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‘Walking Dead’ Q&A: Melissa McBride On Carol’s Cookies, Daryl and Going Undercover In Alexandria

Spoiler Warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “The Walking Dead” season 5, episode 13, titled “Forget.”

Don’t mess with Carol on “The Walking Dead” — as if you needed another reminder. The fan favorite badass played by Melissa McBride has survived an abusive husband, the zombie-fication of their daughter, the loss of numerous friends (including Lori, T-Dog, Hershel and Tyreese), banishment from her group, killing a sociopathic preteen (Lizzie) and even getting hit by a car. If anyone seems indestructible on “The Walking Dead” at this point, it’s Carol.

That’s why seeing her take charge in Alexandria by going undercover as a happy, helpless, homemaker has been such a hilarious change of pace. At least until tonight, when she unleashed a menacing monologue on one of Alexandria’s youngest citizens after he stumbled upon her raiding the town’s weapons stash. To summarize: “You won’t be able to run away when they come for you, and they will eat you up when you’re still alive” (if you tell anyone what you saw). Or, stay quiet and “you’ll get cookies, lots of cookies.”

Exactly what kind of goodies does Carol bake anyway? “Rationed chocolate and secret substitutes — Achocolypse cookies!” jokes McBride.

Variety spoke with the actress before this week’s installment aired to find out what was really going through Carol’s mind during that scene, what she thinks of Daryl’s sudden change of heart, dressing the part in Alexandria and how she dealt with the loss of Tyreese.

Carol threatening Jessie’s son was a “holy crap!” moment. We know she killed Karen and Lizzie and was able to rationalize those choices, but do you think she would actually hurt an innocent child to protect herself?
It’s coming off as her threatening him, but what she’s talking about is the threat of what could happen to him. She doesn’t say, “This is what I’m going to do to you,” but her body language sure lets him think she could. She wants to frighten him because the stakes are so high if she’s caught. She’s telling him, Carol being the realist, that there are real threats out there: If I can get the guns, I can keep us safe from those. We can’t be walking around without weapons. If you go and tell, this is what could happen. Let me tell you about Bob … If you’re tied to a tree the monsters will be eating you alive, and I’m not even talking about the walkers. I’m talking about other people. When the stakes are so high, Carol doesn’t mind coming off as a threat to this kid, and not sugar-coating things.

It did remind me of Carol teaching the kids at the prison to protect themselves, which in turn felt inspired by Sophia’s death.
Yeah, and I think too when she first turns around there’s that thought of, “Oh, another child.” I loved how Bear McCreary underscores that scene. Dreamy and then little bits of a nightmare, it’s just hypnotic.

In the aftermath of Beth and Tyreese’s deaths, Carol tells Daryl she can’t let herself feel but that he has to. Do you think she has walled herself off post Sophia, post Mika and Lizzie, post all of it? Will that wall ever come down?
She has compartmentalized definitely. In order to do the things she needs to do she can’t get in the way of herself by being emotional. She’s an emotional person. That’s part of how she’s surviving. Just try to keep moving forward, and maybe there will come a time. I do love what Alexandria represents, and what we bring from every step we’ve taken to that point. Once you know something, you can’t not know it. (Carol knows what it’s like) when everything you thought was true suddenly isn’t. She’s seen that with Ed. She’s seen that with Terminus. How do you hold on to something like that and move forward?

It looks like there might be some friction between Daryl and Carol when he tells her and Rick they don’t really need guns. What is she thinking when Daryl says that?
I think she doesn’t really know what to think. It’s kind of like, “Wait, what happened?” He knows the threats and risks. We were so adamant that everybody try and now he doesn’t want that extra protection. It’s very concerning.

What was your reaction when you found out about the Alexandria storyline? It’s quite a change from playing around in the dirt.
It was kind of like, “Now tell me this again? You’re building a city in the middle of the town where we shoot?” I know that area, it’s just beautiful. I asked where base camp would be, and it was right there. I was like, “Wow, this is convenient and clean. Where’s this going? Hmm.” It was kind of exciting but the comfort was just … weird. As weird as it was for these characters.

That must have helped you with how Carol sees it. There are the people like Michonne who really want to believe Alexandria will work out, and those like Carol who are a lot more skeptical.
She’s trying to get a grasp on what’s what. Sure, there’s a desire for this to be over with and for the new community to happen, for there to be some normalcy. But at the same time, what is normal? Your normal is not mine. Are (the people of Alexandria) being naive? Or are we just so traumatized? And why do they trust us?

