'Walking Dead's' Lauren Cohan on "Infuriating" New Arrival and Why Glenn Keeps Fighting

The actress talks with THR about Maggie's evolution to "lioness" and why Gregory isn't a character viewers should hate.
 Gene Page/AMC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from AMC's The Walking Dead episode 611, "Knots Untie."]

Welcome to the beginning of the new world.

AMC's The Walking Dead offered viewers a first look at what Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) hope is the future after Jesus (Tom Payne) led the group to the Hilltop, a community very much like Alexandria — only without weapons and, as it seems, warriors.

The episode — which keyed in the rest of the group to Rick and Michonne's burgeoning new romance — revealed that Jesus' central job is to search out new settlements. After realizing that Alexandria is well-stocked in ammunition but lacking in food, Jesus leads Rick and company to the Hilltop — where they rescue a few key members of the new settlement, including an obstetrician.

At the Hilltop, Rick is immediately turned off by Gregory (Xander Berkeley) — the community's elitist and chauvinistic leader. Taking the late Deanna's (Tovah Feldshuh) words, Rick pushes Maggie to negotiate with Gregory in a bid to swap ammo for food. Despite Maggie's best efforts, she can't reach a trade deal with Gregory, who intentionally hits on her and calls her by the wrong name.

In the midst of the negotiations, members of Negan's (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) camp arrive. It's then that the AMC drama takes story directly from creator Robert Kirkman's comic series as Rick and his survivors learn that Negan's camp is known as the Saviors, and they take half of all goods and services from the Hilltop in exchange for protection — from their leader. The Saviors deliver a message via one of the Hilltop residents: their last drop was light. To make up for it, they're keeping Craig hostage and his brother, Nathan, stabs Gregory in a direct message from Negan. That's when Rick and company jump in. Daryl (Norman Reedus) saves Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) — who has become obsessed the idea of settling down (and Sonequa Martin-Green's Sasha); Rick kills Nathan (in front of everyone at the Hilltop) as Jesus intervenes and stops the insanity. It's then that Rick learns more about Negan and the Hilltop's deal.

In a bid to reach a deal for food with the Hilltop, Rick offers to take out Negan and the Saviors. As the survivors head back out on the road with Freddie (Brett Gentile) , a member of the Hilltop community who is familiar with Negan and the Saviors' compound, Rick and Maggie offer a glimpse at what is likely coming in the remaining season six episodes. "We don't have enough of anything except us and what we can do; this is the trade," Rick tells Maggie. "It's going to cost us something," Maggie responds after putting Gregory in his place and making a deal with the powerless leader.

Here, Cohan talks with THR about Maggie's evolution into a "lioness," Gregory, Jesus and the Hilltop as well as the pending battle with the Saviors.

Deanna's death is really bringing out Maggie's leadership qualities — and she totally owned Gregory. How will her role with the Hilltop evolve?

We've seen Maggie learn a lot of lessons and now Rick literally says to her, "It's time for you to step up." He thinks she's going to be better in this particular situation with Gregory and dealing with him. Rick has the same confidence in her same as Deanna did before Maggie even realizes it. That's what I enjoy about this storyline and this episode — because by the end of it, when everyone is at the edge, the fire wakes up in Maggie and there's no going back from that change in her. As far as the Hilltop is concerned, there's so much posturing. There's something they need from our group and it's so undeniable. As Maggie talks with Gregory, it's frustrating because he tries to manipulate her and use this machismo. But ultimately, as we've seen with our group over these five years, they have this undeniable and unshakable strength in their solidarity and experience. They have a functioning community — with a doctor and sonogram machine and these almost luxuries — and those are such a reward for Maggie and the group after what they've been through after they've proven themselves through so much. Gregory isn't a hate-able character; he's really an infuriating person that nobody wants to have to deal with because he's so belittling and when he cuts Rick off, you want to pull his hairs — I was going to say give him a nipple cripple but it just seemed so rude! (Laughing.) But ultimately, Maggie and company know the Hilltop's weaknesses are. It's the absolute perfect place for our group to fit in. They needed somebody like Maggie. Gregory listens because she's pretty and she wins because she's tough. 

