7:15pm PT by Josh Wigler
'The Walking Dead's' Latest Victim Opens Up About His "Honorable" Exit
[This story contains full spoilers for season eight, episode 15 of AMC's The Walking Dead, "Worth."]
"If you wanna be the man? You gotta beat the man."
Let it be said: while he's not Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) sure has his own signature flair. In Sunday's episode of AMC's The Walking Dead, the Saviors' baseball bat-wielding head honcho finally rooted out the corruption at the heart of his group: Simon (Steven Ogg), once the most trustworthy right hand in Negan's world, was not-so-quietly making moves to take control over the Sanctuary. But rather than kill Simon outright once he learned about the plan, Negan instead gave his old friend a couple of last chances.
First, Negan teased Simon with the Lucille treatment, having him drop to his knees in the face of a potential baseball bat to the brain. If it was a test, consider it passed: Simon makes no moves to avoid his fate, full-heartedly resigning himself to the violent death. Negan proceeds to absolve Simon of his sins, making sure that Simon lives to sin another day — or at least another couple of hours. A few scenes later, Negan catches Simon in the middle of his conspiracy, and gives his lieutenant one final opportunity to seize the crown: a one-on-one trial by combat of sorts, with everyone in the Sanctuary allowed to watch the final battle between these two old friends.
When the dust settles on the grueling battle, Negan emerges victorious, not by using Lucille, but by relying on his own bare hands. He chokes his former second-in-command to death in an emotional fit of rage, one that almost resembles Rick killing Shane (Jon Bernthal) all the way back in season two. Another reason why these two deaths feel connected across almost a hundred full episodes of Walking Dead: in both cases, the deceased traitor returns from the dead as a zombie. In Simon's case, however, there's no Carl (Chandler Riggs) around to put him down. Instead, he's left strung up against the Sanctuary's fence, chomping and clawing at nothing in particular for the rest of his days — or until the Alexandrians manage to win the war, anyway.
What's next for Negan and the Saviors? That's a matter for another time. On a more concrete and practical level, the violent climax of "Worth" means the departure of one of the most intense figures in modern Walking Dead lore, if not the entire franchise: Steven Ogg as Simon. First introduced in the season six finale, "Last Day on Earth," Simon was an instantly fearsome figure, menacing Rick and the gang without an ounce of fear hiding behind his ferocious gaze. The intensity only escalated in his final arc on the show, as fan-favorite Ogg played Simon as a man on a deeply dedicated mission, eradicating the Garbage People and attempting to do the same to the Hilltoppers, without a shred of remorse.
For his part, speaking about his exit from the zombie drama, Ogg — the latest series regular to depart the zombie drama this season — is much more wistful than one would ever expect from Simon himself. The good news: Ogg, a singular force of nature, returns to television soon in the upcoming second season of HBO's Westworld. ("There's more Rebus; he's got some fun stuff coming up," is all he can tease for now about his killer role for now.) The bad news: when it comes to appearing on The Walking Dead, Ogg has now experienced his own last day on Earth of sorts.
Here, Ogg speaks with The Hollywood Reporter about the emotional roller-coaster involved with leaving The Walking Dead, seeing Simon's death coming from a few scripts away, playing out the character's defiant final moments and what he'll miss most about working with the Atlanta-based cast and crew.
How have you been, waiting for the world to find out what happened to Simon?
Obviously we filmed it last year, at the end of October or early November, and I still see all of my [Walking Dead] friends and family at conventions, so I've had time to get over it. But now, with all of this? It's coming back up. So thanks, fuckers. (Laughs.) I'm doing The Talking Dead and I don't want to cry. It's not like an Oprah episode. But it wouldn't surprise me, just from the emotion of it. I essentially spent two years with this amazing group. You move on and shit happens; this is the life of an actor. But this is a very unique show for its bond among its cast and crew. For those reasons, I'm sad. I'm happy with what I did. I'm happy with the character. I'm happy with the opportunity. It's a mixed bag. As you start to reflect more upon it, you start looking at old pictures, and it's just a mix. You can feel sad, or you can try to appreciate what you had and look forward to what lies ahead, and what came of it.
When and how did you find out about Simon's fate?
We don't get our scripts until a couple of weeks before [we shoot], but I feel I somehow knew going into the [season eight premiere taping of The Talking Dead] at the Greek Theater in L.A. I remember feeling like I didn't feel like celebrating. I think it was in a moment of great celebration. Maybe it was there, maybe it was later, but I remember feeling, "You know? I don't really feel so good right now!" It was either then, or later on.
You get the news. You have that chat. You understand that this is part of the life and a part of the world [of The Walking Dead]. It sucks, because then you have to tell people, "Hey, guess what? I'm gone." It was quite touching, all of the responses [from cast and crew]. Interestingly enough, it was more emotional for me, getting the responses from everyone, than it was to hear the news.
