that was information Rick didn't know. I don't think there'd been a point in the story off-camera that we had that discussion. I felt that was the beginning of the conversation that probably could have gone there. I'm not sure Tyrese would have told him or would want to tell anybody that because of the shame. But there are moments where as a leader he recognizes that there is somebody that is not the man he knew before. Something has gone down, which is what triggers that moment. The beautiful thing is that the audience has more information than the characters at this point.

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This episode also featured Father Gabriel confessing his secret about leaving his church members outside to die. Can Rick now trust him?

Lincoln: Oh, he's still suspicious. He does confess, and I believe him. But he could have told us that when we met him, but he chose not to for his own reasons.  I think it's a very interesting mirror [for Rick]. This is a man who also has blood on his hands. 

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC. What did you think of the episode?