Actors Steven Yeun and Lauren Cohan, Glenn and Maggie on AMC’s “The Walking Dead” television series based on the Robert Kirkman-written comic book series, took the stage before a standing room only crowd for a panel discussion at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo on Saturday afternoon. The pair discuss the relationship between their characters, looked back on the events of Season 2, what it’s like working on the show, and teased the events of Season 3 before an appreciative and engaged crowd.
The crowd, many of whom were dressed as zombies, began gathering an hour before the panel and completely filled the IGN auditorium at C2E2. Every seat was taken; many were forced to stand. Yeun and Cohan appeared taken aback, and both took a moment to film the crowd when they first took their seats on the dais to talk about the show.
The panel’s moderator, IGN’s Chris Carl, said everyone seemed to be cheering for the Glenn and Maggie relationship in online outlets and elsewhere. “I think it’s great that people enjoy hope in general,” said Yeun. “The show that we’re on is pretty brutal sometimes.”
“I love seeing first love documented. I love all the games people play. I love movies about first love,” Cohan said. “I just love the fact that — I love — that we have this really human story that’s incredibly simple, in this horrible world that we’re living in.”
“I don’t think they’re necessarily playing games in terms of like, ‘oh I’m going to wait three days before I text her back,'” said Yeun. “It’s realistic. I think [fans] were upset, and they were, like, ‘Glenn, what is wrong with you? Why are you not going after this beautiful girl, she wants you.’ But, it’s interesting to see someone balk at that, when it’s clearly obvious, because in that situation, there’s a lot of internal struggle that the Zombie Apocalypse gives to a person — dead guys trying to eat you — it makes for a really interesting part of their relationship that I think solidified it. To go through that. Instead of being like, ‘I like you, you like me. I like boobs, you like other stuff…’ It was good it built up to a good thing.”
Carl asked about the first time Glenn said, “I love you,” saying it came at a bad time in the show. “In the moment when we were doing it, I didn’t think it was a bad time, but I guess I could see why people would think that,” said Yeun. “It definitely wasn’t like, ‘hey, hey, hey, hey. Shut up. I love you. Shut up.’ It was like, they’re in a terrible spot, you say the truth. I think it’s like being drunk. You say what’s honest. You’re drunk off of — whatever’s going on. In that exact moment, what do you really feel, which is, yes, I want to calm you down I want to do this, but I love you. But I think it was apropos.”
“They really need each other,” said Cohan. Both expect the relationship to continue to grow in Season 3, which Cohan confirmed begins film in about three weeks.
“I think the trajectory that Glenn is headed is trusting himself more, looking out for the people he cares about and trying to do still what’s right to him, and now that he has someone to live for, and now that someone has him to live for as well, it’s going to be a nice team,” said Yeun. As the crowd offered a collective “aww,” Yeun countered with, “Oh, come on. There’s going to be chainsaws.”
“It’s going to be like, ‘Maggie, marry me.’ Vroom vroom vroom,” said Cohan.
Neither Yeun nor Cohan have seen any scripts, and they do not even know if their characters will survive the upcoming third season. “We actually don’t know exactly where we’re headed yet. They have broken story on the first half, but we don’t have any of the scripts. So maybe we’ll go back to the farm,” said Yeun, as Cohan pantomimed a hanging to his right referencing the Hanging Walker from Season 2.
“I am really interested, because [I] don’t know how far along we’re going to pick up next season. We may be picking up right at that campfire. We may be picking up six months later,” said Cohan.
It is known that two new characters will play prominent roles in Season 3: Michonne, introduced in the final moments of Season 2, and the Governor, who appears in the comic book and has been announced as an important part of Season 3. When and if the character of Tyrese from the comic will appear is not yet known.
“I don’t know what the plans are for Tyrese,” Cohan said. “We know about the Governor and we know about Michonne. I think that’s going to be a big hit for now.”
