‘The Walking Dead’ Interview: Andrew J. West Talks Terminus Spoilers, Gareth Backstory and More
'The Walking Dead' fans got their second taste of season 5's new big bad this past Sunday, as Terminus leader Gareth put the hurt on Rick and his crew, but will the scrappy survivor come back to bite everyone in the end? We talked to Andrew J. West himself for a course in 'Walking Dead' season 5 spoilers, including Gareth's mysterious past, and which cast member from the series might make for a good meal.
We've only scratched the surface of the philosophical and unimposing leader, who looked to survive the carnage of Sunday's premiere, and will seemingly pop up again in the future, at least by the trailers. Having noticed that "No Sanctuary" never explicitly confirmed the inhabitants of Terminus to be cannibals, we took the question to West directly for insight into Gareth's survival philosophy, and the abundance of secret-keeping from producers.
Below, West also clarifies a few points from the premiere, and digests who might make the best meal of all the different survivors:
How do producers coach you for interviews, when the show is so notoriously tight-lipped about spoilers?
I’m allowed to talk about things, as long as I don’t compromise or spoil any plot points or surprises, certain things that have to do with my character that will be revealed in episodes not yet aired. It can be a little bit difficult to talk about storyline, because there are so many surprises in the show, but there’s plenty to talk about. Luckily, now two episodes that I've done (counting the finale of last season) have aired, so there is some information about my character out there now that can be discussed
I've read that neither Scott Gimple nor Robert Kirkman would even confirm Gareth as having survived the premiere, despite the fact that he's seen outside Terminus in the trailer.
Yeah! You know, that’s the thing. The show is fantastic at planting these bombs that go off later in the season that end up being huge surprises for the audience, and it's great. One of the reasons why the show is so popular, I think it catches people off guard sometimes. So we see certain things in the trailer and the promos and pictures and things, but they’re not always exactly what they seem. I think it’s ultimately a good thing, it makes it more fun for the fans and the audience, and I think ultimately it maintains the integrity of the material. too.
I couldn't help noticing that no one actually said "cannibal" aloud, and we never quite saw anyone being eaten. Is that mystery intentionally still obscured?
I think Terminus in general still is very much a mystery. You’re right, we do see certain things, we are clued in on some things visually, and otherwise by what we see in the premiere, but there is more to be revealed about what was actually going on at Terminus. You don’t wanna speculate too much one way or another, because people jump to conclusions based on what they've seen, but I can say that there are more surprises coming up, and we’ll get into that fairly quickly in the season.
If you look at a lot of the interviews with Robert Kirkman or Scott Gimple, they have talked about how they’re not leaving fans hanging too long on what happened at the end of season 4. The premiere jumped right back into Terminus, right back into the world of Gareth and Mary, and our heroes locked in the train car, but there continue to be revelations that go on past the premiere. So I can't confirm or deny anything about Terminus at this point either, but it’s best that I don’t, because we’ll figure more out as we go along in the season.
To clarify a point I'm not sure was said aloud either, Mary (Denise Crosby) is Gareth's mother.
And that was his brother, whom he spoke to in the train car during the "Then" flashback, and was seen lying on a slab later.
That’s right, Alex. If you pay close attention, you see that it's Alex who was shot in the head by a resident of Terminus in the season 4 finale. Alex was killed, and we see him in the premiere actually lying on one of the tables, and being worked on. And that is Gareth’s brother.
And Gareth's family lived at Terminus before a gang of evil men took over.
You get the impression that my family was existing in this place from Mary’s speech that she gives Carol in the premiere. You can gleam that my family was a part of a community that did offer sanctuary, and something terrible happened to them. We catch glimpses of that in the flashbacks, the beginning of the episode and at the very end of the episode, and it had an effect on them, and it changed certain things for them. The ramifications of that, again, are revealed in the premiere to a large degree, but they aren’t fully revealed. And some of that stuff will be dealt with a little bit, as we move on.
Who do you think would be the most delicious character to eat? This may be a trick question.
I was talking about this with somebody. If all these characters were locked away on an island somewhere, and somebody had to go, it would be tough to pick. I will say I think you’d be pretty well-off no matter who you chose. It’s full of a bunch of cast members who take care of themselves, they work out. That meat would probably be grade-A, pretty high-quality stuff. There are very little toxins going on with these guys, I don’t think you’d have to avoid anybody, I think you’d be okay.
I figured Andrew Lincoln might be a little too stringy.
Yeah, he’s a healthy guy though! You might not get a feast that will last for days, but you know you’d be eating some good quality stuff.
Is Gareth the kind of character who would seek vengeance on Rick for destroying Terminus, or would he look to find a new group and start over?