Should viewers trust Gregory?

I think there's something in that character that's strong and interesting. In talking to Xander when we were hashing out those scenes together, I thought there's something endearing about that character in that he really believes he's doing the right thing for his people. And he is — he's created a safe, stable society [despite] what they have to provide to Negan to stay safe. When he offers Maggie other perks, for a moment he believes she's going to think she's getting a good deal no matter what it is he's offering. (Laughs.) You just heard me talk about my husband! But do we think we can trust Gregory? Once we see there's a bigger beast at play and why they were posturing so much, I do think we can trust him. There's almost an innocence to what they were pretending to have and their posturing. He's not a Governor-type. Some of his behavior is buffoonish to them in beginning but there is a respect that Maggie finds for him in his negotiating because they're on par with each other and she's serving back to him what he was trying to do with her. And they know thy need to work together.  

Maggie knows the fight against the Saviors is, to hear her say it, "is going to cost us something." Will nearly losing Glenn prompt Maggie to keep him close to home? 

Maggie and Glenn keep wanting to make rules about how to stay safe. In watching the second half of the season as a viewer so far, I love this idea and it's epitomized with Daryl and Rick when they say, "It's too dangerous to go back out there," and then they go back out and do it again. That's this agreed thing thing now: it's too dangerous to do but it is what it is and it's non-negotiable. It's a lovely ideal but the only sustainable thing is to say that we're going to have to do these really dangerous things, knowing the risks, and staying as safe and as prepared as possible when they know it's going to cost them something. The big turn for Maggie in this risk-taking is that she goes to the Hilltop with hope and with this image of a life and world where you trade with other communities — and learn that there are other communities. There's a shift for her from operating from a place of fear and protection to operating from a place of inspiration. That is ultimately the the lesson that Deanna embeds and awakens in her. When Maggie is in that room with Gregory, there's a thrill for Maggie saying, "This isn't please give me this thing." It's pulling yourself toward the brightness as opposed to just trying to keep the darkness at bay. Yes, it's going to cost them something — and that's the apprehension she starts with. But once she's in there with Gregory, and she says, "It's going to cost us something." But how valuable is this thing that we potentially gain? It's everything. You see that with the sonogram. It's this potentially great moment and vulnerability to be pregnant and you can tell that Michonne and Abraham are scared for Glenn and Maggie having this baby but by the end of this episode, you get this affirmation that without these little tender things that we have to protect, that we don't have the inspiration to push forward and fight. I love the lioness vibe that's happening here for Maggie.

Will Maggie participate in the fight against the Saviors given her pregnancy?

You'll see. There's a lot that happens between now and then. (Laughs.)

Maggie has taken an interest in Enid. Would you consider her a version of Sophia from the comics? How will Maggie work to break through Enid's tough exterior?

I do. I see the growth that Maggie and Glenn go through in the comics that's been reset into the Enid story. I love that character and how well her storyline and how Katelyn captures that angst. That's a teenage feeling — even not in the apocalypse.

Maggie is pregnant and the Hilltop has an obstetrician. Will she consider moving to the Hilltop anytime soon? 

We see where things go with the comics but the show doesn't always follow them. We can keep the potential for a bit more time spent in the Hilltop as a possibility but I actually don't know myself. I'm just saying what I'd like to happen!

Is Jesus as good of a guy as he was in this episode or is this part of a larger game plan for the Hilltop?

I hope to hell that he's good because he's so much fun. I love his puckish, prankster attitude; it gives such a sense of fun to everybody. Do I think he's a good guy? Pretending that I don't know what happens (laughing) I think we can trust that he shakes things up. He's a completely different character to anything we've had in the show.

As Maggie continues to evolve into more of a leader, how will her role with Rick change? Will he lean on her more at Alexandria or is he grooming her to lead the Hilltop?

Everybody is figuring that out as we go. These moments are born out of necessity. Rick is infuriated by Gregory and pushes Maggie to step in and then we see she finds her own strength here. Different developments will be born out of necessity and we don't know what we need yet or where we're going. So we'll see.

What did you think of the Hilltop and the new Maggie? Share your thoughts (and theories) in the comments below. The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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