‘The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live’ Pair on Bringing That Iconic Comic Book Scene to Harrowing Life

[This story contains major spoilers from The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live series premiere.]

There are a few iconic moments every Walking Dead fan knows right off the top of their head. Like the fall of the prison or Negan’s arrival via a bloody baseball bat. But those who only watch the AMC TV series, the ones who never read the comic books from Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard, missed out on one of the biggest milestones from the comics: Rick Grimes losing his hand, cleaved off during his first meeting with The Governor.

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These days, in the live-action version of the Walking Dead universe, the Governor is long gone. Now, finally, so is Rick’s hand.

In the opening minutes of The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live, Andrew Lincoln makes his triumphant return as Rick Grimes, last seen presumably killed in action (but actually alive, if not well, in a helicopter headed toward the unknown). What is Rick’s first course of action in his first on-screen appearance since a brief cameo in the flagship Walking Dead finale? Cutting off his own hand, in a moment of desperation, not to mention a huge nod to comic book fans.

Lincoln not only stars alongside Danai Gurira as Michonne, but the two of them are also hands-on executive producers (if you’ll forgive the poor choice of words). In the earliest stages of speaking with franchise architect Scott M. Gimple about how to continue Rick and Michonne’s story, they made the call to take Rick’s hand off the table.

“I’ve been banging on about this for years,” Lincoln tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I’ve been trying to get my hand chopped off!”

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead.
Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead.

The series takes place years after Rick’s exit from The Walking Dead (pictured above), with the former leader of Alexandria now serving as a reluctant soldier for the Civic Republic Military, or CRM, one of the last bastions of human civilization. Just one problem: the CRM are kinda evil. They have no problem destroying innocents if it means protecting the secrets of their society, which they hope to foster and grow for future generations of humanity.

Early in the premiere, viewers catch up with Rick shortly after his forced service begins, where he attempts to go AWOL in the middle of an operation. Unfortunately, his hand is attached to a tracking device, and the only way he can escape is by getting rid of the device, ergo, getting rid of the hand… and so he does exactly that, cleaving his own hand off, cauterizing the wound in the cavity of a flaming zombie, and almost escaping — but, not quite.

“When we sat down two years ago,” says Lincoln, “we talked about, ‘What do we need to do to get this right?’ Danai rightly said we have these two characters who left the mothership trying to search for one another. If we’re going back, what do we want to see?”

For his part, Lincoln wanted to remove Rick’s hand years ago. If the AMC series hewed more closely to the source material, it would have happened in season three, during Rick’s first meeting with David Morrissey’s Governor. In the past, Robert Kirkman has said he regrets cutting off Rick’s hand in the comics, but with only six episodes of The Ones Who Live on the table — and no future guaranteed beyond that — Lincoln and Gurira felt it was finally time to go through with it.

Rick Grimes in the comics.
Rick Grimes in the comics.

“This is more than just a nod. It’s honoring the story,” says Lincoln. “It’s what Kirkman did. It’s the nature of the world that we’re inhabiting in this. These people are not superheroes. They are people in extreme situations, doing horrendous things — sometimes brilliant but sometimes horrific things — in order to stay alive and keep those around them alive. So I was very keen to do this, and to hopefully have a very shocking first act that makes people sit back and think, ‘Oh, we’re in for a bit of a ride here. This is different. There’s real jeopardy here.'”

Even in the lead-up to the big choice, however, there were some doubts on set about the wisdom of going through with Rick’s behanding. In fact, Lincoln ran it past one of his close friends, his fellow Love Actually alum Bill Nighy. (“Not the science guy,” Lincoln quickly points out.) “I said to him, ‘What do you think about me taking my hand off?’ He went, ‘That’s a great idea! He did it in the comics!’ And I said, ‘It’s in the first episode,’ and he said, ‘Okay, that’s a terrible idea.'”

In the actual lead-up to the scene, Lincoln and company were filming in the freezing cold night, a grueling first bit of shooting, where no idea was too ludicrous to entertain. “‘If you’re half the method actor you pretend you are, and half the producer, you might do it for real, it saves a lot of time,'” Lincoln remembers with a laugh. But jokes aside, there were serious doubts, until his on-screen partner and fellow executive producer Gurira stepped in with a reality check.

“This is Rick Grimes,” Gurira tells THR. “He’s been gone for eight or nine years. We know him to be a man who would do anything, everything, to get back to his family. This is actually the most clear, character-specific justification for why he hasn’t done it yet. It really connects the audience back to Rick. This is what he would do to get back to Michonne. This is what he would do to get back to his family.”

Danai Gurira as Michonne - The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live _ Season 1, Episode 1
Danai Gurira in spinoff The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live

After talking it through with Gurira, any last-minute doubts Lincoln was feeling swiftly dissipated. “It’s so character-driven,” he says. “It justifies the time apart. It’s an emotional decision. It’s not about [shock], it’s about heart and trying to return.”

So, what does life look like for Rick with only one hand? For one, he has a fancy new prosthesis, militarized to the nines by the CRM, so Rick’s action scenes are not only just fine, but may even improve. (“I don’t want to spoil anything, but there’s a moment later on in the other episodes… no, I can’t,” Lincoln teases about what to expect from Rick’s newly severed limb.)

Beyond that, the majority of the series takes place years after Rick’s drastic actions, and he’s more ingrained in the CRM than he or perhaps even the audience expects. Whatever else comes on the other side of his reunion with Michonne, at the very least, the actors don’t regret a thing about honoring one of the Walking Dead comic books’ single most iconic moments.

“Forgive me, Mr. Kirkman,” says Gurira, “but I actually think this was better than the comic books!”

The six-episode season of The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live releases new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC and AMC+. Head here for a refresher on Rick and Michonne’s story.

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