It’s probably not a coincidence that once Andrew Lincoln used the word combustible, he was then immediately asked about Rick’s mental state when we catch up with them this season. "He’s fine! What’s wrong with you guys. He was just a little tired," Lincoln said jokingly before praising the writers who did “magnificent job reeling him back in. It’s a man trying to reclaim the man he once was. Yeah, he’s… they’ve done a very smart thing." He stops before revealing ‘too much’ and is similarly tight-lipped when asked about whether the detective work we see him in the promo also helps bring out the old Rick, "I haven’t seen the trailer so I don’t really know. But yes, you do get a little sense of the old sheriff somewhat. At some point."
Season 3 ended with Rick not only in a more stable place mentally (not exactly difficult) but also declaring a more democratic decision making process in the camp. Lincoln explains that “we find him battling with trying to subdue the brutality that’s inherent in this man and also maybe relinquishing responsibilities of leadership for the sake of his family." What will the new, sideline Rick look like? "You see a man trying to be a single dad in an apocalypse. It’s a challenge. A challenge anywhere. He wasn’t changing many diapers last year." No, he certainly wasn’t. Unless his hallucination-wife was sporting some under that white dress. Lincoln was asked if audiences will get to see Rick return to a leadership role and he handle the question delicately.
Shocking, I know. "Yes. But I’m not sure that he’s willing to do it yet. He realized that the death of Andrea, along with Carl becoming a murderer, for all intents and purposes, were two huge turning points in making him return, or attempt to return, to the man he once was." Not letting that hang in the air too long, the actor qualifies it by adding, "I haven’t read all the scripts but thus far it’s a man wrestling with lots of things. A combination of him trying to do right in an impossible situation. I don’t know, he’s a born leader who keeps getting thrust into the line of fire and somehow finding the resolve to come back. I don’t think that’s changed in him but certainly his responsibilities massively changed."
Oh, and in case you didn’t notice Lincoln just called his TV son a murderer. To be fair, Carl totally is a murderer and it’s something that’s on the minds of many cast members. Wilson mentions how "there are a lot of issues left over from last season, look closely at what happens to Carl. Where is he going? As he grows up, what’s he turning into?" Hershel was the one who brought the boy’s troubling development to his father’s attention and often serves as the moral compass of the show. Nicotero adds that "everybody has had to do terrible things to survive in this world. Carl shot somebody in the face!" But Nicotero also points out that one of the central purposes of the show is to make characters "question their own humanity. And truthfully, the big question is can you come back from that? Can you do things that you need to do to survive?"
Of course, these people don’t just have to worry about themselves but also the safety of their loved-ones and that’s when characters start to do really crazy things. (The Governor.) Nicotero continues by asking "what would you be willing to do to keep someone safe? What would you be willing to sacrifice? We get into those themes a lot in Season 4." Keeping someone safe doesn’t mean protecting them only from physical harm but also from all the mental damage this world can inflict and Nicotero once again references Carl shooting a kid in the face and how "that moment of just abject horror where Rick sees what his son is capable of, he realizes that my responsibility is making sure that, in this world where no rules apply, my children have to grow into human beings that aren’t completely devoid of any emotions or any feelings."
He adds that "Rick makes a conscious decision that Carl and Judith are of primary importance." Lincoln doesn’t want to imply that all will be well in the Grimes’ house though, even with all the parental attention. The actor brings up "the last shot you see of him and the boy, it’s a boy shocked at the decision he makes - to bring in the people from Woodbury. These are two people that are very much at odds. They do a very smart thing. I don’t know if I can talk about it." He looks to the producers at the table for guidance and their pursed smiles say it all. “No," Lincoln answers his own question, adding “they did a really smart thing. Stay tuned."