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To paraphrase another iconic horror franchise: “She’s back!”
More than a full season after her original departure, The Walking Dead star Lauren Cohan is back in the thick of the zombie apocalypse. Following her season nine exit from the series for a lead role on ABC’s short-lived Whiskey Cavalier, Cohan’s eventual return as Maggie Rhee was announced right before the season 10 premiere in October 2019. It took some time, but the comeback is now officially underway: Maggie’s back, and not a moment too soon, both for the survivors she’s come back to save, and for Cohan herself.
“I knew she was going to come back, we just didn’t know exactly when,” Cohan tells The Hollywood Reporter about returning as Maggie in Sunday’s “A Certain Doom,” the (sort of) season 10 finale. “I mentally always had her in a quadrant of my brain and soul. [Showrunner Angela Kang] and I just kept this conversation alive and flexible. And this is the way that we were able to do it and it has obviously, we now have room to tell this giant story in these 30 episodes next year.”
In “A Certain Doom,” Maggie receives a letter from Carol (Melissa McBride) urging her to come back and help her old community. She comes back just in time to save her fellow Alexandrians, Hilltoppers and others in the safe-zone from the imminent threat of the Whisperers. Now that she’s back, she’s going to have to contend with some of the old ghosts she tried to leave behind in the first place.
“I think her relationships with everybody at home is extremely complicated, as I’m sure people can imagine,” says Cohan. “There was the difficulty of trying to remain there and carry on with your life with Negan being, even if he was in prison, he was there and alive. And it was so much to contend with. but these letters from Carol ultimately have to override any reasons that she may have had for leaving. And there were positive reasons too; it wasn’t just about removing herself from the place where Negan was. It was also going to explore, and going to keep the fire and hope alive for herself. Going to witness the ingenuity of things that people like Georgie (Jayne Atkinson) did and could teach her, and that she could bring back to the group. And then just an exploration for herself.”
“If we think about it,” she continues, “and I’ve been able to lately, everything that happened to Maggie happened in really quick succession: the losses of her family, friends, Hershel, Beth and Glenn. It’s almost like a belated processing of that whole thing. And to go off on this, I don’t even know what we would call it… not even a journey, there’s this word that’s missing my mind, that’s escaping me right now. But to go off on this time and figure out what the next steps were, because I think that’s one thing that really felt paramount to her character for me lately, making the effort to keep the hope alive. We need to continue to inspire ourselves and we need to continue to move in a direction that is, first of all, that’s just at least moving. And secondly, to just continue to gain perspective.”
In the spirit of perspective, there’s a moment in “A Certain Doom” that drives the passage of time home: the scene in which Maggie and Judith (Cailey Fleming) reunite after so many years removed from one another. Obviously, much has changed for Maggie, but Judith is now a full-fledged character — a far cry from the baby Maggie rescued all the way back in season three.
“It’s such a marker of time,” says Cohan. “It’s crazy because we see the other characters, the adult characters, and you can sort of tell their hair is longer and maybe everybody looks a little bit more weathered. We tell the story of time passing, but then it really does hit you like a ton of bricks when you see the children grown up and how they cope in a world… Not even how they cope, but how they just take this as standard. And then seeing characters like Cailey’s, especially with an actress like Cailey, who’s able to transmit this amazing wisdom… She’s just such a wise soul. And it is one of those things that’s like this bright light in this dark world, to see a child like that who’s just able to offer comfort to people, to offer friendship.”
While she’s just now returning to the Walking Dead universe, it comes at the end of the line. There are still 30 episodes left on the clock, but the finish line is within sight — itself a massive marker of time, as the end of the road is finally in sight after a decade on television, a monumental time in Cohan’s own personal and professional life.
“It gives me chills,” Cohan says about approaching the end of The Walking Dead. “And I think part of the self-preservation of anybody is to be like, ‘Well, I don’t need to think about that yet. Let me just compartmentalize this.’ And you can know that you’ll always have these people in your life, but it was interesting because when you said this period of time, that the show has been in existence has been a significant period for a lot of people. For some of our fans, maybe if they’re 30 or 25, that’s a third of their life that the show has been on or that they’ve been watching it, which is pretty phenomenal and a pretty big honor. And for me to reflect now and to say, ‘Oh my gosh. I’ve done this for more time than I’ve done anything else, aside from just breathe or know my family or whatever.’ It will definitely not come into full focus, I don’t think anything does until you’ve gone through it and had some time. And we have a long way to go and we’re really excited to give it everything.
“Knowing the end date, I think is really a gift,” she adds. “It’s a gift for the writers and it’s a gift for us to really cherish every single moment and to pour the literal blood, sweat, and tears into the show like there’s no tomorrow because we are going to be getting some killer stuff to do. I know it because we have these six episodes now to do. I might have said this before about other things, but these are the best episodes that I’ve ever read.”
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