Fans dressed as both the living and the undead poured into the “Walking Dead” panel on Friday as part of Comic-Con International in San Diego. Packing the panel ballroom to the rafters and then some, the audience began cheering the minute panel moderator Chris Hardwick walked onstage to introduce the creative team behind the hit AMC television show: Executive Producer Frank Darabont, Executive Producer Gale Anne Hurd, Creator Robert Kirkman and Makeup Artist and Consulting Producer Greg Nicotero.
Hurd began by announcing the premiere date for Season Two of “The Walking Dead,” saying the first episode will air at a new time — 9 p.m. — on Sunday, October 16 on AMC. “We could not wait for Halloween, so we’re starting a little early,” said Kirkman.
Hurd added that the show premieres during AMC’s Fearfest programming in October. Kirkman then told the audience that after AMC originally landed the show, the process from script to actually shooting the season was fairly quick. “I have to say, you got to hand it to AMC for being a network that had enough vision to try something this crazy,” said Kirkman as the audience cheered.
Kirkman then admitted he never thought his black-and-white comic would become a TV show due to its graphic nature. On the other hand, “I immediately thought of it as a TV show, the instant I read it,” said Darabont to more audience cheers.
Deviating from the topic slightly, Hardwick asked Darabont about his work writing “Nightmare On Elm Street: Dream Warriors.”
“Me and Chuck Russell…wrote the script in 11 days in a cabin in Big Bear a month before they were supposed to start shooting,” Darabont recalled, saying that once they turned in the script, Russell took over directing as the film actually lacked a director. Turning back to the show and to the zombies that populate “The Walking Dead,” Nicotero said he stumbled across the comic while working on Robert Rodriguez’s “Spy Kids” and was really determined to be as close to the comic as possible when it came to creating the zombie makeup.
“We were really determined to follow the spirit of the artwork and sort of push things a little further — there are contact lenses and prosthetic limbs and that stuff,” said Nicotero, saying that the show also set up a “zombie school” in Atlanta where they audition potential undead. Hurd then revealed that she is one of the zombies on the CDC lawn at the end of Season One.
Touching on the writing side of the show, the creative crew told audience members that this year they have a full writer’s room, and Kirkman confessed there was a little more pressure on the writing staff this year after the response to Season One.
“There is a bit of pressure knowing that everybody loves the show, and there’s an expectation now, because the great thing about the first season is that no one knew what was coming,” said Kirkman, adding, “I can say it just made everyone work harder; it’s empowered us to cross more lines, to do bigger things to tell bigger stories.”
And while the show got picked up for Season Two after the first season’s second episode, Darabont said they did not start planning for the follow-up season until the end of Season One. “But it’s always in the back of your head, it’s always percolating, and the course work is going back and re-reading the comic,” he added.
The panel members then screened the trailer for “The Walking Dead” Season Two. Opening on Shane running from a horde of zombies, the trailer set up what’s to come: with Atlanta uninhabitable, Rick Grimes and the survivors set out on the road, beset by zombies and personal problems that threaten to tear the group apart. Ending on a shot of Hershel Greene’s farmhouse, which was part of the original comic series, the audience cheered as the producer onstage were joined by their cast members: Andrew Lincoln (who plays Rick Grimes), Jon Bernthal (Shane Walsh), Sarah Wayne Callies (Laurie Grimes), Steven Yuen (Glenn), Laurie Holden (Andrea), Jeffery DeMunn (Dale) and Norman Reedus (Daryl).
While all the cast professed their love for the show, Callies confessed she did not know “Walking Dead” was going to be a standout success, but added she hoped it would be a hit while filming because she loved it so much. “I think the great thing about this season is that you start to realize the most dangerous things out there are the monsters inside,” she said.
Complimenting the scripts and his fellow cast mates for their amazing work, Bernthal took it a step further and also thanked the fans sitting in the cramped ballroom. “I think that the ‘Walking Dead’ fans are the best fans in the world — they are the smartest,” Bernthal said before being interrupted by enthusiastic cheering. “You guys are hungry for it, and we want to feed you!”
While some of the cast said they read the comic beforehand, including Yeun, who described himself as a “Walking Dead” comic book fan, not everyone knew about the comic ahead of auditioning.
“Frank called me up and said, ‘Jeff, how would you like to come to Atlanta and kill zombies?'” DeMunn remembered as the audience laughed. He also touched on Dale’s optimism by joking, “Maybe he’s so damn nearsighted he can’t see the trouble he’s in.”
Yeun then described a normal shooting day on “The Walking Dead” for Hardwick and the audience. “You wake up, you do a tick check…” Yeun began before Hardwick interrupted him. A what check?
“You check for ticks,” laughed Yeun. All the actors backed Yeun up, telling the audience that the outdoor sets in Georgia were crawling with the insects. “You check for ticks, you go to work, you take it all in, you sweat your butt off, and then you come home and do another tick check,” Yeun continued, admitting the one time he did not do a tick check he had a tick get into his pants and, as he put it, “crawled over my mountain and planted itself on my peak.” The audience cracked up again as the moderator winced and his co-stars patted him sympathetically on the shoulder.
