SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have watched Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Sing Me a Song.”
There have been a lot of fascinating relationships over seven seasons on The Walking Dead, and you can now add another one to that list. After Carl failed to infiltrate the Sanctuary and kill Negan at the start of “Sing Me a Song,” the big bad spent the rest of the episode alternating between terrorizing the teen (by making him remove the bandage covering his missing eye and forcing him to sing while he swung Lucille violently just a few feet away) and showing genuine affection for the kid that just tried to take him out.
We spoke to Negan himself, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, to get some behind-the-scenes scoop on the episode Walking Dead comic book fans have been waiting to see come to life on screen. (Click through both pages to read the entire interview, and also make sure to read our chat with Chandler Riggs.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Negan’s introduction in issue 100 is maybe the biggest moment in all The Walking Dead comics, but I’ve always said that when Carl visits The Sanctuary in issue 105 is probably my favorite issue. I love that story.
JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN: Me too.
So how excited were you to get into this?
I remember you and I talking about this issue before we started season 7. And you asked, “What’s the storyline that you’re anticipating the most from the graphic novel?” And it was absolutely the Negan-Carl stuff. When I first read it, I remember just getting excited, you know what I mean? It’s such a weird relationship the two of them have, and then in talking to [showrunner Scott M. Gimple] and hearing him do interviews, he’d kind of tease, “Oh, it may be with another character, it may not be with Carl.” And I remember hearing that going, “Oh, no, what are they going to do? I really want the Negan-Carl stuff!”
So when we got to episode 7 this year and I read it, I remember being almost gleeful to have the opportunity to relive that issue and those moments and have him sing. And to have Carl busting out with the machine gun at the compound was a pretty cool moment. And my friend Rosemary Rodriguez directed the episode as well, so that was a pretty exciting time.
There are so many different iconic moments to pack in the one episode. I spoke with Chandler Riggs, who talked about working with you. I wanted to ask you what it was like working with Chandler, in that there are some heavy scenes here and you’re working with a younger actor in Chandler. So what was that experience like? How did you handle that?
Well, he was great. He’s a pro. He’s been on this show for seven years and he’s grown up on this thing. You know who was super excited about shooting these scenes was Chandler Riggs! It was a big moment for Carl, this whole episode, and Chandler was very excited. And I remember talking to [Andrew Lincoln]. I called Andy when the episode came up to get any advice that he might have, because I had never really worked with Chandler a lot and he’d been working with Chandler for his whole life. Andy gave me some great advice and we went in and we did it and Chandler was so excited, and I was so excited to be living these moments as well.
I was so impressed with him as a young actor. I think it’s the finest work he’s done on the show, period. I remember sitting across from him doing that scene and he’s unwrapping his head and, man, he was right there, and I was very, very impressed with him. I remember I went home and I called Andy and I go, “Your kid just knocked it out of the park.” He killed it. That’s all you can ask and all you can hope for.
Since he first laid eyes on him, Negan has seemed to be fascinated with Carl. What is it about this kid that Negan finds so intriguing?
I just think that if Negan were to have a kid, he would want him to be this kid. He respects this kid and maybe he sees a bit of himself in him. His initial read on Carl as a little future serial killer is not only a great line, but there’s something he sees in Carl. Carl never has backed away from Negan. His dad has been in tears and no one else will make eye contact, yet Carl never breaks eye contact with Negan during the lineup or anything else, anything we’ve shot. He’s always pissed and I think there’s just a lot of respect there that Negan has for this kid to grow up in this world as he has and survive as long as he had. Negan just simply respects him.
I think we can go and think deeper into this now that we know [from Robert Kirkman’s Negan prequel comic] that Negan worked with kids as a PE teacher and a ping pong coach. Maybe he’s got an affinity toward young people anyway and this is a kid he would want on his ping pong team. Who knows?
We watch Negan alternate between sort of terrorizing this kid with the taking the bandage off and the singing, and then apologizing to him after if he says something that makes him upset. I wonder is that apology genuine or…
I think it’s genuine.
Yeah, Negan prods him and prods him because that’s kind of what Negan’s MO is. He’s going to poke you until he gets the answers that he wants, and when he sees Carl break a little bit, I think Negan genuinely feels bad when he’s talking about his mom and how she died and that. I think Negan genuinely has sympathy for this kid and kind of wants to just put him under his wing. And as that episode goes on, you know how weird it gets — I mean, there’s some weird stuff that just goes on — but I think that Negan is being as genuine as Negan can be. I don’t think it’s a put-on, and I think that moment especially when Carl is talking about his mother and losing her, I really do think that was a genuine moment. That’s not a bulls— moment for Negan.
