'Walking Dead' star Steven Yeun on Glenn's big episode
[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only of you have already watched Sunday’s “Spend” episode of The Walking Dead.]
When you have a cast as big as The Walking Dead, it is natural for character storylines to ebb and flow. Steven Yeun’s Glenn had been relatively quiet lately, but that all changed tonight.
While out on a supply run for the power grid, everything went bad when Aiden accidently shot a grenade that exploded. And then it went from bad to worse when cowardly Nicholas took off not once, but twice, leaving Aiden to die, and then abandoning Glenn and Noah in a revolving door surrounded by zombies to save his own skin. Glenn then had to sit and watch in helpless horror as his friend’s face was ripped off and he was consumed by zombies mere inches away. It was a powerful installment that showed Yeun’s character as both a full-fledged leader and as someone having to experience tragedy up close and personal for the very first time. The actor spoke to EW.com exclusively to give his take on filming the big episode and what it means for Glen Rhee. (Also make sure to read our Q&A with Noah himself, Tyler James Wiliams, as well as our take on why this latest episode changes everything.)
EW: I’m curious how this episode was presented to you. Did you just read the script like normal, or did you get a warning from your showrunner Scott Gimple about some heavy stuff coming up?
STEVEN YEUN: I don’t know if it was necessarily just for the heavy stuff, I think it was also he called us all to tell us about Tyler’s departure from the show. That’s obviously a lot to take in—he’s so great and to know that he was going was kind of a bummer. As are all. But he called and said, “Hey, these are the things that are happening, but it’s going to affect everybody”. It’s pretty interesting when something happens on the show means something and elicits some response. So I was excited.
When we first pick thing up, what’s happened between Glenn and Aiden’s relationship since the episode two weeks ago, because they’re fighting then, but when the episode begins they seem to have found a little common ground?
I think at that point they’re heading towards amends. They’re heading towards a mutual respect, in a way. With Glenn, how he always saw Aiden and Nicholas and kind of Alexandrians in general was that he sees a bit of himself—he sees an early version of what Glenn was like when he was in the apocalypse. To see the change that has happened in Glenn from the beginning up until now—even before you catch him saving Rick in the tank—you think about what he probably went through. He sees these people and he’s like, yeah this is what I used to be like. And he looks at Aiden and Nicholas specifically and says, “These are the people that I could have been if I went the other way. If I had been sheltered like them I could have been someone ill prepared, someone that’s just scared.” And I think he realizes that with Aiden. So after the punch, it was kind of Glenn coming to an understanding that they need help, and then Aiden also coming to an understanding that they need help. So for them to come together on this mission was not even like a good graces thing, but more like, let’s actively work together to pursue what we all want, which is a life and safety within that life.
You guys get to the warehouse. It’s dark, lots of zombies, an explosion—just gnarly all around. What was filming that scene like?
It was a lot of fun, it was really dark. A lot of smoke machines going on in there. [Laughs] It’s just so gnarly, some of the things we do. I remember laying on the ground, doing the post-explosion scene of getting up. One of our focus pullers would keep throwing styrofoam peanuts at me just to cover me in peanuts before the take, and people would hack cough and just kind of prepare themselves on the ground, groaning and moaning until we called action. It’s so fun to have a space that’s realistic to work in and also have people that are so committed. It just feels like everything that you’re doing is real, so it’s a lot of fun.
You’ve got this scene with Daniel Bonjour who plays Aiden, and it’s his death scene as you’re trying to save him, but the zombies are closing in and Nicholas is taking off. Is filming a death scene like this—even for a guy who has only been on the show for two episodes—different, and if so how?
I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily different. You have someone that’s been there a long time, and I guess the impact is just greater to the audience. But for us, it’s not that there’s no weight to it, it’s more that you’re appreciating the good work that that actor did up to that point in such a short amount of time. And I thought Daniel did a pretty great job selling himself as a douchebag. I felt like he helped make that punch the other week so satisfying, and he built that to that place. So when you see his death, it is nice to see and get a moment of confession, a moment of redemption to tell his story.