“Expect what Michonne is — she’s a complete badass. Look how she showed up,” Yeun said. “With two walkers [tethered to her], and just sliced that other walker in half. It’s going to be good.”
Fans should hesitate before relying upon the comic book series as a guide to future events in the television series. Both Yeun and Cohan said they had read the comic series, but stopped when the characters reached the prison. “I’ve read to about halfway through the prison, but, I don’t want to beyond that, because I think Maggie’s character has changed — it’s actually nicer just to invest in the script,” Cohan said.
“We both read up to a point and then I think this show is kind of turning into its own thing. Definitely paying homage to the original material but Robert [Kirkman] is in the [writer’s] room and they’re trying to create — why wouldn’t people want two forms of entertainment,” Yeun wondered. “To read ahead would kind of be a disservice to the show.”
“It’s funny because Robert [Kirkman] was saying last night that he gets bored himself. He’s already done the stories with the comic and so he’s very eager to create new, fantastical deaths,” said Cohan.
“I think it’s just going to continue on the trajectory that it left off. You see people really at a crossroads between what’s right and what’s wrong. You even see Rick falter a little bit. Shane’s gone now, so there’s no other side of that coin and now it’s up to people to make their own choices and now it’s a Ricktatorship,” said Yuen, crediting an editor on the series with coining the term.
Both actors thought Rick killing Shane in Season 2 was inevitable and added to the story, but not necessarily for the reasons fans might believe. “I think it had to happen,” said Cohan.”I think Shane wanted him to do it. He was egging him on to do it. They both knew they couldn’t both wear the crown, so to speak.”
“It’s real. It’s someone not being someone predictable. Rick, I think you could always see what he was going to do and the choices he was going to make. But now you don’t know, because he went a little bit slightly bonkers,” said Yeun. “It’s like he’s grown a third ball. An extra ball to facilitate what is going on.”
“I love seeing that turn in Rick. Ever since that bar scene when he killed those two guys, I think it’s very interesting to see the divide in his character. Is he now inhabiting Shane in himself? All these questions to come,” said Cohan, who later said Maggie was somewhat afraid of Rick. “I think Maggie’s a bit afraid of where Rick’s going to go now, and if he’s going off the rails, then yeah, she wants to get the people she loves to safety.”
With everyone aware that the prison will play a prominent role in the coming season, a fan asked whether the actors were prepared for “really close haircuts” as in the comic. “Wouldn’t that be amazing?” said Cohan. “I hope that we get to go and do something else really insane…”
“I’m prepared to do what it take for the show, but man, look at me,” Yeun said as he pulled back his hair. “I mean, I look like Krillin from ‘Dragonball Z.'”
On a show that regularly kills off characters, actors need to be prepared to be written out of a job any given week. “Every death that takes place — they have to analyze every person they kill and make sure that it’s going to propel new and bigger story. Nobody is ever killed unfairly, even though they do want the sense that nobody’s safe in this world,” Cohan said. “Scott Wilson [Herschel on the show] had got the call — that he was supposed to leave, be killed at the end of Season 2 — and then they didn’t want to and didn’t feel that it would propel more story, so they decided not to which was really exciting for him, because he kept reading every script — ‘Wait, where’s the dying part?’ So it’s interesting.”
There were no predictions as to who, if anyone, will survive the third season. “We have no idea,” said Yeun. “I hope that they introduce new characters, and they just kill them off like an episode later. And they fill their quota, and we all live. That’s what I’m hoping for. In all seriousness, we don’t know. That’s going to be the charm of the show. Man, any of us could go. To single one person out would probably be putting yourself on the line, so I plead the Fifth.”
One fan suggested a death that got a rousing ovation from the crowd: Carl, Rick’s son on the show played by actor Chandler Riggs. Cohan and Yeun would have none of it, though. “I don’t want Carl ever to leave, said Cohan. “I am so fascinated with how this kid is going to turn out, seriously.”
