WARNING: "Walking Dead" spoilers lurk ahead!
He's back — but does he clear?
On the latest episode of "The Walking Dead," actor Lennie James returned to the AMC drama as hardened survivor Morgan Jones, last seen in the pilot episode living with his son and unable to kill his zombified wife. In this week's episode, "Clear," Morgan reunited with series lead Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), but as a pale imitation of the man he once was; his son is dead, killed by the very same wife and mother Morgan was unable to put down in the series premiere. Standing in the wake of the tragedy is a thoroughly broken Morgan, who spends the rest of his days killing — or "clearing," as he puts it — all of the walkers he can.
James spoke with MTV News about what led to his "Walking Dead" return, his thoughts on what's happened to Morgan, and whether we'll see the fan-favorite character again.
MTV: It's exciting to see Morgan back on the show. That's something the fans have wanted to see since the series premiere. How did it come together?
Lennie James: The time tables worked out, and the story has gotten to a point where I suppose they needed a bit more of Morgan. We managed to make the dates work. I'd been in contact with [executive producer Gale Anne Hurd] on and off over the years; she'd check in with me and I'd check in with [AMC]. We finally made it work. It was fairly straightforward, how it came about in the end.
MTV: Morgan is a very different man when we meet him again. He's unhinged, understandably so, given what he went through. What did you think of where the writers took the character?
James: It's one of the things that most excited me about going back: the opportunity to navigate the journey. You very much get to see the journey that Andrew Lincoln's character is on, but you don't get to see Morgan's, even though they essentially set off at the same time. Having the opportunity to encompass what that journey might have been in one episode was one of the things that was most exciting about it. I think the writers and the guys at "Walking Dead" did a fantastic job. It was a really exciting episode to film, to fill that gap between the pilot and episode 12 of season three. That was the joy of going back. The way they've done it, almost from the moment you see him again, you realize that this guy has been on one hell of a journey.
MTV: The story of what happened to his son is brutal. It connects back to the pilot in a very clever way: Morgan had the chance to put his wife down, but he couldn't do it. He suffers the consequences of that decision, as she kills his son. What did you make of that circularity?
James: I think what it is, is really well-written things are really easy to film and really easy to get your head to the space where it needs to be and come up with the goods. That's what I was offered up with this script. That story, the initial one with Morgan being unable to shoot his wife, really resonated with fans. I think that was a hook, the reason why people were so interested to see Morgan come back, to round off that particular circle and say, yes, he did kill his wife — but it was after an even more tragic event that forced him to finally do it. You get the sense of why this guy is completely cray-cray. [Laughs]
MTV: Throughout the episode, Morgan keeps talking about having to "clear." That's the title of the episode as well. Can you explain what "clearing" meant to you and to Morgan?
James: He's a man who's grieving, a man who feels he's being punished, and a man who on one level wishes he was dead. But he's not dead. I think at that point, some people with death wishes, they take huge risks. For Morgan, his risk, the only justification he can find in the crazy world he finds himself in — his wife is gone, and his son is gone, and the only thing he can find to justify that is he must be here for a purpose. And his purpose is to wipe out as many of the walkers as he possibly can, to wipe out everybody. That's all that's left for him. That's the road he's on. He's a man on a mission; he's a man with no name. The only thing he can achieve, and the only sense he can make of not killing his wife and only doing it after she'd bitten his son, is that somewhere, the Gods, the universe, something is saying, "Your job here is to kill." That's what he means. It's his job to "clear."
MTV: Does that speak to why he didn't go off with Rick in the end? That he's already on a mission, and what Rick is offering will distract him from his purpose?
James: Yeah. And I think in a very strange way, what Rick is offering seems like normalcy in this crazy, crazy world of "The Walking Dead." He can't handle anything structured and organized. He can't handle being around too many people. To a certain extent, he has no control over who and why he might kill. In a way, for me, his not going is an act of strange friendship with Rick. "I can't go with you because I don't know what might trigger the next 'clearing' I have to do."
MTV: Of course, Morgan's still alive at the end of the episode, so the door is open for another appearance.
James: If they want me, if they offer something as juicy as what was offered on this particular episode, then I'd seriously consider [returning]. I enjoy my time on "Walking Dead." There are very few shows, almost no shows out there like it. I've really liked my time in Atlanta and my time working with Andy Lincoln. If all of those things match up again, then why not? But I have no idea if I'm in their thoughts or if it's even a possibility at this point.
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