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Exclusive: Lynn Collins on What's Next for The Walking Dead’s Leah

Lynn CollinsIn last week’s mid-season finale, The Walking Dead finally put an end to Pope (Ritchie Coster) when Leah (Lynn Collins) stabbed him in the neck. Leah had remained loyal to the Reapers up to this point - a loyalty that has sometimes been difficult for fans to understand. In an exclusive interview with SciFi Vision, Lynn Collins explained why she thinks Leah has stuck with the violent mercenaries for so long.

“When we see her in season ten and we meet her,” explained Collins, “the majority of that episode is her having a catharsis, because she's never got to speak about these horrifying moments where she loses her ‘sister’ and the sister's child and even Dog's mother…So, when she goes back into this culty militaristic religious extremism, I think it's because the alternative would be to be out on her own again with all of that pain.”

So, what changed Leah’s mind about Pope? “She believes that she's there to protect and love these people…I think when the house, the cabin, is set on fire and she's in it with Daryl (Norman Reedus), I think that's the first big wake up call for her where she's like, ‘Oh my God, I'm not safe here.’…So there's a lot going on in Leah's head, and she’s trying to navigate, is Daryl someone she can trust, and is Carver (Alex Meraz) someone she can trust? And if Pope can risk and sacrifice A, B, C and D, is he going to sacrifice her, which we already know he already tried. So, it's very complicated.”

Ultimately, Leah lied to the Reapers, pinning the murder on Daryl. Why did she throw her lover under the bus?  “I think it was like three strikes and you're out,” said Collins, pointing out that Leah is still reckoning with Daryl disappearing on her last season. “The way that I played it was she was like…‘I'm going to kill Pope. I'm going to take my remaining survivors, and I am going to go with Daryl; I am going to make this work. We'll combine forces.’…And I think when she sees that he killed one of her people, that's when she's like ‘Uh-uh, I'm not going with you. You just killed my person.’ So, it's like a ‘three strikes you're out’ situation.”

Collins also discussed Leah’s ability to lead the Reapers going forward and joined in some speculation about what might happen if they should meet the Commonwealth.

Read the full transcript of our conversation below.

SCIFI VISION:   I wanted to start by asking you how has the fan reaction been? I think you did a social media takeover during the episode on Sunday night, is that correct? And did you get a chance to interact?


Lynn CollinsLYNN COLLINS:
 
I have had a blast with the fans, but you know, there're the…Carol-Daryl ship and people who are down with that. They've definitely had a strong [and] I would say probably negative reaction to the character of Leah, but I'm also like, “I'm Lynn; I'm not Leah.” I'm playing a character that's supposed to be polarizing, so the fact that she is, is actually a good thing. I think it means that I'm doing my job and what Angela [Kang] wanted for me. But I love these fans so much; as you can see from the takeover, I wanted to give them a chance to express themselves as much as possible. This is such a passionate group of people, and they're all actually really cool - well, I don't know all, but what I've seen from their creativity in their fan art, just as I've been shooting and people have been sending me random things here and there, I'm like, “Oh my God, these people need to be showcased.” And the fact that we as actors and this story in general are eliciting such creativity from people and such passion, that's really cool, and I wanted to give it a spotlight, because it's a relationship. We make the show, but without the fans it doesn't mean anything.

Right, and, you know, I think for fans to get that reaction, that maybe some fans don't like Leah, especially after this last episode, is great. I do want to talk a bit about Leah and Daryl, but first I wanted to ask you about the theme of the episode focusing on family. Leah and the Reapers talk a lot about being a family, but I don't feel that I see much indication that they actually like each other.

Yeah.

I wonder if you could talk about Leah's definition of family and this group of men who seem very threatening towards her that she considers a family?

There is a line where Carver says, “When we found you, it took a long time for you to get back to normal.” So, that insinuates that she has detoxed from their culty ways, and there was some sort of reprogramming that she had to go through to be back into this weird religious military cult. In these kinds of situations, people bond really intensely, not necessarily with everybody within the cults and groups, but there's always a couple where you do have this ability to be emotionally bonded with people. So, although this is military as well, it's religious. It’s military; its post-apocalyptic. It's like the perfect storm of how it can go wrong, basically, in a group that's trying to survive.

And yet, the way that I think she gets through it is because she believes that she's there to protect and love these people. There's one scene right before one of the Reapers is pushed into the fire by Pope where you see them all together and eating, and there's a hint of a smile on their faces. It would have been nice to probably see more of that, but I think what the Reapers represent is when things are taken to extremes, and so their behavior towards each other is also going to be that kind of extreme.

I think when the house, the cabin is set on fire and she's in it with Daryl, I think that's the first big wake up call for her where she's like, “Oh my god, I'm not safe here,” and how she navigates it. You can't just leave. There has to be some way; you have to be sneaky. You have to be sly. So, there's a lot going on in Leah's head, and she’s trying to navigate, is Daryl someone she can trust, and is Carver someone she can trust? And if Pope can risk and sacrifice A, B, C and D, is he going to sacrifice her, which we already know he already tried. So, it's very complicated.

It is. I have felt at times that Leah's bond to them is based on their shared past in Afghanistan and in a life that doesn't exist anymore. Is her allegiance to them based on a world that has gone? In a way has she not moved on into the apocalypse?

