The Walking Dead season 2 is just hours away, so fan anticipation is reaching rabid zombie levels as AMC's hit horror drama makes its return to the halls of the IGN theater at New York Comic-Con 2011.
However, aside from the excitement of seeing Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his fellow survivors once again try to make their way through a world that has become hell on Earth, there are even more pressing behind-the-scenes questions that need to be answered, such as the state of cast and crew morale in light of Frank Darabont leaving the show (being fired from the show, more accurately) and if looming issues like budget constraints will effect the path of season 2, once production starts on the post-Darabont episodes.
Will AMC and the Walking Dead cast and showrunners address the serious questions about the show? Or will they just put on a smile and talk about what's in store for season 2 as if all was well?
Short answer: smiles and nice words.
On the panel were Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, show producer Gale Anne Hurd, Emmy-winning makeup artist Greg Nicotero, along with cast members Jon Bernthal (Shane), Laurie Holden (Andrea), Steven Yeun (Glenn), Chandler Riggs (Carl), Norman Reedus (Daryl) and new cast member Lauren Cohan (Maggie)
- Kirkman started off by talking about his work on the comic, now that the show is a success. He still loves working on both - especially since the show has diverged from the comic in significant ways, which allows the showrunners and Kirkman to explore new ground.
- Kirkman and Hurd enjoy hearing the fan conspiracy theories about the show's plot. Kirkman reiterates (for the millionth time) that Michael Rooker's character, Merle, is NOT THE GOVERNOR.
- FOOTAGE - The footage screened in panel was from the excellent season 2 premiere. It involves a tense scene on the highway where the survivors are stopped at a graveyard of abandoned cars. Before they know it, a "herd" of Walkers (zombies) has barreled onto the road behind them. The survivors must hide under cars to avoid being detected by the zombie horde. Things go from bad to worse when T-Dog (IronE Singleton) injures himself, and Andrea (Holden) is sniffed out by a particularly enterprising zombie. Violence and gore ensue.
- The moderator - Web Soup host Chris Hardwick - describes how that highway scene scared his friend (who is a big imposing guy) at the show's LA premiere. He stated that The Walking Dead is like watching a great horror movie, rather than a TV show. Hurd praised the NYCC audience for their energy.
- The highway sequence was a 4-day shoot on a real Atlanta freeway that had to be shut down. Approximately 150 zombie extras were used for the sequence. The filming of the scene gained media attention, as local Atlanta outlets reported on the massive inconvenience caused by the highway shutdown. Nicortero claimed that hearing the fans scream in fear at the footage was all the reward he needed.
- Jon Bernthal thanked fans and praised his castmates and crew for making a truly great show to be on.
- Holden actually got banged up filming the winnebago scene from the footage when she took on a zombie in close quarters. "I felt I earned my day's pay," she claimed. She went on to say that the zombie extra in that scene was too nice of a guy in real life - she couldn't talk to him while doing the scene. She loves how real the zombies look because that makes her job easier being scared of them. It's a combination of Nicotero's makeup work and the "zombie school" all the extras go through.
- Yeun said that Glenn has tried to become this hero in the post-zompocalypse world, but often does his heroic acts in a way that is reckless, like he doesn't care about his life. He plays coy about his arc in season 2, which could involve a certain relationship with a certain new character...
- (MILD SPOILER) Cohan let the cat right out of the bag by talking about her character Maggie's forthcoming romance with Glenn. She says Maggie forces Glenn to look at life from a new perspective, now that he has something to hold onto. She had seen the show and loved it and was ecstatic when she got the part - which she describes as "jumping in a tornado." She wasn't ready for the ticks that are rampant in the Atlanta woods - "You've got hands in your pants, you're checking [for ticks], forgetting to act."
- Chandler Riggs got the cute award when it was his turn to speak. He claimed that his castmates 'make him better' (Awwww!) and that he loves playing Carl, because he 'gets to be two different characters.' He started as a scared kid in the background in season 1, but in season 2 he gets darker, lying, stealing, and slowly adapting to the harsh new world he lives in.
- Riggs said he used to have to imagine his dog dying to cry in scenes - now he can cry on command (Awww!).
- Reedus on Daryl: "He can hunt, protect you - but can't connect emotionally. If you tried to hug him he would stab you." He said TV is hard because you don't know your character's full arc upfront. So it's good if the writers have a vague idea where things are headed, so that actors can sow seeds of development into their performances.
- On the subject of the show's intense and graphic subject matter: Bernthal is amazed they can do all the gory, violent stuff they do; but he said the sexual stuff is trickier to work around.
- Holden added that things getting even more intense in season 2 (as fans of the comics know all too well). She loves that Andrea gets feisty and won't be a victim, and decides to be strong in this harsh world. Andrea will start watching the alpha male characters and will try to learn skills from them (like shooting).
- Yeun on making the show: "We bleed, sweat and cry for this show." He said coming to work is fun, and the cast is always pushing themselves - not one person slacks. He's particularly amazed that some of the crazy ideas they shoot for fun end up in the finished show - "Who is censoring this thing?"
- Nicotero is a fan of the comics and puts stuff in the show that he wants to see. He shoots all the gore he wants and leaves it to the censors to clean up; luckily, for the most part, they put all his work in the show.
- Cohan: "I never knew TV could feel so much like theater." She wasn't ready for the intensity of the show, but is loving it - and the gorgeous outdoor locations they're shooting on this season.
- Riggs said that fame hasn't phased his young mind: "I like it when I'm normal...and my friends are normal...I get that I'm the coolest kid around, though." (Laughter)
- Reedus confessed that his shoes were a mess because he had gone paintballing with his son and his son's friends before coming to NYCC that day. "I shot the s*it out of those little kids."
- Kirkman said there won't be an 'evolution of the zombies' over the course of the series. But they look even better in season 2 of the show.
- Nicortero picks zombies based on the extra's bone structure, physical attributes and resemblance to actual zombies from the comic artwork. He joked that he could be in a bar or supermarket and approach someone like, "You'd make a great zombie."
- Kirkman reminded the crowd that in Walking Dead it's important to remind the audience that zombies were once human beings too. It makes the whole situation sadder and more psychologically challenging.
Each cast member described what they would use as their zombie-killing weapon in real life:
- Bernthal - Crossbow (it's quiet and deadly).
- Holden - sticking with a gun.
- Yeun - a bo staff (major applause).
- Cohan - a bladed boomerang.
- Riggs - Flamethrower w/ bayonet (thunderous applause and cheers).
- Reedus - his costar Sean Patrick Flanery from Boondock Saints (more applause).
- Chris Hardwick - a katana
Speaking of katanas - Kirkman dropped the tease that Michonne WILL appear sometime in season 2 - but wouldn't say anymore than that.
You'll have to find out all the secrets of The Walking Dead season 2 starting with the 2-hour premiere on Sunday night @ 9/8c on AMC