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New ‘Walking Dead’ villain Jeffrey Dean Morgan talks cliffhanger finale and coming backstory

Jeffrey Dean Morgan

Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays the newest villain on “The Walking Dead.”

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

On Sunday, the new arch-villain on “The Walking Dead” started menacing people with his baseball bat and looked poised to bash someone’s skull in.

On Monday morning, the guy who plays the zombie hit’s newest sociopath paused to say hello to journalists.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan, best known for his work on “The Good Wife,” plays Negan, the creepy former used-car salesman whose menacing arrival has been foretold this entire sixth season, which ended with a 90-minute finale on Sunday.

And the actor was quick to address fans annoyed by the cliffhanger finale, which failed to make it clear exactly who might be on the other end of Negan’s barbed-wire-covered bat, nicknamed Lucille. “I didn’t know it was going to be a cliffhanger till I watched the show,” Morgan admitted.

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“I understand the fans’ frustration,” Morgan told journalists in a conference call Monday morning before boarding a flight home to New York. “I get that.

“That being said, I have to trust these writers, this showrunner, that they know what they’re doing. This is a show that a lot of people [have watched] for six seasons. And I believe that they’ll be back to see who met Lucille as the story continues to grow.”

Fans might have to take that one on faith. Morgan isn’t exactly a “Walking Dead” expert. He said he got the script two days before he started shooting. And he’s still teasing out exactly who this character is, in conjunction with writer Robert Kirkman and producer Scott Gimple.

“I was talking with Robert Kirkman last night after we did ‘The Talking Dead’ [after-show] and he is kind of doing the backstory of Negan now, so whether or not or when we see that -- and I hope we do -- I can’t answer that. I know that when season 7 kicks off it’s going to kick off directly from where we left it last night.”

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Morgan said that shooting the finale was “a little tense,” partly because the actors were not certain exactly how the story was going to play out. “Everything was very hush-hush,” he said. “I think ‘agitated’ is a fair word. It was very emotional.”

The actor said he quickly determined to play Negan as a regular guy who does bad things, rather than as a monster. 

“I think what was important was that this character was charismatic,” he said. “People are like, ‘Well, he’s this psychotic guy.’ I never looked at him like that. I think there’s a lot of similarities between him and Rick.” Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) is the former lawman who has served as the series’ hero, a good man whose moral principles are tested as he tries to survive the zombie apocalypse.

What is clear is that Negan will dominate much of the next season, as Rick faces this new threat. “Rick has lost control and then there’s Negan. And Negan has all the control,” Morgan said.

What did you think of the “Walking Dead” finale? 

Twitter: @scottcollinsLAT

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