Jeffrey Dean Morgan fought against saying that Glenn line on The Walking Dead
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Sunday's season 11 premiere of The Walking Dead.
Negan's gonna Negan. So we learned on Sunday's season 11 premiere of The Walking Dead, titled "Archeron Part I" as any worries that the kinder, gentler Negan no longer had an edge to him were put firmly to rest. While Jeffrey Dean Morgan may not have taken a barbed-wire-covered baseball bat to Maggie's head, he may have signed her death certificate nonetheless.
The episode ended with Negan — thinking Maggie (Lauren Cohan) was intending to kill him down in the subterranean tunnels of the D.C. Metro system as payback for murdering her husband — on top of a train car with a chance to assist Maggie up as zombies converged on her below. With Maggie pleading for help, Negan stared down at her — almost frozen for a minute — before choosing to walk away and leave her to die. (The episode ended with the cliffhanger of Maggie being pulled down, her fate in doubt until next week's resolution.)
But perhaps the craziest thing about the entire scene is the fact that it may not have even been Negan's most shocking moment of the episode, because while challenging Maggie earlier about what he believed was her plan to kill him, the former Savior leader roared back that he would not allow her to put him down like a dog "like Glenn was." It was a brutal choice of words considering Negan was the one who put Glenn down in gruesome fashion, and it was a choice of words that Jeffrey Dean Morgan actually fought against saying.
EW spoke to Morgan about that pivotal scene, and the actor revealed in fascinating detail why he was reticent to utter that devastating line. He also took us inside Negan's final decision and why he ultimately left Maggie to die. Strap in for an amazing chat that not only provides a window into one of the show's most intriguing personalities but also showcases the fascinating relationship between actor and character. (Also read our episode Q&A with showrunner Angela Kang.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me your reaction when you sit down to read the script for episode 1101 and you come to the line when Negan tells Maggie that if she wants to kill him to do it right there because he will not let her put him down like a dog "Like Glenn was." What did you think when you first saw that on the page and realized those words needed to come out of your mouth?
JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN: I fought it! That's the one line that I immediately called [showrunner Angela Kang] and I was like, "I can't say it. I can't f---ing bring up Glenn's name here." And I was like, "Any goodwill that Negan has gotten on his side is going to go out the window the minute I say Glenn." I tried to nix the line completely. I didn't think it was necessary. And I thought, for sure, they would let me change it. And so I filmed it three or four different ways. I tried everything else. I said, "Your husband" and other stuff. but ultimately it was like, "Well, let's just try the f---ing Glenn line." And then, of course, when I saw the cut, I was like, "Oh, f---ers!" [Laughs] They had to put it in.
But look, I get it. I know why it was there, to elicit the reaction exactly that you and I felt in seeing it. I always have said that regardless of what Negan does that is good, there is still that Negan inside of him. And at this point in the story, when that line comes out, it's kind of that whole speech where I am like, "Why the f---are we following this woman? I'm living in her head, and she's leading us to our deaths." We have no idea what we're going to. Negan is the voice of reason suddenly. And had he not said that Glenn line, the whole audience would've gone, "He's right! He's f---ing right!" The minute I say that Glenn line, 50% of them, I lose immediately. It doesn't matter if he's right.
But it also lent itself to Daryl having his punch at me, which we were kind of leading up to, too. Because I think Negan is thinking the whole time that Daryl is in on this. And that really, the only reason that he's there is to be killed. And he's sure that Daryl is in on it. So there's that little storyline going on there between the two of us, as well. But yeah, when I first read that line, I was like, "Goddamnit!" [Laughs]
Lauren Cohan told me you didn't want to say it.
We talked about it. Before I f---ing bitched, I called LC, and even she was like, "God dang, it's a lot. Why would you do that?" I was like, "I don't know. I wouldn't." That's the thing, is Negan is smart enough that he would except to elicit a reaction.
