In the world of The Walking Dead, any notions about surviving the zombie apocalypse through methods of non-violence are constantly proven to be impossible.
On tonight's new episode, resident pacifist Morgan (Lennie James) was finally forced to abandon his "kill no living thing" credo when push came to shove and Richard (Karl Makinen), on his continued quest to goad the Kingdom into war with the Saviors, incited violence by hiding one of the cantaloupes in the Kingdom's delivery. His suicide mission backfired when that long-haired Savior goon killed young Benjamin (Logan Miller) instead, pushing Morgan back to the brink of insanity. Eventually, Richard got what he wanted when Morgan smashed his head in during the second meeting with the Saviors.
It was a profoundly sad moment for both Morgan and the audience, as yet again, we were reminded that any hope of doing things differently wasn't feasible and violence was almost always inevitable. To break down Morgan's big moment, as well as his ever-evolving relationship with Carol (Melissa McBride), E! News got James himself on the phone. What follows is our unedited Q&A.
E! News: I want to start of by jumping right into it and talking about the big moment where Morgan's ongoing struggle to avoid killing the living came to an end as he killed Richard. Why now, in that moment, does he abandon his philosophy?
Lennie James: Well, that's a very big question. It doesn't have a real straight-forward answer. I don't think that's what Morgan does. I don't think Morgan goes, in any way, shape or form, thinking at that particular moment in time, "I'm going to go against my philosophy." I don't believe that that is what Morgan's philosophy is. Morgan's philosophy is: "As much as is humanly possible, I will try not to take another life," based on the premise that all life is precious. If he can avoid killing, he will avoid killing because he perceives that and believes that to be a better way to live. But he has killed and he's aware that he might have to kill again.
In this particular situation, he kills Richard because Richard caused the death of Benjamin and Benjamin was a symbol of Morgan putting a toe back in the water of caring about other people, about investing himself in other people, about believing himself by opening up to King Ezekiel and the people in the Kingdom and taking on responsibility for Benjamin and, by default, his brother as well. I think that simple possibility of some kind of permanence, some kind of life, some kind of possibility of something other than killing or avoiding being killed, what the Kingdom offered Morgan, was taken away when Richard caused the death of Benjamin. And I think that the reasons why Richard explains why he did it—in order to force us to go to war—Morgan understands, Morgan might even to some extent agree with. What he doesn't agree with is Richard leading that charge and he certainly doesn't agree with it once he asks Richard, "Have you told the king and have you told the people that you live with what you've done?" And he quite obviously hasn't done it. I think it's too much for Morgan. And if we are going to follow Richard's plan, let's follow it, but Richard's going to have to pay the ultimate price.
What was your read on when Morgan decided he was going to, in fact, kill Richard? Do you think he was prepared to do it from the moment he put it all together or was it spur of the moment?
I think right up until the end, Morgan's trying to find a way not to do it. And I think that's why he asks him, "Have you told the king? And have you told the people around you?" And the sight of him walking towards the Saviors with the single cantelope and that cantaloupe that caused the death of another human being, that symbol that he's handing it over like it's some kind of victory and he can hear in his own head the speech that Richard's going to give or possibly be thinking about how smart or how clever he's been and how he's going to walk toward. I think it's just too much.
And I think we get a sense of the turmoil that's been stirring in Morgan, what he's been trying to hold down or what he's holding at bay when he misspeaks and names his son Duane instead of Benjamin and that takes him by surprise and makes him realize just how close to the edge he's returned to and he needs to pull himself back. I think that he doesn't wake up in the morning thinking "I'm going to kill Richard." He wakes up in the morning going, "I might have to, but I hope to God I don't." If he'd answered that one question differently, Richard would still be alive.
The internal battle he's been waging feels almost like a loose analogy for sobriety, with Morgan finally falling off the wagon this week. Is that reading too much into things or have there ever discussions about his path in those terms?
There wasn't actually. There wasn't at all, but it fits kind of really well. For me, sobriety wasn't the hook as far as that was concerned. For me, it wasn't that he was addicted to killing. It was just the head he needed to have on when he was on that place and the person he had to be wasn't the person he wanted to be, so it's a fantastic analogy for sobriety. We've just never spoken the words, but quite obviously now, that's all I'm going to be aligning it to because it fits better than any other example that I had. I feel stupid that I hadn't said it before to myself. So, I thank you for that and I'm going to claim it to be my own and say that I'm the person who came up with it. [Laughs] But no, I think it kind of fits.
