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'The Walking Dead': Lennie James explains why Morgan locked that door

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Gene Page/AMC

[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “Here’s Not Here” episode of The Walking Dead.]

Answers! They came fast and furious on tonight’s “Here’s Not Here” installment of The Walking Dead. It was a flashback episode for Morgan, as he shared his story with the Wolf he captured in the episode two weeks ago. We learned how Morgan went from the lunatic seen in season 3’s “Clear” to the Zen-like pacifist stick-master we know now.

It turns out it was a chance encounter with a man named Eastman (John Carroll Lynch) and an introduction to aikido that transformed Morgan from a murderous lunatic into a man schooled to protect the sanctity of life. We spoke to Lennie James, the actor who plays Morgan, about the supersized 90-minute episode and the meaning behind several key moments, including Morgan’s decision to lock the door at the very end — a direct contradiction to Eastman leaving Morgan’s cell unlocked. What does it all mean? We went to James for answers. (Read through both pages for the entire interview.)

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ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We get to see a lot of season 3 Clear-era Morgan. What was it like getting back in that headspace?

LENNIE JAMES: I have to say it was slightly odd really, because it was getting back into the headspace and then going back even further into the rabbit hole. So that was on one level the trickiest part of the whole episode was going back to who he was at that point, and I actually had to go back and watch the episode, which is something I never do and I was quite surprised in myself that I did. But it actually did prove very, very helpful.

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And just to hear his voice at that point, and looking at his eyes, and I’m separated enough from it to forget that it’s me. And the rest of it was just trusting the script, and putting the clothes back on really helped. I was surprised by how much that orangey-browny patterned shirt and the track suit bottoms and knee pads helped and I just went, “Oh, right, I remember now.” And then when they start flicking blood on you, you go, “Okay, I’m back there now.” So that was very helpful.

In a way, this episode is basically like a two-man play. What was it like working with John Carroll Lynch who played Morgan’s savior and mentor Eastman?

I loved it. It was fantastic. There are few times on TV where you just have two people in a room and their characters are just allowed to play, to butt heads, to move closer together, to explore things, and it’s lovely. And when you can do it with an actor of John’s caliber and his kind of skill, it’s gravy. It’s the best day to work, because anything you throw in his direction he is more than capable of taking on board and then throwing it back even better, so it was a lovely experience.

But what was very weird about the episode is that although it feels like it’s just two guys in a room, it was arguably one of the most physically challenging episodes that I’ve certainly done on the show so far.

In what sense?

There’s a lot of stick play that goes in, and one of the brilliances of John Carroll Lynch is that by the time we shot episode 4 — because we shot it out of sequence — I’ve had the bow staff in my hand for a couple of months. So for a few months I’ve been with rehearsals and practice and training that I did before I got to Atlanta. It was close to if not three months I’ve been swinging the stick, and John had to come in, and he was playing Eastman who’s my mentor and the guy who taught me to use the stick, so he had to come in at a higher level than I was at, and that just meant practicing during every waking moment that he had when he wasn’t learning all of the lines that he had to learn. Because the other thing in it is that Morgan is silent in episode 4 for large parts and John is doing all the taking, so he had to take that on board as well.

We had two or three fights that we had to choreograph and work on between the two of us, one of which was an elaborate stick fight, and then there was a whole second half of the day after lunch where I spent close to seven hours just killing walkers — just running up on walkers and hitting them in different ways in different places and in different locations and then dragging them to the pyre. And there was quite a lot of running. Physically it was much more challenging than it seemed like it was going to be when you read the script.

You talk about the fight scenes and there’s that one scene where Eastman gives Morgan two choices: leave or stay on the couch. Morgan instead attacks him, gets subdued, Eastman gives him the two choices again, and instead of taking either of those, Morgan goes back into the cell. Why is that? Does he think he doesn’t deserve the couch?

