[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead.]
Blame it on Glenn. Well, not just Glenn. But blame it on the whole group for not letting Rick go back and finish off the Terminus folks when they had the chance. As a result, Gareth is now finishing off a tasty meal consisting of Bob Stookey’s leg. But therein lies the dilemma of season 5 of The Walking Dead. How far is too far in a world now dealing almost exclusively in extremes? We chatted with the man who plays Glenn, Steven Yeun, to get his thoughts on season 5’s first two episodes, whether they were wrong to not exterminate the “Termites” and whether Glenn would have kept Tara’s secret had not she not revealed it herself to Maggie. (Also make sure to read our interview with ‘Walking Dead’ star Michael Cudlitz.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, before we get into the “Strangers” episode, let’s go back to the premiere. Do you realize you were, like, half a second from dying via a baseball bat?
STEVEN YEUN: Glenn loves pickles. He’s always in a pickle. He’s always in a bind. That was a really great moment that [director] Greg Nicotero and [showrumer] Scott Gimple built just to really show how dire that situation was and to maybe mess with the fans a little bit.
Yeah, there was a definite parallel to an event from the comic book that involves Glenn and a baseball bat.
All too close.
As you’re filming that and there’s this guy behind you with a big bat just waiting to take a swing, what’s that feeling like?
I actually nearly passed out almost because I was straining so hard. I was trying to play in that medium place of extreme fear and tension with a little bit of confidence of maybe I could possibly get out of this — but you’re just bracing yourself for this dude to hit you. The situation is so real that they make. You know, the trough is there, the dudes on the left of me — we saw them do the blood thing and you’re like, “What is happening?!” And I remember they had my real reaction where I look over and I’m like, “Oh, shoot! This is crazy!” That’s what’s so great about our show too, is that they really help the actor. There’s no green screen stuff. It’s just practical stuff.
There’s also a scene in the premiere where Rick doesn’t want to help those people out of the other train car and Glenn says, “We’ve got to let those people out. That’s still who we are. It’s got to be.” Combine that with what we saw in this last episode and it seems like this season is really shaping up to be about what are you willing to do and become in this world, and Glenn is simply trying to hang on to his humanity here.
Absolutely. Where we left off last season was Glenn woke up and everybody he loved and everything he loved was gone, with the prison in just complete ruins. And to wake up in a situation like that, I don’t know if many people would continue on, and Glenn in that scenario — he took it in, he had his moment, and then realized he needs to find them and he gathered up the goods and he went to go find them. And then he did find them. Everything that he wanted to do actually came true, it came to fruition. I think that only solidified in him the idea that humanity and hope is worth fighting for and looking for.
So you find Glenn on the heels of that — even having been in the train car and even almost getting his head bashed in — they still made it out. And that’s the continuing story for Glenn, is that he keeps on preserving through these very terrible situations, and for him he can only say, “I’m the guy that pulled this cop out of the tank. I have to pull these people out of this train car. We have to. That’s who we are.” And he’s grasping at that, and that’s what’s great about this season too. It’s not such a broad stroke, it’s actually a really specific, interesting look into each character to see what side of the fence they are on. What part of this gamut between savagery or humanity do they want to sit on? Because sometimes there is no going back. You look at the Terminus people and they said, “This is it. We’ve chosen. You can’t go back.” And that, to me, is the theme persevering through this whole season.
We got a moment in this second episode of the season where Abraham is trying to rally people to his DC trip plan and Glenn says basically, we’re doing what Rick does. We’re not splitting up again. That’s really important to him, isn’t it — that they finally got most of the family back together and no way is he ready for that to be torn apart again?
Yeah, I mean, why? Why split up? We fought so hard to get back to each other and now we’re just gonna go? The situation is a tough one because what Abraham is asking is, let’s save the world. And it’s just this really tough decision that everyone is kind of making. You don’t know what to do because your world is there. That is your world is the people that are there with you. And it’s there. But do you make this play for an even greater version of that? I don’t know.
We don’t get a lot of humor on this show, but we did get a little minute with Glenn trying to cover up for his not-so-smooth move of tripping over a mop. The show is so bleak at times — hopeful, but also bleak — that it’s nice to get a lighter moment like that every once in a while.
You’ve got to play them just right. You can’t really go for the joke. You can’t sell it. There are many different ways that moment could have been played…
You mean like slapstick or something…
Yeah. But you really have to ground it because it is a bleak show and what comedy we can have just really comes from truthful moments. I think Carol moments are hilarious. I think Carol can easily be considered one of the most intriguing and at the same time most hilarious characters. Because everything she does is so honest that even if she is saying some weird quippy joke it’s just so real. And that’s nothing short of the brilliance of Melissa McBride. The show is interesting because at the beginning you very much saw Glenn as that guy who would speak in weird catchphrases, like “If bad ideas were an Olympic event this would take the gold.” But Glenn has matured over the years and evolved so it’s hard for that to come out of his mouth in these later seasons.
Well, he started as almost the scrappy errand boy ready to go do the missions, but now he’s calling some of the shots.
Absolutely. I think Glenn was always there. I don’t think it was even a case of people not giving him a chance to shine or not giving him a chance to be listened to, but rather Glenn finding himself over the years. You realize that Glenn is someone that is realizing maybe more than he would have pre-apocalypse, he’s realizing himself much more — just because the situation wipes everything out of society and wipes everything equal. Now its just who you are at your core and what you’re made of, and I think Glenn has definitely proven that he’s made of much more that people thought. The way I see it, Glenn in the pre-apocalypse was just somebody who didn’t push himself. He never asserted himself. But you put him in a scenario where it’s just about who you are at your core, and it shows. He has that in his soul.
We saw Tara confess to Maggie that she was with the guy who beheaded her father. Would Glenn have kept that a secret if Tara hadn’t brought it up?
That’s a great question. I don’t think he would have kept that a secret. I think that is the one key thing that Glenn and Maggie definitely have is very good communication. That’s just a tip for relationships out there: solid communication. [Laughs] I think he would have told her, but knowing Maggie he would have known how to present that to her and he would have also known how she would have responded to that. Glenn was able to give Tara that redemption. He was able to give her that forgiveness because really, she wasn’t a part of it. She was just affected by it. She was a pawn in that specific case. Over the course of time, Tara has definitely proven herself and her loyalty to where she is. And to this point Tara is definitely very much a part of his family — of this bigger family that exists in this group. And she would not be left behind in any circumstance.
Okay, so we have to talk about what happened to Bob being captured and eaten by Gareth. Having read the comics I have a pretty good sense of what’s coming up next with that, but did you guys screw up? Rick wanted to go back and finish them off and you wouldn’t let them! This is on you, man! This is on you!
Yeah, it’s interesting. I think that’s what’s cool is Glenn holds out hope for humanity and for redemption and for salvation for people, but this world keeps screwing it up. Even in that first episode with the guy in the crate: He’s the loon. He’s the crazy guy that bound them up the first time — and he saved him. And that’s the world just continuing to beat down this semblance of hope that Glenn is striving for. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see that affect him a little bit as it goes on. That’s what’s amazing about this world is that even the Terminus people — you could justify what they’re doing in that world. Because if the world is just, “How do you survive?” then they’re not necessarily pure evil — they’re just doing what is necessary to live. And it’s such a sliding scale of what’s right and what’s wrong and it depends on what viewpoint you’re coming from, but clearly even within the group you see people sitting on different sides of that meter and that gamut of choices. Rick, in that moment, he was right from a practical standpoint. But can you come back from that?