The Walking Dead just closed out Season 11, Part 2 with its mid-season finale, “Acts of God,” leaving only eight episodes left of the series. “Acts of God” finds Maggie (Lauren Cohan) preparing to defend Hilltop and the people of Riverbend against a crew of Commonwealth soldiers and Lance Hornsby (Josh Hamilton), who has tasked Leah (Lynn Collins) to assassinate Maggie.
CBR had the opportunity to speak to Lauren Cohan regarding the mid-season finale’s revelations and stand-offs. As one of the longest-airing characters on the show, Cohan reflected on the journey she’s had portraying Maggie and how the character has grown into her own definition of a leader. She also talked about the “powerful” last day of filming The Walking Dead, Maggie’s relationships with Negan and Daryl, and what fans will expect from her new spin-off series, Isle of the Dead.
CBR: I have to start with congratulating you and everyone else for wrapping filming on the show. What was the atmosphere like in those final days? I assume pretty emotional.
Lauren Cohan: Yeah, it was just a lot of “thank-yous,” taking a lot of pictures. It was strange because on our very last day, it was really windy, like the windiest I can ever remember being on set. It was just kind of whipping all of us around. It felt powerful and strange and beautiful. I think that’s what the ending was, to be honest with you. I just think it was weird to know that you’ll never be in exactly that place with all those people again, but immensely just feeling really proud of everyone and of everything that we’ve done. So yeah, you can probably kind of imagine just the strange combo feelings.
You’ve been there since Season 2 of the show, so you’ve been through quite the journey with Maggie. What’s been the biggest challenge in playing a character who has been through so much love, heartbreak, and loss, especially?
The greatest satisfaction of it is probably everything having so much meaning. Because you’ve been pared down to the basic essentials and the basic needs of survival, you know how important things are, and that is rewarding. It’s a rewarding head-space to be in all the time, and it is simultaneously challenging because you’re always in this survival mode. The essence of our show is that we’re trying to represent what it’s worth, what life is worth, and what fighting is, what we’re fighting for, and everything like that. So I think the best parts and the hardest parts sort of become one thing.
So jumping into the Part 2 finale of Season 11, Maggie just lost the Hilltop and Alexandria, and possibly Oceanside, but she got Leah out of her hair once and for all. What was it like filming that intense fight scene with Lynn Collins?
It was a visceral scene. It was really fun actually, and really hard going. You just kind of learn the sequence. You want to do a great job and give it all you’ve got because these women are fighting to the death. They both need each other gone, and it is bound to have a bad outcome for somebody. So it was a very necessary moment but a lot of fun to shoot. The stuff that’s the most brutal and the most gnarly in our show is very often, for the actor who knows that it’s all okay, actually really fun to do.
Leah was kind of this catalyst for the whole Maggie versus Daryl stand-off that was teased in the mid-season premiere. We see that Daryl and Maggie’s friendship can’t be broken. Could there ever be something breaking that friendship?
No, and I really didn’t even think then that there was tension between Maggie and Daryl. I just thought that maybe Maggie didn’t necessarily know why at the time… because, in the end, a lot of people are enticed by Commonwealth. It was more of Maggie coming up against this idea of the Commonwealth than her ever coming up against an idea of Daryl. It is just a tragedy. It was also an inevitable thing. Well, not an inevitable thing, but inevitable that they had to choose between Leah and Maggie. I don’t think it was ever really a choice. Those two are family.
I’ve always thought that Maggie was one of if not the best leader in the entire series. I think a lot more people will say that because she pretty much predicted Pamela and Lance’s ugly side, even though a lot of people disagreed with her. How would you say that Maggie’s leadership style compares to the other leaders we’ve seen in this series?
Not as a comparison, but I just think Maggie’s guide has just been to try to create a safehold and a place that you can thrive. I don’t think that the idea of the farm where she grew up and who her father is has ever really left her heart in terms of what she wanted to be able to have. You can see with Hilltop. It’s like the emphasis on fairness and just vegetables [laughs] and innovation, and the things that compelled her about Georgie.
