Once again, AMC's The Walking Dead panel was a big hit at Comic-Con. In anticipation of the massive number of fans in attendance this year, the event was moved into Hall H to allow as many people as possible the chance to see the first look at Season 4 not to mention some of their favorite characters, as well as the talented crew, in person.
However, a room that seats six thousand plus doesn't exactly offer the most intimate experience, but I was lucky enough to get to sit down with Andrew Lincoln (Rick), Sarah Wayne Callies (Lori), Norman Reedus (Daryl), Laurie Holden (Andrea), Steven Yeun (Glenn), and Lauren Cohan (Maggie), along with series newcomers Danai Gurira (Michonne) and David Morrissey (The Governor). Also in attendance was executive producer-showrunner Glen Mazzara as well as executive producers Robert Kirkman, Gale Anne Hurd, Dave Alpert and Greg Nicotero (who is also the master behind the make-up).
The last five minutes of The Walking Dead Season 2 finale was pretty explosive and not just because of the walker threat lurking around every corner, but also the way in which the relationships within the group of survivors were being strained. They've always had tons of in-fighting but, as Nicotero put it, "the dynamic of the group, now that Shane is gone and Dale is gone, things shifted.” They all agreed that the removal of both had their consequences, the latter a voice of reason and go-between, while former might have created a lot of chaos but also provided a physical presence.
Shane's removal could have lifted some of the weight-off the series' primary relationship, that of the Grimes family, but Wayne Calles added,
A bomb went off in Rick and Lori's marriage in the last five to ten minutes of the last season and I think it was more about two people who became so deeply entrenched in their own self-hatred that they could no longer trust each other. And they’re kind of the mom and dad of this group of people so the rift between the two of them have pretty major implications for everybody else.
The final five minutes of last season also saw the culmination of Rick's marital frustrations and things weren't even peachy-keen between the two before the zombies burst on the scene (or, should I say, the bullet burst through Rick). Lincoln said that the character has now "shut down again and to a worse place than way before the apocalypse. They have a leader but they don’t necessarily have a heart.” Anyone who watched the final speech saw a definite shift in our hero and one particular line birthed the 'this is not a democracy, it's a Ricktatorship' meme. When asked if they had seen the joke, Lincoln responded,
I hate that expression… the end of the season, he was processing a lot of difficult things and thinking on his feet. And he was sick of everything. Ultimatum, either you’re with me or against me or shut the fuck up. Not that this is the new doctrine, it’s just this is the way it is. I wish I could tell you something but I can’t. I’m not spoiling anything by saying we don’t start with this guy who is a benign dictator. That may be where he’s heading, which is interesting when we have this counterpoint with the Governor.
It was kind of endearing to see both Lincoln and Nicotero show such disdain for the whole 'Ricktatorship' gag because, if nothing else, the passion they have for the show and the character was written all over their faces and in their rolling eyes. The discussion then shifted to what we can expect from the opening scenes of Season 3 and Mazzara stated that “the first five minutes are going to be surprising for people. The audience is going to have to catch up.”
It was confirmed, as you can judge by the teaser, that some time has passed since the end of last year (Rick's speech) and the first episode of the upcoming season with the first five, in Lincoln's words, serving as a “a brilliant teaser." He went on to say that the sequence "tells so much about the emotion, and the state of the group with no dialogue. Which is really smart, it’s a quiet five minutes but a pretty intense five minutes. You learn everything you need to know visually.” The creator of the comic, Robert Kirkman, was pretty candid about the opening, responding to be asked what he could tell us with "nothing." He added,
We hit the ground running immediately. It’s very explosive and will catch a lot of people off guard. instantly in the first four or five seconds you see everyone is in a very different place, this is a very different situation. These people are much more capable… it’s everything you like about The Walking Dead but it’s a new Walking Dead. The third season is going to be a transition and escalation from what we’ve seen before.
You could see that there were a few rehearsed sound-bites when it came to any questions that might contain spoilers because Mazzara said something very similar to Kirkman about the opening, that “we're running and gunning this season." But he, like the comic writer, did expand, saying "that’s what works for us. Its about taking action in this world and the characters have come to know each other, so there’s not a lot of debating about what this apocalypse means anymore but what are they going to do about it.” That change of outlook is another topic that came up often during the roundtables. There was the sense that these wouldn't be the same zombie rookies wondering, 'why them?' but instead a group of determined and capable survivors.
Yeun said that the shift in the characters inset has been slowly charted back during “mid season finale with the death of Sofia it was really a question of what do they want out of life, what is the purpose of living to continue living," and that "by the end of the season it’s more like how do you do it?” And since the shift in the group's outlook and the family dynamic was a central topic of discussion, naturally everyone was curious about the specific state of many of the returning survivors.
One of the first things we glimpsed of the third season was a photograph of Cohan's Maggie swinging a machete into the skull of a walker. When asked about the increased physicality she said, “I loved Maggie the minute I met her when I first stared. But now I feel like I found Maggie and this physical side of it has been so fulfilling," not to mention that getting crazed is also "really fun.”
Maggie and Glen's relationship is also a main concern, and they were asked about how they fit within the group and whether they might, as previously brought up, go it alone. But Yeun said, “With Glen and Maggie, their bond grows because they're in love and have something to fight for, but that’s not separate from the whole, you need everyone to survive." And as their bond strengthens, Rick and Lori's has been deteriorating. But he was quick to add that we can “only go at the point we left off and assume the opposite trajectory. Rick and Lori are not on good terms, a lot of mistrust, while ours was only blossoming and that would seem to be the natural progression, but you never know."
