The Walking Dead will soon be going into its change-filled ninth year, having already delivered eight seasons worth of gore-filled and emotionally fraught episodes. With all the iconic moments that have gone down -- from that disgusting well-walker to the Govenor's last stand to Carl's big death -- it's understandable that putting the show together hasn't been the most easy-breezy experience for all involved, and the show's stars have faced quite a lot of challenges as the years have gone by, with many yet to come. (Not for everyone, obviously.)
Several of the show's biggest stars, such as Lauren Cohan and Norman Reedus, recently shared the biggest challenges that they've tackled within the Walking Dead universe, and there were definitely some intriguing answers in the bunch. Let's kick things off with the soon-to-be-departing Cohan herself.
Joining the show in Season 2 as the matronly Maggie Greene, Lauren Cohan has experienced as much developmental growth as any other lead character, and has arguably faced the largest number of tragedies. All of the Greene family members that survived up until Team Family's arrival at the farm later perished, and even when Maggie managed to find new happiness elsewhere, it was ripped away from her just as quickly. When speaking to press during San Diego Comic-Con, the actress revealed that it was indeed Glenn's murder during Negan's two-part introduction that serves as her biggest challenge on the show so far.
I think for me, the most challenging was Glenn dying. Because it was so long. We had two whole episodes where we finished the season and came back in that same emotional state. So in a lot of ways, you couldn't really wind down between time, to kind of hold the space of that terror, and as actors and as people, to hold that secret. Which is simultaneously one of the greatest gifts of this show. Every secret in this show is so sacred, and the information is so desired, and people are so hungry for the story. But [Glenn's death] was definitely...Maggie was in such pain when that's happening, the shock and the physical, the emotional, the whole thing. I feel like those are also the best parts of the show is going to those places. It's very infrequently on television when you get to have these great, great theatrical tragedies. So I say challenge, but I also say gift.
Had The Walking Dead compacted Negan's first appearance into just a single episode, it would still have been a hell of an emotional jolt for Lauren Cohan, who had to say goodbye to her TV beau Steven Yeun after years as one of TV's most popular couples. But no, the chaotic scene was split across a finale AND a premiere, putting all the actors through months of mental turmoil as they maintained their fractured headspaces while waiting for Season 8 to start production. That, on top of having to keep the mystery murders a secret from an ever-inquiring fanbase, would have been a formidable challenge for any Walking Dead star. Will Cohan's final episode (for now) be as hard to put together?
As one of the only remaining Walking Dead stars who was part of the pilot episode, Lennie James has had a uniquely sporadic connection to this world, and he's also the only actor to have made a full crossover transition over to the follow-up Fear the Walking Dead. When speaking with CinemaBlend to promote The Walking Dead's Season 8 Blu-ray and DVD release, James talked about Morgan's various mental states across his span on the show, which had only amounted to a small handful of episodes before he became a series regular in Season 6. When asked about his biggest challenge in The Walking Dead-verse, the actor explained that it has been making sure Morgan has essentially remained Morgan all this time. Here's his answer:
That's a really good question, because anything that's being challenging is also being exciting and standout moments. I think one of the most challenging things on one level that I would say is, for me, coming back to the show in two-year intervals with a character who has gone through vast changes during that time off-screen, and connecting the dots between the different incarnations of Morgan, from an ordinary guy being caught in a situation and being Rick's first entry into the post-apocalyptic world, to cray-cray Morgan as I call him, to Morgan the way of the peaceful warrior in Season 5. Making all of those incarnations be the same guy was, I think, my biggest challenge. But it's one that I relished and one that I took hopefully great ownership of, and used it as a plus and not a negative. So I would imagine outside of just the logistics of Season 8, I would say that would have been my biggest challenge so far having been involved in the Walking Dead universe.
That's completely understandable, since Morgan's various moods could amount to completely different characters, so it's to the actor's credit that he remains so popular with fans. There are plenty of ways for his various arcs to have landed with a loud thud. Outside of character-based challenges, Lennie James did talk about how crazy and complicated the approach was when Season 8 was coming together, since the All Out War against big bad Negan required a lot of big stunt sequences and a lot of running around in different locations. In particular, the actor was extremely non-fond of the big hill where the big battle took place in the season finale.
It was back in Season 3 when Danai Gurira joined The Walking Dead as the live-action version of fan-favorite comic book badass Michonne. The TV iteration has been just as beloved to viewers, and some of the character's most memorable moments have involved Gurira going to some pretty emotional places. For instance, when the past came back to haunt Michonne in Season 4, and she broke down after an impressive walker-slaughter. Or Gurira's scenes with Chandler Riggs in Season 8 surrounding Carl's death. And it is indeed an emotionally daunting sequence that she offered up as her biggest Walking Dead challenge, but it's one that fans haven't seen yet. Here's how she put it during the show's press conference at San Diego Comic-Con.
