Only two episodes into season 4 of AMC's The Walking Dead, there have already been plenty of questions raised. What is the mysterious illness afflicting the residents of the prison, and how many people have already been infected with it? Is someone inside the prison deliberately trying to sabotage the peace? What happened to the Governor after the season 3 finale, and when will he make his return? Is Rick going to keep that beard or will he go back to shaving regularly now that he has the option?
All the Walking Dead fans out there who have burning questions specifically related to Rick Grimes' beard are now in luck, as AMC has released an on-set interview with Andrew Lincoln that's all about the hairs growing out of his face, his relationship with them and his beard experiences throughout the series. The actor also goes into detail about how Rick Grimes' beard has come to affect his own life - from spoiling the photo on his driver's license to providing an uncomfortable map of his aging process.
As the footage included in the video reminds us, one of the first things that Rick did after waking up from his coma was to take a hot shower at the police station and shave off his beard, implying that in his former life he felt more comfortable being clean-shaven. As the series progressed and the availability of washing facilities has grown scarce, however, Rick's stubble grew back relentlessly and became, in many ways, a symbol of the accumulated horrors that the former lawman has both witnessed and been forced to commit. As his life spirals out of control, so too do his hair follicles.
The Walking Dead has frequently seemed to use beards as a representation of particular characters' closeness to previously-held ideals of civilized behavior. As an idealist struggling to cling to concepts of right and wrong in a world that seems to be going wrong all over the place, Rick's beard has grown in parallel to his increasing weariness and cynicism in the face of constant struggle.
Tellingly, he now chooses not to shave despite being inside the protective fences and walls of the prison. Does this mean that Rick is aware of just how much their apparent safety is an illusion, or did the Governor's clean-shaven face convince our hero that an exposed chin is not necessarily the mark of a good man?
Hershel has undergone a similar character (and beard) arc to Rick. When the characters first meet him in the show, he is in the safe haven of his farm and is able to shave daily, the catastrophic changes in the outside world not yet having impacted his chin directly. By the time season 4 began, Hershel had been ripped away from his comfortable seat in one of the last vestiges of normal life, and like Rick, he had begun wearing a full beard to match his weary resignation to the new state of affairs.
Daryl's facial hair is also extremely interesting, as it is among the few to have remained consistent throughout the series. Daryl is neither clean-shaven nor sporting a full beard, but instead has a trimmed goatee that represents his ability to remain calm and in control even in the most dire and desperate situations. Because Daryl had a hard life even before the zombie epidemic, he already had an emotional shield in place to help him deal with tough scenarios and fights more easily than the other characters. If we could see this emotional shield, its emblem would probably be a goatee.
Share your favorite beard memories from The Walking Dead with us in the comments, and discuss which direction Rick's beard might take in the season 4 episodes to come.
The Walking Dead continues next Sunday with "Isolation" @9pm on AMC.