The following contains spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 11, Episode 20, “What’s Been Lost,” which debuted Sunday, Oct. 23 on AMC.
When Lance Hornsby (Josh Hamilton) first appeared on the scene back in The Walking Dead Season 11A, many questioned if he could be trusted. What secrets was he hiding? Can the tired and paranoid survivors trust this nicely-dressed guy in a suit? The Deputy Governor of the Commonwealth was ambitious to expand the city with Alexandria, Hilltop, and Oceanside, but when disagreements were made and tensions rose, he resorted to extreme measures to secure the Commonwealth’s safety and longevity.
Over the course of Season 11, Lance has spiraled into a true bad guy that many have dubbed as The Walking Dead‘s version of Two-Face — sporting a scar on the left side of his face and living long enough to see himself become the villain. Even his most trusted ally Pamela Milton discards him to protect her family’s reputation, leaving him to rot in a cell until Daryl and Carol break him out to find their missing friends. The resourceful talker tries to make amends once again, but his way of talking himself out of situations has come to an end. He takes an arrow to the throat by Carol in Season 11, Episode 20, “What’s Been Lost,” bleeding out on the ground and dying as a villain that could never be redeemed. CBR recently got to talk with Josh Hamilton on the affairs that led Lance to his gruesome fate and how Hamilton prepared to play Lance’s complex arc.
CBR: I want to talk about your experience playing Lance because he’s such a complicated guy. One minute you really hate him, and the next, you kind of sympathize with him. Then the next, you’re back to hating him. How was it to just jump in and play somebody as unpredictable as he is?
Josh Hamilton: It was really enjoyable because I especially feel like Lance is someone who thinks that he’s good at talking to different people in different ways and saying what he thinks they want to hear. So it means that he’s a little different with each person, which makes him slippery. But the saving grace for me was that I do feel like he actually is really sincere about his goals. I think he goes about them in maybe not the most responsible way, but I do think he believes in the project of the Commonwealth and keeping it going. So it’s not like he’s some cynical guy going like, [evil villain voice] “Haha!” I think he actually does believe it, which I think makes a villain even scarier when they actually believe what they’re doing and believe in what they’re doing.
As much as he believes in himself, though, he did make some questionable decisions that probably led to his death. Was there any moment where you wished he would’ve done things differently, or did you understand why he did the things he did?
He’s someone who is almost energized by challenges, I think, but I do think that the sort of ultimate betrayal with Pamela… This woman that I think he’s sort of had a crush on since he was a kid, and he sort of just wants her approval more than anything else in the world. When she turns on him and makes him cut up his friend and feed him to Sebastian, I do think that shakes him to his core. There was such a traumatic experience that he’s really flailing in the last episode, and [he’s] really not thinking as clearly as he might be on his best days. He does a pretty good job of trying to shake it off. When he is there with Carol, he really is just grasping at straws, and the things that have worked for him for most of his life are not working so well anymore. I’m sure he doesn’t think he’s the top of his game.
Speaking of Pamela, there’s that scene in a previous episode between the two of you where she confronts him in his cell, and there’s this sensual dance between the two of them. You mentioned that he has feelings for her in some way, and she uses that to her advantage. How did you and Laila Robins approach this scene and the power dynamic between the two characters?
Yeah, that was something [Writer] Angela [Kang] and I had talked about. It’s never really in the scripts, but the backstory being that Lance’s father had worked maybe as a chauffeur for the Miltons or something. So Lance had grown up on the Milton estate as a young man and as a child and had always had a crush on her from an early age. We just kind of loaded that into the dynamic. Laila and I did talk about that. I was so grateful that she really went with the sort of toying with Lance in that sensual way. I think it really sparked things in Lance that he might not even have known were that close to the surface. It made it very powerful to play.
It’s such a great scene because it’s so awkward to watch. You’re thinking, “Should I be here? Should I be in another room?”
[laughs] Oh, good!
I’m curious about what you think Lance’s role could have been if he hadn’t died. Would he have played along with Daryl and Carol if they had accepted him into the pack, or would he have gone back to the Commonwealth to concoct some other diabolical plan?
I think he would’ve survived in any way he could. If they had accepted him in, he could have had a redemptive arc, somewhat like Negan or something. People are capable of change. It’s hard, but he’s a striver and a survivor, and I think he would’ve tried to work within whatever parameters he had. It’s never admit defeat. In a way, his very last act is sort of the only active thing he can think of what to do at that moment. He doesn’t have time to think about it really before he grabs the gun, but I do think that sort of lizard part of his brain was just like, “I’m going to survive somehow. I’ll see if I can get the upper hand even in this situation.” Of course, it doesn’t work out, but something about that act has seemed more preferable to him than just going off by himself, which would’ve felt more like a defeat.
You got to work with Melissa McBride for a ton of episodes. The dynamic between both of your characters was fantastic, and everyone sings her praises for all the work she’s done on the show. What was it like working alongside her?
