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‘The Walking Dead': Michael Cudlitz on Why Returning to Direct Was ‘the Best of Both Worlds’

But before you ask, the ”Kids Are Alright“ star won’t say if the episode he directed comes before or after the exit of star Andrew Lincoln

Michael Cudlitz says that returning to “The Walking Dead” behind the camera this time was “the best of both worlds,” adding that it was exciting to get a chance to work with both cast members he worked with as an actor on the show, and with newcomers this season. Cudlitz played Sgt. Abraham Ford before the character was killed by Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan in Season 7.

“First, I was welcomed back so lovingly and taken care of by the crew and the cast,” he told TheWrap in a recent interview. TheWrap reported in July that the “Kids Are Alright” star would be directing an episode of Season 9. “Everybody was just rooting for my success and when you enter in that way, you are already in a position to succeed. The great thing about directing the cast was that the cast is changing now, so I had a wonderful experience about being [able] to direct, basically half of my cast was brand new and the rest were people that I have longstanding, amazing relationships with.”

“So to be able to work with the people that I’ve worked with before in an acting capacity, you know, and to help guide them in telling these stories and to be able to work with people that I not only respect but admire as performers, and have never worked with before, to be able to work with those guys was really great,” he continued.

Cudlitz directed episode seven of the current Season 9, and said that his episode will set the tone for several of the new characters arriving in Season 9.

“It sort of helped establish the early roots of what some of these new characters will be, because, as everyone who watches the show understands, the early episodes where you learn a lot about the characters really do set the tone of how they are perceived and received from there on out,” he told TheWrap.  “You tend to come into the show with a loud voice, make an imprint, and then get woven into the fabric of the show. So these few episodes where they do have a very loud voice and a prominent voice, they are establishing who they are and how they feel about things and it was fun to be part of that. We had a lot, a lot of elements of the show that are new elements: animals, kids, American Sign Language. A lot, a lot of elements.”

There are plenty of new storylines and characters we know will be arriving in Season 9 that we haven’t seen yet, including Samantha Morton and Ryan Hurst as The Whisperers’ Alpha and Beta, respectively, and Cassady McClincy as Alpha’s daughter Lydia. And Cudlitz’s mention of American Sign Language almost certainly refers to the casting of Broadway actress Lauren Ridloff, the series’ first deaf actress.

With Cudlitz’s episode coming later in the season, we had to ask if he had the opportunity to direct Andrew Lincoln before the leading man exits the show. Cudlitz was mum on whether or not Episode 7 comes before or after Lincoln’s final scenes, though, saying jokingly, “Uhhh, I don’t know if it was or wasn’t after his exit. I don’t know if I’m allowed to even answer that question so I won’t!” But he did say this: “I love Andy though, Andy is amazing.”

“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC. Cudlitz’s episode will air on Nov. 19.

Jennifer Maas contributed to this report.