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The Real Reason Steven Yeun Stopped Playing Glenn On The Walking Dead

Sweating, scared, and hopeless, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) braces his forehead against the cold steel of his gun, which he's just used to kill a walker in the pilot episode of The Walking Dead. He and the re-dead undead are stuck in a tank surrounded by the flesh-eaters on all sides. He's not stupid. He knows he's finished. Then... a voice. Strained through the static of the cockpit's old radio, it says, "Hey you. Dumb*ss." There's a slight pause, Rick looking up in disbelief as the sound of a human voice registers in his ears. "Yeah, you in the tank. Cozy in there?" Before we learn who's behind the voice, the camera zooms out over the city of Atlanta and the episode ends. Episode 2, however, wastes no time introducing this mysterious new character to us: Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun).

Glenn became a fan favorite over the course of the show, reminding viewers that there's light even in the darkest of times. The Walking Dead itself, however, doesn't play favorites, and Glenn meets his fate in the form of Negan's (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) bat Lucille at the beginning of season 7. Yeun had no choice but to leave after that, but there's more to his departure than just his character's untimely death.

Steven Yeun wanted to stretch his acting muscles

Steven Yeun spoke with fellow thespian Riz Ahmed for Variety's Actor on Actor, and naturally The Walking Dead came up; being part of a series that big doesn't just vanish from the public consciousness when an actor moves on to different projects, after all — especially when they play a character as beloved as Glenn. It's an extremely special role to Yeun, but he also openly admitted that he didn't mind leaving the character behind. 

Glenn is a "plucky, nice guy — nice to everybody," Yeun said, and, while he enjoys expressing that part of himself as an actor, he was only able to do it for so long before it got to him. "There was a point in which I realized that, he almost became a ceiling, because I became an idea over a human character," Yeun said. From his perspective, that limited where he was able to go as an actor, and being or feeling boxed in is the last thing any actor wants; it was time to move on. "There really wasn't much of a fight on my end," the actor clarified about the writers' decision to kill Glenn off, adding that "it was still sad" regardless.

Since departing from post-apocalyptic Georgia, Yeun has made the most of his time, appearing in critically acclaimed projects like Sorry to Bother You, Burning, and Minari — productions that allowed him to explore roles other than the "genial natured guy." Fans will always remember and miss Yeun as Glenn, but it's a wonderful thing that he's been able to expand his body of work elsewhere.