"It feels like I've been in [The Walking Dead] for 10 years, but actually, for the first five years of the show, I only did three episodes. I did the first episode, I did [Season Three episode] 'Clear,' and I did the finale of Season Five. So I'd only been a regular for kind of three years," James explained during Comic Con Honolulu.
One of the last-surviving characters from The Walking Dead's first season, Morgan debuted in its 2010 pilot before James boarded the series years later as a full-time regular in Season Six.
His three-year tenure on the crowded flagship series lasted until April's Season Eight finale, where Morgan mulled over leaving Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Alexandria behind before heading west in the Fear Season Four premiere.
Walking Dead universe executive producer and then-showrunner Scott Gimple approached James with a tailor-suited crossover, offering the actor the opportunity to explore his bo staff-wielding warrior in the other, less-packed Walking Dead show.
"It was a way of exploring the character on a speed and a level that isn't possible on The Walking Dead, because there's so many characters. And it was an opportunity to get a little bit more Morgan-focused in a way that could happen on The Walking Dead, but it would've just taken a lot longer," James said.
"My character had already died in the comics, and The Walking Dead — although they do diverge from the comics — there are certain points they have to hit, you know. Negan has to arrive. All of those things have to happen," James added.
"And I'm not sure that they could hold onto Morgan in the way that they wanted to hold onto Morgan in the main show, and Fear was a way of exploring him a little bit more before he finishes."
Fear has taken a Morgan-centric approach in the semi-rebooted Season Four, further upping his presence following the mid-season finale death of former lead Madison Clark (Kim Dickens).
Morgan has long been a pet character of Gimple's, who took up a creative and executive producer role on Fear with Season Four following a promotion by AMC to Chief Content Officer for the network-wide Walking Dead brand.
Morgan first re-entered the series with the Gimple-scripted "Clear," and Season Six episode "Here's Not Here," also penned by Gimple, further developed the character and explored his aikido teachings. That episode established Morgan's weighty philosophies, namely "all life is precious," under the tutelage of Eastman (John Carroll Lynch) — themes that would go on to play significant roles in later episodes of both The Walking Dead and Fear.
The penultimate episode and the season finale of Season Four both take their names from one of Morgan's more oft-repeated sayings — 4x07 is titled "I Lose People..." and the finale is titled "...I Lose Myself" — hinting at a Morgan-focused two-part finale, and a possible swan song for the survivor who this half-season intends to head home to Alexandria.
That's a trip we already know he won't make anytime soon: The Walking Dead has already-confirmed an 18-month time jump, and with no Morgan in sight.
Fear was renewed by AMC for a fifth season ahead of its mid-Season Four return. Fear The Walking Dead airs its mid-season premiere Sunday, August 12 on AMC.