Oh, I mean, she’s just one of those actors that makes you a better actor because if you start to do anything false, it’s like you just look at her, and it deflates it. She’s just very present and reactive, and she’s just incapable of a false note. The relationship between the two of them, I feel like that’s also a very complicated relationship.
I don’t know if you know this, but many fans were kind of rooting for them to have this enemies-to-lovers dynamic.
Yeah, I know.
Given this, how did Lance see Carol? Was it just purely respect for her, or was there something deeper than that? Maybe something he wished he had with Pamela?
Yeah, I think very much so. That’s a really good observation. I think at first he just respects her resourcefulness, and he thinks that they understand each other. They both think five steps ahead of everyone else. He spends time with her, and I think he would’ve loved that. I do think there might be something [like], if you can’t have Pamela, which is his lifelong deep twisted thing, I think he would’ve been very thrilled to have ended up with Carol and sort of remained with her. That’s just why it’s such a betrayal. It’s such a heartache for him when she turns against him at the end, and it’s just like, “No, I thought we understand each other.” It’s the ultimate, “How could you?”
When you initially signed on to play Lance, did you know he was going to turn into this big antagonist that would be the driving force for this big fight to come?
I didn’t know that much. In the breakdown I got, it said that he was the villain. To be honest, at that point, I had never seen the show before. It wasn’t until after I was cast and was down in Georgia and had all this time because of COVID where I had to be there weeks before we shot. They were really strict about all those rules. I was like, “I’ll start from the beginning. I’m not going to watch all 10 years of this show.” So I started, and then, of course, I couldn’t stop and ended up bingeing 10 years of the show in a month. Then I got a better sense of the arc of the role of the villains.
At first, I was a little nervous because I thought the show had so many fascinating and really extreme villains. I thought, “Oh wait, is Lance going to be interesting to anyone?” Because he’s just sort of the kind of guy that you meet in everyday life where he’s just trying to pursue the American dream and stepping over whatever and doing whatever he can to get that done. He is not like a full sociopath or wearing people’s skins on his faces, and I was like, “Oh, is this going to be an interesting enough villain for the show?” I ended up feeling like he was almost scarier because he is the kind of person that you see all the time in daily life as opposed to Alpha, [who] are pretty rare.
I was about to say he’s so much scarier because you could just walk on the street and find a Lance Hornsby anywhere.
So you watched the show when you were cast, but did you take any inspiration from people like Negan or the Governor or Alpha when forming your villainous image — or did you go at it your own way with Lance?
Yeah, I had to because they were such brilliant performances and characters. I was a little intimidated. How can you be a villain after Negan? He’s the most intriguing, charming villain there is. I just had to keep that out of my head and just try to figure out what Lance’s deal was, and I had to keep those guys out of my head.
Something that I hear from a lot of Walking Dead cast members is that they get the script, but sometimes the writers and directors on set will let you do your own thing with your character. Was that your experience on The Walking Dead?
Some things, like the relationship with Pamela, I don’t think that was in the script, and that sort of came out of talks with Angela and with Laila. So in that way, it felt like we had some input. The writers see certain elements that you might do in the scene that aren’t written, and they think, “Oh, that’s interesting, and we’re going to follow that.” I feel it depends on having an effect on the way the writer writes for you, depending on what they see you doing. It wasn’t so clear-cut as me saying, “This is what I think.” It was more of you sort of just do it, and if no one says don’t do it, they either run with it or not.
The Walking Dead fandom is pretty intense in the way that they’re dedicated to the characters they love, who Lance hurt a lot of. Playing a villain, what’s been your experience with the fandom?
I’ll tell you, I was a little concerned about that. I remember talking to Josh McDermitt early, and he was saying that he had to take himself off social media because in that season where he joins Negan, the fans were so angry at him that he was getting death threats and stuff like it was a documentary. But that has not been my experience. I’d never been on social media until this year, and so I finally joined Instagram. So that’s really the only feedback that I’ve gotten. It’s just messages from people and no death threats. Everyone’s been very, very kind. Lots of things like, “Oh, I love to hate you.” That kind of thing, which that’s what you want, right? But nothing in person. I’ve yet to be recognized on the street for it. No one’s come up to me or anything.
That’s good, and you did such a stellar job as Lance, and you had so many iconic moments throughout your time on the show. For only one season, it’s amazing to have so many great scenes. What’s the one moment or scene on the show that you’re the most proud of?
Interesting. God, it’s hard to choose. I remember really enjoying the scene with Josh McDermitt when he finds out that I’ve tricked him with Margot [Bingham]’s character. It was Michael Cudlitz who directed that episode, and it’s always great. They had so many great directors on the show, but it’s always really nice working with an actor and someone who knows the show so well. Josh [did] such a great job in that scene on the stairs. That’s one that just jumps out right off the bat because I remember feeling like Lance really does like Eugene, you know?
That was actually the scene I was going to pick.
No, way. Really?
It’s such an intense scene, and it’s really sad to see Lance go since you did such a great job on the show, and Lance was such a great character.
Aw, I really appreciate that.
New episodes of The Walking Dead air Sundays at 9:00 p.m. on AMC and stream a week early on AMC+.