Always ready to defend his friends or say a one-liner worthy of printing out and hanging on your wall, it's easy to see why Abraham is such a fan favorite character on AMC's The Walking Dead. Following the season 7 premiere, Daily Dead, along with other journalists, recently had the opportunity to take part in a conference call interview with Cudlitz, who discussed filming the group's introduction to Negan and Lucille, the family dynamics of the show, and finding creative ways to keep a crucial secret in between seasons 6 and 7. [Spoiler warning for those who haven't watched the first episode of The Walking Dead Season 7.]

Michael Cudlitz talks about when he first heard of his character's fate in the season 7 premiere:

"I found out about actually a year and three months ago. They had told me that [they were] going to take me out and I also knew about Steven [Yeun]. In the end, they were talking about the end of season 6, the beginning of season 7. They weren’t sure exactly how they were going to do it. Scott [M. Gimple] wasn’t sure how he wanted to structure the storytelling for the greatest impact, obviously.

One of the good things was that we [were] able to spread a rumor that not even the cast knew what was going to happen. They were going to find out when they came back, and they said they filmed everybody’s death scene just in case, and they said they were redoing contract negotiations for some of the cast and we weren’t sure who it was going to be. All that was a lie. But what it enabled us to do was not to have to defend who was dead or hide who was dead for at least five months, which was great."

Cudlitz comments on working with Jeffrey Dean Morgan for the first (and last) time:

"From an acting standpoint, to watch him come in and build his character literally in the two days that we saw him working, all the coverage was on us and every take he would do, he would keep something that worked and get rid of something that didn’t and add something in. And so every time we saw it, it was new from an acting standpoint, from a reaction standpoint, and we are all sitting. The configuration of how we’re sitting is a semicircle. So you’re literally able to watch everybody while they work.

It was a very, very satisfying, very unique situation. Once again, Jeffrey couldn’t have been more loved coming in. And having spent more time with him, he’s even more loved and appreciated by everyone on the cast, including those that have been taken out. So it’s a great relationship. We all know. We’re all professionals. We do this for a living. We love doing it. Obviously, we will miss the people that we're not working with anymore. But that’s par for the course."

How did Michael Cudlitz keep Abraham's fate a secret for more than a year?

"On paper, theoretically, I’m not supposed to tell anyone. But obviously, I told my wife because it would be kind of strange just sleeping in every day in Los Angeles if I’m supposed to be in Atlanta. It’s not a real practicality not telling her. I told her. I told my kids last spring for the same reason when they came home from school. It’s sort of like, “Why is daddy home?”

So, yes, other than that, nobody knew. It’s not a very difficult secret to keep other than those logistics of it, other than being at home, having to keep my hair dyed. I tend to travel a lot. Any opportunity anyone asks me to travel or go do something I would say "yes" to keep me not in one place too long.

The great thing about our show this past year has been that there are 20-some-odd regular cast members. So people had time off. This is one of the first years that I think Andy [Lincoln] was able to go home for a few days in England, because maybe that episode didn’t have him in a lot or at all. It’s the first time he’s been able to do that in six years."

Was the peace sign from Abraham before his death a message to Sasha?

"It was for Sasha. Nothing is to the audience, ever, I think. Everything is for the audience, but nothing is to the audience. For those paying attention, and obviously you were—I don’t mean that sarcastically—the peace sign was something that went with me and Sasha, or Abraham and Sasha, throughout the whole series. It was this unspoken, this very loaded peace sign.

We had to find a way for Abraham to connect with Sasha for him to say goodbye specifically to Sasha because we had already established in the finale of last year that eye contact was not broken. You saw Abraham, didn’t know it was Abraham, but you saw Abraham’s point of view when he got hit by the bat, he got knocked down. He came back up. We could dialogue, because we didn’t know if he was talking or not, which is the “suck my nuts” line, but there was no way for him to literally turn away and address anyone, even kind of nod, and nothing to Sonequa [Martin-Green], because we’ve already filmed that.

For those who caught it, I think [it was] highly, highly effective. And for those who didn’t, I don’t think you missed anything in the sense of it didn’t take away from your experience."

How did Michael Cudlitz trick people who were trying to figure out if his character had died?

"Well, the best thing to do is sort of just pretend like it’s just normal. So somebody bumped into you, I say “Hey, what’s up, man?” I say, “Hey, what’s going on?” “You go to Atlanta yet?” “Leave in two days.” Everywhere I went I would tell somebody we’re leaving in two days or I just got in town. It was always I’ve just gotten here or just leaving. So people who were pretty close to me really didn’t know what was going on because I was traveling either to do a convention that they didn’t know about.

So unless you’re really, really following me, which I’m sure a couple of people did, they would write to me on Twitter and stuff and say, “We know you’re not there,” whatever, and it’s almost like I want to tell them to shut up but you can’t.

But, I went into the guy who cuts my hair and I’ve gotten my hair dyed and he says, “Oh, aren’t they doing it in the show anymore? What’s going on?” I told them that, “Well, if I do it at home, I get to stay home an extra day because if I go out there, then they have to bring me in a day or two early because they got to get it done before I shoot and sometimes it wraps around a weekend.” So that one day could mean three days. So I told the guy who cuts my hair that, “If you do it, they’ll allow me to stay in LA a day longer and I can hang out with my family longer.”

So even he was on board and he sort of didn’t really figure it out because I would come in every three weeks or so. So it was a process. The guy at the gym at the desk said, “I’m getting a little concerned because you’ve been in for a lot of days in a row now.” And I would say to him, “No, I’m actually leaving tomorrow.” And then for the next two weeks I would go to a different gym."