There's so many places I could go with that, and it's something that I can't really talk about -- sorry -- in terms of it being this season. But it's interesting, because in Georgia -- or anywhere, I guess -- you're dealing with weather. So I have this scene I had to shoot, and I'm sitting and I'm holding it, I'm holding it, I'm holding it. And then it's like, you're ready, and you do one take, and you get rained out. 'We're going in. It's over. Not today.' Like, okay, I'l carry this through the weekend, and then Monday, it's like, 'Ah, it's raining. Can't do it.' So I mean that was kind of the newest [challenge]. I had to experience that three times, a scene that required all of me like that in a very, very emotive way, I had to carry through about six days and three attempts that didn't happen because of Georgia weather. I think when the scene was over, I went through this weird physical response to having released it, and that was new. I was like, 'What's happening to me?' . . . So it was a different and challenging journey, but it was all for the story.
Similar to how Lauren Cohan had to keep her dread and dismay on hand while anticipating the next episode's filming, Danai Gurira was forced to retain her own uncomfortable mind-state for far longer than she would have liked. Only in this case, it was all an unplanned series of delays, with Mother Nature repeatedly pushing one scene off. Which is amusing in a way, given how weather factors so minutely in the show's narrative. But it sounds like a scene where viewers' tear ducts might open up like rain clouds, too, which almost has to involve circumstances surrounding Rick's potential death, right?
Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Few villains in modern fiction have been as gleefully monstrous as The Walking Dead's Negan, who quickly became one of the most iconic comic book baddies outside the superhero genre. Jeffrey Dean Morgan's casting was celebrated, though the fanbase has been split on his presence as live-action Negan ever since his first Season 6 appearance, with the character unable to be the same kind of offensive caricature with cable censors involved. Non-coincidentally, Morgan told San Diego Comic-Con press outlets that his biggest challenge so far was bringing the tyrannical leader out to play.
For me, it was probably the introduction to the character. It was technically a thing, and it was physically a thing, and it was also my first time meeting this cast. That's a hell of a way to meet a group of people that is so tight and close, and to kind of be thrown in this world of The Walking Dead by taking out two of their friends, hoping that I'd kind of be accepted by them. [laughs] And then in this season, I've gotten to do some stuff that was nothing we've seen Negan do, and I'm excited for people to see it. It was hard to play, and a challenge that was super cool.
Still ranking as the newcomer among this group of Walking Dead cast members, Jeffrey Dean Morgan has two mostly connected answers there. Initially, he had the multi-headed challenge of bringing Negan to life in such a violent and polarizing fashion in Season 6, which affected both the actor and the character. And then he'll apparently be quite different in Season 9, which will pick up after a big time jump, so the actor will technically be getting a chance to reintroduce audiences to a more tempered Negan, which obviously presents its own series of obstacles. TV viewers aren't always the most forgiving when it comes to change.
While he hasn't been a Walking Dead presence from its earliest days, Norman Reedus' Daryl Dixon first appeared in the series' third episode, and has made quite a mark as the crossbow-wielding loner. Reedus' proficiency with motorcycles makes Daryl's road scenes easy as pie for the actor, so those definitely weren't part of his biggest challenge as a cast member. Nor did it have anything to do with that rocket launcher or losing Beth or anything else that viewers have already laid their peepers on. Speaking with press at San Diego Comic-Con, Reedus explained that his hardest moments came while filming an upcoming installment, and that Andrew Lincoln was involved.
For me, it was this year. Episode 4 of this season was one that, Andy and I have a scene in that episode that is fucking epic. It was really well-written and we worked on it, and we really fine-tuned it and got it to a place where it became sort of effortless and could have gone in so many different directions. But I think both of us will be proud of that.
Going by those purposefully vague words, it's hard to glean what kind of scene we'll be seeing when Episode 4 gets here. I mean, we're still not quite sure what the season premiere will deliver. The moment that Norman Reedus describes could amount to a large-scale physical challenge, if the "epic" nature of the scene is in reference to an action sequence needing specific and extensive choreography, or something along those lines. On the emotional hand, it could be a scene where Rick gets bitten by a walker, putting the two actors through a roller coaster of sadness and despair. We can't wait to see which one it ends up being.
Expect The Walking Dead universe to stick around AMC for many more years, presenting many more cast members with many more challenges. As far as Season 9 goes, it'll make its extended-runtime debut on AMC on Sunday, October 7, at 9:00 p.m. ET. To see what other new and returning shows will be clamoring for your attention soon, head to our fall TV premiere schedule.