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[Warning: This story contains major spoilers from Sunday’s “Clear” episode of The Walking Dead.]
Lennie James returned to AMC’s The Walking Dead after nearly three full seasons and 30 episodes to reprise his role as Morgan, the good Samaritan who saved Rick’s beleaguered sheriff in the series premiere of the zombie drama.
During Sunday’s episode, Rick takes Carl and Michonne on a weapons run and returns to the sheriff’s station where he used to set up shop only to find that the arsenal he left there has been completely depleted. Instead, the trio sets out to find guns in the town near where it all started. It’s there that they stumble upon a booby-trapped community where Morgan has isolated himself from the world after the death of his son Duane.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with James to discuss his return to the zombie drama, how Morgan’s run-in with Rick, Michonne and Carl will impact him and whether he could return to the prison at a time when Rick needs him — and his arsenal — the most.
The Hollywood Reporter: What was it like being back after so long?
Lennie James: It was surreal, because you arrive on set and, last I was there, everybody was starting out and they’ve all kind of gone on this three-year journey together. I was surprised by how many of the crew members were still around; they’ve built these relationships with each other, so it was certainly helpful in walking back onto this strange planet with memories of the pilot that we shot and being back in Atlanta.
THR: What was your reaction when you learned about Duane’s fate?
James: When I showed up and Adrian Kali Turner [who played Duane] wasn’t there, that was certainly a clue. It’s really rare you get an opportunity in television to revisit a character that you haven’t played for a number of years. Particularly in the kind of crazy world that is The Walking Dead, you know that that character’s going to return with a sense of his journey. Having the opportunity to bring that all back in one episode and tell the journey he’s been on with finally killing his wife after the loss of his son — all of those things you have to bring to bear, and the mindset that he’s in. Morgan is a shell of the man that he once was, and it’s like a mirror to Rick’s story. Bringing that to the screen was one of the things that really attracted me and one of the things I most enjoyed.
THR: How will Morgan’s exchange with Carl change him for the next time we see him?
James: I don’t know whether or not Morgan remembers the exchanges that he has. Rick spent a lot of time trying to remind Morgan of who he was, but he’s so far away from who he was. I was playing it, was trying to find a moment of the old Morgan, looking at Carl and saying, “Don’t ever apologize.” Maybe it was a thing that he might have said to his son if his son was still there. He looks at this boy, and the one thing that he knows is we no longer have room for apologies in this world. That’s part of Morgan’s sadness and that’s the reason he doesn’t go with them [to the prison]. The reason he says that is because he’s so far away from himself he can’t yet turn around and try and walk back, and he can’t apologize for that because he doesn’t have it in him. That’s what he’s trying to pass on to Carl.
THR: Could seeing the child soldier that Carl has turned into help snap Morgan out of his grief-induced psychosis?
James: I hope there’s a way back for Morgan. His story is being told so masterfully by the guys of The Walking Dead, and if the pattern continues, maybe in three years when Morgan comes back for a third installment, he’s in a different place. Either further down the road or if it’s on his way back. Either of those would be very interesting. When I was talking about coming back, one of the things I said is I’m really looking forward to filing that gap between the first time we met and then when we meet Morgan now. That will be the same when and if it ever happens again that we meet Morgan — telling the story of the times you haven’t seen him would also be the thing that I would find most attractive, but whether that’s salvation or more damnation, I don’t know.
THR: Do you think Morgan will consider going back to the prison?
James: I don’t know. It’s always a possibility, but one of the brilliant things about The Walking Dead is anybody can live, anybody can die, anybody can disappear and anybody can return. If the writers have the opportunity to make an event out of Morgan’s return then that’s probably a better way to use him than for him just to be there all the time. Either one of those are possibilities, and any one of them could be exciting.
THR: Do you think that Morgan’s connection with Rick and knowing he has an armory that could help them will motivate him to head to the prison?
James: It’s a possibility. You’ve seen how far and how hard Rick has to fight; they almost have to fight to the death before Morgan is snapped back to any kind of clarity where he even recognized Rick, let alone sees the trouble that he might be in. So if their paths cross in a way that Morgan can see Rick and have the clarity to help him, I’m sure that’s a possibility. They leave Morgan on his own, in this spiral, and he may well need Rick needing him to really snap him out of it, because he’s lost all the people that need him. You realize that this guy’s in a really dark place and it’s not just going to take one visit from Rick to snap him back but maybe circumstance and their paths crossing again. Rick may well do the job but it’s going to need to be something really intense.
THR: If Morgan were to head to the prison, how do you think he would be received?
James: If Morgan arrived there, he probably wouldn’t be of any use for any length of time, because I think he’s a bit like Howling Mad Murdoch from The A-Team: Every now and then he has to go and be locked in a padded room on his own just to reboot. I can’t see that it’s an easy road back for Morgan to be able to, either in battle or in peace, be able to settle long enough because he just wants things done. There’s life and death and there’s very little in between and that doesn’t necessarily make him a good guy to be around in quiet moments.
THR: Would you be interested in returning to The Walking Dead full time?
James: That really isn’t up to me. I’m about to film a new series for AMC called Low Winter Sun and I’m very excited about that. So if things are possible and if they want me, it remains a possibility. I have nothing but good memories of my time on The Walking Dead and I love playing Morgan and hanging out in Atlanta and playing opposite Andy and the rest of the cast and seeing where they kind of take the story. All things are possible, but all things are equally not always possible (laughs). I’ve liked being there, so the rest is up to the gods of television.
Do you think we’ve seen the last of Morgan? Hit the comments with your thoughts and check out executive producer Robert Kirkman‘s thoughts on the matter in THR’s weekly postmortem.
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