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The Walking Dead

AMC

After a particularly brutal season premiere that left us wondering just how much more of of this show we can even take, The Walking Dead slowed things down a bit for its second episode of the season.

Rather than return to Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the gang as the attempted to pick up the pieces following Negan's (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) brutal murder of Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Glenn (Steven Yeun), we checked in with Carol (Melissa McBride) and Morgan (Lennie James). When last we saw them, Carol had been seriously wounded by a Savior, one who forced Morgan to abandon his "no kill" credo, and the pair were rescued by some strange looking folks wearing armor while riding horses.

As promised, this led to the Kingdom, an unusually jolly compound (Lunch cobbler! A choir!) led by the strange, but kind King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and his pet tiger, Shiva. As Carol recovered (and plotted her next escape), Morgan was made privy to Ezekiel's trade agreement with Negan (weekly payments of food in exchange for their safety) and enlisted to train one of Ezekiel's subjects in the way of aikido. When Carol finally put her escape plan into motion, she was confronted by Ezekiel, who dropped his larger-than-life persona, revealed he was just a former zookeeper only giving the people what they want, and pleaded with her to "go and not go."

In the end, she left the Kingdom, but took up residence in a house just outside of the compound. As she began to make herself comfortable, there was a knock at her door (and a roar), it was Ezekiel and Shiva coming for a visit. As the episode closed, we got one of the rarest TWD sightings: A genuine smile on Carol's face.

What does this all mean for Carol? To find out, E! News got McBride on the phone to break the refreshingly light episode down. What follows is that conversation.

At the top of the episode, Carol's befuddled performance that she's giving Ezekiel as she's trying to figure out what the hell is going on was fun and so funny. What was it like getting to play that performance aspect?
It was a lot of fun, but I think she is genuinely befuddled and kind of mixing it up with her other persona because she doesn't know. She's playing it safe. But to answer your question, it was a lot of fun playing that. Getting those little looks between Carol and Morgan, me and Lennie—it was a lot of fun. It felt strange. It felt strange, you know? But I certainly enjoyed it.

The Walking Dead, Negan, Jeffrey Dean Morgan

AMC

Obviously, when she gets out of the auditorium, she's still as determined as ever to get away. What's going in Carol's mind in this her episode?
It is that determination. She's really trying to save herself in a way. She doesn't want to be around more people. She doesn't want to form new relationships. She doesn't want to be responsible for other people. She doesn't want to be obligated to anything. [Laughs] She just wants to get away. At the top of that episode, we see her seeing those walkers coming at her and morphing back into real people. At this point, she just really has had enough. Her spirit and her heart and her mind and everything she's had to do—she's had enough of seeing the death and then having to remember the people that are behind the death and the dead people that were somebody at some time.

The Walking Dead

AMC

Her relationship with Morgan is becoming one of our favorites on the show, especially the resigned respect they have for one another at the end of the episode when he takes her to the house. What's it been like developing this relationship with Lennie, evolving from the adversarial place they were at last season?
Gosh, you know, it's interesting because I think there is a little bit of me—I just have so much respect for Lennie and the work that he does and his mind frame on set and how he approaches things. We also approach things similarly, as far as how we work together, and I think that definitely is mirrored a little bit in their relationship and how Carol see him. She doesn't want to like him, she doesn't want to care. She doesn't want his help. She doesn't want to have to thank him for anything or look out for him.

She just wants to get away, but I think they both realize they're in a difficult spot on their own in this world, you know, where they stand and how they look at it. And it's not too far from one another. One was so over-zealous and lost, killing everything that moved and then found a different place to be in, where that really doesn't work either, he found. And Carol was just hellbent on obliterating the enemy before anything happened, and I think they're kind of in the middle where let's just try to avoid what we can while we can, I think. So there is a mutual understanding, to a certain capacity anyway.

The big scene between Carol and Ezekiel at the end in the garden where he drops his King Ezekiel facade and really lets her know who he is was incredible to watch. How much of Ezekiel's plea to Carol got through her and has affected the person she was when she came into the Kingdom? After all, she did choose to go, but not go.
I think it affected her very deeply. It was like he was speaking her language, saying, 'I understand where you're at. Don't go all the way away. Take that time. I'll give you a place, and just go be there. Don't go away.' When he says 'Where there's life, there's hope. Where there's life, there's life'—I think she just needs to take baby steps back into it after all that's happened, you know? But she really did appreciate his own guard coming down...There was a lot of truth in what he said. Whether or not she wanted to hear it, I think in the end she heard what he was saying.

Tell me about getting to work with these new actors in this new world Carol's found herself in. Obviously, it's such a different lane for the show to drive in, with the humor and the outlandishness of King Ezekiel. What was it like?
For me, it was refreshing and it was surreal. We've never had anything like that, obviously. It was very different, and I was kind of alone out there. So being on set without any of our initial group of survivors, it was very strange. [Laughs] It was like, OK, well, this happens. We run into all different types of people, there's new factions. Carol's just found herself in a new place. I was just having fun. It was fun to shoot. It was great just seeing this whole refreshing new set and these people. You know, the new characters...The whole thing was refreshing to me and it was interesting to explore and fun. I'm kind of excited to see where all this is going.

When Ezekiel shows up at the house at the end and brings her the pomegranate, we end on that smile. It seemed to me like the first real smile we've seen from Carol in a very long time, if ever. How did it feel to let that genuine happiness creep in for the character?
So awkward! [Laughs] It's so awkward. It's kind of frightening. Should I even let this happen, having a smile crawl across my face? Does she even remember how? It's like, that's weird. This is new. It was awkward—and funny. But it was awkward. I really loved shooting this episode.

What can you tease about the road ahead for Carol as it relates to Ezekiel and this relationship she's building with him?
There's nothing! [Laughs] Well, they're building something. They're definitely building something. You never stop building when you're in the apocalypse. If you're not running, you're building.

The Walking Dead

AMC

Not having been in the premiere, what was it like to tune in and watch that?
Oh my God, I cried through the whole thing. As a viewer and coming to know these characters, it was heartbreaking. And the way that they shot it and the way it was edited, and the way Jeffrey Dean Morgan played that character and the way he went at killing those two, it was insane. I just hated him, and I hated that episode. That's one of my favorite episodes, and that makes me so mad.

That made me mad. I was like, 'How can I like that episode? Why in God's name do I think this is...'—One of the things I said is, 'This is really a beautiful episode. What is wrong with me? How did they make me feel that way?' I was watching it as a viewer who loves the show. And then, you know, they'll cut away and do something else and Negan says something—I mean, the line is funny. He says some funny stuff. And then I laugh, and I'm like, 'Why am I laughing? I hate them! Don't make me laugh! I don't like the way you make me feel.' You know what I mean? And then after it was over...it was like I didn't know what to do with myself. We all clapped when it was over because job well done for the cast and crew. And then we got up and were kind of dispersing, just looking at each other like, 'I don't know what to say.'

How has the cast been recovering from the loss of Steven and the loss of Michael? What's that process been like?
It's still really hard. We miss them so much. You just feel that void. You feel it. Nothing takes their place. But it's good that you can get a text, make a phone call, hear their voice, see them out at events and things like that. So, they're gone, but they're never far.

How important was it for this episode to be the one that followed that massive trauma of the premiere?
I think we kind of need to take a good breath and lighten up and see the fresh flowers. You know, get some chuckles and check in with our other characters. There is a lot of story to tell this season, I can tell you that. A lot.

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