‘The Walking Dead’: Lennie James on Morgan’s Big Moment (SPOILERS)

The Walking Dead S7 Lennie James
Gene Page/AMC

Read no further if you haven’t seen Sunday’s episode of “The Walking Dead,” “Bury Me Here.” Spoilers ahead!

Poor, simple Benjamin (Logan Miller). All he wanted was for Carol (Melissa McBride) to teach him how to properly kill walkers. Instead, he died because of a scheme Rube Goldberg would have thought too complicated, thanks to Richard’s (Karl Makinen) utter inability to account for the unpredictability of the Saviors. Benjamin’s death awakened what Lennie James calls “Wilderness Morgan” — that uncaring void of a man we saw way back in Season 3’s “Clear” — and set Morgan back on the killing path. James called up Variety to talk about whether Wilderness Morgan is here to stay, and what his future might be on the show now that he has a series for Britain’s Sky Atlantic in the works.

The way in which Morgan killed Richard is incredibly shrewd. Was it a calculated move, or did Morgan just snap and then retroactively adapt Richard’s idea to lull the Saviors into a false sense of security? 

I don’t think he woke up that morning thinking, “I’m going to kill Richard.” I think he woke up that morning thinking he might have to. He did everything he could, short of not showing up, to prevent it from happening. And it became inevitable to a certain extent, when Morgan asked Richard if he’d told the King and the guys what he’d done, and Richard responded with, “We’ll talk about it later.” That was just the wrong answer, and I think it was a culmination of things: what the death of Benjamin has done to Morgan; who Morgan was trying to be; and that he opened himself up to the possibility of a positive life in the Kingdom, accepting himself as part of a group that doesn’t know his history, only knows him as he is now. That was all taken away from Morgan. Somebody earlier described it as “Wilderness Morgan” tried to return. He’s trying to hold Wilderness Morgan at bay, but he is aware war is coming and is unavoidable and he has to take some part in it. His aim is to find peace but he may have go through war to get there.

Where does Morgan go from here? We see him at the end in Carol’s cabin. Is he just taking a little time out?

He’s getting ready for the inevitable. When he first arrives at Carol’s cabin he’s come to say goodbye. “My only way forward is to get on the road and walk towards this war that’s coming and kill anything that comes in my way that looks or smells like a Savior until I get to a place or person that ends it all.” He’s come to say goodbye to Carol, at this point his closest friend, even if it’s a stormy friendship. He can’t go back to the Kingdom — he can’t trust himself, because Wildnerness Morgan is by his side. So he does take Carol’s alternative, staying at the cabin. But while he’s there, he sharpens his stick.

There’s been a lovely tone this season which has been much more about contemplating a few things for a little bit longer. It is, to pick a cliché out of the sky, the calm before the storm. With Negan around, there’s never that much calm, but people are positioning themselves or being positioned, whether they like it or not, and Morgan falls into that latter category. Things outside of his power or control have invaded the life he was trying to live or got in the way of the way he was trying to walk. The loss of Benjamin is a major thing. But it’s been circling around him for a while.

There are a number of people who say, “You cant be this person.” Daryl and Richard said that. He’s been trying to quietly say to people, “We have to try. We have to have a conversation about how we live, not just survive.” But some things are inevitable, and that’s the realization Morgan has come to. He absolutely believes in himself, more than he did before, but he’s also aware that he’s got this thing they’ll all have to deal with.

You’ve got this series in the works for Sky Atlantic: “Gone,” with Suranne Jones and Stephen Graham. Does this mean we should be worried about Morgan, or is it possible for you to do both?

It is a lot of work, but I like the work. I’m busier now than I think I’ve ever been — my hard drive is almost full in my brain. But at the moment, both worlds exist, and I’m taking full advantage of it.

Is there anyone you haven’t shared a scene with yet that you’d still like to?

One of the joys of this season was finally getting a good swing at a couple of scenes with Norman [Reedus], I hadn’t really done that. We had a little pop in Season 5 when I saved him and Aaron from the car and they lead me to Alexandria. But he and I got to do that this season, and that was a joy. I was heartbroken I never got to do a scene with Michael Cudlitz. I’d had no scene with Steven [Yeun], either, and then Negan took a bat to him. The thing I’m really looking forward to is, the number of people that there’s still possible for Morgan to interact with is vast. And so there’s a load of people that I’d be knocking on the door to Scott [Gimple] going, “Dude, there’s got to be a scene with this guy.”

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