The anticipation was electric for Friday’s The Walking Dead panel in Comic-Con’s massive Hall H. The largest space at the convention was packed to standing-room only as moderator Chris Hardwick (Talking Dead) took the stage to deafening cheers.
The panel was preceded by an autograph session with the cast and producers at this year’s incredible The Walking Dead booth, one that recreated the prison from the show complete with guard tower, chain-link fences, live walkers at the gates and a recreation of The Governor’s man-cave. Inside the prison walls, comic creator and executive producer Robert Kirkman, showrunner Scott Gimple, executive producers Gale Anne Hurd and Dave Alpert and executive producer and special fx makeup guru Greg Nicotero signed alongside the cast — which included Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Lauren Cohan and Steven Yeun among others — before the action moved to Hall H.
Introduced by Hardwick, the panel began with Robert Kirkman, showrunner Scott Gimple and executive producers Hurd, Nicotero and Dave Alpert. Kirkman described that in the show, “the world is getting worse, the people are getting more ragged, and it’s gonna keep progressing if you can believe it.” With the changing group dynamic to the behavior of walkers themselves in the new season, Kirkman coyly commented that maybe this wasn’t the time to reveal any new footage, drawing screams and boos from the crowd before the extensive four-minute The Walking Dead Season 4 trailer made its world premiere.
Leaving the stunned crowd still shaking, Hardwick next brought out the show’s cast members to talk about the upcoming season, filling out the stage with Andrew Lincoln, David Morrissey, Lauren Cohan, Danai Gurira, Steven Yeun, Scott Wilson, Norman Reedus and Chad Coleman to a deafening roar. Scott Wilson — whose character Hershel lost his leg in Season 3 — even mimed a one-legged hop across the stage to take his seat.
Andrew Lincoln talked about Rick Grimes’ character arc for the season, and the “wake-up call” he will face as he eases up on the reigns of leadership to take a more proactive role in being Carl’s and Judith’s father.
Steven Yeun spoke about the range and growth of Glenn as a character, explaining how grateful he was to be able to play someone who grows from being afraid into both a “badass” and romantic lead — and how challenging the physical demands of the role are at times. Refencing Glenn’s escape from Woodbury, Yeun mentioned he’d started boxing with Jon Bernthal (Shane) at a gym during Season 2 as a way to channel Glenn’s growing intensity.
Chad Coleman, a new addition as a series regular, talked about “becoming” Tyreese and credited the quality of the show’s writing and production. His excitement at joining the show was clear, saying the already-existing family in the cast “welcomed him with open arms.”
When Danai Gurira warned the audience to expect the unexpected, Hardwick suggested a possible romance between Michonne and Rick, which drew roars from both the crowd and cast. Gale Anne Hurd even joked about crowdsourcing the new season’s script right there at Comic-Con, asking what fans thought should happen from there.
The panelists talked at length about the mortality rate on the show, and how they process that loss into the growth of their characters. It was revealed that when a character is killed off, their cast number is retired and hung up in a mural at the show’s Georgia production studio. This gruesome gallery has been nick-named “The Grateful Dead” (or as Andrew Lincoln put it, “The Hall of Maim.”)
When questioned about The Governor’s whereabouts, Kirkman replied that the character was still out there, and that “all bets were off.” David Morrissey chimed in about the Governor being shaped by “negative reinforcement” of his losses of Woodbury, Penny and his eye. That intensity (and Andrew Lincoln’s) culminated in the Season 3 scene when the two men first meet to discuss each other’s terms. Lincoln and Morrissey joked with each other about crew members wearing “Team Rick” shirts (or Governor eye-patches, depending on whose version you decide to believe). Though friends in real life, they described approaching their roles like theater, limiting their interactions with each other leading up to that scene to keep the intensity between the two men at the highest level possible.
Danai Gurira commented on the physicality of the role of Michonne, saying that it hasn’t yet let up. Refencing a shot of Michonne battling from horseback in the new trailer, she mentioned that she’d never even ridden a horse before. Lauren Cohan echoed that, saying that physical and emotional events during the season serve to turn Maggie into a “stronger cat.”
Norman Reedus offered sharp insights into Daryl’s evolution as a character when asked about Merle’s death. He mentioned the growth from being a “Mini-Merle” to someone stepping out of that shadow as a part of a larger group. EP David Alpert talked about Daryl’s scene defending Glenn from Merle “giving him goosebumps” as the character came into his own.
During the Q&A session, a young group of The Walking Dead cosplayers — fans in costume, for the uninitiated — approached the mic to ask the panelists what they would do “when the zombie apocalypse actually happens.” While Andrew Lincoln said he’d stand behind Chandler Riggs for protection (a nice tease about Carl’s development this season), it was Norman Reedus who owned the panel by saying he’d “take over a hotel, spray paint himself silver, run around naked in circles and watch South Park.”