During the “eenie, meenie, miney, moe" scene, was Negan actually picking people at random? Michael Cudlitz thinks it was all part of Negan's plan to gauge the group:

"So far as the “eenie, meenie, miney, moe,” I think that he was gauging the group. I do think that Abraham did definitely stand up and, literally was a “Fuck you, take me.” That’s him sacrificing himself for the group to protect Sasha, because he feels like that is what needs to be done. He would give his life to protect anyone in this group, obviously.

And, as anyone, if you have children, it’s the same feeling. He feels he had taken care of these people for a very long time and you are willing to sacrifice yourself for your children. It’s not demeaning anyone else in any way. That’s just saying that the love that he has for this group is the same as a parent to their kids, and he’s literally willing to die for his brother. He has become a soldier-at-arms with all of these other people and he is literally willing to give the ultimate sacrifice.

So as far as from Jeffrey’s standpoint or Negan’s standpoint, I think it’s a chess game for him. You have to figure [out], who do you take out? Do you take out the strongest guy to make a point and show that you will take out anyone? Do you take out the weakest to show that you don’t care? Which makes you even more twisted in a way? What do you have to do to this group to have the biggest effect? Do you take out the biggest guy, who actually could be an asset to you? It’s interesting.

So what he sees as the biggest asset, the kind of personality that he likes best, we see ultimately in the end is he’s intrigued by Daryl. He wants to know what makes Daryl tick. And if you look at his group, they all sort of fall in line, there’s definitely a biker element to it. There’s more of an element of less or nonconforming, and you can see that. Daryl fits more with his group probably than anyone in our group, just from a physical standpoint. So you wonder, "What’s going on there?" I think he wants to see what makes him psychologically tick.

I think the “eenie, meenie, miney, moe” was deliberately directed at each different person so Negan could read them, figure them out, look in their eyes, and see who he was dealing with. And he did it quite effectively."

It was important for Michael Cudlitz that Abraham's death didn't take away from Glenn's:

"I was actually concerned about that going in, because I’m a fan of both the graphic novel and the TV show. So as a fan of the TV show, when we were doing this, when the scripts came up, I was very specific to Scott and I said, “This cannot, in any way, take away from Glenn’s death.” Glenn has a much more cemented emotional place in this show.

Look, I get it. The fans love the Abraham character. I’ve been very blessed to be on this show. I had a great time. I get it. The fans love me. But the character of Glenn, we’ve watched him grow up from a kid. We are so much more invested in the whole journey of Glenn than we are in Abraham. We’re starting to get invested in Abraham so far as seeing a future [for him] and we’re definitely on board.

But, from an emotional standpoint, the weight all falls on the Glenn death. So I was very happy, actually, with how that was put together, how it was scripted, how Abraham got to take it like a soldier, giving himself up, that moment. But then the emotional weight of the journey of Glenn with Maggie and him wanting that sort of Last of the Mohicans moment, “I will find you.” Basically, that transcends the show. That is a statement in time. That is a statement of energy and whatever you believe. That is a proclamation of love that transcends the physical reality of our show between those two characters.

And I think that we honored all of that. We said goodbye to Abraham in a great way. But the primary emotional impact of what happened to the show was seen through the eyes of Maggie as a direct result of the passing of Glenn."

What are Michael's fondest memories from his time on the show?

"It’s just the amount of fun that we were able to have in this sort of not positive world, or the apocalyptic world of rebuilding—in a world that was not conducive to enjoyment, we had a lot of fun.

I love how they tell the story. It’s very applicable to life, to what we all go through. This is, as I described, it’s Thanksgiving dinner. It’s Christmas day. This is chosen family. These are the people you want to have with you on Christmas day and Thanksgiving. It’s not the family that you’re obligated to. And the show has, through the years, built chosen family. So, to see that dynamic shift and change and alter as the group got larger and got smaller has been fun.

There’s a great creative group of people who live down in rural Georgia, far away from our families, but we’ve created a new family with ourselves out there and we are all what we have out there. And it’s great. And I am going to miss that element of it."

Michael Cudlitz walks us through the makeup application process for Abraham's final scene:

"The apparatus that they made for both of us, there was a two and three stage in the hits, like one hit, two hits, three hits for each of us. And they didn’t—for both of us—they didn’t use all of them. But basically, they had come and they had done a lifecast for us. They do lifecasts for most of the cast at some point. If you get a face wound or something, head wound, anything, even minor, they want to have your actual shape of your face and your head so that they can double you and match the piece that fits you.

In our cases, they did full bald pates, which they took us all the way down to no hair and then rebuilt everything from that, so that they had full control over what [they were] doing with blood tubes that went up underneath the bald pate.

The clip you saw, I have long hair, that was before the hair was styled. The wig department supplies uncut wigs that match the hair color. The bald pate is put on and there’s a ring of hair put around the outside, and there’s a wound chunk built up on top and then everything is laced in between. Greg Nicotero and his crew are phenomenal.

So we came in for a dry test to make sure everything fit and worked. There were some alterations that needed to be made. They made those alterations in the day we shot. It was a pretty quick process. It was a good 45 minutes to an hour in makeup for each changeover. And then we did it.

They also had a mockup of me that they made with a smashed head in that they laid it on the ground afterwards, that you saw, so there’s no CGI. They didn’t put me in CGI. It was actually physically there, so that everyone could react to it, which is quite disturbing. Someone talked about this before, I think on Talking Dead. But it is quite disturbing seeing somebody who’s been built to be exact features of you or somebody you know, and see their head smashed in or see them getting beaten even though it’s not them, just the image of that is quite disturbing.

My wife had said even though she knew it wasn’t me, she could go a whole lifetime without seeing that again."


Stay tuned to Daily Dead for more interviews and news updates from season 7, and catch up on our previous coverage: