The ‘Walking Dead’ actress opens up about season seven’s “heartbreaking” finale, her last “death dinner” with Steven Yeun—and what women know about surviving the apocalypse.
If you think the real world has gone to hell, we invite you to take a tour of the world as depicted in television’s favorite zombie apocalypse. The seventh season of AMC’s The Walking Dead has been grim—and that’s saying something for a world where hordes of the undead are basically set dressing. Chalk it up to the addition of the show’s biggest, baddest Big Bad ever: the sinister survivor Negan, played by a gleefully sadistic Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Negan puts a fine point on an oft-central question of the series—one we’ve asked ourselves, oh, a couple of times since novelist Mary Shelley first conjured up Frankenstein: “So who’s the real monster here, anyway?” The answer he poses with relentless, cavalier brutality isn’t “us, but…” or “us, if….” It’s a grinning, “us, duh.”
But Lauren Cohan doesn’t view things that way. The actress has a skill for seeing the sunny side, even if she has to squint. On a cloudy day up in the Santa Monica Mountains, where Cohan is being photographed for BAZAAR.com, she’s the picture of placid poise in a gold and black Louis Vuitton dress. “I’m in the mind of another version of myself, which can be very steadying,” she says of wearing the shoot’s playfully sculptural outfits. This idea of steadiness is a quality Cohan tries to actualize in her character, Maggie. If the Southern farm girl-turned-fighter Cohan plays on The Walking Dead has remained a figure of stability since she first appeared in the show’s second season, it’s because Cohan sees Maggie as the eye in a storm. As the show’s survivors run from place to place, beating back threat after escalating threat, Maggie has become a touchstone for humanity and pragmatism in an increasingly ruthless narrative.
The ability to project such reliability comes from Cohan’s own itinerant childhood—the now 35-year-old was born in New Jersey, spent a year in Georgia, returned to New Jersey, then moved with her family to the UK as a teenager. The English accent stuck, and so did an aptitude for laying down roots in new soil. “It’s interesting for me to play to a hopeful feeling in the middle of tragedy,” says Cohan. More than perhaps any other character in the series, Maggie has seen tragedy not at the hands of flesh-eating zombies, but of flesh-and-blood humans. A recap, not for the faint of heart: her father is decapitated by the power-mad “Governor” of another group of survivors; her younger sister is accidentally shot dead by yet another wannabe despot; and her husband Glenn (played by fan favorite Steven Yeun) had his skull treated like silly putty by a baseball bat-wielding Negan in this season’s gruesome and controversial premiere. So what was that about hope?
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