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SYFY WIRE The Walking Dead

'The Walking Dead's' Lauren Cohan says Maggie is 'compartmentalizing' her Negan hate in Season 11

By Tara Bennett
The Walking Dead Season 11 Still

The Walking Dead Season 11 certainly returned with a bang, as no sooner had Maggie Rhee (Lauren Cohan) returned to Alexandria, but the show then called into question her ongoing future in the last seconds of the season premiere, "Acheron: Part I."

But considering how big of a deal it was when the executive producers announced the return of Lauren Cohan as a series regular in Season 11, we have to assume that she’s going to get out of that nasty pinch Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) put her in at episode’s end.

Regardless, it was a sight for sore eyes to see Cohan back, who first joined the series in Season 2 and remained with them until the middle of Season 9. She then returned for two episodes in Season 10, and now audiences can finally find out what Maggie and her son, Hershel (Kien Michael Spiller) have been up to since we last saw them.

Obviously, a changed woman since Negan murdered her husband, Glenn (Steven Yeun) back in Season 7, Maggie is trying to reintegrate back into Alexandria after the fall of her most recent home, the Meridian community, which she says was devastated by unknown marauders, which we can assume are the Reapers. But how exactly do you work side-by-side with someone like Negan?

SYFY WIRE also got Cohan on the phone to discuss that huge moral conundrum, their confrontation in the premiere, and what to expect from Maggie in Season 11.

Coming back to the series, you certainly want to be engaged in Maggie’s arc and challenge yourself as an actress, so did you have any request of showrunner Angela Kang about what you wanted to play out in this last season?

I did say, how can we show what she has been through? It's funny because the ghost story, basically, that Maggie tells in this episode, I was like, "We fulfilled that." I wanted there to be some good that came of it, you know what I mean? I wanted to know that she went out there not just to run away from Negan, but to become something and to acquire skills that would allow her to be that hopeful character that we saw in the beginning of the show.

Talk about Maggie having to work next to Negan. How does she even stomach being civil to him?

There's an interesting thing that happened when we started Season 11, where we unwrap some of where the character had been. I had a conversation with Angela, and she's like "[Maggie has] the 1,000-yard stare of the soldier who has PTSD, where it’s almost just a 'one foot in front of the other' [mode]." At times with Maggie, I was just like, "OK, you have to compartmentalize." Negan pushes her. It's weird, because she's in this sort of shell-shocked mode when he tries to call her out as being not equipped to make a good decision. Like, clearly, she's too intoxicated with her resentment of me. And he pushes her by insulting Glenn to the point where she says, "We're doing this because our kids are starving. We're down here because it's safer. And I'm making the decisions because that's how people voted. So, I'm just f***ing getting on with it."

It's very liberating for me because it's like somebody has to say, we're going to go left or right. Even in the subway scenes, there's this whole metaphor for it. It's like, "All right, you're here because you know the city and as much as we can, let's put everything else aside to say this is practical. You're coming because you know this area. Even when we get down in the subway car, it's like, 'Which way? I don't f***ing give a s*** how you feel about this.' We don't have the luxury of indulging how we feel about this." That's actually how all of us have to inhabit that mode sometimes. It's difficult.

Do you think her compartmentalizing is only for Negan or is this more indicative of her world-view now?

Maggie allows herself to hear and witness some of what Negan is saying and open her mind up to it and to say, "OK, he did kill Alpha. And Carol did make decisions she had to make. What, am I going to throw the baby out with the bathwater? There's going to be nobody f***ing left!" It was like Rick's point of entry stuff. It's also what's happening in the Commonwealth scenes in regards to what do we allow for? The world comes with many, many points of view, as we all know. This season definitely touches on the themes of [the] bigger picture. And I think that's the compartmentalizing in that I need to find what I have in common. And that's every day, where I've got to run towards where I connect. Run, don't walk! This piece of you I love, and if I love it hard enough, is it gonna illuminate everything else that we think differently about? And that is what Maggie is trying to get to with Negan. On some fundamental level, I think all these characters know we are not at a point where you can be like, "You snore, so you can't play.” [Laughs.] It's fun too because as we proceed into meeting the Commonwealth characters, it’s what's going to happen there. There's the good, there's the bad, but we can we have different points of view, where we're in the middle? Can we meet and be reasonable? And I like that.
New episodes of The Walking Dead premiere Sundays on AMC at 9 p.m. Eastern.