This is a preview of our October 2014 cover story, "Our Sheriff at the Apocalypse." For the full version, download the Men's Fitness app for iPhone and iPad or pick up the issue on newsstands.
It's not like him. It isn’t. He’s usually humble, self-effacing, quick to list his shortcomings, his screwups, to laugh at himself. He’ll tell you almost as soon as you meet for a morning round at Atlanta’s Bobby Jones Golf Course that he can’t believe he’s here, physically and spiritually, anchoring The Walking Dead, the most popular show among American men that doesn’t involve a football. Not what he expected, to become a middle-aged action star. But life is like that. You stay in the moment and who knows what can happen?
Since teeing off, Lincoln has been stressing the existential beauty of golf, straying, by his own admission, dangerously close to sports-as-Zen metaphors, the seriousness of which cracks him up almost as soon as he says them. But he finds the game fascinating because he sees the parallel with his own career: Keep working, keep your head down, let the game of life come to you.
“We don’t want to say Zen, so…flow, how about that?” He’s entitled to a little exulting. A 10-handicap golfer, Lincoln is even par through five holes, every drive heat-seeking the middle of the fairway, every approach biting the green one putt from the cup.
So it’s totally uncharacteristic of Lincoln, as he’s walking up to the sixth tee box, a long par 4, to turn and say, “I’d just like to note that I’m playing the best fucking golf of my life.”
He sets his tee, takes a practice swing—he has a bluntly effective, wide-stanced, flat swing—then badly hooks the ball into a grove of young white ash trees about 90 yards ahead of the tee.
There are numerous ways a man can react to the shot that’s ruined the best round of his life. He can curse. He can pound his driver into the turf. He can collapse in a heap. Lincoln simply shakes his head, nods, and laughs.
“I had to say that, didn’t I?”
But he recovers, punching back onto the fairway, hitting the green with his third shot, then putting for par. Quietly, without saying a word, he wins the hole.
Andrew Lincoln has emerged as that most likely of American heroes: the unlikely kind. He was never supposed to be here, just as his character, sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes, was never supposed to wake up from a coma then try to save civilization from hordes of zombies.
Yet it’s what he does when he finds himself in the rough that makes Lincoln, and Grimes, such iconic figures. Rick Grimes, tormented perhaps more by betrayals and the loss of loved ones than by zombies, and driven to be a good father more than to drive spikes through the heads of the undead, has emerged as America’s archetypal good guy. We’re all, in one way or another, trying to stand firm in the face of the many impending apocalypses—financial, environmental, biological—and we hope we have the stolid pragmatism of Rick Grimes when it comes time to mount that horse and save the damn world…or at least pay the mortgage this month. “How do you be a single parent during the apocalypse?” Lincoln asks, voicing what he feels is one of the show’s central themes. “That, to me, is more heroic and interesting than the badassery of it all.”
“He’s Clint Eastwood,” says Greg Nicotero, an executive producer on The Walking Dead. “He’s the sheriff, literally, riding into town on a white horse. Andy is in fact a natural leader—he leads the cast. He’s this funny, happy, cheerful guy. He’ll tackle you on the set.”
To read the rest of "Our Sheriff at the Apocalypse," download the Men's Fitness app for iPhone and iPad.