AMC‘s “The Walking Dead” took over Madison Square Garden on Friday for what will go down in history as one of — if not the — biggest event in New York Comic Con history. There had never before been a television premiere at the iconic venue, and with free tickets to an advance peek at the biggest show on TV, it was a capacity crowd. It was also an odd one — a mix of Hollywood VIP dresses, cosplaying fans, and people in full zombie garb. Dressed up or dead, everyone was treated to an electric, unique experience.
“Talking Dead” host Chris Hardwick, unable to attend the event, delivered a video message thanking the crowd and welcoming superfan and frequent “Talking” guest Yvette Nicole Brown as the night’s emcee. Irone Singleton, who played beloved character T-Dog, was also in the crowd, awarding the best cosplayers with front row seats and a chance to interact with the cast on stage.
Brown welcomed the series’ executive producers, who thanked the fans as well as the crew who make the show what it is. Taking up a good fourth of the floor seats, the crew members stood to grand applause. Robert Kirkman received the most cheers as he took the mic, promising, “This is only the beginning of the most intense season of ‘The Walking Dead.’ No one is safe,” he went on as the crowd expressed their disapproval. “Go on, boo! It’s still gonna happen! Who’s your favorite? They’ll go first.”
With that, he introduced the Season 6 premiere. No spoilers (questions directly regarding the episode have also been excluded), but with a number of recognizable new characters, and more than a few things viewers have never seen on the show before, it was an immensely satisfying episode. Of course, you’ll probably never see a better episode of “The Walking Dead” than the one you watched with a full house at Madison Square Garden.
After the screening, Brown welcomed on nearly the entire “TWD” cast: Andrew Lincoln (Rick), Steven Yeun (Glenn), Chandler Riggs (Carl), Norman Reedus (Daryl), Melissa McBride (Carrol), Lauren Cohan (Maggie), Danai Gurira (Michonne), Sonequa Martin-Green (Sasha), Alanna Masterson (Tara), Michael Cudlitz (Abraham), Josh McDermitt (Eugene), Christian Serratos (Rosita), and Seth Gilliam (Father Gabriel). With everyone dressed to the nines, Gurira had short hair, Cudlitz was in full Irish formal wear, and Reedus rode a motorcycle up the center aisle and onto a ramp to the stage.
Brown first addressed Lincoln, who said, “I just want to say, ‘Hello, Madison Square Garden!’ Because I’ve always wanted to say that. This is unbelievable. I’m dressed like a penguin looking at 15,000 people.” Brown asked the sharp dressed man if filming the Season 6 premiere was as epic as the episode itself. “The most annoying part of this epic episode was Norman Reedus arriving late, getting changed and his pants off just before coming on set, getting on his bike, and then actually stealing the coolest shot of the whole episode.” Reedus rejoined, “I was late! They put one of the crew members in my outfit, and I ran up and got naked and I was like, ‘Bring that bike back here!'” Brown thanked him for the visual, as did the crowd.
Brown turned to ask Masterson, asking what it was like filming in the Atlanta heat while pregnant. “Well, women are invincible, that’s for sure,” Masterson said. “And you know, my mom had a ton of kids, and she worked all the way up till they were due, so I don’t have any excuses,” she said, receiving cheers from the audience.
Cudlitz was then asked if he thinks Abraham had finally lost it. “Has Abraham lost it?” he repeated, and then used his kilt to reenact Sharon Stone’s infamous interrogation scene from “Basic Instinct,” drawing immense laughs. “I don’t know,” he said coyly.
When Reedus was asked what he wanted to say to the fans, he looked around and said simply, “What’s up?” He then asked the crowd to simultaneously wish happy birthday to his son, Mingus, who was sitting in the crowd. The whole of MSG did so with enthusiasm.
On a show-related note, Brown asked how Daryl’s mind had changed regarding bringing new people into Alexandria. He said doing so was all about staying vigilant. “Once you give up that part of yourself, you stop the fight. These people on this cast have made him find his self worth in himself, and he’s still searching for it.”
The next question went to Yeun, who was asked why Glenn gave Nicholas a second chance. He complimented the actor, Michael Traynor, and said, “It’s a very complex moment. It’s a moment where he saw a bit of himself in him and he didn’t think that it would be right to end it there when he had a second chance himself.” The cast then pointed out Traynor in the audience, who stood up to cheers. “I will say this,” Brown joked, “Love the actor. Hate the character.”
When she then turned to Gilliam, the crowd booed. Gilliam stood up and yelled, “Bring it on! Bring it on!” but Brown cut off the jeers. “No, no, no! Let me explain something to all of you in here. This is Seth Gilliam. This is not Father David. We will respect the actors on this stage!” The boos gave way to applause. Unfortunately, his question was too spoilery to recount here.
Asked about playing a well-rounded woman like Rosita, Serratos said, “I love that about our show. All the characters, all the women are very well rounded, very strong, and very capable. And also, everyone’s very human which is a reason I think people bond well with the show. You guys are each one of us; you can find someone to relate to.” Playing another strong female, McBride was asked about a particular scene in the premiere, and without giving away anything, she replied, “The writing is just so simple. It’s so perfect. What else needs to be said? What else could she say, really?”
