There’s more to “The Walking Dead” than just walkers. Even in an epic story about survival in a world turned upside down, there’s got to be some consideration of love and romance.
And nerdy yet resourceful Glenn (Steven Yeun) and feisty farmer’s daughter Maggie (Lauren Cohan) have become the couple “Walking Dead” fans love to root for. Their flirtation and fooling around last season has blossomed into a full blown commitment this season, but how much happiness can young lovers find when there’s always some undead monster trying to take a bite out of your flesh? Or, as Maggie so horribly saw in the season premiere, a bite out of the flesh of someone you love?
We sat down with Yeun and Cohan for a joint interview about how their characters have grown on the show — as a couple and individuals — and what challenges may lie ahead for their relationship. (Hint: If Hershel doesn’t survive, Glenn is probably going to take the loss rather personally.)
Everyone’s talking about how much more action there is this season, at least in the early episodes. Is that more demanding on you as a performer?
Steven Yeun: We’re so ready to do it. We get our bruises here and there, but we’re all there and in it 100%. It’s very grueling, but I think that’s what makes us so satisfied. We’re not doing a 12 hour shoot of talking around the table for five minutes. We’re doing, ‘How do we have a brief conversation right now before we’re going to take out all these walkers?’ It’s like nothing I’ve ever done, it’s pretty amazing.
Lauren Cohan: It’s pretty fun to play. [Just] getting ready for all the action [before production began] — not knowing what it would be — but running, boxing, doing all the things I anticipated I would need. And then getting into it. The fun thing is we have to be these soldiers and wield these different weapons, but we get to show the figuring out of that in the story. We come upon a weapon and I don’t know how to use it, but that’s part of Maggie’s journey too. That’s what keeps these characters connected to people who watch, it could happen to you.
Introducing Maggie has changed so much for Glenn on the show. Was that also how it felt for you, Lauren, when you joined the show? And you, Steven, when Glenn got a love interest?
Yeun: As a character on the show, you really emulate real life. I remember when Lauren came in. You have to re-figure out a lot of the social dynamic. It plays out in real life and on screen. By the end of that season, Lauren and I were tight. And going in to this season, we’re really tight …
Cohan: [nodding] Yeah.
Yeun: … as actors and as characters. It’s great for the show to see that drama and it’s great for us to make new friends and lasting bonds.
Cohan: I do wish everybody could have this experience. To come into a group and be so welcomed and have such a bond of trust.
Maggie made such a strong impression in Season 2, what’s been the most exciting part of playing the role?
Cohan: I’ve gotten to go on a very big journey. Maggie starts out waiting for something to happen. There’s this great opportunity that comes when the group arrives — and that’s why she’s so intent on them not leaving — to get a second chance at life, ironically, in this godforsaken situation.
As we get into Season 3, she’s right there with the group and the guys as they take down walkers. She’s one of the stronger members, and it’s a really great place to be. It’s sometimes terrifying but there’s a certain thrill for her. I’m really glad we got to show that in the first episode. Not that [killing walkers is] a game, but that it’s like [quoting Maggie’s excitement in the season premiere] ‘Did you see that!?’ And you get to see her vulnerability in the relationship with Glenn. That’s what makes people that much stronger, when you see them break down.
And Steven, I’ve heard you say you feel like Glenn’s growth on the show has mirrored your own growth as an actor.
Yeun: It’s amazing, art imitating life. Mike Satrazemis, our camera operator, and I were rehashing the first season because Glenn plays a more prominent role this season. He said, ‘Dude, I remember you were like, “Where do I stand? How do I not screw this up?”‘ That’s all I was thinking about: ‘How do I learn?’ and ‘How do I not screw this up?’ That’s exactly what Glenn was.
Second season [I felt] a little more ownership but still didn’t have all the kinks worked out. I haven’t been [acting] as long as a lot of other people. There were moments when Glenn shines and I’d step up a little bit, but there were moments when Glenn retreats or messes up and those were kind of mimicking what I did as an actor. This season, I feel a great ownership toward the show, we’ve all helped to create this thing. That helps me stand a little taller and have more presence or weight in a scene, but that’s perfect for Glenn to stand with that type of presence.
Since he keeps growing and getting more confident, do you think Glenn will ever want Rick’s leadership role for himself?
Yeun: I think in certain situations that might come to a head. Glenn isn’t looking to usurp by any means, but he’s figuring out what it means to be a leader. Sometimes he might miss the mark, overshoot or be completely wrong. I think that’s what’s interesting about Glenn. He’s flawed. Last season, he messed up. This season, he’ll probably mess up. That’s truthful and honest.
Do Maggie and Glenn view the gang as their family now, or more like people they’re stuck with?
Cohan: No, not people they’re stuck with at all. It’s a really great dynamic. Sometimes people do things you don’t agree with, but at the end of the day it always comes down to: for one, we do need a leader and, for two, you allow people to make mistakes when you know they have the greater good at the forefront. There was definitely a push and pull at the end of last season and the beginning of this season. And I think that’s just what it’s like in a family. You have people who enter, and people who are distant or vacant sometimes.
Yeun: After what’s happened in the aftermath of Season 2, you see these folks having been drawn ever closer together. I think the bigger family is the whole group, and you kind of have these pockets. Glenn lives for Maggie. That also means if you live for Maggie you live for her immediate family as well. If something happens to her family that effects her directly [like Hershel getting attacked in the season premiere], then it effects me. It’s all interwoven.
Now that Glenn and Maggie have this bond, will anyone view it as a weakness or a threat to the group?
Cohan: I like to think the weakness isn’t an issue, because Glenn and Maggie put aside — [quietly] although we will see that one proble
Cohan: For the most part they try to put aside their own problems when the time comes for the group. We’ll see ups and downs, definitely. But inspiring ones!
Yeun: There is no weakness per se within the couple, but there is a weakness by default. If you have something that you love and cherish, that can be used against you. That can be something that holds you back from making the right decision. [In this world] it’s not ‘If I choose to do this, maybe we’ll be late.’ Now, when you make a choice, someone can die or the whole group could die.
I think fans really enjoy the two of you as a couple, but does that make you feel safer or more vulnerable when it’s time to kill someone off? It would be heartbreaking for either character to die, but won’t Glen Mazzara and the writers inevitably want that drama?
Yeun: Glenn and Maggie do embody hope, this young love and an idea that things can still thrive in a desolate terrible world. But… not everything is all roses. You take a cog out of that machine and it has to rework itself, that makes for interesting storytelling and drama. What’s crazy is I think now more so than ever, a loss is huge. The first season a loss was unfortunate. The second season it was disastrous. The third season a loss is crippling.
Because you’ve all become so tight?
Yeun: You’ve got to see how it plays out. The stakes are so high.