Norman Reedus, who plays Daryl, the rough, redneck brother of Season One’s white supremacist Merle, said he has a blast playing a redneck and that he even bought a “redneck truck” while in the south. Hardwick then wanted to know what Reedus’ favorite part of shooting was.
“Dude, I run around with a crossbow and shoot zombies in the brain,” Reedus relayed as the audience roared.
Though the entire show revolves around the zombie apocalypse, Kirkman told the audience that if something like that actually happened in real life, he would not be one of the survivors.
“I’d kill myself!” he admitted as panel goers and his fellow panel members laughed. “I think it’s ridiculous for people to say, ‘Oh, I’d get to a school because they’ve got lots of showers and baseball bats, that would be my weapon of choice.’ No you wouldn’t, you’d be someone’s pet! So, yeah, I’d jump off a bridge.”
“But that’s not a head shot,” Hurd scolded, pointing out that Kirkman would return as a zombie. “Read the comic book, learn the rules, Robert,” she added as Kirkman chuckled.
Getting into the show specifics, Darabont said the first new episode picks up about “four seconds” after they drive away from the CDC, and the season continues to follow them chronologically from there. “None of this bullshit ‘six months later’ stuff,” added Darabont.
The panel then opened the floor to questions, Kirkman fielding the first from a fan who wanted to know who they would cast as the Governor, Michonne and Tyrese.
“Ed O’Neil, Ed O’Neil, Ed O’Neil,” joked Kirkman, adding, “And then my second go-to would be John Stamos.” The audience cheered and Kirkman laughed as fans started demanding an “Uncle Jesse zombie!”
“The fair answer is we are actually having those conversations as we speak,” Darabont said after the laughter finally died down. Cast members then told another fan that they mainly do their own stunts, with Darabont adding that directing Lincoln on horseback was his favorite part of the pilot
“When I started the show, they said, ‘We want you to do as much as you feel you are comfortable with’ — and also as much as you feel uncomfortable with — so pretty much all the stunts,” said Lincoln, adding the only stunt he didn’t do was the horse fall in the pilot.
Holden declared herself proud of the bruises and scrapes she received from doing her own stunts. “It’s kind of cool, when you get bruises and cuts its like you’ve earned your day,” she said. “It’s like, ‘Yeah, I’ve done a lot of work today.”
“Now I just have to do the tick check,” added Yuen as the audience cracked up.
Another fan wanted to know what was weirder for Reedus: acting in “The Walking Dead” or in the Lady Gaga video “Judas.” “By far, this is the best and a weirdest,” said Reedus, though he admitted the Lady Gaga video was also “pretty weird.”
An audience member who was an aspiring makeup artist asked Nicotero for his advice on breaking into the industry. “The one thing I always tell everybody is just take really great pictures every time you do makeup, every time you do a sculpture, constantly document what you do,” said Nicotero, urging the young fan to make a portfolio so when he applied for gigs he had work to back it up. Nicotero also said that studying from the masters was the key, citing his own close scrutiny of George Romero’s work.
“I got a phone call from Rick Baker saying by how much he loved the zombies on the show, and I was astounded at such a fantastic compliment,” continued Nicotero, before encouraging the advice-seeking fans to keep practicing and not give up. “If I wasn’t sitting here, I’d be sitting out there,” he added, gesturing to the audience.
Callies and Lincoln also told fans that they were in deep awe of Chandler Riggs, who plays the 8-year-old Carl on “Walking Dead.” “I was brought to tears about how proud I am of him,” said Callies, adding that on set he is the first one to tell everyone good job, accompanied by a fist bump. “He is going to blow your mind this year,” she added.
Another fan wanted to know how the cast emotionally prepare themselves for their roles since instead of being able to latch onto familiar emotions and situations, they have to go out and kill zombies. “I do the Chandler technique and the Jeff DeMunn technique,” said Lincoln, “which is you just turn up, learn your lines and get out of the way, because the words are so cool to say.”
When asked about Rick Grimes’ development over the course of the show, Kirkman told an inquiring fan that he felt Grimes on the TV show and Grimes in the comic were almost two different men.
“It’s gone on for so long that I had the time to add all these little things and do all these horrible things to Rick Grimes, and eventually turn him into the character he becomes,” the creator said. “All I can say is I think the plan is to get there, but that’s not something we can rush. Putting these guys through their paces is a big part of what we want to do with this show.”
Nicotero told another audience member that the fake blood used in the show was made of corn syrup and food dye. While the zombie actors had no problem with the taste of the “blood,” the black paint he uses to coat the inside of the zombies’ mouths tastes disgusting.
“I feel bad for the zombie actors, but that’s the only thing that worked,” laughed Nicotero. “We tried icing, we tried anything we could think of to get that color away, so literally if you walk on set when we have 80 or 100 zombies, there are all these little black puddles on the ground as they spit it out.” He then told the audience they were able to cut the makeup process down to about an hour and a half.
Finally, the panel came to a close as DeMunn said he felt his theatrical background helped him memorize his lines quickly. “The two disciplines feed into each other, that’s the one thing I can say,” he stated, adding, “Also, having done some theatre, it really tunes up the memory, so I don’t have a big problems learning lines. They add an energy to each other.”