INTERVIEW: The Walking Dead’s Lennie James talks action-packed season 7B
It feels like it’s been years, but The Walking Dead is finally returning to our screens on Monday at 9pm on FOX.
Last year, we watched Rick’s group spread further and thinner than ever before as we learnt the full extent of tyrannical Saviour leader Negan’s influence. Finally, the group are mostly either back together or in a better place (sorry, Eugene) – and it looks like the stage is set for the apocalypse’s most epic comeback.
We spoke to Walking Dead star Lennie James, who plays Morgan on the show, about what we can expect in season 7B, the criticism of 7A, and how the zombie apocalypse compares with Trump’s America.
What can you tease about the second half of The Walking Dead season seven?
It’s very obvious that we’re getting ready for war. Anybody who knows the graphic novels knows we’re about to go into a couple of years of wars. I don’t know how that’s going to pan out in the series but it goes on a while in the comics. We’re kind of about to go out to war, and the second eight is very much about meeting all the protagonists.
Certain events are going to decide what sides people take on that, and it’s not going to be a clear division of labour. There are some people who are gonna go to the dark side, who will take you by surprise, and some people will come over to the light. Nothing’s going to move in a straight line, but one of the things that’s kind of inevitable is that we’re heading to war.
Some people said the first half was a bit hard to get going, is the second more fast-paced?
Oh, [there’s] certainly a bit more action. I’m sorry that people felt it was slow. I think we’ve earned the right, to be honest. There were a lot of people needing to be introduced. I think if they’d just gone ‘oh, by the way, this is Ezekiel, he’s got a tiger, let’s go!’, people would be saying the opposite.
Introducing us to Negan isn’t just about us meeting Negan and the immediate Saviours around him. His influence is massive, and we are becoming aware of how wide his influence goes out. Even people we haven’t met yet are already paying their dues to Negan. We needed to take time to do that.
Shit happens in the second eight, but it’s in keeping with the tone. I hope people are not disappointed by the end. There’s one point in the last episode where myself and Melissa were reading and both of us kind of screeched when we got to it. It’s such a sexy moment. Both of us when we got to the point of reading it went ‘OH MY GOD’. Like kids. It’s about the arrival of a character and it’s lovely. It’s really lovely.
Because of the format of the last eight episodes, you were only in two episodes. What was that like?
Horrible! I swear to God it was horrible, and it was the same for everybody. This season everybody’s had more time off than they had ever, but it was horrible. I hated it. I complained about it. I’m not a complainer but I complained about it every day. ‘How are you doing Lennie? I HATE IT. Do you want tea or coffee? I HATE IT’. Argh. It was horrible!
You just didn’t see anybody. We filmed the Kingdom in a completely different area than where they were filming Alexandria or Hill Top or where the Saviours [are] – no-one was close to each other. When we started filming there was a moment where everybody kind of comes together and then everybody’s split up. I didn’t see Andy for six weeks. We weren’t filming in the same place, we weren’t filming at the same times, and at the end when I saw him we were both on a plane back to London to see our families. And that’s where I bumped into him.
You just didn’t see your mates. You had so much time off – there was one point where I had three episodes off and I’m like, well I’m just going to go and see my kids. What am I doing in Atlanta for that amount of time? So I would leave town, and that was what everybody else was doing, so no-one was around. I hated it. I hated it. Thank you for bringing that all back.
I said to Scott: ‘I see what you’re doing, really respect you, but don’t ever do this to me again because I just hate it.’ I just didn’t see people. Then there are huge bunches of people that you meet at the wrap party, who you’ve never met! You’re like ‘who are you and what you doing in my show?’. It was just loads of people going ‘hi, I’m such and such, I play-‘ ‘I don’t know you, go away! Where are my mates?’ It was horrible. I hated it.
You’ve been there since the beginning with a couple of breaks. How do you perceive the evolution of the show from your perspective?
Just like everybody else, it’s blown me away. It’s completely unexpected. We’ve been talking about the first episode I was in – at that stage I swear to god none thought we were going to get a second season, let alone seven of them. At the time everything was vampires and nothing was zombies and everyone was saying this is never going to work. Now look at us. So yeah, it’s taken me – along with everybody else – by surprise. And anybody who says [they knew] in any way, shape or form that this show would be as successful as it is? They’re a liar, and I’ll tell them to their face.
Which Morgan is more like you – the calm, zen Morgan or the let’s-kill-all-the-zombies Morgan?
I’ve not been asked that question before and I don’t know the answer to it! I think on one level, me Lennie is not brave enough to be either of them really. I know the one I’d like to be is the one that is trying to walk the path of the peaceful warrior.
I think on some levels that the argument that Morgan’s having with our world, and certainly having with Rick is kind of misunderstood. He’s not frightened and if he is frightened he’s frightened of who he is when he’s killing. It’s not something that’s done out of any sense of cowardice. It’s a really brave stance and a question that all of us are gonna have to ask ourselves at some point from here on in our world because we all now know how to survive.
The next thing obviously is how do we live? So far we’ve lived – certainly as part of Rick’s group – almost kill first and ask questions after. Morgan’s saying maybe we don’t have to do that. Maybe we can meet people with an open hand and see where that gets us. That’s scary – that’s a scary choice to make, but people die either way. As far as Morgan’s concerned, it’s worth trying.
I’m certainly not brave enough to take that stance so I’m probably closer to the one that just kills. I still argue that I’d be the guy on the first day the dead start to walk, running down the road screaming like a 6-year-old boy, just going ‘The dead are walking! The dead are walking!’ and run straight into the wall and kill myself. That would be me. Almost certainly.
Where do you think the group be now if Morgan had been the one to go to lead instead of Rick?
I know Andy would say everyone would be dead. I genuinely don’t know. I do think that’s an interesting question. The thing about Morgan is he’s not had to lead. He’s not had responsibility since he lost his kid. By the time we meet him in season three, he’s been without his kid for a year, maybe eight or nine months, [and] since then he’s not had any responsibility for anybody but himself. Rick has had to wake up every single morning and virtually his first thought, if not his second thought, is ‘what do I do for my group?’. I think that makes a big difference. I think partly Morgan can indulge in the all life is precious [mantra] because he doesn’t have responsibility for anybody else. I think if he was to be responsible, I’m not sure how dissimilar it would be to Rick. I think he would kill less people.
Do you think The Walking Dead is one big allegory for Trump’s America?
No, we were here before Trump. Trump’s what happens if you watch too much Walking Dead. You start thinking, ‘well that guy looks like he could be President’.