After three seasons on "The Walking Dead," Andrew Lincoln has finally been pushed to the edge.
It came the day he did a scene for the third season, which premieres 9 p.m. EDT Sunday on AMC, in which he was forced to chop off a man's leg -- or, at least, that was the way it appeared thanks to special effects.
The first take was "too graphic," he says. So he was asked to do it again and again.
"It was one of the most shocking things I have ever had to do," says Lincoln, a British-born actor who retained his American accent for this interview conducted between scenes.
"That night I couldn't sleep. After work, I just got in my car and couldn't fall asleep until 3 in the morning."
As small-town-Georgia deputy sheriff Rick Grimes leading a band of human survivors during a zombie apocalypse, Lincoln has rarely been that jarred. He and the rest of the cast have been pressed particularly hard.
Easily one of the grittiest and bloodiest hours on cable, "Dead" is ramping up the gruesomeness.
There's a new setting and the introduction of more outrageous characters (such as the katana-wielding warrior woman Michonne, played by Danai Gurira), bigger threats (David Morrissey, this year's villain, as the despot called The Governor) and surprising returns of past favorites.
"This season," Lincoln says, "has pushed me -- pushed all of us -- to the brink."
In previous seasons, the pack of human survivors has stayed one step ahead of the zombie hordes by holing up in unsecured shelter without much success.
Season one was on the open road. Season two had them at a secluded farm. Both instances had the survivors driven out when the zombies eventually found them.
Now the story shifts to a new locale -- an abandoned, well-fortified prison. Crews worked for weeks to transform a soundstage in the backwoods of Georgia into the setting.
Litter lines the walls. Dirty mattresses are in every cell.
Zombies have found the place already, with dozens of extras staggering outside the steel-mesh fence, staring at the humans inside.
"Season three is fundamentally different," actress Laurie Holden, who plays tough-as-nails survivor Andrea, says of her character.
"I love the writing of this series. (Andrea) has gone from this suicidal woman and this sad, mess of a woman to evolving into a more empathetic leader. It just keeps going, her journey."
The days of making an episode can be long and hard. On this particular visit, it's nearly 90 degrees and most of the 12-hour shooting is taking place outdoors.
Ticks were so plentiful in season one that the cast and crew used to pick the buggers off and throw them in a jar. Once the jar was full, the cast stopped contributing.
Of the grittiness of the work, actor Norman Reedus, who plays redneck survivor Daryl Dixon, says, "It's actually a part of our show. You're out there. It's 120 degrees.
"You're sweating. You're scratched up. There's bugs. I don't think we could shoot it in Burbank. You know what I mean? It actually works for us as characters."
Other highlights for the week of Oct. 14-20 (all times EDT; listings subject to change; check local listings):
-- "See Dad Run" (8 p.m., Nickelodeon). Former "Happy Days" star Scott Baio returns to weekly sitcoms as a former TV star who quits the glamorous life to be a stay-at-home dad.
-- "Comic Book Men" (11:30 p.m., AMC). Returning for a second season, Kevin Smith's gang of nerds hangs out around the neighborhood comic-book shop for reality-show cameras and talks about such pressing issues as the number of stars on Wonder Woman's costume.
-- "Dancing with the Stars" (8 p.m., ABC). The stars and their pros pick out which dances their competitors must perform.
-- "My Shopping Addiction" (11 p.m., Oxygen). A new season launches for this unscripted series about young people who can't spend enough -- and end up paying the cost.
-- "The Men Who Built America" (9 p.m., History). Modern-day American figures such as Mark Cuban, Alan Greenspan and Charles Schwab are profiled.
-- "Underemployed" (10 p.m., MTV). At least the recession is working in someone's favor: Five friends in Chicago struggling to make ends meet play out their stories for reality TV.
-- "World Without End" (8 p.m., Reelz Channel). Cynthia Nixon and Miranda Richardson star in this two-part medieval miniseries and sequel, set 200 years later, to the epic "The Pillars of the Earth."
-- "The Will: Family Secrets Revealed" (9 p.m., Investigation Discovery). When the famous depart this life, their families and friends get caught up in a battle for the estates.
-- "Nikita" (9 p.m., CW). Maggie Q is back for a new season of flips, jabs and fighting for the forces of good -- at least, good enough.
-- "Hunted" (10 p.m., Cinemax). Melissa George headlines this espionage tale from "X-Files" writer-producer Frank Spotnitz about a woman with memory loss who's trying to piece her life back together.
-- "The Girl" (9 p.m., HBO). Based on her own story, this film centers on Alfred Hitchcock's obsession with Tippi Hedren ("The Birds"). Sienna Miller plays Hedren.