Why does Carol adopt this undercover strategy? It seems instinctive and not like a plan she worked out with Rick.
Yeah, I think it was her leading herself. After all we’ve been through, this could be a really good way for her to find out what’s going on (in Alexandria) and to be the kind of person nobody sees as a threat. She can maneuver her way around and find out what’s going on. There’s still a threat out there, and not just the walkers. People can be the biggest threat.

As they’ve seen time and time again.
Time and time again. “Those who arrive survive”? Mmhmm, yeah right. It’s appearances. Appearances are deceiving and Carol knows that, she’s playing that.

Exactly, she’s using that to her advantage now. Carol’s new wardrobe is so funny — as Daryl said last week, “You look ridiculous,” but in the best way. What did you think when you saw the costumes?
I thought, “Ooh. Oh … wow.” Because we don’t get scripts ahead, so I thought, “What’s going on here?” In a nutshell (the costume designer) said, “She’s kind of going undercover.” I thought, “This will be interesting. How long is this going to last?”

And how does a sweater fit into this?
Right. We had so many options we went through. There was a big pile of, “No. No. No. Not that.” Until we found, “This is good. Is it too much?” “Kind of, but it’ll work.” The cast and crew reaction was wonderful.

What did they do?
I came out of a van in Alexandria on one side and then the van pulls away and I’m standing there. One by one it starts to get a little quiet, and then laughter. And a lot of, “What are you doing!?” I just had to say, [in a sing-song voice] “Hiiii. Tee-hee-hee.”

I imagine it was like everyone seeing Andrew Lincoln without his beard. What was your first reaction when you saw him clean-shaven again?
I was there right after they shot the scene. It was weird. I could tell he was a little weirded out. Happy to have it off, but at the same time just like Rick, like, “Wow.” Everybody is trying that thing — it’s weird to see Michonne in a dress.

They’re such drastic changes.
But it all perfectly plays into the theme of normalcy and trying to be normal. And is that even possible?

We know Carol isn’t telling the truth when she says “I miss that stupid wonderful man every day” about her terrible late husband Ed in her interview with Deanna …
She’s not telling the whole truth!

Right. Is there any part of it that is true? Is it painful for her to think of Ed?
I think it’s regretful, and speaks to the theme that all things are not what they seem. At what point was Carol so duped by a human being who she placed every bit of her trust in? When she’s saying, “I gardened. I did laundry. I had dinner on the table for Ed every night” — sure, she did. She’s a people person. But that part of her got so sidetracked by Ed revealing himself to be this abusive person. She probably does miss the stupid wonderful man she knew in the beginning. But the smile is the lie.

Deanna says she’s a poker player, but can she see Carol’s bluff? Or is Carol too good of a bluffer?
That’s to be determined … But Carol is more of a chess player.

Carol wasn’t really in Tyreese’s final episode, and we didn’t get to see her reaction to his death. Was that something that was ever scripted or something you thought about?
There was nothing scripted but I think at this point there is just so much loss, Carol is even more adamant. (She’s feeling) so aggravated and frustrated with the world and the way it is and losing loved ones. It’s an “I’ll be damned” kind of attitude. It plays into why she can’t let herself feel — it’s too much, she’d just be a basket case at this point. But Daryl, with his guilt, he has to face it and move on …

There was a line in episode (510) when Maggie was at the trunk of the car. She looks at the walker in the car, and closes the trunk. Then she says, “I closed it, but it’s still there.” That was my favorite line in that episode. It’s always going to be there, you have to deal with it.

Did you visit the set during Chad L. Coleman’s final episode?
I did. I got to see him work and he’s just so amazing. Then to see it all together … I miss Chad Coleman so much, and look forward to seeing more of his work. His performance blew me away to another stratosphere.

Were you there when Brighton Sharbino (Lizzie) and Kyla Kenedy (Mika) shot their cameo?
I didn’t get to see them when they were in town but I do see them at conventions. They’re so awesome. It was cool to see them in that episode: “It’s better now.”

What was it like to shoot the scene in episode 510 with everyone at the barn door, holding back the walkers during the storm?
We loved it. It was so kumbaya — all of us coming together against the forces outside. There’s so much beautiful love and trust among our cast. We’ve got our faces in each other’s armpits — we got very close. And it went on and on because we got so much different coverage of each individual person as they came. I don’t feel like I’ve ever experienced being in the same world all at once with everybody like that, on a character level and on an actor level. It was so cool. Exhausting, but very cool.

“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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