Uh, this article clearly has “Walking Dead” spoilers in it. You’ve been warned.
Early on in the “Walking Dead” comics, protagonist Rick Grimes loses a hand to The Governor. It’s an important moment in the books, and one that’s been teased all too often on the show.
For example, in Season 6, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) cut his hand on a blade that had been tainted with zombie blood. The moment caused fans to speculate: Would Rick finally lose the fated hand? Well, even though “The Walking Dead” revealed that weapons tainted with zombie innards can turn characters into zombies, it turned out our dude was good.
Later, in Season 7, Rick impales his hand while fighting a zombie with spikes jutting out of its body. Did he lose the hand then? Nah. It’s just a flesh wound!
Andrew Lincoln has been an advocate for the severed-limb storyline, but for whatever reason (money, it’s obviously money) it just hasn’t worked itself out on screen. Until now.
But it’s not Rick, entering into his last season as the show’s hero, who ultimately loses his arm or hand! Instead, that honor goes to Aaron, played by actor Ross Marquand.
In Sunday’s episode ― which featured Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) and Jadis/Anne (Pollyanna McIntosh) snogging it up, Carol (Melissa McBride) accepting an engagement ring from Ezekiel (Khary Payton), and a savior seemingly going missing after an attack by a mysterious figure ― it’s Aaron’s arm that gets trapped under some logs when walkers overrun a bridge-building operation. His limb is crushed so badly that Enid (Katelyn Nacon) is quick to suggest they amputate his forearm. To Aaron’s surprise, they do.
So it’s a remixed moment of sorts. Ahead of the episode’s airdate, Marquand hopped on the phone to explain the ordeal and tease his character’s upcoming dark turn.
How does it feel to lose the arm?
It’s such a huge shift for this character or any character. It’s definitely a show that’s no stranger to amputation. Both in the comic and also in the show, there are so many people who are either decapitated or they lose their leg in Hershel’s case ― or in Merle’s case he loses his arm, cuts his own arm off. There are so many scenarios where we see characters lose body parts, and it’s kind of the way of the world.
When [showrunner Angela Kang] presented the idea to me at the beginning of the season, I was over the moon because I just think it’s such a great story arc for Aaron, after having endured so much loss last year, losing [his boyfriend, Eric] and everything he’s endured now, to have a physical reminder of the loss that he has. I think he’s a very broken man, and I really love the challenge of playing Aaron not so much as this endlessly optimistic, diplomatic guy, but instead shifting into a darker head space.
The moment seems to reimagine when Rick Grimes loses his hand in the comic. Did you talk about that with Angela Kang?
I did to some degree, but as Angela pointed out, we don’t want to ever make it feel like that’s a plot point that we’re taking away from Rick. It just seemed like that was something she felt was such an interesting plot device, especially after this man has been a leader and so diplomatic and so kind to so many communities. He’s been really beat up by a lot of them and kind of given the short end of the stick at the hands of a lot of these communities. I think she wanted to give him a moment, a physical reminder of the pain, the loss he’s endured. I think it’s going to actually be a catalyst moving forward. It’s not going to be the thing that breaks him. It’s going to be the thing that gives him strength, and I think of course there’s parallels to Rick in the comic because he certainly loses his arm by the Governor. But I’m tickled to be able to be given this device.
Were you wearing a green sleeve? How did you pull off the missing arm?
There was use of a blue sock, but I think the viewers will have to see where that goes moving forward. I’m excited about where the character goes after losing his arm and how he deals with it. It’s a fascinating process.
A lot of people have been shipping Aaron and Jesus. What do you think about the possibility of that?
I think it’s a great possibility, and I think it’s kind of a natural progression for their characters. They’ve known each other for a while, and we get to the first episode, the first buddings of a real friendship, but also mentorship in certain aspects. Jesus is offering to take Aaron under his wing and teach him martial arts. I think that’d be fantastic.
You also have an amazing beard this season, which does remind me a little bit of Rick.
I talked to Angela about the beard quite a bit. I just said there needs to be a shift in his appearance from previous seasons because we’ve seen him be so clean cut, be so put-together in the beginning. He comes out of the forest when he first meets Maggie and Sasha looking like something out of a J.Crew catalog, and I just said, Alexandria has shifted so much over these last few seasons. The reality is almost every single person from Alexandria aside from him is dead. I mean, there’s only a few characters left from Alexandria. Enid is one of them, but now she’s more closely aligned with Hilltop, of course. There are very few people that still remain, so I think the loss, the heartache he endured and also the decay of Alexandria, that physical representation of decay in the town of Alexandria also needs to be represented in Aaron’s general appearance. I felt like the fastest way to go about doing it was to rock a pretty intense ZZ Top beard.
So what’s next? If you’re not taking Rick’s place from the comic, how is the show moving on past the Andrew Lincoln era?
I think it’s gonna be a massive loss, right? Not only just losing Andy, the actor, who is just a phenomenal guy and such a strong leader in his own right. I mean he sets the tone for the entire show, so I think what Andy has done in the last nine years is remarkable. He’s led the show to the success that it is, and I think it’s by no accident that he is our No. 1. I think it’s going to take some time for us all to pony up and be the best leaders that we can, and I think within the show, all the characters like Aaron are going to have to coalesce and find the strength in themselves to be the great leaders they can be.
There are a lot of new threats coming and I think it’s great, because when Aaron loses his arm he is of course devastated by it. But he uses it to become a better leader, and, yes, he’s a little bit darker and probably a little bit more jaded. A little bit more bitter. But I think he uses all that anger and that rage and channels it into something positive, and that’s what we’re gonna see in the post-Rick era.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.