“The kid’s being a kid,” said Yeun. “You know what’s great about our show — and people complain about this on a general note — which is, ‘I would never behave like that. That’s absurd,’ or like, ‘Why aren’t they watching their kid,’ or this and that, and ‘why is this person acting so strange?’ Man, wouldn’t you? People are eating each other, man. You know what I mean? Those are all things that people don’t necessarily take into account on the surface — I think it would be boring to watch a show where every single character was predictable.”
“Or loveable all the time,” added Cohan.
“You want to see the dark side of humanity, and how they can redeem themselves,” said Yeun.
A show filled with such emotional intensity takes a toll on the actors. “We didn’t even realize the effect that this whole season was going to have on us until the end. I certainly didn’t. It took me a good two months to kind of — I don’t want to use the word grieve, but to kind of grieve the everything that we’d been through on an emotional level and the people — we’ve become so close on set,” Cohan explained. “You guys can probably tell from watching but we’re out there in the middle of Hickville alone together, and we get really close. We are the ‘Walking Dead’ family.”
“It’s gnarly. You get to love these people that you’re working with and to have them depart is pretty horrible — you come back aged, you know what I mean? Everybody got sick, right. So we got back, and so you’re still running high on work mode, and then you start settling down and you think, oh, this is the time that I rest up. We all got demolished for months,” said Yeun.
The actor described how he felt when he learned of the coming death of the character Dale, and where he was when he found out. “I’ll be honest with you right now. I read the script where Jeff [DeMunn, who played Dale] dies — this is embarrassing, but — on the toilet. Imagine doing your thing, right. People read — don’t act like you don’t read on the toilet. That’s like 90% of reading is on the toilet. So I was reading and I got near the end where you find out that Jeff dies. I’m like, it’s just — I can’t go anywhere,” said Yeun, who then he pantomimed unspooling toilet paper, “I’m like, oh, no.”
“And then he called me, still on the toilet,” said Cohan.
“I do everything — it’s my office,” said Yeun.
Yuen’s sense of humor, which Cohan said was even more evident on the set, does not diminish the seriousness with which he takes his role. It is a passion he said shares with the entire cast, who never took a break during shooting. “We didn’t even go to a proper swimming pool. We didn’t do anything. We just sat in our shit,” said Yeun. “I think that’s a testament to how seriously everybody takes it. Nobody is like, ‘Oh, I’m going to go for a spa day.’ They’re all like, ‘oh, I’ve got to prepare for my next scene, where I have to jab a pickax in my best friend’s eye.”
“You don’t really come down from any of it until the season’s done, because you don’t want to,” said Cohan. “As extreme as all those conditions are, the hotter and sweatier and more tired you are, the better everybody’s acting is, you know, thank you for the humidity, which is horrible.”
Working on a project that takes place in a post-apocalyptic nightmare of a world makes the actors think about survival skills. “I feel like I would actually be pretty similar to where Maggie is. She’s tough when she needs to be and gets the job done. Being raised on the farm as she is. I wasn’t. I don’t know why I said it like that — I definitely want to pick up as many skills as possible before the apocalypse happens which I think is pretty soon. Being on the show does remind you of the things you need for survival. Building fires, shooting a gun,” said Cohan.
“Man, I don’t know any of that stuff, man,” said Yeun. “I was raised on the rough and tumble streets of Troy, Michigan. It’s as suburban as you get. I know how to order a really solid plate of spaghetti — I think I’d be… helpful. I don’t know if I’d necessarily lead a group. I’m angry, though. I get angry.”
One fan asked why the show never uses the term “zombie,” but instead calls the undead “walkers” or “geeks.” Cohan said that in the world created by Kirkman, zombies do not exist prior to the events of the story. “‘Zombie’ doesn’t exist in our world. There’s no zombie films, like nobody that lives in this world has ever — we don’t have George Romero, we don’t have any of that, so we just call them what they’re doing, like lamebrain or walker or whatever,” said Cohan. “It’s kind of a cool twist to the story.”
“The Walking Dead” returns for a 16-episode third season in October.