Dalton Ross
October 02, 2017 AT 12:00 PM EDT

Negan made quite the entrance in the season 6 finale of The Walking Dead, and then spent season 7 terrorizing our heroes. But actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan tells EW that we’re going to see more sides to the big bad in season 8, which premieres Oct. 22 on AMC. “We’re going to start seeing slivers of who this guy is beyond the brutality that we saw in season 7,” says Morgan. “The most fascinating stuff that I’ve got to do this year is seeing behind the leather jacket.”

Not that he’ll be that different. “He’s still going to be a big f—ing dick,” the star says with a laugh. We spoke to Morgan to get some scoop on what to expect coming up, and while looking into the future, he expressed a desire to also dig deeper into Negan’s past.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We’ve seen Negan when he’s firmly in power and in charge. But what kind of Negan are we going to see now in the throws of war, when the kids in the schoolyard start standing up to the bully?
JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN: Well, you know, I don’t look at it quite the same way. I don’t know that Negan really sees himself as the bully in this circumstance. I think what’s interesting about this year — for me and for Negan —  is that we’re going to start seeing slivers of who this guy is beyond the brutality that we saw in season 7.

My favorite episode last year was where I got to do some stuff with Chandler Riggs [who plays Carl], where you can start to see little glimpses of Negan and who he is as a man and not just this guy swinging a big bat around. We’re going to find some more things about Negan, which I think are fascinating. I think the audience is going to really kind of dig it too.

But you don’t see him as a bully?
Negan doesn’t see himself as a big bully. I think he wants to be in charge certainly, and that’s not going to go away. That’s probably never going to go away until someone kills him. Hopefully that won’t happen any time soon, but Rick is definitely a thorn in his side and one that he is going to deal with. That being said, he’s going to do it with a sense of humor that only he has, but we’re going to start to learn some stuff about Negan. I think that’s been kind of the most fun I’ve had.

The most fascinating stuff that I’ve got to do this year is seeing behind the leather jacket a little bit. And we’ll find more. We’re finding more all the time, but I think the writers and [showrunner Scott M. Gimple] have, have a plan for Negan, and I’m really liking how it’s playing out thus far.

The episode with Negan and Carl was my favorite of last season as well.
Yeah, and I love that dynamic. I really do. It’s all about kind of seeing behind the curtain with Negan. I think the introduction to him was so kind of brutal. It was sort of hard to see around that and I think as season 8 goes, as we find out more about Negan and how he runs things — yeah, there’s a brutality to it certainly, but there’s also stuff that will make you laugh. He’s a funny guy. But in there, there could be a little bit of a heart. It’s not shriveled up and totally black yet, and that’s the stuff that I am finding that I kind of latch onto. I told you this a long time ago, that if I ever go into playing Negan like I’m the big bad villain, then that’s just so one-note and not fun to play.

Well, he’s certainly colorful.
I have to be careful because the writers have so much fun with Negan and his dialogue that I have to be very careful in kind of tampering that dialogue in places to keep it open to other interpretations, because everybody wants him to be this big bad but I just can’t play him like that. I refuse to, and there’s more to him than that. This year Gimple and I are on a mission to find him in there.

And you know, I always am hoping that, at some point, we do a backstory episode for Negan, because it’s an amazing story. I don’t know that that’s going to happen this year, but we are going to see enough of him and he talks quite a bit, as you know. So he’s going to reveal some of himself to the audience this year, which is going to be awesome. It’s going to be fascinating. [pauses] Of course, he’s still going to be a big f—ing dick!

You buried the lede!
That’s it! I mean, you know, he does things in his own special way and it’s very dicky.

We saw him come in so brutal and charismatic — all personality-driven — but what we saw in that finale was some of his strategic skills too in the way that he turned Jadis and the Scavengers over to his side. I thought that was really interesting because now he’s in a war and it’s ultimately going to come down to strategy.
Absolutely! And Negan is smart. He is a good chess player in this world. Obviously Rick is going to surprise him a little bit, but usually Negan is going to be a step ahead, even when you don’t think he is. He’s starting to figure out that Rick is maybe more unpredictable than he had anticipated and he’s not breaking as easily. Negan respects Rick in a way that he has never respected another human in this time of apocalypse, and that says something.

At this point, I have no doubt that Negan would just assume Rick be buried under six feet of dirt. But there’s a certain amount of respect there because, you know, Rick is Rick. In another lifetime, in another world, these two would hang out and be friends, but in this world, that’s just not going to happen and Rick is a thorn in his side.

And Negan likes that game of cat and mouse a bit, doesn’t he?
I think Negan enjoys the whole challenge of it all. He’s gotten a little bit lazy in this world and now we’ve got this guy that’s out causing all sorts of f—ing havoc in his world and making Negan kind of feel alive for the first time in a while. But Negan, more than anything, is a leader that wants to use people in the best way possible. He looks at everyone as a resource and he wants to save people and he has said it time and time again.

So we’ll see what’s going to happen with these two because something’s going to happen this year. I mean, it’s going to get ugly before it gets better and I’m excited to see how it plays out. But I’ll tell you this, obviously we’re going to be in for a ride this year. Last year was a lot of emotional turmoil. This year it’s going to be more kind of visceral action, which I think the audience deserves after last year.

For more Walking Dead scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss. The Walking Dead returns Oct. 22 on AMC.

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