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The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live: Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira Discuss Getting Back Into the Apocalypse

Zombies can't keep Rick and Michonne apart

Scott Huver
Danai Gurira, The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live

Danai Gurira, The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live


"I love these characters," says Andrew Lincoln of the zombie-slaying sheriff Rick Grimes, a role he played during the lion's share of the run of AMC's franchise-launching juggernaut series The Walking Dead, as well as Michonne Hawthorne, Rick's katana-swinging wife portrayed for several seasons by Danai Gurira, before plot machinations and hordes of Walkers left them separated — and off screen — for much of The Walking Dead's later seasons. 

But now, the star-crossed, post-apocalyptic power couple are together again at last, reunited at the center of the six-episode miniseries The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live, and Lincoln tells TV Guide that the long-awaited reunion couldn't have been more welcome, as far as he — and, he expects, fans of the franchise — was concerned, recalling those first electric moments back on set together with Gurira. "No time had lapsed. The moment that we were both back in the same air, it was great, and it all made sense the moment that they were in each other's orbit again."

But the world of The Walking Dead is never less than utterly fraught with fresh horrors: After finding each other again after a long separation, Rick and Michonne's joyous reconnection is jolted by a sobering reality. "It was about telling the story about whether or not these people are still the same people they once were with all the distance and time apart, and can their love survive?" says Lincoln. "Can they be the people that they once were, or are they irrevocably changed? And I think that that is where the story begins."

Everything to know about The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live

Along with the prospect of returning to career-making roles they remained deeply invested in, the creative pot was sweetened for the actors with the prospect of very hands-on involvement with the concept and direction of the new spinoff. Gurira shares co-creator credit (with The Walking Dead franchise's longtime writer, producer and current Chief Content Officer Scott M. Gimple) and wrote the fourth episode, while Lincoln consulted and collaborated every step of the way.

"That level of involvement and really looking at a product and saying, 'We had a strong hand in the creation of that,' that's a cool journey to have taken with a franchise," says Gurira. "The beauty was, even as we left the mother show, Andy of course had been talking a lot about that next chapter with Gimple and had been very involved, and then as I was leaving, it was also a fact that I would join Andy ultimately in the resolve of our stories. So even at that point there was an understanding of that our involvement would be more than it had been at the beginning of being in the show or being actors in the show. And AMC was also very open about, 'Yeah, we just want to facilitate what you guys create.'"

And what the trio wanted to create, she continues, is a tale of "what does an epic love story look like in the apocalypse, in this world, and how do we tell it differently? How do we 2.0 the narrative while we, of course, keep it very true to what was known and loved about the mother show?"

"We were building something to see in a lot of ways whether they wanted to do it," says Gimple, noting that the concept had gone through a few format iterations, including a series of television movies and even, at one point, a theatrical film. "We built the bones of this — I want to say even more than the bones: it's shocking how much our breakdown of what the show would be turned out to be what it is. They wanted to do more. They wanted to be more involved, which I supported and understood. They've been doing this for so long. And it was a ball!"

Andrew Lincoln, The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live

Andrew Lincoln, The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live


"It was thrilling to do a job that I'd never done before and use a part of my brain that I'd never used before creatively as a producer," agrees Lincoln. "You always come in as gun-for-hire as an actor to a certain degree. This was different because I'd been so much part of it for so many years … Certainly to be the architects of a story that you really wanted to tell and to be able to start your characters in a place that you hadn't been before physically as well as psychologically was really exciting."

"It meant a lot because both of them knew their characters so well," adds Gimple. "It's just to be sitting across from the people who had inhabited these characters, and I knew them and know them very, very well. And they are family, still. That is Rick Grimes; that is Michonne there. There's a lot of credibility there. We just kept on catching waves and just really dug in, and we would get really excited and throw things around to each other and then we would feel it coming together. We would feel it building … Things built upon each other really quickly, and that built our excitement. The momentum was just really, really good."

"But the navigation and the calibration of [the Rick-Michonne] dynamic was, I think, one of the most careful navigations we had to do," Gurira adds. "It was awesome because it was that sort of thing where you've been away from a story for a long time and so you're stepping back in and you're like, 'Okay, what are we going to find?' And it was very clear that, oh yes, this is clearly why we're telling the story because it was still so much. I just remember feeling for the character how much she's carried a certain thing for trying to get through all these years without Rick."