As for some of the other members of the ensemble and what we can expect, Kirkman chimed in for the absent IronE Singleton saying, “T-Dawg is a fan favorite and everyone wants to see more. And we're definitely getting that." And he was quick to say that any lack of lines or screen-time "wasn’t about not having the time to get to him, we just wanted to build that character naturally." Reedus' Daryl is another fan favorite (and the one I root for most) but he was trying to downplay his role in creating that connection stating, "I get these great lines and it’s hard not to look cool holding a crossbow." And as for the reappearance of Merle,
He wants to see his big brother, of course. He’s going to come back pissed and cause some trouble in this world I’m in now. A lot of people won’t like him and want revenge but at the same time he’s the last of my kin… he’s definitely going to make an impact. He’s a larger than life character.
Holden was honest about the fans initial dislike of Andrea but added that they were rooting for her to be saved in the end, "It's mercurial." She also said that “I love my character's journey. A broken person who was suicidal and wanted to die... that in the end is starting to fit in with the group. She's grown." As we know though, she may have been making a lot of progress with the group but at the end of the season it was a newcomer that came to her rescue with the introduction of Michonne. On her final scene and the upcoming ones with Guirira's Michonne, Holden said,
I think there is a lot of healing going on by Season 2 and got more integrated into the group and then, of course, she got separated. Season 3 is wonderful because we explore this great relationship between two alpha females who love and respect one another. And we have many challenges ahead.
The pair of Andrea and Michonne will be a central relationship in the upcoming season as they are the first of our group to encounter the other major addition to the cast in the character of the Governor. When asks about the two new characters, Wayne Calles simply said, “They’re awesome.” Guriria expanded on her take on Michonne, saying, “I think I fall into the tough girl genre in my life. And we learn how she steeled herself and you have to think, who would you be in a situation this dire," exploring what happens "when you choose not to become a victim in a world this hostile."
The Governor, like all the survivors, has obviously also come face to face with that question and his methods turned out to be even more severe than Michonne's. He's often described as evil but Morrisey's take on the iconic character from the comics is simple, "He believes what he's doing is for a good cause. It's hard to play evil, you can’t really play that." He added, "I have to empathize, I don’t have to agree or like them but I have to empathize with them and understand what he’s going through. I love playing him, I don’t know what that says about me."
The producers also shared their take on the Governor, and Mazzara's thrilled with the casting, because “David’s doing a great job bringing the Governor to life." And in terms of the story and the existing characters, "What it does is give us a great antagonist for Rick and his group and the group has been at each others throats for so long it’s nice to see them come together against a common enemy... they are very, very tight.” The way he put it was pretty brilliant, “I can say whatever I want about my family but the minute you say something, it’s on.” I think we can all relate to that when it comes to our family and friends. But Hurd doesn't want to paint the Governor with a one-dimensional brush,
He’s a lot more complex than just he’s the villain and that’s what David brings to the role and what the writers bring to the role. You don’t meet him and think, he’s clearly the villain he's someone who’s a fantastic leader. Great leaders tend to have a dark side. But he’s just darker than most.
And when the two new cast members were asked about the difference between working in television versus film, with Morrisey praising the long-form because “you can really slowly tease out and build the characters. It’s great to be with that character for a long period of time.” But Guirira was quick to add that there is still no settling into the character on a seres which is different than her "experience, mainly film and theatre, and I know where the character is going and can beat out the moments when this is a thrilling ride waiting for the next episode and you’re adapting and adjusting, it’s like life."
One of the scenes from the end of last season that kept being brought up was the sequence at the bar with Randall and his buddies that ended in the bloodbath. Nicotero stressed its importance because it showed that “walkers aren’t the only threat out there. It’s survival of the fittest. And if you can’t take care of yourself, and you can’t figure out who’s on your side and who’s not on your side then you’ll never survive." Lincoln jumped in on the significance of Randall and how “he tells his story and you get the world outside as well. And it such a breath of fresh air but it’s terrifying… it brings the world into the show and the scale of it.”
Alpert expanded on the idea that the walkers are only one of the obstacles that our group will be battling this season, and how the “real threat and danger is with outside people and once we get to the Governor it’s only going to get dirtier, a lot messier and a lot deeper. We’re going to play that as long as it feels natural.” Wayne Calles continued the thread, asking “Who gets the food? Who gets the water? Who gets the safety?" And scarier, "Who deserves to survive and who deserves to be cast out.”
Season 3 will feature a variety of locations but the two major stops will be in Woodbury, the civilization run by the Governor, and the prison, a stronghold that Rick and the survivors call home for an unknown period of time. The prison is a key setting in the comic and Mazzara describes it as "like a haunted house. There are challenges within that prison and it’s not necessarily as safe as everyone thinks" adding, "Then there’s also the aesthetic and we wanted to build something as gritty and realistic as possible. This isn’t a sleek, polished, cool prison. It’s scary.”
Another scary part of the show, beyond just the gory and realistic locations, if the very real fact that any of the actors might become food at any moment. Reedus notes that there's an odd symmetry to that and “it's weird how it fits in because in taking this job there’s an expiration date. On a show with a character that has a expiration date everyone plays it for real. In a horrible way it really works.” While killing off characters is unavoidable when you runa zombie series, Mazzara ensures,
It's something we take very seriously. People become very close with the characters, we care about the characters and it’s difficult but we do what’s right for the show and people do expect the fact that no one's safe. There’s a version of this show where you watch and you say they're not going to kill off that character, they wouldn’t do that, that happens a lot on TV, but that’s not this show. We make bold choices.
To see the bold choices, tune in when The Walking Dead returns for Season 3 on Sunday, October 14 on AMC.