On The Walking Dead: Dead City, Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays Negan, one of the greatest villains in the history of The Walking Dead. In this Q&A with amc.com, he talks about Negan reverting to his old ways, the hope that Negan has for the younger generation, and how much he loved shooting in an apocalyptic version of New York City.
Q: What was the experience of getting back into the character of Negan, in a new setting with new characters?
A: I don't know that it ever felt like I was getting back. I think we had just finished The Walking Dead and I had a couple months off and then we were shooting this, so I never left. Now, it's a different setting and all that. That was certainly different in mostly good ways. It was weird not being with the same crew that I'd been with for the better part of a decade and the same cast other than Lauren [Cohan], but it didn't feel like I was doing a wholly new show at all. It felt like a continuation, and it is, of the story of Negan and Maggie. So it was more, I'd say, excitement. I really liked the people we were bringing on board as far as the cast. Even before I got to work with them, I knew their work. I felt like we hit the ground running as far as Lauren and I, especially because we've been doing these characters for so long, but it was also a completely new way to tell the story that we’ve been telling for a long time. I think there's always a little bit of nervousness to that. I’m always nervous on my first day of work. It doesn't matter what it is. I still get butterflies and I had them in spades for this. You don't want to f–k it up. I think it's a big responsibility to not f–k up a show that has been loved by millions for a decade or more. We were completely aware of that as well, going in.
Q: The big thing for me as a viewer was how would this iteration work with Negan and Maggie. We know how they ended in The Walking Dead. He told Maggie he was sorry for killing Glenn, and she told him she had come to a place emotionally where she could tolerate him.
A: Yeah, yeah. They'd reached an uneasy understanding after years of her wanting to kill him. I think for the first time in a long time, he listened. The last scene that she and I played together [on The Walking Dead], Negan doesn't say a word. He lets her kind of unload, which has never been done in the history of Negan's life. Which I loved. I loved playing that. Where this story takes up is a couple years later and where we find my character, well he's gone through some hard, bad stuff. Negan will always go back to what he knows in this world to survive. And what he knows is what we were first introduced to in the end of Season 6. So he's reverted in some pretty big ways when we find him. So once again, Negan has to go through some learning curves here. [Laughs]
Q: From the trailer alone, it seems that Maggie and Negan are completely at odds again when Dead City starts.
A: Yeah. My feeling is that Maggie had those two years to reflect on the fact that she's alone. You know, you're waking up every day knowing that you're not with the person that you're supposed to be with and you have this reminder in a child that you look at every day — you see the person that you love. I think that would be a hard way to go. So, if there's ever been a time for her to sit back and reflect on her life, I think that she's done that in those two years. Unfortunately, she needs Negan. But the sour feelings are there, and maybe more so than ever, because she has had this time to really think about it. There hasn't been a lot of forgiveness there, no matter where we left it. I think if we had stayed together living in whatever community at the end of The Walking Dead, then maybe there was a way that it would have been like we talked about in that last scene.
We’ve both had our difficulties in these two years, so seeing each other is going to bring up a lot of bad feelings. Yet, she needs him so it's a hell of a quandary that she's going to be in. Negan is in a position where he could decide to help her or not. I think that he decides to help her because he is trying. He's trying to continue a redemption thing when he sees her. It's an opportunity for him, no matter what has happened in the last couple of years, to get back to where he thought he was going two years ago… there's going to be some bumps in that road.
Q: We learned a lot about Negan during your five seasons on The Walking Dead. Are we going to learn new things about him in this series?
A: Yeah. I think we're going to learn more about both characters. Look, when you're doing a show and you have 20 to 30 main characters, you're never going to be able to tell each character's story. It's just impossible to do that, so I think this is an opportunity where you can really focus on a couple characters, even introduce three or four more characters and get to know their story — but really tell the story wholly and not have gaps. So, we'll get this in real time and see what's going on with each character, which is pretty cool.
Q: You were talking about how Negan can decide whether or not to help Maggie and that he's still on a path to redemption. But I wonder if Negan is more willing to help because Hershel is involved, if the trailer is any indication? Because he has always appeared to have more empathy for the children who are caught in this world.
A: Absolutely. I think not just Hershel, but he's also with a little girl when we find him that he’s still trying to save as well. So, look, they're going to, in a way, use each other here. Negan is going to use Maggie for the good of the child he's been trying to save. "Look, I'll help you. I'll scratch your back to help you get Hershel back." I know that Negan doesn't want any harm to come to Hershel at all. He does have a different relationship with the younger generation than he does his own. I think he puts a lot of hope in the younger generation for a better world and for them to not to be like him. So, I think there's the Hershel factor and I think there's the factor that he needs this girl that he's trying to help to be in a better spot than hanging out with him. That's the initial trade: Negan wants to help the little girl and then let's save Hershel because he doesn't deserve all this sh-t either.
Q: You live in the New York area and must spend a fair amount of time in New York City. What was it like being in this version of Manhattan that's in a post-apocalyptic state?
A: I loved it. I loved it! I love being home, and after spending seven years in Georgia, to be able to be home and shoot a show that I love and play a character that I love was great for many reasons. One of them of course being the fact that we get to make New York into this apocalyptic world, which is super-exciting and cool. Seeing these landmarks that we know and love, what they would look like after going through hell, it was exciting to me. I think we did an incredible job, practically and visual effects-wise, in making New York look appropriate for this world and it's amazing. New York is as big a character as anyone else in the show, maybe bigger. It's called Dead City. It's not the Maggie and Negan Show. It's Dead City and it's New York City at its finest in the worst possible way. A big credit to our crew for being able to do that.
Full episodes of The Walking Dead: Dead City will be available to stream on amc.com (with a cable provider login), the AMC apps for mobile and devices, while AMC+ subscribers get early access to episodes on Thursdays. AMC+ is available at amcplus.com or through the new AMC+ app available on iPhone, iPad, Android, Fire TV, Apple TV, and Roku. AMC+ can also be accessed through a variety of providers, including AppleTV, Prime Video Channels, DirectTV, Dish, Roku Channel, Sling, and Xfinity. Sign up for AMC+ now.