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Why The Walking Dead's Josh McDermitt Thinks Eugene Has A Secret Superpower

It's not exactly "only the strong survive" on "The Walking Dead," but strength certainly helps.

Eugene's (Josh McDermitt) strengths are atypical. He is socially awkward, physically inept, and combatively challenged, but as an engineer, he's a MacGyver-like improviser, capable of turning what's available into what's needed, such as a water filter or a whole bunch of bullets. He wouldn't survive for very long on his own, but he's good at making himself indispensable to people who might need him, at least so far.

That experience came in handy in the second episode of Season 11, "Acheron: Part II." Here he isn't necessarily trying to prove himself useful to Mercer (Michael James Shaw), a general in the Army of the Commonwealth. He's just trying to stay alive, and to get himself and his friends admittance into that community.

Mercer asks for his story, and tells him that he'll know if he's lying. Entertainment Weekly compared the scenario to a showdown in a Western, two men waiting to see who blinks. While Mercer has nearly all the power over Eugene –– authority in the Commonwealth, a host of backup waiting, and complete physical dominance –– the nature of their meeting in the episode gives Eugene an improbable edge. All he has to do is tell a convincing story. All he has to do is use what McDermitt says is his character's superpower.

Why Eugene is so good at lying to authority figures

"Really, lying is Eugene's superpower," McDermitt told EW in an interview about the scene. "He knows what he has to do to convince someone of something."

He did it first with Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz), whom he convinced he was a scientist who could reverse the plague if only he could be escorted to Washington D.C. Then he did it again to get in the good graces of Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), by whose side he stayed until the strongman's fortunes changed. Now, McDermitt says, he does it with Mercer.

Eugene's story isn't entirely a lie, but he changes just enough details to keep his friends and community safe. "He gives just enough truth so that Mercer is satisfied, but holds back on other parts," McDermitt said.

McDermitt believes this kind of manipulation of authority figures comes naturally to Eugene. He's skilled at setting himself up to be sympathetic and believable to cops, soldiers, people in power, especially because it's unlikely they'll see him as a threat. So even while on the outside Eugene is apparently on the verge of a breakdown, McDermitt says that internally, "He's able to kind of breathe calmly and think through everything he needs to say to this guy in order to get to the other side."

Why Eugene's big monologue made Josh McDermitt nervous

That doesn't mean it was easy for McDermitt. He said the interrogation scene was one of his first back on set after the long hiatus due to the COVID-19 shutdown, and so it was intimidating for him to jump right in with Eugene's long monologue. "I just remember thinking like, 'Oh crap, I haven't done this in a while,'" he told Entertainment Weekly. 

But his performance was helped by his partner in the scene, Shaw, whose intensity as Mercer (and his iconic armor) made it easy for McDermitt to nail Eugene's sense of desperation for the scene. Not that Shaw was all glowers. As McDermitt tells it, while the pair were waiting for the scene to begin, Shaw, with full Mercer expression on, "stuck his fist out to give me a fist bump. And I was like, that's just all I needed to kind of chill out and calm down." The whole thing took just a couple of takes, as he tells it. "It turned out to be one of the more pleasant and easy things to do. And I think a lot of that was because of Michael."

That's a nice thing to say about any co-star. Hopefully McDermitt is telling the truth this time.