For Yeun one of the main themes represented in the show is that of redemption and the second chance. “You look at Glenn and it’s not necessarily a tale of redemption in terms of he’s done something wrong in the past. It’s more a tale of a second chance at playing this world the right way, of not letting the personal or societal pressures around him before the apocalypse bring him to a place where he doesn’t think he can succeed or be a leader.” This growth that Glenn undergoes is undoubtedly partly because of his loving relationship with Maggie (played by Lauren Cohan). Yeun contends that the relationship “… really grounds Glenn and puts him in a place of understanding and realizing that this world might be worth living in, that even if society isn’t there anymore if you have someone to live for it’s definitely worth it.” Many of Glenn’s moments of comic relief come when he’s with Maggie also, and this ability to smile together through thick and thin is an indication of the strength of the bond between them. “Now it’s no longer a matter of whether this relationship will work out, but rather it’s how do we continue to live and keep a semblance of humanity in this world, even if it is by making each other laugh.”
People were really excited about the first half of Season 5 – I would say the second half blows that out of the water to be quite honest
The Season 5 premiere of The Walking Dead in October 2014 drew 17.3 million viewers in the U.S. alone; to put that into context, around 7 million less people watched Breaking Bad’s overall finale the previous year on the same channel. Action figures and other merchandise related to the show are big-sellers, and the achievements to date are clearly something Yeun and his fellow cast members are unequivocally proud of. “We have collectively created something that never existed before out of thin air, got people together to make it, and now it’s become so big that it has entered into the zeitgeist of the world. If you ask anyone if they know what it is, typically they will say yes, that they’ve heard of it or seen it, and that to me is a surreal accomplishment by humans in general.”
The action and violence prevalent in the first half of Season 5 has left the show’s audiences wanting to see what will happen next, and Yeun stresses that some violence is necessary in the world of The Walking Dead in order to survive. “I would say it’s not even a matter of whether the violence has gotten more gratuitous or anything like that. I would say the stakes have risen. Sometimes the world dictates that you have to behave in certain ways, that you have to do what you have to do in order to survive, if you want to survive.” With Glenn’s group left at the mercy of the residents of ‘Terminus’ in the Season 4 finale, it was inevitable that Season 5 would bring bloodshed between the group of protagonists’ and their cannibalistic captors. “The slitting of the throats and all that stuff – it was graphic but it was also necessary to show the lengths people are willing to go to eat and survive.” The barbarity of the revenge carried out by Rick and the group also proved “how much they were willing to do to keep their people safe.”
Glenn himself has had his fair share of action, notably when tied up by Merle alone in a room with a ‘walker’ in Season 3. “It was really fun. Dan Sackheim, the director, just had Glenn Brown, our camera operator, put a hand-held camera on me and follow me. I had worked out this whole stunt work system and we went for it and I remember just collapsing afterwards. I got my fair share of bruises but it was worth it because it feels like an organic scene. It was just ‘action’ and the whole scene in one shoot.” The physical scenes aren’t the truly exerting ones however. “Those are really fun to play. I would say the hardest scenes to play are the really quiet moments, the really surgical moments are tough.”
I landed in L.A. and six months later I was on the biggest show ever. It’s pretty surreal so I’m waiting on a giant piano to fall on me at some point
Yeun has also dipped his feet into the world of film, and had a key role in Mike Cahill’s science-fiction drama I Origins, released in 2014 at the annual Sundance Film Festival. “I was looking for a project in the off-season and I was really excited about doing something a little bit different than the character I had been playing.” The film tells the story of a molecular biologist who makes a stunning scientific discovery about the human eye which has extensive implications. Yeun admits he is a fan of the director. “He’s able to take a really insane idea that’s far-reaching and seems to be beyond the everyday human scope and scale it down and put it in a setting where it’s very, very reachable.”
There are many actors that Yeun admires immensely – Tom Hanks, Matt Damon and Sam Rockwell to name but a few. But it is also certain that, as an ensemble, the cast of The Walking Dead are making waves of their own, and the upcoming second half of Season 5 is eagerly anticipated. “People were really excited about the first half of Season 5 – I would say the second half blows that out of the water to be quite honest. People went for it and we got such great actors that got such great material. Everybody really left their guts on the floor – there’s a lot of stuff coming for Glenn too and I’m just excited for people to watch it.”
The death of a main character in the mid-season finale in November was a huge emotional blow to the entire group, with questions to be answered over where the survivors go from here. “It affects every person and I think in the second half you’ll really see how the dominoes fall after such a big hit like that.” Yeun is himself proving to be a big hit with his performances, and we have only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of his burgeoning career. There is no end in sight for this remarkably popular show, but when that final episode does come Yeun wants it to finish in style. “I hope for our sake and for the viewer’s sake we’re able to give people a satisfying finish.” Until then – long live The Walking Dead.
Steven Yeun can be seen in his role as Glenn on AMC’s The Walking Dead when Season 5 resumes on February 8th. Watch it on FOX UK the following day or catch up on previous seasons on Netflix.