Tell me about the staging for the revolving door scene. What a cool concept for Glenn, Noah and Nicholas to get stuck in opposite sides of that door—just a really neat new way to show being trapped in a confined, transparent space.
They actually built a revolving door, so you can’t really put anything past them to not be able to do. They physically built one and then they installed it into the side of an actual building. Our set guys are incredible. We set that up and we were practicing in it a couple of days before—just running through rehearsal and seeing the logistics by which this could actually happen and what we would actually do to get out of it. It worked out to be a really great set piece to obviously show what’s happening, but also to show the differences in two people. It speaks on multiple platforms and levels.
It ends with this brutal death of Noah after Nicholas leaves you guys to die. Noah says, “Don’t let go” but the walkers get him. And then you have to sit there like a foot away from him and watch his face get ripped off right in front of you. How do you, as an actor, prepare for that?
That was a gnarly thing to prepare for. Tyler was so great being right there connected with me the entire time. For me, I was just keeping a mantra in my head. I kind of kept on having the idea of what was about to happen kind of roll through my head. Everyone’s always there to help out and make this place a free place to just go for it. And Tyler was awesome. It was kind of organic how everything happened.
This particular scene was an emotional climax in a negative way for your character, but I imagine an exciting one for you as an actor.
You know, it’s a loaded scene. You look at what Noah represents to Glenn as well—he’s the other end of that spectrum that I was speaking about with Aiden and Nicholas. He has the potential, he sees potential in Noah, he sees a glimpse of himself in Noah. To look at him is to say, this is an early version of what Glenn could have been. The deciding factor was the fact that Glenn accepted this reality and decided that he wants to continue to survive in it. That’s what brought Glenn to this place and he can see that Noah can also come to the same place—that they all want to just live and carry on with their lives.
To see that wasted, to see that gone—in that moment, when Noah says to Glenn, “Don’t let go,” it’s already too late. They have him. And I think for Noah, the “Don’t let go” always echoed a sentiment of don’t let go of this idea of this place of the hope or the possibility of continuing to survive in a safe place. Keep it. He saw a glimpse of it himself, and is saying that hey, there is life after all this tragedy and all this death. You can continue on in this world as a human being. I think that was severely rocked when he loses him. But in that same meltdown, as he’s watching someone horrifically torn apart in front of him, he’s going through a million things.
I don’t think Glenn has ever lost anybody. He’s lost people that can mean a lot to him, but he’s never physically been there to unsuccessfully lose somebody. Dale’s death, he wasn’t there for and was just kind of a witness to afterwards. Rick, he saved. Anyone that he actively tried to save he usually succeeded, but this is the first person he had in his hands and just completely lost. So that was a terrible blow for him. You just kind of look at where Glenn’s headspace was—they’ve all witnessed some gruesome things, but to see someone that he physically knows and cares about and has come to fold into the group, he’s watching get torn apart in the most gruesome way. For Glenn, he’s dealing with the shock of it all and also dealing with a million things going through his head.
What was it like saying goodbye to Tyler James Williams?
He brought nothing short of some amazing magic. I would watch [the scene] in proximity to him and a lot of people watched it in video village. Even his scream was so good—it was filled with so much more than “I’m being eaten.” You look at that scene and you’re like, “Oh my god.” You can kind of see all the emotion coming from him in that moment as well. A quiet resilience that turns into a scream, an acceptance of his fate, but at the same time—an intense fear. For our show, casting does such an amazing job of bringing in really great actors. For him to have made the mark that he did on the show is a great testament, but also a big sadness for us. We want as many great actors as we can on the show because it’s just fun.
We saw this all across the board and in last night’s episode—that the people of Alexandria don’t know what they’re doing and don’t know how to lead.
I think that’s the reason why, ultimately, Deanna did bring us in. She’s smart enough to know—and so is Aaron—that they need this. As they plan to expand, they need us—they need some grit. They realize that a lot of the people that are in place are not capable of carrying on in such a dark world. What’s fun is to see how each character comes in and develops their own way of leading or taking charge or accepting their fate. Some people have a tougher time coming to a normal place and other people fit right in pretty well off the bat. It’s just fun to play that kind of spectrum of people, determining how you fit in this world. They’re definitely survivors.