'Fear the Walking Dead' Star Lennie James on Morgan's New Journey: "It Won't Be Easy"

Lennie James tells THR about what lies ahead in the zombie drama's retooled fourth season: "The payoffs are going to be well earned."
Richard Foreman, Jr/AMC

[This story contains spoilers from the season four premiere of AMC's Fear the Walking Dead, as well as the season eight finale of The Walking Dead.]

"You can hide, but you can't run."

Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) provides these sage words of wisdom to Morgan Jones (Lennie James) early on in the Fear the Walking Dead season four premiere, in what will quite possibly be the final scene these two old friends will ever share. Despite winning the war against Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the Saviors in Sunday's The Walking Dead season eight finale, Morgan couldn't settle up with the cost of the victory — and even the strong urging from familiar faces like Rick, Carol (Melissa McBride) and Jesus (Tom Payne) couldn't compel the man to stick around.

And so Morgan hits the open road, embarking on a journey viewers have waited months to see, if not years: the first official crossover between The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead. How will viewers react to AMC's first look at the shared universe's new status quo, as seen in the Fear premiere, "What's Your Story?" The question certainly matters, but for his part, star Lennie James is steadfast in his own answer.

"I'm very happy with it," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I'm really glad with how this story's being told. I'm really excited about the look of it, and the way we're shooting Texas, and the way that the two groups have been introduced to each other. The introduction of Maggie Grace's character (Althea) and Garret Dillahunt's character (John Dorie) was beautiful. The introduction of Jenna Elfman's character (Naomi) in the second episode is beautiful. The story is coming together in a way that gives us a very good springboard."

In that same spirit, James talks with The Hollywood Reporter about Morgan's first adventure in the Fear the Walking Dead side of the franchise, popping the cork on the secretive season, how Morgan has changed since the end of "All-Out War" and more.

A few months ago, the world learned about your role in the Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead crossover. You have been in the trenches of the new season for some time now. What's surprised you the most about how Morgan's new journey has played out?

There's a real sense of the journey that Morgan has already gone on, between leaving the Heaps back in Virginia and heading on his walk that sees him land in Texas. That six or seven months, however long it took to walk, appears as an abbreviated period of time. But that six- or seven-month-long walk and period of solitude — walking, running, driving, getting as far away as he possibly could from Virginia — I think that distance already shows on Morgan. He's already at a different place within himself when he first comes across John Dorie. It's such a good springboard for me. I didn't just leave The Walking Dead and show up here in the same emotional state as he was in when he left. There's already been a journey. There's already a shift in Morgan. One of the things I love about Morgan is his shifts. If it's at all possible, he's even more self-contained and much more of an observer in the early episodes, than he is a doer. He's not taking the lead. He's still just trying to take care of himself. He's not looking to join up with anybody else.

What's the big difference between this version of Morgan and the very peaceful version of Morgan we saw after his time with Eastman (John Carroll Lynch) in season six of the flagship?

Initially, before he comes across anybody else, he's lived it for seven or eight months. He has not killed on the road. He has not killed on the distance between Virginia and Texas. When he comes across the rest of the group, unlike at any other point we've met Morgan — apart from when we first met him in the first ever episode of [The Walking Dead] — Morgan has no history to the people he's meeting now. Every time Morgan returned before, there was someone who was aware of his history, whether it was Rick or Carol or the other Alexandrians and Hilltoppers. Everyone had the same sense about him. In some ways, Morgan was always carrying his history. His history almost always arrived before he did. That's not the case here. No one knows what it is he's carrying. No one knows what he's been through. For the first time since the first episode, he's genuinely a stranger to the people he meets. He's not "friend of Rick," he's not "confidant of the King," he's not "soulmate to Carol." He's just a man, walking, with a backpack and a stick. That's new for him. That's something he's going to have to navigate as virgin territory. 

With that said, while Morgan meets these people as a blank slate, he also reveals in this first episode that he comes from a place that used to have a tiger. Althea is coaxing the story out of Morgan, slowly but surely. As you're playing him, is there a feeling that even with a fresh start, there's still an inevitable tether to Morgan's past?

I think it's very interesting, what leads Morgan to tell Althea to stop the SWAT van and pull over, so he can give her a little bit of a piece of information. The story isn't just about him telling his history. The story — for me, anyway — is also about how he's accidentally bonded with these people because of what they have just immediately gone through [in the explosive action scene midway through the premiere]. Morgan has been shot in the leg. He's fallen through a roof. He's blown up a room full of walkers while he's hiding in a bathtub. Together, they all fight their way out, and Althea has unleashed her machine guns on [the walkers]. They get going, and Morgan decides, "Let me give you something." In the telling of his history, what's important for me in that is he goes, "I can't do this." That step he's made, after seven or eight months of solitude, is a step toward tethering himself to new people. And then he says: "I can't. I won't. It's not what I'm here to do." And then he leaves. It's the story of what happens when he starts to reveal his history. He pulls back, and walks away again. I think that journey for Morgan, if he finds himself tethering himself to other people, it won't be easy. It won't be straightforward. It won't be simple. It won't come easily to him, and it won't come easily to the people around him. Any bonds are going to be hard fought. 

The episode ends with Morgan meeting the Clark family, albeit under very unexpected circumstances: with Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), Nick (Frank Dillane), Strand (Colman Domingo) and Luciana (Danay García) out on the open road, almost feral — and Madison (Kim Dickens) nowhere to be found. It's a surprising take on the core group of characters we've followed for three seasons of Fear.

I thought it was a fantastic way to bring these two groups together, as they start crossing paths. And it begs the question for fans of Fear the Walking Dead: "What's happened?" What happened to Strand? What happened to Luciana? What happened to Alicia, and Madison and Nick? What happened that they have now become these people, and why are they behaving in the way they're behaving, and why are they doing what they're doing? What's become of them? It's a fantastic cliffhanger, and again, it's a great springboard for the dynamics between the three people we just got to connect with in this episode, and the four people we come across at the end. Where is all of that going to take us? It's a fantastic start to the season. The payoffs, which I know and you don't ... the payoffs are going to be well earned.

What did you think of the season four premiere? Sound off in the comments section below and keep following our Fear the Walking Dead coverage all season long.