Lori Grimes is committed to saving her son, Carl, from the clutches of the hungry undead that infest their post zombie apocalyptic world. And actress Sarah Wayne Callies, who plays Lori, is just as committed to AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and the story that has become a runaway hit with TV viewers, attracting a massive 7.5 million viewers for its second season premiere on Oct. 16.
[SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THE SEASON PREMIERE, GO DO IT AND THEN COME BACK.]
We talked to Callies this week ahead of the upcoming episode “Bloodletting,” which is a big one for her character. At the end of episode 1, Lori’s son Carl (Chandler Riggs) was shot and Lori finds herself having to take on additional responsibility as her husband, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) starts to unravel.
Without further preamble, read on for Callies’ thoughts on Lori’s strength, how season 2 differs from season 1, why survival is more important than Lori’s marriage and what big ratings mean for Callies — a chance to keep working on a show she loves:
We watched Sunday’s upcoming episode — it’s a big one for Lori. We really see more of her strength coming out. Is she taking the reins from Rick?
In some ways, yeah, I think she is. This is a woman who’s never considered herself any kind of leader or any kind of thinker, but she is seeing the ways in which the burdens of leadership are affecting her husband and he’s kind of going down a rabbit hole. And I think part of her says, “Okay, I’ll do it. I’ll take on as much responsibility as possible to protect you” and at another level she’s a mom and this is her kid and she is going to save him if she has to fight every walker in Atlanta with her teeth.
Are we going to see Lori get into any close calls with walkers? She’s always had someone around to help.
I think it’s inevitable that at a certain point in the story everyone is going to end up in an inadvertent dark corner with no one to defend them and they’re going to have to figure it out. Lori’s made some really smart decisions about keeping herself and her son safe, but as the pressures of what happens to Carl and what’s happens to Sophia mounts it clouds her decisions and she stops making decisions that are quite as smart.
So she maybe isn’t necessarily thinking with sentimentality in mind so much as survival…
I think thematically that’s more the story of the second season. These are people who are going from a sense of “We have to hold this together until the National Guard can come save us and we can get to Ft. Benning until we can somehow find a safe haven and people rescue us” to — one by one — people are starting to go, “Oh my god, what if this is the whole world now?” And that does start to shift everybody’s thinking and it makes some people very ugly. It makes some people very powerful. It makes some people very beautiful in their faith that we can all get through it, but it changes every one of us.
This is a pretty tough episode for Chandler Riggs, too. Do you feel a need to protect him on the set from some of the tough stuff that he’s acting out?
You’d be surprised how little protection they need. Chandler and Madison [Lintz] are sort of on the verge of teen-dom, but there’s still enough kid in them that they love and understand the world of imagination and the world of creative play. I’ve got a four-year-old and she spends three-quarters of her life in character pretending to be some princess or some knight or something — you know, I think kids are very conscious of the differences of the imaginative world and the real world and I think some younger children actually feel safer in the imaginative world sometimes. But Madison and Chandler are doing great and I don’t think there’s been any moments when we’ve thought they’ve fallen off the rails.
At the beginning, we flash back to a pre-zombie scene of Shane telling you about Rick’s shooting. There are definite vibes between you two, even then. Do you think Shane and Lori’s affair started before the zombies?
Wow, that’s interesting if you saw definite vibes there. That’s very interesting to me and news, to be honest. I mean, we’ll continue to learn about Lori and Shane and what happened. I think something that’s really significant about what’s going on between those two is the human capacity to remember what we wish had happened instead of what happened. And in moments of stress and fear and terror and loss and grief — such as the ones that everyone is living in all the time on the show — people’s ability to accurately recreate what actually happened falls off very quickly. So I think already Lori and Shane have very different versions of what happened between them and I think that continues to diverge.
Do you see their relationship as being over for good?
I think, with Lori what she wants is very simple: She wants to save the boy. She wants to protect the boy. And so I think that to the extent that Rick can convince her that he can do that, that his goodness and his morality will not get in the way of him doing everything that’s necessary to save Carl — to the extent that Rick can convince her of that, yes, I think she and Shane are over.
If there’s any question about Rick’s ability to care for her son, I think she will think very hard about anybody who seems to be able to do that.
In the comic books, aside from whether or not he can protect her and Carl, Lori’s feelings for Rick waffle a bit. And it looks like we’re starting to see a little of that in Sunday’s episode with the flashback where Lori’s talking to a friend about how her relationship with Rick isn’t ideal. What’s your perception of where things stood with Lori and Rick pre-zombie attack?
Well, you know — one of the biggest divergences from the comic book so far is that Lori and Rick had a great marriage in the comic book. One of the first things Lori says to people at the camp is “We were made for each other, things are great.” That’s not the case in our story. In our story, Rick and Lori have been on the rocks for a while and there’s some real concern about how they were going to make it in the long term. And I think in some ways, the zombie apocalypse is probably one of the best things that ever happened to their marriage. She’s seeing him take this place as a strong leader and hero and looks at this man and goes, “My god, there is a power in you and a passion and a heart in you that is breathtaking and I love you to bits,” and likewise, I think he’s seeing in her this emerging matriarch with the strength to not give a sh** about what anybody thinks of her opinions. And yet obviously there’s this situation with Shane that’s threatening to undermine things even further. Not even just by virtue of what’s happened but because it’s been kept a secret.
Are we going to get to a point this season where Rick finds out about what happened between Lori and Shane?
You can’t keep a secret like this for too long.
So the ratings for the season premiere were huge. Did you do anything special to celebrate on set?
Well, we were at work when we found out. And we’ve been at work every day since. I think we’re all really pleased, particularly because it increases the chances that we’ll be able to come back for a third season and do this again. But this is a pretty grounded group of people, which is to say we believe in this show because we’re proud of our w
ork and proud of each other and there’s genuine affection between us and the numbers reflect the opinions of a whole bunch of people and they’re great, but I don’t love the show because it has 7.5 million viewers. I love the show because these are great people to work with and great stories to tell, so I don’t want to sound ungrateful or like it’s not relevant, but when we come together to celebrate, we’re not celebrating numerical success — we’re just celebrating that we’re some of the luckiest people in Hollywood because we get to work together.