It’s easy to say Rick, Daryl or Michonne is your favorite character on The Walking Dead. But going into the sixth season, with a new set of tribulations on the way, another character who hasn’t gotten much screen time could become much more important: Olivia, who embodies Alexandria’s potential and peril.

We talked to actress Ann Mahoney about what it’s like to join a show that’s already a huge established production—and she told us why her character is the personification of Alexandria, in Rick’s mind. She’s sheltered, and not quite ready for what’s coming.

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“[Producers] Scott [Gimple] and Greg [Nicotero] told me that she came very early on in the apocalypse to Alexandria,” actress Ann Mahoney said. “And so she’s been not only sheltered behind the walls, but sheltered in the armory. So we’re gonna have to see how she survives all of this. She’s not been exposed to nearly as much as everyone else.”

Which also means she doesn’t know what she’s capable of, yet. “We’re gonna start to see her grapple with more than the pantry,” Mahoney said of what’s coming up. “I’m gonna get out of the box.”

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Fans of the comic already know this. Though Olivia’s only been in a handful of episodes, Mahoney’s been told – and the comic books confirm – she’ll be around for a long time.

“When I sat down with Scott and Greg, they both said, ‘You know, you’re gonna be popping up for us for a really long time now,’” Mahoney said. “So I guess unless I piss somebody off, if they stick with the comic book, [I’ll be around until] around season 11 or 12.”

Mahoney, who currently lives in New Orleans, auditioned for The Walking Dead without knowing who she’d be playing. In fact, she got the role on a Friday, was shooting on Sunday, and it wasn’t until she got to the set that she learned about who she’d be.

“My first inkling that it was kind of a big deal [was] the two hour costume fitting,” Mahoney said. “That had never happened to me. Then the props guy comes in and says, ‘Hey, Ann, I need to try to find like three or four more pairs [of glasses] because well, you know, it could be years.”

To this day, she only gets notice of when they’ll need her on set a few weeks beforehand and even then, only the particular script pages where she has dialogue, or information that’s pertinent to her scene.

“They don’t want the script out more than it has to be,” Mahoney said. “The whole thing about that is though when I watch the show, I still get to watch it like a fan, because I’m like ‘Oh God, that happened.’”

There were plenty of “that happened” moments in this week’s season six premiere. Mahoney was only in one scene, but it was a pivotal one, where Carter (Ethan Embry) conspired to assassinate Rick (Andrew Lincoln). His main opposition? Mahoney’s character, Olivia.

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“Right now I don’t super trust Rick yet because I don’t know him that well yet,” Mahoney said when asked about her character’s mind set. “But he seems to at least have command, presence and people tend to listen to him. I think [current leader] Olivia is at a crossroads so I don’t know if we’re ready to take over our own place without a leader unless it’s somebody who’s got some real power and presence.”

Though Mahoney didn’t quite know the scope of the season six premiere while on set, she said everyone was “extra on top of their game.” In general, she describes The Walking Dead set as intense, but in a good way.

“The tension comes within the actors and the story,” she said. “[Plus] we shoot on film. We have to be ready to go. And I love that. With me having a theater background, I love just being like, ‘Everybody knows their lines. Everybody’s ready. Everybody knows where they’re at emotionally.’ We all jump in and give it 120 percent.”

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Want an example? How about the interest lead actor Andrew Lincoln has in learning more about his fellow cast mates.

“He’s so interested in [how] all of us are digging in our own process to prepare,” Mahoney said. “He kept coming up over my shoulder and saying, ‘Well what are you writing now? Or what are you doing?’ So he’s really interested in the whole group. Actually, one day he was off, and he stayed to see me shoot my scenes.”


Contact the author at germain@io9.com.