In keeping with the franchise's penchant for significantly reframing the zombified world at large when exploring fresh corners as new entries like Daryl Dixon, World Beyond, and Dead City enter the flesh-devouring fray, The Ones Who Live also wanted to foray into a brand-new, unexplored environment that would open up the series to a new generation of viewers and the contingent who may have wandered away along with Rick and Michonne for a while.

"Enough time has passed, even for hardcore people, that we built this in a way that anybody can pick it up," says Gimple. "If you've seen all of The Walking Dead, you're going to get some different things out of it. But this was definitely made for people, in a perfect world, to just discover and be like, 'I've heard of this Walking Dead thing — I'm curious.' We wouldn't have built it any other way — though it really does reward people who watch the show, it does hold the hand of people who haven't."

The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live's Andrew Lincoln says Rick gets off to a horrific start

The backdrop for Rick and Michonne's renewed romance is a unique landscape in the franchise: a decidedly urban cityscape that has been largely secured and safeguarded from zombie infestation, albeit due to the mysterious, seemingly draconian machinations of the shadowy Civic Republic Military.

"It's a complex world," says Gimple. "We didn't just want them to be in a bad place, that it was that simple: a bad place with bad people. And I think challenging ourselves that way led to a very interesting society, and a very interesting sort of portion of a society that they're in." He says the other recent spin-off series have helped inspire and hone his thinking in terms of expanding the mythology into new environments, resulting in a wealth of potential new lore just waiting to burst into the screen. 

"I could tell you a great deal about this society top to bottom, and I would often forget, I put little things in the script or the stage direction or for props or whatever, and they'd be like, 'What does this mean?'" Gimple laughs. "And I'd [explain] and then 15 minutes later they'd be like, 'Okay, okay — I get it.' Even if you never get to show certain things, you have to know it to be able to tell the story you want to tell and to have the world feel real. You get caught up in wanting to show people everything."

And of course Rick and Michonne will find themselves butting up against a host of new characters, some of whom may or may not be adversaries, chief among them being the enigmatic, militant Beale, the major general of the CRM, played by an acknowledged specialist when it comes to gray-area performances, Lost's Terry O'Quinn.

As a viewer, O'Quinn admits he's a newcomer to the world. "I was not really terribly familiar with The Walking Dead — I missed that train. I think I may have seen some Walkers get cut to pieces — maybe not right before bed," he chuckles. But he knew he could make much of Beale's mysterioso vibe.

"That always intrigues me, when you kind of go, 'I'm not sure what this guy is,'" he explains. "Beale has been a warrior basically his whole life. He's been a soldier. He lives, I suppose, for the fight. The fight in this case is a necessity. But being a warrior, it's also an opportunity. Not in the best way, but he has to try to figure out what's the best route to take for this community that he is protecting and trying to sustain with his military, and it is his military.

"All I can really say is, that I would say about any character, that he does what he does for a reason," he adds. "I know the whole story of Beale, at least up to now — they'll kill me if I tell you — [But] "talking to Scott I decided who this guy was, and I don't think it takes too long to figure him out when you finally are exposed to more of him than you see in the first episode. … Watch how the world's operating and watch how the CRM is operating, you can go, 'He is the sort of the boss of bosses, so he's making those decisions.'"

Despite all of the fresh elements of The Ones Who Live, there were definitely moments on set when the returning stars knew their feet were firmly planted back in the familiar world of The Walking Dead.

"It was definitely my first katana kill," says Gurira. "You almost felt you couldn't let the crew down because there were so many people there who loved the show who are now new to working with us. It's like you had to keep their love alive by doing a great kill. It was like my first day back and the first thing I had to do was kill a Walker. Being back in her flow and with the katana and working out the entire kill and with the great stunt team and everything and doing it."

"We started the show with five consecutive night shoots in February in New Jersey," recalls Lincoln. "On the Friday when it just started, a flurry of snow started to happen at four a.m. And I just thought, 'Oh, I remember this. This is the pain. This is the pain that I've forgotten for five years. This feels exactly like The Walking Dead. I took a photo of myself in the five minutes I had to warm up in my trailer in between, and I just look absolutely haggard. I showed it to my wife and she went, "Oh, my God, what's happened?" And I just went, 'I'm back.'"

The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live premieres Sunday, Feb. 26 at 9/8c on AMC and AMC+.