In the middle of speaking to The Walking Dead's Ross Marquand the other day, I realized that a feeling of dread had slowly started to take root deep in my stomach. Was it because he's an awful conversationalist? Please. Without blood and zombie guts smeared across his face or the threat of a bat-wielding madman staring him down, Marquand — an accomplished celebrity impressionist and the man who brought fan-favorite character Aaron to life — was an absolute delight. It's the things he said about AMC's zombie hit that had me nervous. "Everyone is expecting it to be devastating, and it is," he told me of the season seven premiere episode, which will follow one of the biggest, bloodiest cliffhanger endings in TV history. "It's a rough, rough exit, you know? That being said, I think it's a great episode, too. I think it's an episode that people will watch and talk about for years to come, honestly."
As anyone who watches The Walking Dead knows by now, season six ends with new villain Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) bashing the brains out of a beloved character, but nobody will know their identity until the show returns in October. Although plenty of fans were shocked and outraged at the fake-out finale, Marquand is beyond proud of the work they accomplished. If you're not already worried sick about the fate of Glenn, Rick, Daryl, and the rest of the crew, read on to see what else the actor divulged about the upcoming season.
POPSUGAR: What was your reaction to reading the script for the season six finale? Were you frustrated by it at all?
Ross Marquand: To be honest, I was delighted. Maybe that's not the right choice of words [laughs], but I watched the finale with Sonequa [Martin-Green], my parents, and Kenric, Sonequa's husband, and truthfully we put so much effort into that episode. We worked our butts off. Obviously I knew it was going to happen, but I didn't know how it was going to be cut together. I didn't know how it was going to end exactly. For me, as a fan of the show, I loved it. I wasn't frustrated by it in the slightest. I thought it was a great cliffhanger, and a really provocative, brutal way to end the season.
PS: Understandably, a lot of fans were taken aback by how the episode ended. Have any of them reached out to you personally to share their reactions to the it?
RM: Oh yeah, I've had so many people ask me who died. It's been crazy fielding those questions, because everyone wants to know who was at the end of that bat. Even friends and family! But we keep that information very much under lock and key.
PS: I can only imagine. Speaking of Negan, what has it been like having Jeffrey Dean Morgan on set?
RM: Jeffrey is actually a sweetheart of a guy, and I think a lot of people don't know that [laughs]. He plays such a villainous character, but he's actually a really sweet guy. I think it was nice for us, because he's such a disarming and charming guy, and when he came on set he was just as excited to be there as we were to have him. He's a huge fan of the show, and he really opened up. It was nice to see that a guy of his stature, and a guy with his résumé, was fanboying out a little bit.
PS: The show constantly deals with such heavy material, but was filming the death for the premiere episode harder than usual?
RM: It was not fun. None of us were having a great time during those scenes. For people in the audience, sitting at home on their couches watching it, they're going to be feeling all the feelings that we felt. It was an absolute loss of someone that we really care a lot about. We say this time and time again, but it's not just a TV show for us — it's a family. When you lose a family member, it's extraordinarily difficult. We felt that death was like losing someone that you really care about.
PS: As a fan, which death has shocked you the most so far?
RM: I think Hershel's death, honestly. It was such a shocking, shocking death. I remember being blown away by it, and jumping out of my chair because he was one of my favorite characters. I just couldn't believe that had happened. Especially in such an abrupt way! When the sword came down, I was like, "No, no, this can't be happening." It was visually devastating. That was, for me, the most brutal death of the show.
PS: It seems like the world within the show is really going to expand next season with Hilltop, the Saviors, and the Kingdom — how is that going to affect the characters?
RM: Well I think the world keeps expanding, and truthfully this is the most expansive season yet. The Kingdom is coming into play, of course we have the Saviors and their compound, and not to give too much away, but there are other groups that we're going to be meeting up with as well. It's going to change them immeasurably. They're realizing although they thought there was just one or two little outposts in the neighborhoods in the Atlanta and Virginia area, it turns out there's several. That's an exciting thing. All of a sudden you're getting choices on where you're gonna live, who you'll do business with. It's the beginnings of a rebuilding of society.
PS: Is there anything about playing Aaron in particular that you really love?
RM: Aaron is such a fascinating character, because he's diplomatic to a T. He genuinely wants to keep the peace for everybody, but he's not afraid to fight. Morgan believes that no life should be harmed in any way, shape, or form, and Aaron says, "Well, sure," but if he needs to fight for himself or others, he will. I think that's a really wonderful characteristic to have in their day and age, where everything seems so chaotic. He, Deanna, and some other citizens in Alexandria fought really hard to make that community happen, and I love that in the midst of all this chaos, he really fought to protect everyone and protect his loved ones. It's a beautiful, beautiful trait to have as a person.
PS: The Walking Dead: The Complete Sixth Season will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on August 23, so is there anything on there that fans should keep an eye out for?
RM: I hope so! They always have the blooper reels on the DVDs, and I don't know if they're planning on doing that this year, but that's always my favorite thing. I love when people can see behind the scenes of what goes on. What people aren't seeing when they watch the show is literally hundreds of people behind the camera busting their butts to make these shots happen. It's really kind of amazing to see how many people work very, very, very hard to make this show what it is. The crew is amazing on this show.