Be warned: massive spoilers lie ahead in this exclusive interview with The Walking Dead’s Sarah Wayne Callies (Lori Grimes) on the most shocking event yet in The Walking Dead Season 3.
Can you talk about how you got to that level of emotion in that final scene?
I think Laurie’s death is very unique among the ones we’ve had on The Walking Dead, because it’s one that she’s chosen. I think the only other one that comes close is Jim deciding to be left by the side of the road in episode 105, although he’s already been bitten at that point. It’s an interesting tone, because it’s not surrounded by quite the same level of crisis and panic, although it’s clearly a situation where things are going to go badly with or without her choice.
There was something about a scene like that, that I think we all felt was the best thing we could do is be present and support one another and create an environment where anything is okay. It was pin-drop quiet through that whole scene. We didn’t close the set, so the whole crew was there and there was a level of concentration and respect and focus from all 80 people who were there. It was remarkable, and I think it was probably also significant that the entire cast showed up. I finished the scene and came out, and there was almost every single member of our cast, who had just come to be there and watch. I think that was important for Chandler [Riggs, who plays Carl] so that he was surrounded by the people that he would be moving on with. I’ll be honest, it was difficult.
Chandler and I didn’t really talk that week that we were shooting that, because we couldn’t really look at each other without losing it. I love that kid. When we lost Jon [Bernthal, aka the late Shane], Andy [Lincoln, Rick] and I were there and we put our arms around him and said, ‘You have us,’ and I felt like a bit of a jerk, having just reassured this young man that I would be there for him, and then was taking off five episodes later, but he’s in very good hands with that cast and crew. He’s a remarkable professional and I know he’ll be fine.
I was aware that you talked to Frank Darabont that you were interested in seeing Lori die. Did you have any creative input into how she died?
Frank and I talked a lot about the necessity of Lori dying and he fought me on it. He thought he had a way around it, but we never had a chance to see how that would work out. Glen [Mazzara, Darabont’s successor as showrunner] and I talked about it a lot, not just what that scenes would be like, but how we earned that moment through the first two episodes of this season.
There was originally a different timeline, so we had longer to build to that moment, so when it got shortened we talked about what we needed to distill; what pieces had to be in place, both for Lori and Carl and for Rick and his development later in the season. In a way, it was an intimate process, because Glen lost his mother shortly before they started writing this season, so I was very aware that this was a scene that he had written about a woman saying goodbye to his son, having just said goodbye to his mother and heard many of those words.
With the actual script, I think we batted lines back and forth for about two weeks, and what we shot was a combination of those efforts. There were a couple of things I said that weren’t on the page, that were a product of sitting with Chandler in a room and trying to say goodbye to him. To me as an actor, I think the great gift of the scene was that I got to say everything I wanted to say to him and to the show and to the cast. People have asked me, ‘How does it feel to leave the show?’ and I just want to say, ‘Watch the episode and you’ll know exactly how I feel, because it’s all there.’ Certainly, for many of the other deaths that have come and will come, you don’t have that opportunity; you’re just walking along and somebody bites your neck and then it’s over. I think in a lot of ways it was a collaboration.
Can you talk about the composition of the final scene with Lori, Maggie and Carl in there and not having a final scene with Andy?
When we first read the script, Guy [Furland the director] said the danger becomes gross and the audience can’t watch. He said, ‘I don’t want anyone to have to look away,’ so I think visually the way he composed the scene was marvelous, because when I saw it, I saw it Friday night for the first and only time – I don’t know if I could take watching it again – and when I saw it, it wasn’t about, ‘Oh, gross, they’re cutting a lady open and yanking a baby out of her belly!’ It was about people, and I think Guy did a brilliant job of that.
I think in terms of the composition of the characters in that scene, the whole conversation that Lori has with Maggie is trying to get her to step up and be a matriarch. She’s asking her to do something that only the strongest people would be able to pull off, and until then, Maggie is a young woman, she’s Glenn’s girlfriend and she’s Hershel’s daughter, but she hasn’t necessarily come into her own as a woman. If there was anyone else around, Maggie wouldn’t do it. Hershel would do it, or Rick would do it or Darryl would do it; quite frankly, who better to cut open a living creature than Darryl, who’s dissected a thousand squirrels? So anyone else is better suited to this than Maggie, but Maggie is the one who’s there, so Lori has to turn her into a matriarch in the space of two minutes in order to save her baby’s life, and I think that’s a remarkable story, and obviously it will affect Maggie for the rest of the season, and likewise, Carl has to become a man in the space of the same two minutes, because there’s no one else to put Lori down, and there’s no one else to be the bearer of her final words.
And I think when it comes to Lori and Rick, it’s important for what happens to Rick later in the season that he replay that scene between the two of them at the end of episode two over and over in his head and think, ‘Why didn’t I tell her? Why didn’t I say, ‘I forgive you?’ Why didn’t I say I’m sorry? I think that’s the part of the show that’s honest. We’ve all lost people, thinking, ‘I was supposed to have more time.’ We were supposed to be able to have that tough conversation when things were better, and Lori and Rick have lived an entire winter knowing the stakes of this world that anyone can go at any moment, but they’re still been so mired in self-hatred and grief and loss that they haven’t been able to summon it. There’s a cost to keeping silent instead of saying what needs to be said, and for better or worse, Rick is about to bear that cost.
In the comic, Lori comes back in visions. Would you be open to returning like that?
I think that kind of a question has to do with, does it serve the story? Like I said, I’ve always felt that Lori’s death does something very important to Rick, which is to drive him crazy. In the comics, part of his madness is not quite being able to shake her. If that served the story they were going to tell going forward, absolutely. I can’t really envision a time when somebody called me up and said, ‘Hey, we wrote something for you and Andy Lincoln!’ and I said, ‘Nah!’ I don’t quite see that happening, but at the same time, we’ve taken so many departures that if they feel it would be foolish for Rick to be seeing ghosts, I’m okay with that too. To be honest, I haven’t really thought much past episode four, but I’m sure the writers have, and I’ve said from the beginning, anything that serves the story, I’m in.