Brown expressed disapproval of Carl’s relationship with Enid, but Riggs defended it. “For Carl, there’s not that many people outside of his group that he can relate to in Alexandria. For him, he sees Enid as the one person in Alexandria that he can relate to that knows what it’s like out there.” Lincoln joked that Riggs now has the deepest voice in the cast. That led to Brown bringing up childhood pictures of Lincoln, Reedus and Yeun on the big screen.
The first celebrity video question came next, and Simon Pegg appeared on screen from the “Star Trek Beyond” set. He called Carol his favorite character and applauded them for never using “the Zed word.” He wanted to know the cast members’ favorite non-ballistic weapon, and Masterson said an axe.
The cast then played a Family Feud style game, men versus women. The teams were lopsided, even after Cudlitz tried to even them out with his kilt. Instead, Brown called out Emily Kinney (Beth) to be the ladies’ team captain. Questions revolved around fans’ favorite moments from the show. The favorite quote was “Carl!” (“look at the flowers” and “dolphin smooth” also made the list), while the best way to know if Rick is mad at you was, “He bites your throat out” (“he kisses your wife” and “he kills you with a red-handled machete” were also listed). After the men won the game, a hilarious blooper reel was shown featuring a walker accidentally opening a door while banging on it and Lincoln punching a hole in a wall.
The next question came from a fan standing with Chad L. Coleman, Tyreese from the show. Dressed as Daryl, she asked Lincoln what would be different if Shane were still alive. While he contemplated an answer, Shane himself, Jon Bernthal, appeared on stage to the surprise of everyone. They all rushed to hug him, beaming. “Things have changed since back in the day,” he said. “Ya’ll in tuxes and shit.” He went on, “It’s an unbelievable honor for me to be up here with some of the people that mean more to me than anyone else in this world. I have so much love for the people on this stage, and the talent and the dedication and the heart that goes into the greatest mother fucking show that ever was.”
James Corden then appeared on the big screen to joke about his time working with Lincoln on “Teachers” and ask Riggs if Carl will ever find another giant can of pudding. “God, I hope not,” laughed Riggs. “I couldn’t eat anything after that.”
Appropriately for the legendary MSG, Brown then announced the first-ever Walking Dead Hall of Fame inductee. Scott Wilson was awarded the honor for his role as Hershel Greene, and presented with a beautiful glass trophy. Before his acceptance speech, however, David Morrissey came onto the screen to claim The Governor should’ve been given the award. “In all seriousness, Scott,” he said, “it was a pleasure beheading you. Congratulations!”
“Can you believe being inducted into the Walking Dead Hall of Fame with a packed house at Madison Square Garden? I mean, really. Don’t wake me up,” Wilson said “I’m living the dream, and I love it.” He then showered praise on his co-stars and crew. “I love you guys, you’re family, and I can’t wait to see you guys kill it this season.”
J.B. Smoove and Kal Penn wished the cast their best via the big screen, after which Brown brought some Alexandria residents to the stage: Tovah Feldshuh (Deanna), Austin Nichols (Spencer), Ross Marquand (Aaron), Alexandra Breckenridge (Jessie), and Lennie James (Morgan), who received by far the loudest welcome. James was asked how well Morgan really knows Rick. “I don’t know, actually. I think we’re about to find out in Season 6. I do think going into it that Rick is the last person on Earth who knows who Morgan is, and Morgan was the first person to explain this strange zombie apocalypse to Rick. So they have a connection. How long it will last, you’ll have to watch and see.”
Breckenridge was asked about where Jessie is at the start of the season. “She’s a mess. She just saw her husband, the father of her children die. And I think she’s just trying to find her strength moving forward so she can protect her family.”
Asked if he could imagine his character and Sasha getting together, Nichols responded, “I think Spencer would be a lucky man.” Brown asked Marquand if Aaron might regret bringing Rick’s crew into Alexandria. “I don’t think so,” he answered. “I think he wants everyone to live harmoniously at the end of the day. There’s been some struggles, but Rick’s doing the best he can given the circumstances he’s lived through.”
Brown then asked Marquand to do some impressions while recounting his experiences during Season 6. He delivered a weak Brad Pitt and a pretty spectacular Matthew McConaughey and Harrison Ford, but when Brown asked if he could do Michael Rooker, Marquand said it was too tough. Luckily, Rooker himself was on hand to help him out. He entered from backstage, and tried to mold Marquand’s mouth into the right shape. “I don’t know where your fingers have been!” Marquand protested.
Finally, Brown asked for a giant selfie with the crowd and the entire cast, with everyone in the audience also taking the picture, leading to what may have been the record for the most simultaneous selfies ever taken. It’s just one of many memories those in attendance for this epic fan experience will have recall every time they sit down for a new episode of “The Walking Dead.” And as Brown announced before sending everyone home elated, the mid-season premiere of the show will be Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2016.
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