Let me ask you about another moment then, which is the big iron scene, another big scene from the comics we get to see come to life, and Negan gives this whole speech about the rules and how important those are, and because Mark hooked up with his woman who is now Negan’s woman, he has to go under the iron. And Negan keeps saying stuff like, “Hey, I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to ever have to do this again.” Do you believe him? Do you believe that he doesn’t take any sort of joy out of doing that?
That is hard to tell. I feel like this is a show that Negan has put on before. I feel like these words may ring a little hollow and this may be part of the show as much for Carl as it is for anyone else. I think he’s putting on a little bit of a show for Carl in that circumstance. That being said, I feel like the Saviors have all heard this before, you know what I mean? That’s a lot for Carl’s benefit. Negan is always thinking a move ahead, so he’s going to put on this show for Carl knowing that Carl is going to take this home and make sure everybody knows the kind of ship that he’s running.
But what I particularly liked about that scene — there’s a moment where you see Negan lose it for a second where he gets pissed, where he’s not smiling, and I thought that was super important to not have him smiling for a moment. So a couple of things were important in that episode that stood out for me that I really enjoyed. Because I think the last time we saw Negan was episode 4 in Alexandria where he is just having a blast.
So in this episode when you see him speaking to the Saviors and he is stern, you see a quality in him that we haven’t necessarily seen before, and you see how he can strike fear into his own men and why they would respect him or be scared of him. It’s a different flavor, a different side of Negan as well as the moment where you see him with Carl and you see some sympathy and some understanding there.
NEXT: JDM on the joys of getting to flip off Norman Reedus on camera[pagebreak]
Negan has done and will continue to do atrocious, terrible things, but it’s interesting that seemingly the only place where he draws a line is physically forcing himself on a woman — or allowing any of the Saviors to force themselves on a woman. Why is that the one line he will not cross?
That’s right. I think he’s just got to have a line. I think it’s nice to have one. I hope that it’s possible at some point to do a story about Negan before all this happens so we can find out more about him. I can only go off of what I know that Robert Kirkman has written. Negan had an affair on his wife in the graphic novel and then she passes away from cancer, but not before he comes clean to his wife and professes his love and stays by her hospital bed until she dies. I wonder if that’s where he got his rule from: He felt so guilty, and this is just kind of stuff that I throw around in my head.
But that’s what you have to do as an actor.
That’s right. So I wonder if he just felt so guilty about having that affair and maybe mistreating his wife that he holds women to a certain standard in a different set of rules. Because it is a little odd that out of all the s— that he does, the one thing is he will not let a woman be mistreated. That being said…
It’s only in that way.
Yeah, in that way.
It’s all a bit hypocritical because he does force himself on women in other ways, like the way he took Sherry on as a wife to save Dwight. He gives them the choice, but it’s a loaded choice, right?
Not much of a choice, yeah.
I love that scene between you and Sherry where she says, “Go easy on her.” You say, “I ever hit any one of you?” and she goes, “No, but I know you. There’s worse.” And then there is just a really long pause between you both, and then you laugh and say, “Well, look at you.” It’s almost like you can see the rage building in Negan before you then decide to go another route.
That was another moment from the graphic novel and I was very excited to get to it. There is this relationship that he has with his wives that we finally get to see or start to build something off of now. But that was sort of the introduction to his harem of women and how they came to be.
And yeah, as hypocritical as it is, I think it’s important to remember that still in Negan’s mind, this guy obviously isn’t a normal guy, you know? His set of rules and morals are going to be different than what ours are today. But in his mind, he treats these women really well. Look what he’s going to provide for you. And to see that little glimpse into this group of women that he thinks he lavishes in this lifestyle, and probably in this world there are worse ways to go, I would imagine, but he really thinks that this is a special treat.
Yeah, to be his wife is a special treat. Why would you want anything else?
You get to give Norman Reedus the finger in this episode. How much fun was that?
Oh, God bless him. It is fun to flip off Reedus because I’m usually on the other end of that all the time. So it’s always good. And to do it on camera? Come on, it’s great!
All right, Negan has Judith and Carl on the porch in Alexandria as we end the episode as we head to the mid-season finale. What would you say we should be expecting? We know you’re there waiting for Rick, and Rick is going to come back.
That’s right. I’m there waiting for Rick. We are going to wait for Rick, and I would imagine that Rick is probably not going to be super thrilled to see me there with his family.
It adds an extra level, because in the graphic novel we know Judith is not around at this point. So when this happens in the novel you’re there with Carl, but now you add a baby that you’re bouncing on your lap and kissing the forehead of — that makes it that much more intense.
It’s creepy, man. It’s creepy. We’ll see where that goes. Mid-season finale, you know it’s going to be big.