'TWD's Eleanor Matsuura on Yumiko's New Leadership Role & Magna Heartbreak

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Q&A
Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 10 Episode 5, "What It Always Is."]

Relationship issues are never fun. But having relationship issues in the zombie apocalypse, after being together for more than 13 years? Yeah, that can create a special kind of heartbreak.

Fittingly, "heartbreak" is a word Eleanor Matsuura frequently uses to describe Yumiko's emotions regarding her girlfriend, Magna (Nadia Hilker). After "What It Always Is," she's realized she and her girlfriend have some pretty big differences in the way they view the post-apocalyptic world, and on top of that, Yumiko found out one of the fundamental truths of their relationship was a lie. Yikes!

But it's not all strained bonds and broken hearts. Yumiko has stepped up as a leader this season and gotten a more fully fleshed out backstory, two changes from the source material that have developed her character in fun, unexpected ways. We chatted with Matsuura about Yumiko's past, where she thinks the "Yumagna" ("Magniko?") relationship is headed and what fans can expect from these last few episodes in 10A.

Yumiko’s story has been interesting this season because it’s a divergence from the source material. Is her backstory and leadership role something you and Angela Kang discussed?

Eleanor Matsuura: Yes, it was! I had a conversation with Angela at the beginning of the season where she told me about where she sees Yumiko going and what’s going to unfold in the season. One of the things that was mentioned was that Hilltop is going through this huge change with the attacks happening and losing Tara last season, and Maggie is currently not around. I don’t think it was ever pre-planned, that Yumiko’s like, “I’m going to be the leader!” It’s just an opportunity that presented itself when we were under attack from the Whisperers.

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I have this line, “When the s**t hits the fan, someone has to step up.” And I think when that happened, when the tree falls through and the walkers overwhelm us, Yumiko naturally steps into that role because she can and because she’s good at it. It was never something where Angela was like, “Yumiko’s going to become the next leader of Hilltop.” But it was definitely an opportunity to show that Yumiko’s incredibly capable and she’s so passionate about her new community that she will fight for it.

In the past, you said you had ideas about Yumiko’s backstory. Did any of your ideas make it into this season?

Yeah, they did! I always had a backstory for myself, details that I would go back to. This season, we get to see those ideas that I had realized. It’s a combination of those ideas, Angela and input from the writers, and me fleshing that out. I [thought Yumiko had] an academic role before the apocalypse. I hadn’t identified it as a lawyer, but now we’ve identified that’s what it was and that’s my connection to Magna. It’s a beautiful detail that I find really helpful; that I met Magna when she was in jail for a crime I never believed she committed.

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You mentioned that Yumiko believed Magna was innocent. Would you say her love for her was founded on that belief?

That’s a really good question. I think the love that I have for Magna goes beyond that. We’ve been together for 13 years, since we met until now—which is, I think, the longest surviving relationship we have on the show. The love we have has grown and developed over 13 years. So it’s gone beyond [whether Magna was innocent], but it’s certainly a huge part of our dynamic of how we first met. I’ve always believed Magna was misunderstood and that she had a terrible thing done to her. So when I find out that’s a lie, it’s huge for me. If she lied about that, then how much of a lie have we been living up until this point?

What can you tell me about where their relationship is headed? Obviously this was a very rocky episode for them…

Not looking good! [Laughs] What can I tell you? Certainly for Nadia (Hilker) and me, we always invested so much in Yumiko and Magna’s relationship. We know that even if Magna and Yumiko separate, even if they physically separate for a bit and do their own things, it’s always with love. I guess it’s that age-old saying, “If you love someone, set them free.” I think that’s what we’re seeing at the moment. Right now it doesn’t seem to be working for either of us, but with that comes a new kind of freedom.

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I read an interesting theory the other day that Yumiko got Magna out of prison when everything started going bad. Any truth to be found there?

Yeah, I think so! That’s certainly the story that I have. It’s certainly not been made official within the show, but for me, playing Yumiko, that’s a detail I’ve kept very close to me. It’s helped me in terms of how I play certain scenes with Magna.

Going back to Yumiko as a character, we’ve seen the fallout from the pikes affecting certain characters. We’ve seen it affect Carol. We’ve seen it affect Siddiq. How is what Yumiko saw there affecting her?

The pike thing was so brutal, and it’s had such an impact on all the characters. For me, it was so close to home. It could’ve been Magna, it could’ve been Luke, Connie, Kelly—any of my nearest and dearest family. That realization is haunting.

The other thing to add to that is that our group, when we started, was such a tight-knit family. Now, everybody’s growing up and moving in different directions. Luke has a love interest in Oceanside, Connie and Daryl seem to be going off into another avenue, Magna and Kelly have been stealing from Hilltop. There’s definitely a fracture there. So I think for me the pikes were also a realization of, “What is my group? Are we still a close-knit family now? Or, because we’ve been accepted into Hilltop, do we have more people to worry about?” I think for me, this season, the decisions I’m making seem to be about the bigger group rather than just my family.

With a large ensemble cast, it’s hard for characters to interact with everyone. Is there anyone Yumiko hasn’t shared scenes with yet that you wish she would?

This season I get to interact with so many more characters than I did last season. I love Melissa (McBride) on the show so much, I just think she’s incredible. We get some more moments. Same with Norman, we share a scene. We were both on set looking at each other, being like, “Hey, we’ve never actually shared a scene, me and you! This is kind of fun, two archers shooting some arrows and having a chat.” It was pretty cool.

There are so many actors I’d love to work with. The person I would love, love, love to work with is Sam (Morton), because I just love her so much as an actor and she’s such a brilliant character as Alpha. But then I suppose if I wish myself a scene with Alpha, that could be dangerous!

What can you tell me about where we’re heading in these next few episodes before the midseason break?

I really think that what you’re about to see is some exciting, new, interesting paths opening up for my character in ways you haven’t seen before. I’ve been so tied to my group and Magna, and now, with that fractured, it’s blown apart my whole world in terms of where I can go and how I can serve the people I love and the community. Yumiko will definitely be taking off on an unexpected adventure with characters you wouldn’t imagine me to be with.

The Walking Dead, Sundays, 9/8c, AMC