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The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun wasn’t upset over Glenn’s exit: ‘I became an idea over a human character’

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Jan 29, 2021, 4:15 PM EST (Updated)

The club of actors who've left The Walking Dead because their character was ultimately killed off in all the show's legendary carnage is a rather large one, and everyone is there for a different reason. Sometimes their role was always designed to be temporary, sometimes they needed an exit strategy to move on to other things, and sometimes their loss just feels destined based on the story the show is telling. Just as the stories are all different, every actor's reaction to losing a character they spent so much time crafting is different. Some react with sorrow, others with anger, and still others with pure shock.

Then there's Steven Yeun who, looking back on five years since he left The Walking Dead, simply sees his exit as something that felt right. 

In a new installment of Variety's Actors on Actors series, Yeun — star of the acclaimed new film Minari — reflected on leaving The Walking Dead early in the show's seventh season after his conversational partner, Sound of Metal star Riz Ahmed, asked him about his time on the hit AMC series. 

In response, Yeun opened up about how he saw Glenn, a determined survivor introduced in the show's first season who Yeun himself described as a "plucky, nice guy." As the show's popularity grew, Glenn's popularity grew with it, and Yeun noticed a key evolution in how he was being asked to portray the character. 

“That [nice guy] is me, and that’s not a thing I’m ashamed of — it’s just I’m more than that. And I think that over the course of the journey, I tried to expand, and I think Glenn grew to an extent alongside me.

“But then there was a point in which I realized that, he almost became a ceiling, because I became an idea over a human character,” Yeun continued. “Then he was more asked to service as the moral compass for the show. And that’s cool, a show needs that. I was happy to service that.”

Of course, playing the nice guy over and over again on a show where compelling characters keep coming and going can only take you so far, and that was also the case with Glenn. In the Season 6 finale, the villainous Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) was introduced as a new threat to the group of survivors, and in the Season 7 premiere Negan re-enacted the comics version of his character's most famous act, clubbing Glenn to death with a baseball bat. It was a gut-wrenching moment for many fans, and the loss of a core star for the show. 

But for Yeun, it felt like the right time. He told Ahmed "there really wasn't much of a fight" in terms of letting Glenn go, even as he acknowledged it was "still sad" to leave the show and his castmates behind. 

“But I couldn’t be stopped there,” Yeun said. “I couldn’t be stuck servicing just a genial natured guy for the rest of my career. On the inside, I didn’t feel that way. On the inside, I can be angry, I can be vengeful. I can be all the other things, and I wanted to explore those things for myself.”

That exploration has worked out well for Yeun so far. Since his time on The Walking Dead ended, he's appeared in high-profile films like OkjaMayhem, and now Minari, and his TV work includes Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia and The Twilight Zone. He's also collaborating with The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman once again, voicing the title role in his upcoming superhero animated series Invicible

So, if you're ever in the middle of a Walking Dead rewatch and you get sad over Glenn's death all over again, just know that the guy who brought him to life is doing just fine.