Well, I think this is a great point, but also, when we see her in season ten and we meet her, the majority of that episode is her having a catharsis, because she's never got to speak about these horrifying moments where she loses her quote ‘sister’ and the sister's child, and even Dog's mother. She finally gets to express it and have her grief witnessed, and you realize that losing that little boy dramatically changed her. So, when she goes back into this culty militaristic religious extremism, I think it's also because the alternative would be to be out on her own again with all of that pain, and I think, in some ways, she can distract herself from that by going back into this hierarchy.

Lynn CollinsThat's interesting. So, when Leah lied about Pope's killing, I'm sure that the howls of fan outrage probably reached a fever pitch. Many, many people saw this as Leah betraying Daryl; I think I saw something different happening there.

Tell me what you saw.

I saw her reacting to Daryl's hypocrisy, that he says, “my family's in danger; you need to choose my family, we need to kill all of your family so that my family can live.”

Right.

I felt that was something Leah couldn't do. That was the end of it with Daryl when that happened. Why do you think she did it? What do you think was happening?

I think it was like three strikes and you're out. Basically, in that episode where he's like, “I did come back for you,” I think it takes her all the way up to this point to even get to a place where she's like, “Okay, maybe he did come back. Maybe he did come back for me, and I can believe that, and I can get on board, and I can trust him.” Then, boom! “Hi, by the way, my family's out there. I need you to protect my family; come with me.”

Then, the way that I played it, she was like, “Okay, maybe I will, and the remaining survivors,” because I think she makes a decision to kill Pope, and I think it's, “I'm going to kill Pope. I'm going to take my remaining survivors, and I am going to go with Daryl; I am going to make this work. We'll combine forces.” I mean, that was the choice I was making as an actor. Then, she sees that he's killed another one of her family as he throws the knife, and I think when she sees that he killed one of her people, that's when she's like “Uh-uh, I'm not going with you. You just killed my person.” So, it's like a ‘three strikes you're out’ situation.

That's very interesting.

If Leah takes over as leader of the Reapers, which I think is iffy; I don't know that she would do that, but if she did, she's starting on a lie about Pope's death. It doesn't make her just as bad as Pope, but does it make her a leader on the other side of Pope's coin maybe?

Well, I think there's an element of, and this is definitely something I'm even exploring in my life, this idea of integrity and transparency. If you were living in integrity, if you were living in transparency, there's not much that can come behind you and get you, right? Not much can catch up with you and destroy you. And I think even though it was a choice that she felt that she had to make to justify [it], she's going to justify it however she's going to justify it, but she does make a choice that is out of integrity, [because] the people that she's protecting, she's now lied to them. So, now she's already a leader that's out of integrity. She's already a leader that is not living in transparency, which is what Pope was altogether. So, she's already set herself up for something to come behind and pull the rug out from under her, because it's not benevolence, because there's a lie involved, and the truth always comes out. The truth is always revealed, or there's always a consequence for withholding the truth.

Especially on this show. [laughs]

Lynn Collins[laughs] This is life. This is not just TV; this is life. [laughs]

So, I was surprised the Reapers weren't fully defeated in this episode, because I just expected that the writers were going to put this to bed to move on to the Commonwealth, and watching the promo for the back half, I have to wonder if these two groups will come into contact. So, I want to ask you, what would Leah make of the Commonwealth, and are she and the Reapers a group that even want to return to to society, such as it is?

You know, I'll go back to that moment were Carver was like, “When we found you, it took so long for you to get back to normal.” Their normal is being killing machines. So, I [think] that the Reapers and the Commonwealth, that's like oil and water. I don't think that's what they were looking for. The military extremists and religious extremists aren't looking to be a part of the greater whole. They're looking to be separate and better, perhaps, that sort of idea that we're better than, because we believe this, or we're better than, because we have this power. So, I don't think they would mix well, unless they were hired to defend and protect the Commonwealth, but the Commonwealth already has that.

Yes, and to your point, they weren't even in the military. They had become mercenaries at the time of the fall. They were already operating outside the mainstream.

Yeah, they even separated out of that.

We're all waiting for the CRM. I wonder if they could function within the CRM?

I don't know. I think these people are highly, highly damaged. [laughs] I think with the mental, spiritual and emotional trauma and abuse that they've suffered under the hands of Pope, all these people would need massive rehabilitation.

For sure.

So, you killed Ritchie Coster.


I know, my sweet friend! He's so amazing. He did the nicest thing for me when he wrapped. He had this secret knife that he kept in his wardrobe, and he gave it to me on the day that he wrapped, and it was like a rite of passage, so then I wore the knife secretly as Leah for the rest of [it]. He's an amazing human being; he is so creative. I mean, honestly, I thought when I was working with Norman, I was like, “Oh, this is the most creative, free, awesome free spirit, totally collaborative, incredibly astute, intuitive actor ever. It's so fun!” Then, you bring Richie into the mix, and I'm like, “Oh my God. Now there's two of them!” It was just such a pleasure. Going to work every day was just so exciting, because I was like, “Is this play time?” It was fun, and yeah, we're doing intense material, but we know how blessed we are to be actors telling these stories, especially after all this stuff we've been through the last two years as a society, and I think that really came through in the way that we all worked together, because it was like, “Thank God we're even here.” So, we just really tried to make the most of our craft and give you guys the most incredible performances we could muster and to create this world that these fans just love so much.

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