For those who are not caught up with The Walking Dead, please turn away. This is the only spoiler warning you’ll get.
We’ve had a few weeks now to process some of the biggest casualties of Season 3 of The Walking Dead. We spoke with Sarah Wayne Callies who played Lori Grimes in exhilarating fashion by delving into the darkness of motherhood and marriage. Her departure has had the most impact of the show thus far, propelling several characters into new directions.
When the original showrunner, Frank Darabont was involved with The Walking Dead, they discussed doing the ugliest, dirtiest, most dangerous and sometimes most unlikable version of this character. And in Callies’ own words, they never chickened out. Interestingly, Darabont also told her that he didn’t need to kill her, that he could find a way around it. He fought with Callies on it. She replied to him, “Without due respect, sir, I do (need to die).” She continued, “Rick goes nuts because his wife dies and I think the way he goes nuts is pretty cool, and I think you’re going to want to do that at some point.” She understood that her death was a change in the balance between Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and that Carl was going to be a force to be reckon with. She felt that Lori’s pregnancy was a death sentence.
When Glen Mazzara took over, he spoke with Callies about her eventual final scene and how it worked–made more powerful than in the comics because of what Carl had to do–but also how they’d earn that scene by developing her story over Season 2 and the beginning of Season 3. Sadly, Mazzara lost his mother before principal photography began on Season 3 and that powerful final scene with Carl was written with life’s sorrow behind it; ultimately it was a scene about a mother saying goodbye to her son. Lori was able to redeem herself partially to her son and her marriage. Callies said that achieving those things in full would have been too neat for The Walking Dead, and too dishonest, but that steps were taken down that path of redemption. Interestingly, Lori’s death was actually moved up, the reasons were unknown to Callies (but we suspect Rick’s descent into madness was a logical exploration the show wanted to touch upon this season given how Season 2 ended and Lori’s death would be the best catalyst). We spoke briefly with Callies shortly after episode 304 “Killer Within,” specifically about her final scene and how it sets up the future of the show and the reaction Lori received from fans of the show.
BuzzFocus: Sarah, could we dissect your final scene? First, the visual composition.
Sarah Wayne Callies: I’m so grateful I got to do the episode with Guy Ferland, the director of the episode, who I adore and our days go back to Prison Break because we have such a long history and trust between us. If anyone’s ever looked at a Caravaggio painting–he said when we first looked at the script is that the danger in this is that it becomes gross and the audience can’t watch. He said, “I don’t want anyone to have to look away.” I think visually, the way he composed the shot was marvelous because when I saw it for the first and only time on Friday night–I don’t know if I can take watching it again. [Laughs] It wasn’t about being gross, cutting a lady open and yanking a baby out of her body. It was about people. And I think Guy did a terrific job of that.
BF: And then the fact that it’s comprised of Lori, Maggie and Carl.
SWC: In terms of the composition of the characters in that scene, the whole conversation 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. Until then, Maggie’s been a young woman, Glenn’s girlfriend, and Hershel’s daughter but she hadn’t necessarily come into her own as a woman. Lori keeps basically telling her–and this is the wrong frame, but we’ll use it ironically–you gotta man up. It’s time to put away your fears and your ‘I can’t do this’ and do what has to be done now. If there was anyone else in the room, Maggie wouldn’t do it, right? If Hershel was around or Rick were around, he’d do it. Or Daryl would do it. Quite frankly, who better than to cut open a living creature than Daryl who’s done stuff to a thousand squirrels [Laughs]. Anyone else is better suited than this than Maggie, but Maggie’s the one that’s there. So Lori has to turn her into a matriarch in the span of two minutes in order to save her baby’s life. I think that’s just a remarkable story and it will obviously affect Maggie for the rest of the season.
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. Maggie’s on the verge of hysterics but is also having to focus on the C-section so Carl has to take from Lori the last things that she says and carry those into the future, which is an enormous burden. I think it’s an amazing composition because you take a young woman and young man and Lori’s final act is to turn them into the adults to keep the baby alive.
BF: In typical television affair, we’d probably see a final scene between Rick and Lori, but not in The Walking Dead. Share your thoughts on not having a final scene with Andy (Lincoln) to act out Lori’s final thoughts and feelings to his character, Rick.
SWC: When it comes to Lori and Rick, it’s important for what happens to Rick later in the season. That he replay that scene, the end of episode 302 “Sick”, over and over in his head and go, “Why didn’t I tell her that I love her? Why didn’t i say, ‘I forgive you’? Why didn’t I say, ‘I’m sorry’? That’s the part of the show that’s honest. We’ve all lost people thinking, ‘I didn’t have enough time.’ We (Lori and Rick) were supposed to be able to have that tough conversation when things got better. Lori and Rick have lived an entire winter knowing the stakes of this world, that anyone could go at any moment and yet they could still be so mired in self-hatred, grief and loss. There’s a cost to keeping silent instead of saying what needs to be said. For better or worse, Rick’s about to bear that cost.
BF: Before we let you go, let’s bring up the vitriol that Lori received from a portion of the audience. You were just being truthful and honest to who Lori was and the decisions she was making. How did you sort all of that in playing her these past seasons?
SWC: To be honest I don’t go online so I don’t read that stuff. I’m aware it’s there because I’ve been told (showrunner) Glen Mazzara reads a lot of that stuff and interacts with it a bunch. What I read are the things that people take out time to write me so what I read are the fan letters that come to me in the mail. That’s 20 to 50 letters a week of “I love her. I love the work and I believe her. I’m a mom and it’s nice to have a woman on television I can relate to.” Those letters are overwhelmingly positive and I’ve actually never had anyone write to me and say, “I want your autograph, I love the show, but I hate Lori.” [Laughs]
And those people may be out there, but as far as I’m concerned, knowing that there was a reaction among a certain demographic of people who watch a show, then take the time to go online and tell us their thoughts about it–which I don’t know the percentage of the 10 million that watch the show are doing that–to those folks, I’ll be honest, I kind of dug it because the last character I played on Prison Break was kind of an angel and people loved and were very supportive of her. That felt good, but coming off of that show, one of my concerns was not to get stuck playing our lady of sorrows. Playing a heart-breaking heroine of a show that always does the right thing and stands by her man is very appealing. I loved playing Dr. Sara and I loved playing that part, but part of why I wanted to play Lori was because I find her to be a very different kind of woman.
So hearing that kind of controversy was going on online like, is she a good mother? Is she a good wife? It was kind of gratifying for me because it was evidence to me that I haven’t played the same character back-to-back. I’m growing as an artist and expanding my range, and that I’m not pigeon-holing myself doing the same thing over and over.
BF: It was a pleasure watching you play Lori these past two and a half seasons and we wish you success on your next role!
SWC: Thank you!
Watch new episodes of The Walking Dead on AMC Sundays at 9pm ET.