Fan Expo Canada saw massive line-ups starting in the wee hours of the morning as fans got ready for a special panel starring the cast of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” Laurie Holden (Andrea), Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon), Steven Yeun (Glenn) and Michael Rooker (Merle Dixon) entered the packed theater to discuss on-set experience and tease developments for season four.
The turn out was not only huge, but also very loud, reflecting the huge success of the show. “When we started out we only had six episodes that’s all. We didn’t know where we are going,” Rooker said. “It was a T.V. show about zombies and the zombie genre was popular for a long time. I didn’t really expect anyone to like it.”
The opening topic was understandably the unforgettable finale of season three: an epic story line in which Andrea finds herself in a tight situation with very few options.
“Not only was the character Andrea dying but I was leaving the show,” Holden said. “I was saying goodbye to my friends and people who had become my family. So, it was a very emotional time for all of us.”
Michael Rooker’s Merle Dixon also left the show during season three. Rooker is a seasoned veteran of resurrection on “The Walking Dead,” coming back both as a ghost to Daryl and later resurrected by the Governor as a new type of hero. His final appearance saw his reanimated corpse bludgeoned through the skull multiple times by his brother, Daryl.
“Thank you for praying for Merle,” Rooker said to audience cheers. Outspoken and loud, he quickly became the most colorful character on the panel. Rooker explained he had to “kick Reedus in the crotch” to get such a powerful emotion out of him.
“We’re all like a tight family. We really, really like each other so it just sucks,” Reedus said about the scene. “I like Michael a lot … I like Laurie a lot. I’m a baby,” he said, hiding behind sunglasses and a baseball cap.
Yeun’s character Glenn went through some maddening events over the last season, and the actor teased possible developments for his character moving forward — and whether he might just go crazy from the stress of his post-apocalyptic life.
“I think this season he’s going to start cooking meth,” Yeun joked. “No seriously, it’s been fun to play Glenn. It’s fun to play his downs and his ups. I know he’s never gone too far to the other side but he dabbles in some trouble somehow.”
Although the panel was primarily focused on “The Walking Dead,” Rooker also discussed his role as Yondu in James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” film, due out in August 2014, and the differences between television and film.
“I’m an inter-galactic guy and my skin is the color of my lovely eyes,” Rooker said. “It’s a great thing working on a film. On a T.V. set, you’re working everyday and it’s like long. T.V. people — how do you do it? It’s just brutal. [On ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’] I come in, I hang out, I have coffee. I chill out and [say,] ‘Hm, I think I’m going to work today,'” he joked, as the audience laughed.
Considering “The Walking Dead’s” success among female audiences, Holden spoke about the strength of the show’s female characters.
“What I like about ‘The Walking Dead’ is all of the women are awesome,” Holden said. “Everybody has a different strength: Maggie’s got chutzpah and Michonne is not only a warrior but she has soul. Maybe I’m a little bias because I was her best friend. Carol, I love how she is transformed from being a kind of grieving widow into a really strong woman with fire.
“I hope that this wave continues, I don’t see why it wouldn’t because there’s a lot of strong women on television,” Holden continued. “I think that women like to see women do well.”
The cast is currently shooting season four and they are about mid-way through, but the actors were tight-lipped as to any spoilers.
“I feel so bad,” Yeun said. “You guys waiting in line to hear that we can’t tell you anything. But, if you guys believe me right now, this season is going to be awesome. The scripts that we are getting are at a whole other level. Norman, Andy [Lincoln] and I — we all just sit down and just talk about what we are reading and I think this season is going to show you things that you have never seen before. It’s going to tell you things you didn’t think of before. Get pumped.”
The uncertain nature of “The Walking Dead” is one of the major elements that drive the show forward. It’s very difficult for audiences to determine in advance which characters will survive in any given episode. With their character recently killed off, Holden and Rooker discussed the nature of death on the series.
“I think that killing off characters is fine as long as it serves the story. I mean “The Walking Dead” is an apocalypse, it is the end of days so obviously people are going to be eaten by zombies,” Holden said. “But I think if it’s just for shock value that’s really cheap.”
“I don’t think it’s a matter of seeing a character die,” Rooker added. “It’s the way you play your role. If you walk around, tiptoeing around set, avoiding every director and writer on the set ’cause you’re afraid if you dick with them, you’re going to die. You know, screw that, you don’t do a show like that. Just to be doing it, to keep your talent on edge like that, you can take that and — uh, you know where you can shove it.”
The audience naturally had questions for the cast about their favorite story line from “The Walking Dead” comic book series, and whether or not they were bothered by a lack of continuity between the book and show.
Rooker said he wanted the show to have “more sex,” which immediately set the audience cheering.
“The graphic novel is filled with people desperate for love and desperate for any kind of human connection. I mean you, God,” Rooker said, looking toward Yeun. “You’re an amazing hero.”
Yeun admitted he just tried to make it all work. “I had an idea in my head about what I thought Glenn was going to be like,” he said. “Which is just a young man, growing up in a weird world and I’m just trying to play that.”
“Your character is fairly close,” Holden said to Yeun. “I wish I could have been a writer on the show because it would have been very different,” she said. “The Governor would be dead by now. [The] writers have creative license and they do things to keep it interesting. I loved every moment working on that show, I loved the character of Andrea. I wish that I had been like in the comics and been able to end up with Rick in the end and to have been that killer sharp shooter.
“But I don’t write the stuff and it was someone decision to go that direction and you just do the best job you can,” she said. “It’s just a different medium. You just embrace what they write.”
Reedus reminisced about his first day on set when he filmed the scene where he tracks a deer and meets his first zombie. He said right before they shot that scene, he was shaking the zombie’s hand. Not much later he was shooting him in the head. “That was my first day,” he said.
“You get used to it,” Reedus said about the gore. “It’s the dying lost person behind that monster that’s creepy.”
Rooker discussed a few of his most memorable moments on set as Merle Dixon, including a moment that many fans will likely remember.
“Shooting Dale in the head sucked,” Rooker said. “There’s so many. Everyday something happens. Some of my most favorite memories are not actually involved in filming, it’s when we’re messing around down by our trailers and stuff. It’s like way down in the sticks in Georgia and it’s kind of our own little bubble. So they don’t have agents and managers and people peaking over our shoulder it’s just our own little world.”
Holden’s most memorable moment was when Rick found out about the death of his wife. Multiple cast members noted Andrew Lincoln “killed it.”
Although Rooker and Holden’s characters are no longer among the living, “The Walking Dead” has seen characters return for flashback sequences — something that Holden didn’t feel would be entirely appropriate for Andrea.
“I think the ghost thing has been done,” Holden said. “I feel like Andrea died with grace and that story has been completed.”
Audience questions also drew attention to Norman Reedus’ growing Internet fame for portraying one of the most popular characters on the show.
“It’s terrifying at times,” Reedus said. “Everyone has a computer. Everyone seems to know what I’m up to. It’s sort of overwhelming. In a sense, it shows Twitter’s gotten weird, Instagram’s gotten weird, you guys have gotten weird,” he rambled. “Sometimes I just want to shut it all off, to be honest.”
“But you never do,” Holden said.
“I know but sometimes I want to shut it all off,” Reedus said. “I just want to disappear from it. I just want everybody to get along. I try and be friends with everybody and reach out.”
Winding down, Reedus called a ten-year-old dressed as Daryl Dixon on to the stage, who brought a friend dressed as Merle. The young duo snapped a photo with their real-world counterparts, bringing “The Walking Dead” panel to a close.