The Meaning Of “You Know What It Is” On ‘The Walking Dead,’ According To Star Lennie James
Spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 8 finale and the Fear The Walking Dead Season 4 premiere. What better way to bridge the gap between The Walking Dead and Fear The Walking Dead than with a beloved character whose journey has always captivated and concerned fans? After helping to end the all-out war in The Walking Dead, Morgan Jones sets off on foot and into the spinoff, though certain demons and certain phrases have stayed with him. Speaking over the phone the morning after the crossover event, Lennie James explains the meaning of "you know what it is" on The Walking Dead and what's helping Morgan to move forward into a whole new world.
"I think what it is is — that phrase for Morgan is about him trying to hold on to the knowledge of a reality even while he acknowledges that he's going through something traumatic," James says. It's Morgan seeing, for example, "Henry standing in front of [Morgan] with a hole in his neck," James says, and recognizing that while that's what he sees, it's not really there.
"That's Morgan saying I know what it is," adds James. "I know what I'm going through. I know what is happening to me. It's about him trying to hold on to that part of himself that is aware of what he's going through, because it's the only part of himself that's gonna help."
So essentially, if you want to think about it this way, "you know what it is" means that you (in this case, Morgan) know what's real, or what's happening, or what's important. It's not a secret, or a clue, or a cryptic Easter egg. It's a mantra that helps Morgan to ground himself when he is at his most vulnerable.
In Season 8 of The Walking Dead, Morgan's demons became a little more intense, as James mentions, and start to materialize in the story as ghosts. That will come into play on Fear, especially as Morgan has been on his own for a while before arriving in Austin, Texas.
"I think it's massive," James says about Morgan's struggle with his mental health. "I think it's the thing that propels him out of Virginia and set him walking for however many months he's been walking and scavenging around. I think we're about to find out how much the demons that possessed him and took him over for a minute — well for a long minute back in Alexandria in the war — how much of that he's gonna bring with him."
Those who were shocked to see Maggie, Jesus, and Daryl start to plot against Rick and Michonne in the finale may also have noted that it was Jesus who suggested Morgan leave Virginia and find people elsewhere. Could he be trying to separate Rick and Morgan? Possible, but James says that "it's partly what Morgan wants to step away from, is those kinds of intrigues and plotting and things that come up when you're part of a group." Too much drama for him, basically.
Now on Fear, Morgan has found himself reluctantly teamed up with two rather optimistic loners: Althea (Maggie Grace), a journalist who is more interested in recording and preserving the collapse of society than rebuilding it, and John Dory (Garret Dillahunt), a friendly gentleman who's somehow made it this far. The three of them seem uniquely matched.
"I don't know whether or not Morgan has found his tribe," James says, "and I don't know whether he knows whether or not he has found his tribe or whether he is looking for one. I think in large part that's the story of Season 4 on Fear." He describes Morgan as a "silent watcher" at this point and "a man who can't resist helping people if he can," but he's also on his own personal journey for inner peace and solitude. At the end of the Fear premiere, he finds himself right back in the middle of the same kind of intrigue and plotting that led to his departure.
"I think he really is in a transitional state at the moment, Morgan," James says, "trying to figure out what he has and if what he has to offer is of any worth."
The spin-off has always been more about family than the original series— something that James' character lost early on, as he mentioned to Rick in the finale. Morgan says to Rick that they've lost everything, and that they're worse off now than they were. Morgan's latest move seems to have improved his spirits already. Maybe he'll find a family on Fear that he can protect without leaving. Maybe he won't need to use his "you know what it is" mantra any more.