For me, it's the demon. It's the reason why Morgan looks behind himself in the last shot when he's sharpening his stick. There's a moment where he stops and looks behind himself, and I think he's looking back at the beast. He's trying to see how far away he is from rock bottom, from the Morgan he was in "Clear" and from the Morgan he was when Eastman found him and how far away he is from there. He's still trying to keep that beast at bay, even though he's hurting because he's lost Benjamin and he's not just killed someone, he's killed someone with his bare hands and deliberately so. I think it is the journey that he's on and the path that he's trying to work on. He has slipped off the wagon, but I don't think he's necessarily going to slip all the way down. But it is inevitable and obvious that we are going to war, and Morgan will have a role to play in that war whether he likes it or not.
Right. Shifting gears a little, I want to talk about Morgan's relationship with Carol. In the beginning of the episode, he won't tell Carol what happened in Alexandria, but he will take her to learn the truth. But at the end, he's willing. How would you explain his changed mind?
He also says in the beginning, "I'll go with you because you shouldn't go alone." And I think one level, it's about future and it's about Morgan saying, "As much as I gave you my word that I will respect your wishes and I didn't tell Rick and Darryl and them that you were just around the corner because you asked me not to, I don't think it's my place to tell you about Abraham and Glenn" because Morgan, to a great or lesser extent, doesn't know them. I mean, he understands what the loss of them does to the group and means to the group, but it doesn't mean, necessarily, the same to him. He has no long-term relationship with Glenn, he has no long-term relationship with Abraham, he has very little relationship with Spencer and almost none with Olivia. So he understands the loss that Carol might be feeling, but he doesn't feel it himself, and she should be told of those losses and share those losses with somebody who feels them like she does.
The events that happen, the loss, propel Morgan to a different spot in his own life and that spot is, as he says to Carol when she asks him "Where are you going?" that spot is he's going to start walking forward and he's going to kill every Savior he can come across until one of them kills him. And that's where he's about to go. And before he does, he wants to say goodbye to his friend, and that's why he turns up on her door and that's why he offers her what he offers her, which is he doesn't say, "I'm going to tell you." He says, "Do you still want to know? Do you want me to tell you? Because if you do, I will and if you don't, fine, but I'm gone. And this is probably my last opportunity to tell you because I'm going." And he is, for all intents and purposes, saying goodbye.
We see a sort of striking reversal of roles in their relationship in that final scene, where she offers him the same "go, but not go" speech that Ezekiel gave her when they arrived at the Kingdom. How would you characterize their relationship at this point? They were adversaries for so long, struggling with their opposing world views, but really, they're sort of the closest that each other has at the moment. How would you characterize their relationship, and how does their relationship get him to say, since he does choose to stay in the end?
I think that Carol and Morgan are possibly on their way to being soulmates. And I don't necessarily think that that is a sexual thing or a relationship-based thing. I think it's two people who, whether they like it or not—and whether they like it or not is important—they get each other. They see themselves in each other. They recognize the loss and they recognize the journey. They are two people, in a world—that's one of the brilliances of our show—in a world where characters are allowed to change, characters are allowed to become something other than what they've been, these are two people who have gone on massive life changes. I mean, Carol, even more so than Morgan, is unrecognizable from who she was when we first met her. They see that in each other.
And they can talk about things without having to say everything because they can see the other person knows. And whether they're in conflict or whether they're standing side-by-side, they can't avoid what they see in each other and what they recognize between each other and what passed between them. Their journey will be, on one level, an exploration of that friendship. And I think that's why Carol can calm him, as it were, with something so cryptic as "You can go without going" and why he listens to her because he knows she knows of what she speaks.
This second half of the season has been measurably more hopeful than the first as we've seen Rick and the people of Alexandria reclaim their strength to bring the fight to Negan and rally the troops, but with three episodes left and this being The Walking Dead, we know war is coming and the misery can't be far off. How would you characterize the road to the finale with these last couple of episodes? How intensely should we be preparing?
I think your description yet again is fantastic. War is coming and misery can't be too far behind, and I think that kind of sums it up in a really good way. The battle will inevitably commence and everybody is going to have to find their place in that war because it's almost certainly going to be all-encompassing.
We weren't introducing these worlds unless they're all going to be involved, so it's going to involve the Hilltoppers and Maggie and Sasha and Jesus and all the people up there. And it's going to involve the Alexandrians, and it's going to involve the group, and it's going to involve the Oceansiders, and it's going to involve the Scavengers, and it's going to involve the Saviors, and it's going to involve the Kingdommers and anybody else caught in between. It is going to be physical, with all that that brings with it. So for the fans, I would say, yet again, buckle down and get ready for what's about to happen.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.