12:00pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'Walking Dead' Star Jeffrey Dean Morgan: "Negan Has a Lot of Story to Come"
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season six finale of AMC's The Walking Dead, "Last Day on Earth," and the comic book series that the show is based on.]
Talk about an entrance.
AMC's The Walking Dead spent nearly six full seasons waiting for the arrival of one of the biggest characters from Robert Kirkman's comic books, and that wait ended Sunday when Jeffrey Dean Morgan finally made his debut as Negan.
For non-comic readers, Negan is the charismatic leader of the Saviors — a guy prone to long monologues who is as charming as he is savage. The character makes his debut in the landmark 100th issue of the comics when the Saviors surprise Rick, Michonne, Carl, Glenn, Maggie, Sophia and Heath on their way to the Hilltop as the Saviors are planning their attack on Alexandria. Negan, looking to punish the group for killing Saviors, whips out Lucille — his baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire — and lines up the survivors. "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe," he says as he points Lucille one by one at everyone on their knees. He ultimately lands on Glenn, killing him nearly instantly as Maggie and company cry out his name in horror.
The AMC series expanded that group to 11, with Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Michonne (Danai Gurira), Glenn (Steven Yeun), Daryl (Norman Reedus), Rosita (Christian Serratos), Carl (Chandler Riggs), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Aaron (Ross Marquand), Eugene (Josh McDermitt), Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) all left on their knees before Negan. Mirroring the events of the comics, Negan broke out the "eeny, meeny, miny, moe" and pointed Lucille at one of them before the series changed its point of view to that of the victim. With blood dripping down the screen, the series cut to black and viewers heard the jarring and repeated sounds of Lucille crushing someone's skull.
Morgan spoke with reporters — including The Hollywood Reporter — to break down Negan's debut and preview what to expect next. Here are the highlights:
How much will the series explore how Negan became the character he is now? Was he always a sociopath or was there a part of him that was a good guy?
Morgan said that he hopes Kirkman's upcoming Negan backstory one-shot comic will be weaved into the AMC series. "I talked to Robert Kirkman last night after we did Talking Dead and he is doing the backstory of Negan right now but whether or not — or when — we see that, and I hope we do, I can't answer that. But hopefully we'll find out more as we go," he told THR during the call. He added later that there's something about Negan that makes people want to follow him — likely protecting everyone despite his fear tactics. Morgan noted that he is excited to play the bad guy, but he's not approaching Negan as if he were one. "I approach it like he's a guy, especially in the world of the zombie apocalypse that has taken over the world. He's a guy who the backstory of Negan is he used to be a used-car salesman. That's what I know and there's not a lot beyond that. … He's a car salesman who has survived as long as Rick and his gang, so what has he done to get there?" He suggested there are "strong parallel lines" between Negan and Rick's journey — when it comes to how many people they've had to kill to get to where they are. "I feel like Rick is getting off pretty easy … and Negan has a lot of story to come. It's going to be an interesting road." Morgan called Negan "one of the most well-rounded villains we've see onscreen in a long time."
When will season seven pick up?
"Season seven picks up right where we left off and you'll see who was at the end of that bat and what happened from there," the actor told reporters.
What was shooting the finale like?
Negan's debut was filmed over two nights, with Morgan revealing that he received the script two days before it was shot — and he only got Negan's pages. "For obvious reasons, the cast of the show was understandably agitated," he said. "They knew no more than I did going in. Everything was hush-hush. I went in knowing my monologue, which was essentially taken from the graphic novel, but I think people were agitated." The actor called it an "emotional two nights" and said that a couple actors didn't make eye contact with him until the end of the second night, while a couple embraced him immediately and were texting him immediately after filming all night.
About that cliffhanger …
"I didn't know it would be a cliffhanger until I watched the show," Morgan told reporters. He stressed that Rick has now lost control to Negan, and that's the story that will be explored come season seven. "That's where they wanted to end the story," the actor said. "It's not about the death of that person. And the death of the person kicks off season seven and that will be a big part of who is on the receiving end of Lucille. But I understand the fans' frustration. I get that. That being said … I have to trust the writers … and I believe they'll be back to see who met Lucille."
What do you think of Negan and Morgan's debut? Sound off below. For more Walking Dead coverage, go to THR.com/WalkingDead. Click here to read showrunner Scott M. Gimple's in-depth remarks about the finale and what to expect from season seven and here for our interview with exec producer Greg Nicotero.