Warning: If you have yet to watch Sunday’s Walking Dead midseason finale, steer clear of the following, spoiler-packed post mortem. Bookmark it and return after you have seen the episode. Everyone else, please proceed.
That noise you hear is the sound of millions of Walking Dead fans losing their heads (and then groaning about that pun).
As per tradition, the AMC hit’s latest midseason finale featured a high body count — and two series regulars were among the casualties. But while few tears will be shed over The Governor’s (David Morrissey) demise, the decapitation death of Scott Wilson‘s beloved Hershel will go down as one of the show’s most heartbreaking losses.
In the following exclusive interview, Wilson reveals how — and when — he learned of Hershel’s sad fate, recalls his emotional final day of shooting, and confirms that, yep, he got to keep the head.
TVLINE | How long have you know this was going to be Hershel’s fate?
Knew or suspected? [Laughs]
TVLINE | Both.
I knew for certain after [we shot] Episode 4.05. And I suspected before that.
TVLINE | What led you to suspect the end was near?
In 4.03, Hershel took some very proactive positions. When he went into the prison with the elderberry tea I said, “Uh-oh.” [Laughs] And then in 4.05, it was a lot of Hershel being very proactive. I suspected it, and it was confirmed after we were through shooting that episode.
TVLINE | How was it confirmed to you?
[Scott] Gimple, the showrunner, had me come in. We sat down and had a conversation, and he explained what he was doing and why he was doing it. It’s not an easy position for him to be in. He is doing what he believes is best for the show. And so far I think he has been on point.
TVLINE | What was your initial reaction?
It was disorienting. It would be under any circumstance. There’s no good time to tell someone that they are expendable. I would have preferred to still be there. I’m not, and now I’ll just be a fan instead of a participant.
TVLINE | What explanation did Scott give you?
A lot of the conversation was confidential. If I were to talk too much about it, I wouldn’t be doing him any service or the show any service. But it was going to be someone. It’s the halfway point of the season — you know someone’s going. And it happened to be my turn.
TVLINE | What was your reaction when you heard the way Hershel was going out?
The thing to me that is even more important than him being decapitated were the positions he took in 4.03 and 4.05. Those two episodes are more important than the way he lost his head at the end. I would assume that there will be some kind of audience response to Hershel losing his head. I would not want to be David Morrissey. [Laughs]
TVLINE | I’m guessing there was a replica of your head lying around on the set.
In fact, there was.
TVLINE | Did you hold it? Play with it? Take it home?
I didn’t play with it. I didn’t go bowling with it. [Laughs] But I do have [the head], which is very nice. I have it hidden in my closet.
TVLINE | Speaking of David, any thoughts on the Governor’s death?
He has done such a fantastic job. The more people are happy that he’s gone the more accolades he deserves.
TVLINE | Hershel cheated death so many times over these three years. He even survived an amputation. What do you think was the secret to his longevity?
I just know that he was a lot of fun to play. This is the first time that I’ve arced a character out for two-and-a-half seasons. Hershel went on quite a journey.
TVLINE | You watched a lot of your co-stars get killed off over these three years. Was there one goodbye that was especially tough for you?
I miss every one of them. They helped build the fan base, they helped get people interested in watching the show every week. And when they go, you can’t forget their contribution to the show. We walk on their shoulders. And now I guess they’ll be walking on my shoulders. Or my head. [Laughs]
TVLINE | Which castmember took your departure the hardest?
It was such an interesting day, my last day on the set. Everyone came out wearing suspenders. [Laughs] The cast, the crew — everyone had suspenders on. It was very heartwarming to see that they cared that much about me leaving. There’s a bond there that will endure… The entire cast is just fantastic. And the show is going to do very well without Hershel.
TVLINE | Will you continue to watch the show?
I will. As a matter of fact, I’ll probably watch it sooner now than I did before. I used to watch it after the season was over.
TVLINE | I hear your 99-year-old mother is a big Walking Dead fan. Did you warn her about this episode?
I did. [Laughs] I figured she wouldn’t tell anyone. I said, “If you don’t want to watch, don’t.” But she was going to watch.
TVLINE | Any concern about her watching her son get decapitated?
She’s seen her son get hanged [in 1967's In Cold Blood]. I remember asking her, “How was it seeing your son get hanged?” She said, “That wasn’t my son. That was Richard Hickock.” [Laughs] She’s pretty aware of what’s going on. Amazingly so.
The Walking Dead Season 4 resumes Sunday, Feb. 9 on AMC.
Beth expresses my feelings best.