People must have been upset. It's a close set.
That's what brought me to tears more. When you hear it's going to happen, that's a business call, so you get it, in a sense. But then you start getting other calls. Andrew [Lincoln] talks to you, and Norman [Reedus] comes up to you, and they're all like, "No!" That's when all of the emotion comes up. That was interesting to me.
Over the past few episodes, Simon launched an insurrection against Negan, briefly took over the Saviors, only to die in open combat against his former leader. What did you think of Simon's final arc? Did it fit alongside your view of the character?
You don't know what's happening as it's going on, because you're playing it out as an actor episode by episode, when you're getting the scripts. But when I saw the direction he was taking? As an actor, I was going, "OK. I know where this is going." (Laughs.) "Not a lot of ways out, unless I go set up my own shop somewhere." So I said, "OK. Here we go. I'm going to go for it, then." In a sense, I wanted Simon to remain honorable to what he does and how he wants to do things. For instance, in the scene where he almost gets the bat to the head? I wanted to look at Negan, initially. It's not because I'm being contentious, or saying "fuck you" to Negan. … It's because it was his honor. "You want to take that bat to my head? Then I'm going to look you right in the eye. Smash my skull in."
Of course, as an actor, I was told, "No, you have to turn around." (Laughs.) Alright! But I kept my head up. There are some other scenes like this earlier in the season where I'm trying to plant little seeds. There was a knock at the door, when Simon and Negan were talking. I wouldn't look away from Negan. The way they cut the show, you don't always see and notice it, but I was never looking away. I would never look down. When Negan returned with Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) and they were covered in guts and slime, and everyone goes to their knees? I made a point of going to just one knee, still sitting up straight. So, when it came to the final fight? Negan is somewhat honoring Simon in doing it that way. But that's why Simon gives the speech he does. He doesn't know what's going to happen; as far as he's concerned, he's going to destroy Negan. He was going to beat the shit out of him!
It's almost surprising that he didn't!
Is it? That's what I'm curious about. It's the only thing I cared about. Does the audience buy it? Do you question [the outcome], watching it?
The way it's played, Simon walks into the fight as though it is not his last day on Earth. It's Negan's last day on Earth.
That's good. Did you believe Negan could kill Simon?
Yes, because in terms of the story, it was clear there was no other way to go.
Right. Jeffrey really sold it, choking me out. He went for it. That was one the most psychotic moments we've ever seen Negan in.
What was it like, playing the death scene out with Jeffrey?
It was great. Initially, we were both kind of [hesitant]. We're not fighters. We're not 20 years old. We're not the type of actors with the ego of, "I have to do my own thing!" We were both like, "Oh my god, this is going to kill us." (Laughs.) But we both wanted to make it look good, and we both wanted to commit to it. As soon as we started doing it, I certainly got into it. Now, I wanted to sell it. We both got into it. Because at first? It's not that Jeffrey was wimping out, but it hurts to do this kind of shit. You have to continue to work, and he has another seven pages of talking to do! You have to pace yourself. But as soon as we started… we both stepped into it. It was lovely, giving it all, laying it all out in the Sanctuary octagon.
How about playing the zombified version of Simon? Was that fun, awful, or a little bit of both?
It was fun! It was great to go through the makeup process. I wish there was more of that Simon zombie [on screen]. When he first turned and we reveal him with the bucket coming off of the head, I was really pleased with how that comes across. I wanted to capture [the spirit of] a pitbull: a very aggressive zombie who was almost still in a fight mode. I wanted to see the transition of Simon's zombie realizing that this was his place, if that makes sense. I wanted this intensity at the beginning, and then realizing: "Oh, fuck. I'm a zombie!" [Makes a sad clown noise.]
What will you miss most about playing Simon and your time within the Walking Dead universe?
Working with these people. I don't miss the character. You move on. It's everything that's around that world. The acting is wonderful. And as Simon developed, there was this intensity. It was so much fun to be able to throw everything into him with laser focus, going at someone deep with the connection of the eyes. That's what I'm going to miss, but that's what you should be doing all of the time [as an actor]. You should always try to connect on a cellular level with another actor. It doesn't have to mean you're going to kill them, but there should always be an intensity, whether it's making someone laugh or if you're scaring someone. So I won't miss being Simon, necessarily, so much as I'll miss those moments with those people. But that's your job: do that process in the next job and in the next thing you do. Bring it to the next gig. That shouldn't end with a character. That's ideally part of your process, who you are, and what you bring to roles. I'm not going to miss Simon, so much as I'll miss the family.
What's your take on Steven Ogg's departure from the series? Sound off in the comments section below, and keep checking THR.com/WalkingDead for more coverage.