For me, that’s the saddest moment of all of Morgan’s journey — in the sense that he’s given two choices, and he picks neither. I think you’re absolutely right: He’s not worth it at that point. It’s why he keeps asking Eastman to kill him. He has craved death since he lost his son. So that moment where Eastman goes, “you can do this or you can do that,” he’s simply not capable any more at that particular point. He’s defeated. He’s physically defeated because Eastman has just kicked his ass, but he’s also just emotionally defeated. And actually the only sanctuary is in a cell that has a door that isn’t even locked, but he wants that door closed. That, for me, was Morgan’s rock bottom.

NEXT: Why Morgan locks the Wolf in the house[pagebreak]

Let’s talk about Morgan’s reaction after Eastman gets bit saving him. Morgan becomes very angry, and tries to fight him again. Why is that?

This is what I mean about the kind of fragility of Morgan’s position. When we meet him in the finale of season 5, everybody’s talking about the new Zen-like Morgan. He seems more sorted, he seems more sane. That’s a very good example here of how fragile that new perspective that Morgan is trying to take on the world, just how very, very fragile it is. Because Morgan, I believe in the moment believes that that bite and that ultimate death was his, not Eastman’s, and Eastman has taken it away from him.

And, on top of that, that Eastman is now yet another person that Morgan is going to have to watch die. I think in that particular moment Morgan doesn’t know how much Eastman means to him until yet again he’s about to lose somebody close to him, and that’s why he gets angry at Eastman. It’s a way of deflecting his own pain, because he’s basically saying that this whole situation would have been easier if you would just let that bite be mine. And that’s what he’s saying and that’s why he comes out in that rage when he’s screaming at him “Tell me how it is! Tell me how it is!”

It’s almost like he’s going, “Why do I have to go through all of this again? You now have that thing I’ve been craving the whole time,” which is that death. And Morgan is drawn right back into the hole. Because sometimes there’s a safety in insanity. Sometimes you can be safe in your pain. Because it blocks out other things, you get to a point where you can handle it. And I think that’s where Morgan goes with Eastman for a minute.

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We see Eastman give him the rabbit’s foot that showed up later and we see them talking about Goo-Goo clusters which show up later, but why does Morgan bring that bullet that the couple left for him that we see again while he’s on his journey? What’s the significance of that?

I think the significance of the bullet is that those people are the first people that Morgan has come across in a very long time that he didn’t try to kill. They’re the first people he’s allowed to walk away. That’s the moment where he takes his first step towards his new mantra, which is that all life is precious. And that’s the moment where he realizes the possibility and where his eyes are open enough to see.

Before he met Eastman, he would have met that couple on his travels and he would recognized that they were of no real danger to him and he would have killed them anyway, because they don’t clear. And they end up being the first people that he lets go and his first baby step towards the idea that all life is precious and that’s why the bullet is relevant.

The cell door was always open for Morgan when he was at Eastman’s, so why does Morgan then lock the door on the Wolf at the end?

Other people have to take their own interpretation of it, but what I believe is that part of the reason why Morgan locks the door is because Morgan isn’t Eastman yet. Morgan isn’t where Eastman was. Morgan could not at that particular moment in time say out loud “I am at peace because I have decided that all life is precious and I will not kill again.” Morgan is not at the stage that Eastman was in, which is he will not kill anything ever again. Morgan hasn’t gotten to that point.

And the other thing that I think is relevant here is when Eastman told Morgan that the door wasn’t locked — once Morgan stepped out of that cell the first thing he did was attack Eastman. And Morgan is going away and he’s not Eastman and I don’t think the wolf is Morgan. I think he weighs that up and he’s going to try and do for the wolf what Eastman did for him, but he’s going to do it in his own particular way, and he’s going to learn from the lessons of Eastman’s successes as well as his failures. So he’s not going to do everything exactly the same. He’s just going to try to come out with the same outcome.

For more ‘Walking Dead’ intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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