The Walking Dead's Pope Actor Auditioned to Play Negan

Ritchie Coster was on a holy mission to be cast on The Walking Dead. Before waging war against Maggie Rhee (Lauren Cohan) as Pope in the first part of the Final Season, the True Detective and Happy! actor auditioned to play another villain: Negan. In The Walking Dead Episode Diaries presentation of Season 11 episode "For Blood," now streaming on AMC+, Coster recounts thinking he wasn't going to land a role on the AMC zombie drama. Ultimately, Coster was called on to command "The Chosen Ones," the military unit of Leah (Lynn Collins) and the Reapers. 

"I'd already auditioned for The Walking Dead I think about four or five times over the years. I read for Negan because I really wanted that one," Coster revealed. "I'd heard that they'd cast Jeffrey Dean Morgan in the role. I thought to myself, 'Well, that makes sense.' And I hold grudges. Walking Dead was going to be punished for not casting me yet (laughs)."

"I just thought, 'All right, it's not going to happen.' But then, out of the blue, this offer came for Pope," Coster said. 

(Photo: AMC Studios)

Coster auditioned for the roles of Abraham Ford and Bob Stookey, won by Michael Cudlitz and Lawrence Gilliard Jr., respectively. Other actors to audition for the role of Negan include actor and Rollins Band rocker Henry Rollins (Sons of Anarchy) and Matthew Lillard (Scream). Garret Dillahunt (Deadwood), who would go on to play John Dorie Jr. on spinoff Fear the Walking Dead, had talks about the role but never formally auditioned for the part. 

Pope is mentioned in Season 10C when a ghillie-suited Reaper (Mike Whinnet) ominously warns Maggie, "Pope marked you." He would first appear in the Season 11 episode "Rendition," putting Daryl (Norman Reedus) through a baptism by fire to join The Chosen Ones, soldiers Pope claimed were chosen by God.

"I was so concerned about who they were gonna cast as Pope," confessed Collins on Episode Diaries, who joined the series during the Season 10 bonus episodes. "When I met Ritchie creatively, I just fell in love with him. He's such a wonderful human being and actually so kind and loving."  

The Walking Dead: The Final Season Part 2 premieres Sunday, February 20 at 9:00 pm ET/8c on AMC. New episodes will continue to be available one week early beginning February 13 on AMC+. 

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