Not even the zombie apocalypse could keep masses of “Walking Dead” fans from storming the 6,500-seat Hall H to see stars and producers talk about the upcoming fourth season.
Veteran moderator and host of AMC’s “Talking Dead” Chris Hardwick presided over the panel with his special brand of humor, charisma, and intimidating nerd knowledge.
Coming onto the stage first were showrunner Scott Gimple; producer and writer of the comic, Robert Kirkman; executive producer David Alpert; and executive producer Gale Anne Hurd.
Hardwick wasted no time in cutting straight to the chase in asking the execs if season four is going to be even crazier than the previous season.
“It’s going to get insane very quickly,” confirmed Gimple.
“It’s like we’re in the Superbowl and we want to bring the best season ever for the fans,” Gale Anne Hurd added enthusiastically.
Hardwick moved on to the touchy subject of The Governor, who seemingly survived the attack on Woodbury, but whose whereabouts remain a mystery as of season three’s conclusion.
Gimple explained that The Governor had “received a great deal of positive reinforcement” for many of the terrible things he did, and that now he’s received some negative reinforcement for his behavior, that it will inform his character’s motivations in the upcoming season.
“How he returns…will be a mystery,” teased Kirkman.
After this curiosity-building portion of the panel, the fans were told they were about to see the World Premiere of the trailer for season four, which set off screams so loud that they’re typically only heard when being attacked by actual zombies.
In short, the clip showed a remaining living characters still at the prison, with the addition of actor Lawrence Gilliard Jr., who will be playing a character named Bob Stookie. Not much could be discerned about the character’s motivations from the clip, so it was difficult to tell if his presence posed a threat to our established cast of “good guys.” One noticeable detail is that the main gate to the prison seems to have been reinforced by some heavier, yellow metal, perhaps implying that the zombies have grown stronger in some way. Adding to this theory is the ominous quote, “They don’t spread out anymore.” The clip was punctuated by scenes of internal unrest, a cell block attack by an unknown entity, and the fence barely being able to hold back a growing mass of hungry zombies.
Add to this cocktail of tension and turmoil that the mousiest character, Carol, was showing children how to use a deadly set of knives, and it’s safe to assume that season four is upping the ante in the intensity department.
Joining the producers on the panel were stars Andrew Lincoln, Danai Gurira, Norman Reedus, Steven Yeun, David Morrissey, Lauren Cohen, and Scott Wilson.
The world premiere of the trailer highlighted the show’s history of placing the main characters in increasingly dire situations with each new season, and served to set the tone for many questions pertaining to how the actors navigate playing characters who go through so much trauma against an apocalyptic backdrop.
For example, when Hardwick questioned Lincoln about Rick’s relationship to Carl, Lincoln said that Rick is “in a new place” at the beginning of next season and that he has “renounced responsibilities in leadership” for the sake of his children after seeing that Carl is turning into what he called “a sociopath.”
Hardwick pressed Gurira, who plays the incredibly stoic Michonne on the show, whether there’s room for her character to express her emotions more.
Gurira playfully replied, “She’s every woman, baby,” before generally answering that there should be room for growth.
Steven Yeun recognized the development of his character from dorky kid in the first season, to formidable zombie-slayer by season 3, noting that “Glen is constantly evolving.” He later also said, “It’s an actor’s dream to do as many different things as he’s been allowed to do.”
Cohen, who plays Yeun’s girlfriend Maggie on the show, claimed that the trauma that they experienced at the hands of The Governor strengthened them as a couple in the new season.
Chad Coleman entered world of “The Walking Dead” in season three, and claimed that his character is “still trying to find his footing” within his family and the crumbling world around him.
Harwick joked with Morrissey about his defense of his obviously villainous character, asking him if by the end of season three if it was okay to finally call him a villain.
“He was in a dark place…did some bad things… He went off with two of them. He didn’t kill them all! Give him a break,” defended Morrissey, referring to the fact that his character managed to not kill two lucky souls.
As for The Governor’s fate, Morrissey explained that “He’s thwarted in his desires…and a switch goes off in his head,” and that in season four, we’re going to see how he responds to his new reality.
Audience favorite Norman Reedus reflected on the painful scene in which Merle (Michael Rooker) dies, and how difficult it was to film.
“When I read the script with Merle dying, I thought ‘this day is gonna suck,’” he remembered. He also noted how his character was allowed to grow while Merle was out of the picture.
At one point, Hardwick claimed that people had replaced zombies as the real threat in the series, to which Gurira sarcastically retorted, “Oh, really? Oh, okay.” This statement helped to confirm any speculation about the zombies becoming an even bigger threat in the upcoming season.
Another lighter moment came when a fan asked if Rick and Michonne can now get together now that Andrea is dead. After the producers confirmed that “anything is possible,” another fan got up to ask about whether Michonne and Daryl will become more emotional next season, to which Reedus responded, “Both of these characters are loner characters” who are trying to become part of the group, and that they’ll continue to connect to others. “Then they’ll get together…And Rick can join.”
It was a welcome laugh in a panel that had been exploring their favorite characters’ darker sides.
And it wouldn’t be a “Walking Dead” panel without a fan asking the stars if they’re ready for the zombie apocalypse.
Andrew Lincoln said that while he’d be useless, young actor Chandler Riggs (who plays Carl) is “a beast” and that he’d “stand behind Chandler Riggs, whose voice has apparently dropped an octave since last season.
Scott Gimple summed up the directions they take the characters by simply stating that “How this world changes them, that makes them change each other.”
And they’ll have masses of fans tuning in to see how the Grimes crew takes all of it on.
“The Walking Dead” will premiere October 13th, 2013 at 9pm EST/PST on AMC.