Much like its titular zombies, ‘The Walking Dead’ just keeps coming. The post apocalyptic drama is fast approaching its eighth season premiere (which also happens to mark the series one hundredth episode). With two such remarkable milestones, it’s the perfect time to celebrate. Well, AMC did just that at this year’s New York Comic Con, hosting a pair of all-star roundtables with the show’s cast and crew. As we were lucky enough to be in attendance, we thought we’d take the opportunity to share the highlights with you. The first of the roundtable sessions featured actors Andrew Lincoln, Lennie James, Tom Payne, and Katelyn Nacon, along with executive producer/makeup supervisor Greg Nicotero, and creator Robert Kirkman.
Given that the show has always tried to up the ante each season, with eighth season and the hundredth episode coming up, are there any especially interesting deaths or special effects that fans can look forward to?
Greg Nicotero (GL): There’s some great stuff coming up. Not a ton in the first episode, because we’re sort of setting the stage for our war, where we left at the end of last year. But the first episode has a lot of really interesting nods to previous seasons. So if you watch it and you know the show pretty well, you will notice things that are direct callbacks to previous episodes. Even as much as me shooting shot for shot a sequence that was in an earlier episode. So we went into it really wanting to give the fans something exciting, people who have been with us from day one that can react to the show and feel like they’ve been rewarded for staying with us for a hundred episodes. And I think the new fans and the new people that are going to watch the show are going to get a completely cinematic experience with a tremendous amount of amazing stuff going on. But in terms of the walkers, we did some really great, really fun stuff this year. There’s a couple cool tribute walkers in there, there’s some great moments in the first three or four (episodes) that I’m really excited about.
What does survival mean to your character?
Lennie James (LJ): I don’t think any of the characters set out thinking they’re going to be the one that survives. I think one of the brilliant things about the characterizations on ‘The Walking Dead’ and one of the brilliant things for us as actors is that people have evolved. If you go back to the first season and look at who those characters were in the beginning, you would not have picked out Carol, for example, as being the one that is most likely to survive. The one that Morgan describes as our greatest warrior. You wouldn’t have picked her out to be that at the beginning, but that’s what she’s become. So I think if it all happened to us now, we don’t know how we would survive the zombie apocalypse. We don’t know what it would bring out of us. And that’s been one of the things that’s been most exciting about playing the characters is that you get to discover them. You get to discover their strengths. And particularly in the case of Morgan, he’s a man who believes that every day he’s alive is a punishment for what he hasn’t done. So you never know what it’s going to make of you. And I think that’s one of the things that’s been fascinating to discover and play with.
Tom Payne (TP): I think the world of the show forces each character to examine their values and what matters to them and what the point of the whole thing is. Because my character’s been kind of on his own in his life. And in the community he’s had a bit of outsider-ness and is now coming more into it. And he’s been forced to examine who he cares about, what he cares about, why, and how far he’s willing to go and how to work with everyone together. It’s really interesting because it’s very tough, really to survive entirely on your own. At some point your going to have to engage with other people, and this world forces you to do that. I honestly think that the show is just life times a hundred, where death lurks around every corner. Which it does anyway, but on the show it’s just much more apparent. And it’s a great way of heightening the sense of being alive and what it means to you.
Katelyn, now that you’re a series regular might we be learning more about Enid’s background. You have your relationships with Carl and Maggie, but when you were first introduced on the show, they teased a bit about your parents and never really followed up on it.
Katelyn Nacon (KN): I would love that. I am all for seeing more of her background, but I don’t think necessarily this season. I think a lot of it is going to be about seeing her progress more into an adult. Because when we first saw her, she was kind of this angsty teenager, kind of closed off, but now we’re seeing her become kind of a warrior. I hope that one day we will learn more about her past. Because there’s a lot that I still don’t really know. I just know that her parents were off on their own and they got taken away and she had to learn how to survive and grow up really quickly.
Going into this season, what do you think your character’s mental state is?
Robert Kirkman (RK): I was a mess. But it doesn’t matter because you never see that.
Andrew Lincoln (LN): I think he is ready for battle. I’ve always said that Rick is very much like a shark: he needs to keep moving, otherwise he dies. And I think giving him something to do with his grief and pain is essential. And I think kicking Negan’s ass is as good a reason as any. So yeah, I think he’s very focused. You saw him in the scene mirroring the beginning of that season, on his knees but a completely inverted Rick. He’s a man that is willing to die… He’s free, to all intents and purposes, and willing to put everything on the line. “But I will never bow before you again.” So it’s a basically polar opposite Rick that begins this season, and I’m so happy to be playing that man and not last season’s Rick. Ninja Cat is in the house.
How do you feel the look of the show has evolved from episode one to episode one hundred?
RK: I think it still looks cool. That’d be my answer.
