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Jeffrey Dean Morgan on ‘The Walking Dead’s’ Future: ‘Let’s Go Out on Top’

Ahead of its milestone 10th season, AMC’s “The Walking Dead” cast and crew assembled at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles on Monday night for a special screening of the premiere episode, set to debut on Oct. 6.

“I still get nervous at these things,” Norman Reedus told Variety. Following the major character departures of Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Maggie Rhee (Lauren Cohan), Reedus’ Daryl Dixon has increasingly assumed the mantle of series protagonist.

“They definitely have given me more to do in the last couple of years,” Reedus said. “But Daryl the character has some of the same things that Norman the person does. It’s like the ghosts of the characters that lived in the show before Daryl, he carries the weight of them on his shoulders. There are certain things that he’s learned from Herschel or Rick that are helping him make decisions on the show. Daryl without those characters would have made a bad decision. As Norman, I feel the weight of these great actors and actresses on my shoulder and I want to do a great job the same way that Daryl feels about the Herschels and the Ricks and the Shanes and the Glenns.”

“Norman is really behaving, and I’m sure it’s because of Andy’s influence on him throughout the years,” Melissa McBride (Carol Peletier) said with a laugh. “He was the leader and now Norman is basically number one. It’s from the top down so it’s very important that Norman impart all those beautiful wisdoms that he’s learned from Andy onto everyone else. It sets the tone for everyone and how they treat one another on set. It’s important to the family.”

“Walking Dead” fans will also have to brace themselves for another significant loss as series favorite Michonne, played by Danai Gurira, will make her exit during the upcoming season. Chief content officer of “The Walking Dead” Universe, Scott M. Gimple, told Variety that viewers will be satisfied with how Michonne’s story ends.

“It was one of the most important stories we were telling this season,” Gimple said. “And Danai is a writer of note, so she’s always kept me honest. The thing that brings out the best in ‘The Walking Dead’ is the pressure not to let people down. Not to let the cast and the crew down, but to tell stories that are worthy of their time and effort and so to have this kind of incredible story to tell for her final season, it’s a blessing.”

Gimple also noted that major characters are rarely ever truly gone from the franchise, which has spawned two spin-off series and an upcoming big-screen trilogy starring Lincoln.

“Rick is going to be our avatar once again to discovering a whole new world, yet we get to be with this character that we have loved and we get to see how everything he has been through is going to affect a brand new adventure and a brand new challenge for him,” teased Gimple. He also revealed that fan favorite Michael Cudlitz, whose character Abraham Ford was killed off during the show’s seventh season, would be returning to direct episodes of the third Walking Dead series.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays baseball-bat wielding villain Negan, told Variety that the character would continue his redemption arc and this season would see him finally released from the jail cell he’s occupied for the past year.

As for when he sees the show wrapping up, Morgan said, “You don’t want to run it into the ground. Me personally, I’d say let’s go out on top. Let’s go out still being the number one show in the world. Whether or not that happens, I don’t know. I think if we just stuck with the comic book, we’ve still got another three years. We do deviate a lot, but I think there’s probably a good three years of material there.”

“The Walking Dead” comic creator Robert Kirkman shocked fans when he abruptly ended the long-running book series in July. However, showrunner Angela Kang warned against assuming the show would end with the same conclusion and hinted that there may be many more seasons to come.

“Depending at the pace we go, it could be very fast at the end or it could be very slow,” Kang said. “We always fill in with original material. Robert said to me and Scott Gimple, look at all these threads that I set up for you, so the story could go a million different ways.”