Steven Yeun talks on the subject of mercy
There’s something very different about Glenn that I like and I believe Steven Yeun explains is best when he’s talking about what he deals with in the season finale of The Walking Dead, especially in regards to facing off with Nicholas.
In this recent interview, Steven Yeun talks about the decisions that Glenn makes and about what his character has gone through and how he sees things now.
I’m not always on board with the “kill or be killed” philosophy, but I’m actually a little upset Glenn didn’t kill Nicholas. Is that bad?
You know, I kind of knew when we were filming that that would be the case, that people would be upset. I think it’s the difference between how we consume things as a viewer of something fantastical and how the show tries to explore what people would struggle with in this situation. Ultimately Glenn couldn’t shoot (Nicholas). If he did it would’ve marked a new era for Glenn and completely changed who he is. He wouldn’t have been following his heart, and the track he’s been on. It would’ve been satisfying to me as an actor to go to that place and kill Nicholas, but I thought it was very interesting and more real to show the struggle through Glenn’s eyes.
At the same time Glenn has seen how bad these situations can turn when mercy is shown to the wrong person — the Governor and Terminus are two of the bigger examples. What makes him able to give Nicholas a chance even after all of that?
The whole season for Glenn has been a big struggle. He comes off the tail end of last season believing in hope. He was in a very hopeless situation and he still found the people he loved. He’s really fueled by that, by Hershel’s last words to him and the people he’s learned from. That’s what he carries into season five, but then you see terrible things happen over and over. You see him lose his sister. You see him lose Tyreese. That brings him to a place he didn’t want to face but ultimately has to. He has the conversation with Rick when he says, “I wasn’t where you are, but now I am.”
When he’s actually in a situation where he does have to choose whether a person lives or dies he ultimately can’t bear to lose himself. It doesn’t even have to do with Nicholas. He wholeheartedly believes Nicholas deserves to die, and says so in episode 15. I wanted to make sure as he’s there holding a gun to (Nicholas’) head, it’s a struggle for him to decide. He knows once he does it, it’s going to be that much easier to go down that path every time in the future.
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What do you think Glenn wants to happen to Nicholas now?
I don’t know, that would be on Scott (Gimple). But for me, I feel like Glenn got what he wanted. He got the confession out of (Nicholas). He got the man to realize he’s weak, he’s a coward, that he doesn’t deserve to be there but he is by some stroke of luck or magic. I don’t think Glenn is sitting there thinking, “Cool, I taught him a valuable lesson and now he can be readmitted to society.” I think he still holds Nicholas at arm’s length, at minimum. But at the same time Glenn knows he’s pushed Nicholas to a place he deserves to be at. It’ll be on Nicholas to rebound or adjust. And I think Glenn isn’t completely incapable of killing someone who needs to be killed, as a threat.
It wasn’t enough of a threat for Glenn that Nicholas almost killed him? Both by shooting him and throwing him to the walkers?
Glenn is a nicer man than I am. If you were to ask me, things would be different. It’s a bigger discussion to even think about how the world affects that. The stakes are much higher. You talk about the world now — if someone kills your friend and tries to kill you, you can claim self-defense as a reason. But in (the post-apocalypse) world there are no rules. There’s no governing body. You’re just governing yourself. “If I shoot this man and kill him, even though I know I’ve completely destroyed him, what does that accomplish? Other than me losing this part of myself I’ve maintained up to this point?”
The episode set up three different characters who could have been redeemed in some way: Pete, Gabriel and Nicholas. Obviously it’s never going to happen for Pete, while Gabriel seems to be on his way. Where do you think Nicholas falls into that spectrum?
I feel that it’s less about retribution or redemption for Pete, Gabriel and Nicholas, and more of a study on where we find our characters. Where are they going to end up on the spectrum? Sasha and Glenn are really struggling to keep some semblance of humanity, and Rick has already crossed that threshold several times. If anything he’s bringing Deanna into the fold. He’s influencing that. I have no idea what will happen in the future but it’s an interesting juxtaposition between those characters for the viewer. To see a leader who is clearly justified in killing or protecting the safety of the people he loves, and then this other person who wants to live by a code he’s been instilled with: humanity and hope and the idea we can go back to what we were before. It’s a very complex situation, and that’s often where I really begin to love our show. In these discussions.
Speaking of that, let’s talk about your fight scene with Nicholas. Was it as gritty and nasty to film as it played on screen?
It’s really fun. I love getting into the nitty gritty stuff like that. It really helps when your scene partner is also really gung ho and really good at what he’s doing. Michael Traynor is nothing short of a really great actor. We snuck in some hits. He went for it. To me, to have those bruises and scratches and scars after those types of scenes is like a badge of honor. We just went for it. They called action and we slammed each other on the ground as much as we could. I hope it showed.
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There was a lot of concern online that this season was going to be the last for Glenn considering certain events in the comicbook and some foreshadowing that the show seemed to be doing. How much did you hear about that?
I did have a lot of people say, “Hey, stop holding bats.” [laughs] At the same time I struggle with that. I always struggle with the fact that sometimes people can let the death part of our show overtake what we’re actually trying to do. The bat reference comes from the comicbooks, but we’re not the comicbooks, we’re making a show. That’s not to say that we’re not holding true or heavily influenced by the source material, which is fantastic, and Scott Gimple definitely holds firm to as much as he can, but at the same time we are making something different in a different medium. You know what it is? I wish people could binge watch our show, as opposed to waiting week by week. I often feel that’s the reason people are pulled into this weird vortex of “Who’s gonna die next?” As opposed to just, “Let me watch this story for what it’s trying to say.”
There does seem to be a lot of pre-judging of the show week to week. When the group went to Alexandria I saw a lot of people predict it would be Woodbury all over again, which obviously it wasn’t. And after last week’s episode there were a lot of predictions that Alexandria would go up in flames in the finale.
Honestly, when I hear some of that stuff it’s so fun. And sometimes it’s like, “Where did you come up with this?” People will have screenshots, put red circles around little bits and pieces, and say “Aw yeah, this is gonna happen!” I’m like, “Good luck man, good luck.”
Read the complete interview on Variety.