Gareth is, at the end of the day a very pragmatic person. He is first and foremost concerned with survival. I've talked a little bit about this, but I have come to think of him as a philosopher of survival. He’s given what it takes to survive in this world an enormous amount of thought, and also the concept of survival an enormous amount. It’s something that he has meditated on, and has evaluated to a great length.
I’ve never seen him as a sadistic person, or a person who is concerned with vengeance, as much as he is concerned with a pragmatic system for living in the world in which these characters now live, which is radically different from a handful of years ago. So the decisions that he makes are based on this very well-thought out philosophy, which mainly centers on “how do I best survive? How does my group best survive?”
Did you make a conscious effort to distinguish Gareth from the Governor, or any of the other villains who came before?
Honestly when it comes to that, a lot of the heavy lifting was done by the writers. They know their show better than anybody, and they knew the ins and out of the Governor, and how to construct a very different character. For me, I just had to trust that I was in good hands and I did, because I was a fan of the show. I didn’t have to worry too much about “Oh, I need to make this a very different person, I need to approach this in a new way." It was a matter of bringing to life the character that the writers had created.
I certainly had talked with Scott Gimple and the other writers about the motivations of this character. We would get very specific on what I'm trying to do in each given scene, and why. While we were going, if there was something that needed to be addressed in performance terms, Scott Gimple and everyone are there, so we worked that stuff out on the spot.
Is it important to flesh out who Gareth was before the apocalypse?
Oh absolutely. It's hugely important, because who he was before, and the unique history that he has completely informs the decisions he makes from here on out. And it informs the philosophy that he’s developed. That has an enormous effect on who he has become, and how he views other people, and how he views the world in which all of these characters live.
That was the great thing about shooting the premiere, also was that I got a window into where this guy came from, what types of things he experienced, what he saw. That’s helpful for me as an actor, but what is very cool about the show is that the audience gets to see that too, and they get to catch a glimpse into the mind of this character. What I hope is, whether or not you agree the decisions that Gareth has made, maybe you at least understand the train of thought that has led to them. You might say that they’re terrible decisions, but you can say it’s coming from a reasoned position. Maybe we can call that rationality into question, but it has been thought out.
Gareth seemed to shrug off Bob's pleas about Eugene's cure. Does he not believe in the possibility, or simply not care?
I don’t think it's that he doesn’t care, I think he does care. It's something that the show itself will touch on down the road, and a lot of those answers will be revealed as we go on. I wouldn’t say that it’s a case of apathy on the part of Gareth. I think he cares very much about the best way in which to survive in this world. Whatever the answers to that may be, he cares about finding that answer.
We've heard some characters say that they're better off with the world gone to hell, is that true of Gareth as well?
That is a very interesting question, and some people would thrive in a post-apocalyptic world, as opposed to the world in which we all live. That’s a theme that’s touched on a lot in the comic book too, which is cool. The character Negan for instance has this sort of kingly existence, and you get the feeling that this was not that guy’s life prior to the apocalypse. I don’t think the apocalypse has treated Gareth well, I don’t think that he's a person who has necessarily thrived, but what's interesting about him is that he’s an extremely resourceful character. I've always thought of Gareth as a very intelligent character.
And even though this is a terrifying world, and the apocalypse caused all sorts of horror and hardship for him, he has found a way to bounce back, because he is resilient. Rick is the same way, and so is Glenn, and so are a lot of our heroes in the show. Gareth in a lot of ways was more similar to Rick or Glenn than he was to the Governor, but Gareth also had a completely different backstory, different things that had happened to him after the apocalypse. He was set off on a different path, and he made radically different decisions from Rick or Glenn.
Now, you can say that about the Governor too, but what I love about the show is I’ve never seen the characters on the show in terms of bad guy-good guy. They're all people who are infinitely complicated and idiosyncratic, and strange. You never know how somebody’s psyche may be affected by such a monumental event as the apocalypse, and Gareth is another expression of that effect.
Rick has his six-shooter, Daryl has his crossbow, Michonne her Katana. What's Gareth's weapon of choice?
We see him with a pistol in the finale and the premiere, but honestly, Gareth is the type of character who I think has done really well without a weapon. He’s the kind of guy who gets people to follow him and protect him, and think we see that in Terminus. In the premiere, you’ve got guys with baseball bats and with knives who are slaughtering people and you see Gareth walk in, and there isn’t really a physically imposing presence. He’s got a pen in his hand and a notepad, and he's ordering these guys around, and they are very much following his commands.
Anybody in this world is going to have to have a weapon, and Gareth has his gun, but what I think is cool about the character is that he’s a guy who doesn’t necessarily need one in this world.
Kevin Fitzpatrick is the carnivorous TV editor of ScreenCrush, an avid alliterator, and continues to win absolutely no awards. You can exchange recipes and character cannibalism choices over the Twitter.