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Fear the Walking Dead's Lennie James breaks down Morgan's dramatic Season 7 return
The actor reflects on 11 years of evolution for Morgan Jones and what's coming next in Season 7 of Fear.
No character in The Walking Dead universe is safe, as even longstanding main characters are likely to die at the rotting hands and teeth of the undead at any moment. That makes it even more astounding that actor Lennie James is still playing a character who was introduced in the pilot episode of The Walking Dead, "Days Gone Bye" — and he's still alive. Back when we first saw Morgan Jones in the 2010 premiere, he had lost his wife in the outbreak and became a cautionary tale for Rick Grimes. But Jones has evolved across two series from a wounded soul to a pacifist to a man finding new love and purpose in the seventh season of Fear the Walking Dead.
In Sunday's new episode, "Six Hours," we finally see how Morgan, Grace (Karen David) and the baby made it through the nuclear blasts ignited in the Season 6 finale. Existing together in a fortified submarine, we see Grace suffering from PTSD and guilt, while making supply runs in an even more hellish outside world filled with deadly radiation, even more desperate humans and now radiated walkers.
SYFY WIRE got on a Zoom with James to discuss how far Morgan has come in 11 years of storytelling, how he's changed with Grace in his life, and what version of Morgan audiences will see in Season 7.
When you first read the script for "Six Hours," what piqued your interest most?
I like those almost like bottle episodes where it's the two of you, and you just know that there's going to be an interesting beginning, middle, and end. I'm always encouraging our writers to challenge me. I'm always encouraging our writers to continue the growth of this character and continue him as the world around him changes. He may find out new things about himself. I don't want to be in a situation where the fans go, "I know what Morgan is going to do next." Even when they do know what Morgan is going to do next, I'd like to reserve the possibility of him doing something different. This season, that may well be a possibility and it starts in the second episode of this season.
Can you talk about Morgan's interaction with the desperate married couple who kidnap the baby?
One of the things that we do sometimes on Fear is that we come across someone who reflects a possible alternative of who you could have been and where you ended up. That happens on both shows. For example, at one point that's who Morgan was to Rick on The Walking Dead. When he comes and finds him in the town, the Morgan in "Clear" has slightly lost himself. It is a projection of who Rick could end up being if he took a particular path. And I think that's partly what's going on with Martha and her husband in this one. There is a projection of who Grace and Morgan could end up being if they're not careful. That was one of the things that jumped out at me in bringing that story to life.
What felt unique about this premiere?
It was our first time out in this new world, so for a lot of it, it's navigating that challenge and keeping that challenge real. They're running out of food on the sub so they have to go out in the world and when they go out in the world, they can't go out in a bubble. So, what is the acceptable risk? How much can you cover yourself with what you've got? And on one level, they're kind of lucky, because they're on a submarine, and it's a naval vessel so they have access to certain things that would naturally be there. But they're still taking a risk because they don't know what is out there in the world. For me in this particular episode, it was about making their first journey out into the world, considering the expertise that Grace has.
You have been with this franchise for 11 years now, which gives you the very singular experience of years of playing all the different iterations of Morgan Jones. This episode goes right back to Morgan as a father. How did you draw from that to play this Morgan who is now faced with being a parent again?
It's an interesting navigation. I'm glad you've asked that because one of the great things about this universe is how it invests in the history of its characters, and how those characters carry their history with them. And part of the dialogue that moves between us as characters, and our fans and audience, is part of the fact that they know our history. I always use Carol, Melissa McBride's character, as an example just because it's one of the most dynamic character arcs and because Melissa has navigated that arc so majestically. On one level, Melissa is aware of Carol's history, but doesn't have to show it at every point because our audience are aware of who she was and the roads that she's walked. And that is true of Morgan, as well. If where we find ourselves in Episode 2 is that the woman that he has fallen in love with, and the child that he believed he was going to risk a future on and want to father, is taken away, Morgan doesn't have to tell anybody about Dwayne and Jenny, because our audience knows it. They know that one of the things he's navigating, and actually one of the things he's probably holding back in his dealings with Grace, is that he has felt this loss before. Him feeling that loss before doesn't necessarily help her. All it does is might help him in how he helps her. And I think that's part of the reason why he leaves her with baby Mo. He doesn't do the thing that one might expect Morgan to do, which is, "You go out, I'll stay here because I realize it's difficult for you." The thing that he actually does is go, "It's my turn to go out, and I need to go out and you need to stay here. That's what needs to happen." I think that's part of his knowledge of having been here before, that he can make that choice for her. And that's how I navigate Morgan's history.
On the other side of it, Morgan is also a very private man. As someone who started off very much being defined as who he was married to, and who he was the father of, has become a long period of his time in this world has been one of being alone. And wanting to be alone and wanting to be on his own. He's chosen something different and I think it's the beginning of him fighting for this different thing that he wants, which is her. But they have to navigate that up against the fact that they're living in, now, a second apocalypse.
Morgan admits to Grace, "Maybe it's just ok to be broken." Did you interpret that as an interior moment for the two of them for us to see, or is it introducing a different Morgan that we'll see come out of that after this episode?
Firstly, I don't want to decide what it is for the audience. But I think one of the possibilities about what that moment is for Morgan is an admission that he doesn't have all the answers. It is that thing of the sage who says wisdom is knowing what you don't know, is knowing the things you don't have an answer for. Morgan doesn't say it is better, he says, "Maybe it's better." I think, for me anyways, it's about what it is for all of us, which is to try and navigate who they'll have to be and what they'll have to do in this challenge of this new world. I also think it's Morgan saying to Grace, on one level, "I'll take you in whichever form you come in. As long as I have you."
Morgan and Strand's (Colman Domingo) differing world views are going to come to a head this season. What moral compass will define Morgan's point of view in that conflict?
One of the things that I'm really excited about this season is, to a greater or lesser extent, answering that question through the journey that he goes through. And yes, it is all of who he is because it's always been part of who he is. When he's been the Peaceful Warrior, when he's been a man living by a code, when he's been a man who's lost himself, when he's been a man who has felt like he has lost everything that he's cared about — he's always been Morgan. I think the answer to this season is, in part, who Morgan is and who he decides to be for this new incarnation of the world. That's the challenge that's thrown down before him that may come in the shape of Strand, but isn't exclusively in the shape of Strand. I know that the poster shows it as Morgan and Strand facing off, but that's not nearly all that Morgan has to face off against this season, and the choices that he has to make.
Will Morgan have a clear overarching goal this season?
Morgan likes a mission. He likes to focus on a thing that he has to do, and that's been the case right from the beginning. Morgan ends up with a mission this season. It takes a while for him to find out what it is. But he ends up with a mission, and ends up with more than one mission that kind of focuses down into one. But Morgan's journey through this season is without a doubt going to be all encompassing.
Is there a Morgan episode you are most excited for fans to see in Season 7?
There's an episode that comes up that I think is genuinely going to take the fans by surprise as far as Morgan is concerned. Hopefully, if we put it together right. it's going to genuinely take people by surprise. And again, it's not out of character if you've come to understand where Morgan is. But it is a departure from what we expect.
Fear the Walking Dead Season 7 airs on AMC on Sunday nights.