'Walking Dead' Producers, Stars Explain Graphic Season 7 Deaths

The Walking Dead - Season 6, Episode 16 -Still 4- Negan BACK-H 2016
Courtesy of Gene Page/AMC

[Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the season seven premiere of AMC's The Walking Dead, "The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be," as well as the comic book series it is based on.]

One cliffhanger. Six months of waiting. And now not one but two victims. AMC's The Walking Dead kicked off its seventh season with a pair of incredibly violent deaths, finally delivering the answer to just whom Jeffrey Dean Morgan's charismatic and aggressive villain Negan whacked with his barbed wire bat named Lucille.

Sunday's episode, which remixed the events of Robert Kirkman's comic book series, featured Glenn's (original series star Steven Yeun) highly anticipated death. While the season premiere remixed the events of the landmark 100th issue of Kirkman's comic series — in which the beloved Glenn is savagely beaten by Negan — the AMC series put a new twist on his fate.

Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz) instead was Negan's initial victim — the result of his random "eeny, meeny, miny, moe" selection featured in the comics. It allowed viewers to have a glimmer of hope that Glenn was going to make it out of the episode alive. That, however, wouldn't be the case. Negan wound up beating two members of Rick's (Andrew Lincoln) group to death. Negan would wind up killing Glenn to prove a point to Daryl (Norman Reedus), following the latter's outburst. 

Executive producer Kirkman, showrunner Scott M. Gimple and 10 of the 11 stars that were kneeling before Negan — including victims Yeun and Cudlitz — joined host Chris Hardwick for a special Talking Dead (broadcast live from a packed Hollywood Forever Cemetery) — to respond to the episode.

"The hardest thing about it was starting the script and thinking about what would break Rick," Gimple said, noting that he and Kirkman had this episode planned for two years. "It was all in issue 100, but [also] looking for a way to break the audience, too, but not in a way to hurt them, but for them to believe that Rick Grimes is under the thumb of Negan."  

Kirkman, as he has done in the past few months following the cliffhanger, reiterated that the introduction of Negan sets the stage to explore a whole new world on the zombie drama. "We still have a lot more to do," the exec producer and comic creator said. "We're setting the stage for more to come. … We wanted to send a clear message that we are just getting started and there is a lot that we're going to be getting from this."

As for the cast, Reedus noted that Daryl will blame himself for Glenn's death — the fan-favorite character punched Negan following Abraham's death and the baseball bat-wielding villain killed Glenn in response to Daryl's outburst.

"It's changed the dynamic for us on the show and what will come this season," co-star Lauren Cohan, who plays Maggie, said of losing her onscreen husband Glenn and Abraham. "The gravity of losing these two has galvanized us and has had such a crazy effect on all of us. I think we can all say after shooting that episode that it was a whole new frontier for us. Michael and Steven both being such pillars in the show … [and] the responsibility left for everyone else is to uphold the lessons learned from [Negan] and the love, strength and structure they created."

Through tears, Cohan noted that Glenn's final words — "I will find you" — was meant to illustrate that Maggie and Glenn are "star-crossed lovers." "Time and place doesn't erase that. [It means] I'll find you; I'll be with you; I'll watch over you and the baby; I'll be there," she said. Added Yeun: "Glenn died in a very Glenn way … still not thinking about himself. It's appropriate that he ends there and also appropriate that he puts those last words out as a final look-out for each other."

Lincoln, meanwhile, revealed that Negan clearly is getting to Rick and noted that he wanted to sleep for a week after the nine days spent filming the season seven premiere. "These two guys are great leaders in their own right," he said before praising both Cudlitz and Yeun, the latter of whom he called a brother and a "devastating loss" for the show's cast and crew.  

For his part, original series regular Yeun — whom sources told The Hollywood Reporter had only a one-year deal that covered season six — said he recalled when issue #100 came out at Comic-Con a few years ago and he asked Kirkman not to give that moment to anyone else.

"Robert wrote such a messed up and incredible way to take something away to make a story as impactful as it is and when you read that comic, you kinda don't want that to go to anyone else. It's such an iconic moment," he said, noting that keeping the secret was a challenge. "Living that out was very wild but at the same time, that moment happening and being realized on television in a different medium and to do it in the way that we did it is brave and at the same time super-affecting and that for me was motivation."  

Cudlitz — who joined The Walking Dead as a recurring player in season four before being promoted to regular in season five, and came out on Talking Dead with a flask — said he knew he was on borrowed time with the AMC series extending his character's life beyond the source material.  

"Denise [Merritt Wever] took his death graciously two episodes prior," said Cudlitz. "At that point, I knew I had gone beyond where he was in the graphic novel. Kirkman said he was not happy with how he took Abraham out in the graphic novel, so I was curious to see where we would go from there. I think in the group, he made it very clear to Negan that if he were going to take somebody, take me if it's going to help protect the rest of the group."

As for Abraham's final words — "Suck my nuts!" — Cudlitz was happy that his alter ego was able to get one last zinger in. "Suck my nuts — that’s always satisfying, right?" he said to laughs from the crowd assembled for Talking Dead. "If he's going to go out, these guys had a tough job inserting any dialogue with Abraham because of the way we left the end of last season. It was very clear there was full eye contact left with Negan. It was very appreciated for him to go out that way."

Morgan, who made his debut in the season six finale, said he is a big fan of both Yeun and Cudlitz and didn't want to see either of them go. The actor noted that he can't approach playing Negan as a one-note villain but instead sees Rick's people as the enemy. "I can't play him [as a bad guy]," he said from the rainy Talking Dead stage. "In my mind, he's not a bad guy and he's still letting these guys off easy at this point. Remember, they took out a quite a few of my folks. And remember, if it weren't for Daryl, Glenn would still be alive!"

What did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments section, below. Bookmark THR.com/WalkingDead for news, interviews and theories stemming from the Walking Dead season seven premiere.