Commonwealth is definitely an exciting idea on principle, to have a lot of people and to have a place where your kids can go to school and all the things that Lance sort of highlights to Maggie in [Season 11] Episode 12. Those things are true, but like Maggie says, everything costs something, and the standing on your own two feet and knowing that you worked for what you have and that it’s your responsibility to safeguard it. You also aren’t having to answer to anything questionable, [which] is obviously really at the core of who Maggie is.
I think that naturally, she chose to lead that way. As time goes on, and as we see in [Season 11, Episode 16], her willingness to give up the Hilltop is because that principle is not about a place; it’s about an attitude. That is why she even goes so far as to decide that she needs to have Hershel be kept safe by Negan of all people because she knows in her heart of hearts that she needs to do the harder, bigger task, which is to go kill Hornsby to keep these people safe. I think that she just has to keep coming back to that — the people that are looking to me, that are relying on me, that are letting me lead them. What do I need to do to make good on that? Commitment.
You mentioned Negan, and in this episode, she flat out says, “I’m starting to trust you now.” What was your initial reaction to seeing that moment in the script?
It was pretty shocking, but I knew that it’s true. It’s true that in the thing that she’s needing [Negan] for in that moment, she trusts him to do it. Beyond that, we don’t have to decide right now. At this moment, when I need somebody to keep Hershel safe, especially because she now knows Annie and has this instinct about Annie… That kind of makes her trust Negan more. I think both because of how Annie’s affected him, but also because they will both be there, I think that it’s a hard decision, but it’s a decision that had to be made for Maggie at that moment to go off and do what needed to be done with Hornsby, and keep Hershel safe in the meantime.
Would you say that Negan being a father soon has anything to do with her trust in him? You did say that Annie kind of humbles him in some ways, but maybe Maggie is still thinking in the back of her head that Glenn was supposed to live this life.
Yeah, I think that’s a great point. When we first get to Riverbend, and I see him, I learn that she’s pregnant, and they’re about to have this life. Why does he deserve that? He doesn’t, but does that change the fact that I need him to take care of Hershel in that moment? That’s really what it comes down to in the end.
I was so taken aback by this. In Episode 15, Daryl dropped an F-bomb, which rarely ever happens on the show. I’ve heard that the show is pretty restricted on the amount of F-words AMC allows you all. Are there any moments where you’re filming, and you’re thinking, “An F-word would be so good here?”
[laughs] Yes! Yes, I wanted to use it just then to make my point, but I won’t. Weirdly, [it’s] one of those things where I’ve wanted to ask for Maggie to be able to have one. We get a certain amount of season. It’s not very many, as you know, because you’re surprised by that one. I think Negan has gotten a fair share of him. [Jeffrey Dean Morgan]’s gotten a fair share of them. It’s kind of the same way that I am in life. I always kind of regret when I actually use one. So, I don’t know, Maggie might feel the same way.
How did Norman [Reedus] get that privilege?
There? Oh, it just kind of gets out. I think you just put in a request, and you fax it to people. [laughs] No, kidding. There is a moment in the very last episode where I was like, “This would have been a good place to ask for it.” I really wanted one there, but sometimes you just put the feeling into what you’re actually saying.
I have to ask about the Maggie and Negan spin-off that took fans by surprise. It seems like, from my perspective, that the main series is setting up Maggie tolerating Negan going into the spin-off. So can you give any sort of tease of what fans might see in Isle of the Dead?
Yeah, they are two people that are very much still not friends who are going to be seen in this new terrain. You’ll see elements of each of their characters that will be new and challenging, and it’s going to be awesome.
The first 16 episodes of The Walking Dead Season 11 are now available to stream on AMC+. Season 11 Part 3 is expected to air later in 2022 on AMC.