In the age of social and digital media, preventing spoilers from fans eager to ruin the viewing experience for others is a challenge. This is why The Walking Dead had to go unbelievable lengths to prevent word of Lennie James returning to the AMC series as Morgan Jones a few years ago.
The actor, who joined the AMC series in its first episode, before sporadically appearing leading up to a more permanent return in Season 6, shared his account of the experience while ComicBook.com visited the set of the show’s 100th episode.
“In all seriousness if there’s anything that has taken me by surprise coming back on a regular basis, it’s been navigating the show out in the world,” James said. “When I came back for Clear, I said this, this is kind of well documented, it was like a CIA maneuver to keep a witness.
The actor flew in from his United Kingdom home to a secret location in Georgia for his return.
“I was put in Newnan, which is down the road, where nobody else was allowed, nobody else stayed,” James said. “I wasn’t allowed to go in to the city of Atlanta. I wasn’t allowed to hang out at any point with any of the other actors. The people whose bed and breakfast, whose guest house I was staying in had to sign a non disclosure agreement. The other guests who were staying there over the weekend that I was going to be there had to sign a non disclosure agreement.”
So, first of all, imagine that. You pick a nice looking Air B&B for a weekend getaway and find yourself signing paper work to help preserve one of the zombie apocalypse’s biggest secrets. As it turned out, though, the guests at the house had no idea who James or his Morgan Jones counterpart were!
“Then when I came back in season five, we started doing the prep for me coming back in season six,” James said. “You know, I had came back for the finale but just before then I was doing another job back in London and Scott [Gimple] found out that we had a ten day break, holiday, halfway through shooting, and he said, ‘Well you just give me a day in Atlanta.’ And I went, ‘As long as you get me back to the holiday that I’m supposed to be having with my wife, then absolutely.'”
As the story goes, everything worked out but, according to James, his return to the show was planned along if the success allowed for it.
Though the writers of The Walking Dead always wanted to bring Morgan back into the fold, as fans of the comics already knew, there was no way to know if the show would make it far enough to call for such a moment.
“It’s strange,” James said. “When I did the first episode we had no idea what the show was going to be. We didn’t even know that there was going to be a second season. The conversation I remember having with Gale [Anne Hurd] actually was, ‘You know, we don’t know if we’re get a second season.'”
James recalls, “everything was vampires,” at the time of The Walking Dead’s series premiere in 2010 and they were about to unleash zombies on the world. “We were coming in and not being vampires and it wasn’t that people weren’t confident in what we were doing or weren’t committed to what we were doing, or passionate about it or had faith in it, it’s just that there was no guarantee,” James said. “And you know, AMC weren’t what AMC have kind of become. No one was in the position that they now are where they can look back and go, yes, of course we knew. They didn’t. They didn’t have any bloody idea, and if they say they did they’re lying. ”
“So the conversation was like, ‘I don’t know whether or not we’re going to get a second one, but if we do, your character kind of comes back in the source material,'” James said. “It wasn’t a contractual thing so it was a bit like, you know, if it happens we’d really like you to come back. So it was there almost from the beginning. But I didn’t believe them.”
Years later, here’s The Walking Dead, marching to its 100th episode with Lennie James on its poster.
James is as excited as anyone else to be a part of such a monstrous series reaching the epic milestone with its Season 8 premiere.
“I didn’t know that we’d make it to episode 100 until I got the script the other day,” James joked.
“The first sign I had that something was going on, because I did the first episode and then I was gone, so I didn’t even finish the first season,” James explained, “The first sign that I kind of got from it was I’d be in kind of press meetings like this on other jobs that I was doing, and somebody at some point more than once, and more than one person in the group would kind of go, ‘So you going back to The Walking Dead?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know. Am I?’ And it became a question that just kept on being asked, people kept on asking about the show.”
Still in touch with Rick Grimes actor Andrew Lincoln, James caught with his co-star early on to talk about the title becoming a phenomenon.
“So, I think either I phoned Andy or Andy phoned me, or we texted each other, and my question was, ‘What the hell is going on over there?'” James recalls. “And he was kind of going, ‘I think the show is kind of taking off, and when are you coming back?’ And then it just became a when are you coming back thing for a season and a half.”
Thursday’s episode of ComicBook NOW took fans to the set of The Walking Dead with exclusive cast and crew interviews. To watch, click here!
The Walking Dead’s sibling series Fear the Walking Dead airs Sunday nights at 9 pm ET on AMC. The Walking Dead will return for its eighth season on October 22, 2017. The Season 8 premiere will mark 100 episodes overall for the popular AMC series. For complete coverage and insider info all season long, follow @BrandonDavisBD on Twitter.