I legit gasped when he said it. I couldn't believe it. But I'll tell you why I like it, and I was talking to Angela about this: A lot of times when you have a villain in a movie or on TV and they become reformed in some way, usually that character ends up being sort of softened. The edges are taken away. And as we see with that Glenn comment, what I like about it is that Negan may be a changed man in many respects, but he's also the same man. He does still have that edge, and that makes him dangerous. And from a viewer's standpoint, that makes him exciting to watch.
Yeah, and you're right. And that's why it is always going to be a fine line that we're walking with the redemption arc. It's like I started off saying: Negan will always be f---ing Negan. And I think that's really important to remember, not just for our audience, but for me. And so when I read these scripts, I have to embrace the Negan, as much as I would like to see a more solid change, because I'm also trying to ingratiate myself into this group of people, and have been for years, and feel like Negan has earned his spot within this group. But what we find out in this first episode is that he hasn't. And, in fact, he will always be this outsider, and it doesn't matter who he saves or what he does or who he kills. He's not going to be accepted.
And I think that, that is the reality that has finally dawned on him in this first episode, is that he's a dead man. And Maggie is going to kill him. And probably everybody else is in on it. So he's looking over his shoulder the whole time. And that also brings out the f---ing edge. He's going to go down f---ing fighting. We know that. He's not going to lay down, even though he's like, "Let's get it over with now." Had that taken a different turn where she pulls out a gun, it would be interesting to see how that went down, but I don't think he's ever going to let anybody shoot him in the head. He wants to survive, which probably leads to your next question.
Yeah, let's get to the final moment, Negan climbs on board the metro car, Maggie's climbing, her leg is grabbed. She cries out to him for help, and he pauses, does nothing, and then leaves her to die. Super huge moment and one where you have to convey a lot without saying anything. Tell me how you wanted to play that.
I thought, personally, that they may have held on it a beat too long. I would have almost liked it to be a faster beat, but you want to convey in that moment that he's thinking, do I save her? Do I not? I think his first reaction is to reach down and save her, and then it doesn't take long to realize that what he's thinking about here is his survival. He is convinced that he is a dead man and that she is going to kill him with her cronies, or whoever. And so it's a really easy thing. That's all I was trying to convey was the decision-making process that has to be there: Do I save her? Do I not? And I don't.
Let's have the philosophical discussion. Is leaving someone to die just as bad as killing them?
Not in Negan's mind. I think there is a huge difference, but I don't think he necessarily leaves her to die. I think it's like, more like "F--- it. You're on your own."
I was going to ask you about that. Do you think he's hoping she dies, or is it just, "I don't hope you die, but I'm not helping you."
Yeah, I think that's it. He knows these people well enough to know that they are also all cockroaches, just like him. They are survivors. I'm not going to go out of my way. I'm not going to risk my neck for yours right now. If you survive, you survive. If you don't, bully for me. And that's kind of the thinking there. When I'm looking at her and she's hanging on losing her grip, there's no evil f---ing grin. There's no malicious f---ing twirl of the mustache. It's just like, f--- it. He knows that there's a bullet with his name on it, and he's not going to go out of his way. He's not going to risk his life for her. And that's sort of where he is.
Yeah, that moment with your look on top of the train, it's almost like a weird blank look. It's very emotionless, and it's very much like you're calculating in your head what to do.
It's a very kind of blank look, and that's what she's seeing, too. I didn't want to convey anything. We had talked about, is there something there? Is there a hint of a smile? And I was kind of adamant that there should be nothing. This is a situation that he's very cold about. It's very much like he is taking himself out of the situation, and he does so mentally at that moment. And he just turns away. And very purposeful. And again, I never know what they will edit and how they will edit it, but I think they did a great job on that.
I actually watched these first two episodes — and I don't watch everything — and I really liked them. I think Kevin Dowling, who directed it, did a f---ing amazing job, He is a guy I've worked with numerous times in my career, but he's never done this show. And he did a killer job on these first two. And the writing, I thought, was f---ing great. There was a horror aspect to the show, which I had missed desperately. It was really a great way to start this last year.
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AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.