On The Walking Dead, Lynn Collins plays Leah Shaw, a gritty and fearless Reaper who has a history with Daryl. In this interview with amc.com, she talks about Pope's leadership, what Leah thinks of Daryl by the end of Episode 8, and what it's like to play such a strong and capable character.
Q: Did you know when you signed on for your Season 10 episode that you'd be coming back for this important storyline in Season 11?
A: Yes, I did. That was all part of the contract that began for me in Season 10. Angela [Kang] had pretty much given me the overview of what would happen, so I knew a lot going in—which was really difficult because I had to keep it all secret.
Q: So you knew from the beginning that Leah would become a Reaper?
A: I knew Leah's arc when I accepted Season 10, so I knew that the family that she was talking about was the Reapers.
Q: I know this is touched on throughout Season 11, but can you explain Leah's particular motivations for joining up with Pope?
A: Well, in Season 10 when she's talking about her family, you learn that it was a group of people that she's been with for a long time. Also in these first couple episodes of Season 11, she says, "He believed in me when no one else did." You know, they were mercenaries together, they fought together. So it wasn't so much about joining him; this was the history and then when the apocalypse happens they all stay together. So her allegiance to them is familial more than it is military, because of how much they've all gone through together.
Q: Why did Leah believe so fully in this quest to kill Maggie?
A: Well, they've found a little bit of security, and there's a threat to it. I also think there's this heightened sense when you’re living in apocalyptic times. Maybe it’s a need to fight, this need to defend that keeps these people out of sadness and grief. It's a distraction. But I also think Pope needs to kill Maggie in order to keep Meridian. It's about defending turf and defending territories, which is a story as old as time.
Q: Does this quest to kill Maggie get personal?
A: I think it does become personal. I think for Pope to be outsmarted in any way, that makes it personal because he's under this illusion that he's the end all be all. When that's challenged, how can he keep the hierarchy of this little society he's created—especially if this woman on the outside is outsmarting him? It makes him look weak and so it becomes about ego.
Q: What does Leah really think about Pope, considering he's so off balance? She seems smart enough to see that he's damaged.
A: I think his volatility is something that she became comfortable with, you know? I grew up with a really volatile father, and you just learn how to adapt to it, work with it, and stay out of the fire. You have to learn their language in a way, which I think is what she's done, because what's the alternative? Either she stays with him or she's out on her own. It's that constant choice to grapple with: do I stay and have this safety and this maybe false sense of security? There’s a lot of security as far as being protected from the walkers. I think, as season progresses, you see her start to question him as he starts compromising the people that she loves. Again, it's either an allegiance to this man versus protecting her family. He becomes a threat to her family.
Q: It's impressive that Leah is willing to speak up to Pope because he is so terrifying.
A: Yeah, and I think she's the only one who can really do it because she's like a daughter to him.
Q: Does Leah hold it against Pope that he set fire to a room she was in? I understand it was a test for Daryl, but still...
A: I think absolutely. I think she holds it against all of them [the Reapers]. And it seemed like a test for Daryl, but I think the actual test was for her. Who was she going to choose? And at the end [of Episode 4] she falls back in line.
Q: How would you characterize the evolution of Leah and Daryl's relationship?
A: [In Season 10] he left her. He chose to go look for Rick instead of staying with her, and even though he ends up changing his mind and coming back, that's new information to her when we see her. The question is—is he telling the truth? Did he really come back? She doesn't know. Now the audience knows he did, but she doesn't know that for sure either. So how can she trust him, when she believes that he's left her for his group?
Of course they have feelings for each other. As he is “becoming one of the Reapers,” it's a conflict for her because where is her allegiance going to lie? And how much can she even express her true feelings and love, when she knows that showing that vulnerability in the community that she's in will make her an outcast. I don't think there's a way for them to be boyfriend and girlfriend in the Reaper world. It's about trying to make sure they don't kill us, and trying to stay alive herself.
Q: Leah then finds out in Episode 8 that Daryl has been lying to her about Maggie's group the whole time. What does this do to her feelings about him?
A: I think it almost completely destroys them. This is when Leah becomes such an interesting character to play, because in my mind once you love someone, you never stop loving someone, at least in my experience. So how do you live with that? I think, for her, of course she still loves him, but he's betrayed her on multiple levels, multiple times now. So she has to choose something different. She can't choose him.
Q: Can you talk about what led to Leah killing Pope? He's willing to put their people in danger. Is that what sets her off?
A: I think it's the final straw. The people she loves have been compromised and compromised many times. She's been compromised. She's been tested. He's clearly losing it more and more. That's undeniable. And I think it just comes down to there's only one option here, because she can't keep fighting him. He's insane at this point and he literally doesn't care who's dying. I think she also realizes that, in that moment, it's like maybe he never even cared.
Q: In Episode 8, the last we see of Leah is her looking resolute as the hwacha is launched. What were you trying to convey to the audience in those final moments?
A: That she's basically the new Pope. If he was the king, she just cut his head off, and now she's the queen. She’s who Maggie's group now has to take down. She's here to say, "You're going to have to take me down. You're going to have to kill me. You can't take my people."
Q: What's it like playing a woman who's so strong in every way?
A: It's been so rewarding. It's just incredible to play a woman who is so strong, and it isn't about her sexuality. That's not where her strength comes from. Her strength is this deep emotional fortitude that she has. She has had to make tough decisions. She is also a woman of heart, and I think that's what gets so complicated. Having to choose her family over love, and then this father character over her family. I mean, she's just constantly being put in these positions between a rock and a hard place, and she's having to make such difficult decisions.
I think it reflects where a lot of us are at right now in the world, with all the circumstances that 2020 brought and the decisions that 2021 is forcing us to make. So I think that she's really relatable for a lot of people. I mean, that's what the fans are showing, and I'm just really appreciative of the support. Fans of this show are just so passionate and so engaged, and it's been really rewarding to interact with them.
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