GN: You know, it is interesting, having directed the one hundredth episode, because it was my twentieth that I had shot. And we’ve really tried to change up the style. We want it to be fresh. We use a lot of zoom lenses this year, and there’s not a tremendous number of crane shots. We kept everything static. We wanted static, beautiful frames. If you watch something like ‘2001’, you could cut every one of those frames out and hang it on your wall. It’s just beautiful. So we’ve been going for really evocative frames without discovering things with dolly movements or things like that. So it adds a lot more coverage, a lot more camera setups and things like that, so it makes it harder on episodes that are huge anyway. These have been the hardest episodes that we have ever shot, this season. Even the storytelling. We have, this season, been completing a lot of character storylines in one or two episodes instead of letting them play out over the entire season. It’s a very different way that we tell stories. But the production design team, visual effects, we’re constantly aware of what we’ve done in the past and how we’ve tried to top ourselves. Which is very hard to do. But the actors bring it and we have an obligation to continue to up the game for the show. Because it’s been eight years, and we want people to not feel that the show’s suffering from any fatigue.
AL: It’s hard for me, because I don’t watch it.
GN: You can just say it’s great.
AL: It’s super. But I know there was always a filmic sensibility. I know that when Frank (Darabont) began it, everyone that worked on it, that created the show was from film. And it was always the intention was to make a long-running movie. And the settings have changed, the characters have changed, so why not the visual style?
Rick recently said that he might be willing to follow Maggie. After all these years of being the one in charge do you think he’d actually be able to do that?
AL: He’s getting tired. He’s been through a lot.
RK: No, no, no. Rick!
AL: It’s a good question. I think he’s not a politician. He is the general. And he’s a sheriff’s deputy, that’s where he comes from. That’s his DNA. And that’s probably one of his strengths as a leader is he listens to people. He kind of takes council. He usually ignores it, but he does listen to people. And sometimes that’s why they’ve gotten through some of the difficult situations they’ve been through. Now Maggie is different. Deanna sort of spotted her as a future political leader, somebody who could run things. She’s industrious. She’s loyal, respected, principled. And Rick is very much… He just wants it done. And then people can take over. He keeps going “Okay, one last time…” Which is great. Which is sort of a trope, isn’t it? “Damn, they dragged me back in.” You know what I mean? It’s that kind of feeling with him. But I do think he wants peace, he wants the future. He had a taste of it, and then this god damned Negan guy showed up. [sighs] I hate Negan, I’m sorry. I love Jeffrey (Dean Morgan), but I hate Negan. But yeah, I think he can, I think he’s willing to. He’s not duplicitous. He means when he says it. I think that’s one of the great things about him. He’s a true man. He’s a maniac, don’t get me wrong, but he means it, you know?
What would you say is your character’s biggest regret over the course of the last hundred episodes?
LJ: That Morgan didn’t put a bullet in his wife’s head. I think it’s his big, big regret. He’d be a different man today if he… I don’t know. It’s up to different peoples’ opinion if he loved his wife a little less, if he loved her a little more… I mean the whole dilemma, the crux of the dilemma of Morgan’s life is pulling that trigger or not pulling that trigger. And he didn’t pull it for all the right reasons, and he should have pulled it for all the right reasons. And his boy would be alive now, and his heart would be a little less broken. He would be a different man. So good question, easy answer.
Are there any big moments from the comic that you wanted to see on the show, but that for one reason or another didn’t make it to the screen?
RK: This is where we find that none of them have ever read the comic.
AL: Well I stopped when they chopped my hand off! I’m not reading this anymore, I don’t want to lose my arm!
KN: Yeah, that’s the part I miss. I want his arm gone.
AL: You know what, that’s true. That is the one thing that I’ve been campaigning for for a long time, for them to chop my arm off. And then all that happens is the special effects department just starts sucking their teeth. [whispers] That’s going to cost a little bit of money. Because when we took Hershel’s leg off, he had a green, sweaty sock on his leg in the Atlanta summer. It was not nice. Doing scenes I look kind of miserable and… yeah, that was the smell.
GN: For me, the moments I remember in the comic book are the splash pages of seeing Lori and the baby killed when the Governor attacked, or when Hershel’s daughters are killed by one of the inmates at the prison. I remember reading those and I remember just being horrified by just the brutality of those. And clearly we have shied away from some of those moments. But those moments – and I remember when we shot the bit with Shane coming back as a walker, and there was discussion about… I remember us being on the phone and talking about Carl shooting him versus how he got killed. Because in the show, Rick kills him and then Carl shoots him as a zombie. In the comic it was slightly different, I’m trying to…
RK: Well in the comic book Carl killed him and then Rick goes and digs him up later, when he finds out that Shane is at the bottom of a grave, alive as a zombie. Digs him up to put him out of his misery. Burying Bernthal would have been so much fun, let me tell you!
GN: I remember thinking that it was very powerful that Carl was the one that killed Shane. And it changed, and I remember I was talking about it and what we ultimately ended up with in the show is also equally fantastic because of what Andy and Jon did, but I remember just those certain panels that you see that stick with you. Like Glenn and… We did that one, but you know.
The eighth season of ‘The Walking Dead’ debuts on AMC on October 22, 2017 with the hit show’s landmark hundredth episode. The new season stars Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Melissa McBride, Lauren Cohan, Lennie James, Chandler Riggs, and Katelyn Nacon.
Be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for our coverage of the second NYCC roundtable, coming soon. And as always, we will be back with more on ‘The Walking Dead’ as it becomes available!