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'Walking Dead': Lennie James explains Morgan's backstory

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Gene Page/AMC

[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “Conquer” season finale of The Walking Dead.]

He looked like Morgan. And he sounded like Morgan. But he sure didn’t act like Morgan. Yes, Rick’s buddy from episode 1 returned last night on The Walking Dead season finale, but as a much different version from the cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs character we saw back in season 3’s “Clear.” What happened to Morgan to bring him back from the mental and emotional abyss he was mired in back when Rick left him in “Clear”? Lennie James, who plays Morgan, dropped a few clues when we chatted about Morgan’s big return. He also talks about the possibilities moving forward involving Morgan and other characters in season 6. (Also make sure to read our Q&As with Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, and Gale Anne Hurd, as well as a season 6 tease from showrunner Scott Gimple.)

EW: So, now that you have done your requisite one big episode for every two years, does that mean Morgan is now going to go out for a walk and disappear until season 7?

LENNIE JAMES: [Laughs] In all honesty, I don’t exactly know. I know I’ll be back around for at least one episode of season 6 and beyond that, as always, I am at the mercy of the show.

As you all are. But clearly we are meeting a different Morgan here. He’s gone from the brink of insanity—or maybe a few steps over the brink—to a seemingly very Zen place. What can you tell us about Morgan 2.0?

I can tell you that much like the transformation from the first pilot episode to “Clear” where there was an incident in the sense that Morgan lost his wife and his son—and we saw the affect that had on him in “Clear”—an incident has happened to Morgan again. He has come across someone who has kind of led him and redirected him to another path. And what we’ve met in the finale of season 5 and we may well witness is season 6 is the result of that incident. I hope that makes sense. I am desperately trying not to say things that A) I don’t know about it, and B) What little I do know, I’m not allowed to say.

Let’s talk about that in terms of how much do you know about Morgan’s actual backstory that got him to this place. What did showrunner Scott Gimple tell you in terms of what Morgan’s been doing and what’s happened to him?

He told me as much as I asked for and I wanted, and as much as I felt that I needed. So he explained in very broad strokes—because at the moment they’re still part of the mythology of the next season—so what he told me was that Morgan meets a particular person who had an affect on him and he explained to me in very broad terms the specifics of that meeting.

And you’ve mentioned how that might be something we get to in season 6. That could just be him telling Rick about it, but this show has been known to play with time a bit to show events from the past. Do you think that’s something we might get to actually see in season 6, kind of like what they did with the Governor in season 4 when they spent two episodes filling in the blanks on that character’s journey?

To be honest, I don’t know. I hope the audience gets to see it, but again I’m at the mercy of the storyteller. I think whichever way it comes out is whichever way it’s best for the show really. But I hope you get to see it because I do like that the show has the ability to do that and that it’s brave enough to take its time and trust the audience and believe in its mythology—and the fact that the fans are smart enough and committed enough to go with it.

What do you think Morgan is thinking there when he finally gets to Rick, and the first thing he sees is him executing someone?

I think that it’s shock. This is not where he expected to find Rick. This is not who he expected to find. He just walked in on the scene so he’s obviously going to be asking for an explanation. But I think at this particular moment in time the initial reaction is that it’s almost as if the tables have been completely turned and done a complete 180. I’m standing where Rick was in “Clear” and Rick is standing where I was in “Clear.” I mean, he’s gone to the cray cray side. Quite obviously that is not the entire situation, but certainly on first viewing and first impressions you can understand why Morgan might make that mistake.

When I spoke to Norman Reedus, he said he thought Morgan might know that Daryl and Aaron are connected to Rick when he shows them the map? Do you think Morgan had any inkling of that?

I don’t know. No. The difference is that when Norman also said that on Talking Dead, he also prefaced it by saying, “There must have been a situation even though we might not have seen it in the show—there must have been a moment when Rick mentioned Morgan to Daryl.” That’s a conversation that almost certainly could have happened. At the moment, there is no situation I can envisage in which Morgan would have any sense of the group that Rick is connected to. In the first episode, it was Rick, Morgan and Morgan’s son, and then when we saw him again in “Clear” it was Rick, Carl, and Michonne, and Morgan. So he can imagine that there’s more people, but he certainly wouldn’t be in a situation where he would connect them to anybody else.

He didn’t connect the W men to Rick, and he must have come across other people and he doesn’t necessarily make the connection that they must all have something to do with Rick. I think that’s an assumption that Daryl can make. I don’t believe it’s an assumption that Morgan can make. I think when he hands him the map he’s being absolutely honest when he says, “I’m lost, and could you help me find my way?” And obviously the conversation that we didn’t see that went on is that I’m going to see this guy called Rick Grimes who was a sheriff of this town and that’s the way the conversation would have gone.

What was it like being back on The Walking Dead set and working with these folks again? Obviously working with new folks too, but with some of the crew and Andrew Lincoln again?

It’s great going back, but my history of going to The Walking Dead since the pilot has been one that has been hugely steeped in secrecy. So all efforts are made to keep my presence there secret, and that was true right up until and including the finale. So mostly that meant I was not just kept secret from fans that might be around, but it also meant I couldn’t stay in the places where most of the actors are staying, so had to stay miles out and away so the game wasn’t given away. So it was very weird coming back this time because it is not just that I have not filmed with so many of the other cast-members outside of Chandler and Danai and Andy—it’s also that I haven’t actually met the other cast-members. So this was a weird introduction to a large part of the show that I have been on-and-off for nearly five years. So it was a very weird kind of homecoming as it were.

And also sometimes when I’ve gone there to film—because again of secrecy and what was needed for the scenes I was shooting—there were also members of the crew whom I had not come across for a while because they weren’t around when they were doing secret filming of me walking down train tracks and seeing signs on doors and trees and walking into gutted churches. So it was a very strange experience, but I enjoyed the fact that I was finally there and finally getting to meet the other people. It felt like I had been doing a show within the show and now I was finally invited to the show.

And I think to now see this character get fully integrated with the rest of the cast is what’s exciting.

Yeah, hopefully I think it offers a lot of potential and inspiration to the writers’ room, because there are so many different people that Morgan now has the opportunity to interact with outside of just Rick. There was the start of an interaction that went between Carl and Morgan, because Carl shot Morgan. And they had a moment as Rick and Carl and Michonne were leaving Crazytown—there was a moment between Carl and Morgan that could be explored. There are so many. There is a lot of opportunity, and hopefully the writers are excited by that.

Also make sure to read our Q&As with Andrew LincolnNorman Reedus, and Gale Anne Hurd, as well as a season 6 tease from showrunner Scott Gimple. And For more ‘Walking Dead’ scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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