The Walking Dead: New York Comic Con 2016
"This premiere is so big that we are doing Talking Dead live from Hollywood Forever Cemetery for 2000 fans..."
—Chris Hardwick, New York Comic Con 2016
I realized a few days ago that New York Comic Con came and went, because The Waking Dead panel was in my YouTube recommended videos. This close to the premiere, and both anticipating and dreading it, I had to watch and be reassured and terrified that out of every unbearable thing that has happened, this moment would be the one to permanently haunt me. That this season would be somehow more unrelenting than ever, if that's even possible. That this unrepentant villain would eventually be the most satisfying to end. And because this is one extraordinarily talented and tight-knit cast that I could listen to all day.
The nervousness I have when watching this series settled into my bones after "Last Day on Earth" was done and never left.
But I didn't expect to be writing about The Walking Dead again so soon, especially since I've hardly ever written about it before. The second Chris Hardwick said, "This premiere is so big..." there was nothing else, as my mind went racing and I just started frantically typing out the most coherent stream of thoughts I've ever had. It certainly is the biggest premiere for me. The Walking Dead has been one of my favorites since the first episode when Rick was starting to understand the new post-apocalyptic world and came upon a crawling walker he had encountered earlier. He went to her, to put her out of her misery, but not before telling her...
"I'm sorry this happened to you."
—Rick Grimes, "Days Gone Bye"
It was so affecting, I posted that scene in A Zombie Show to Love, only my 12th post ever. With those simple, heartfelt words, with the sadness in Andrew Lincoln's eyes, The Walking Dead had a fan for life that could never be lost; and they sure have tried their hardest to make me go away, with all the miseries the characters have suffered.
I haven't talked about The Walking Dead nearly enough, but never for lack of a desire to. It just always starts late in the season, after I'm already writing about other shows. My love for this series has never waned; still, I'm more scared of watching TWD than any other show I've adored, because anyone can go at any time. I always have that feeling about shows, and they sometimes prove me right, but with The Walking Dead it's a surprise when someone survives.
I doubt that there's even a sliver of a cold, dead heart in the despicable Negan, but I can count on the talented Jeffrey Dean Morgan to find a beat in a few small moments.
I have been nervous since season 6 ended, and the closer it gets to the season 7 premiere, the worse I get. I've gotten used to, and even love, cliffhangers. And this was the mother of all cliffhangers, ever. Other shows have done this to me before, to a very intense degree, but the final minutes of "Last Day on Earth" were on another level entirely. The nervousness I have when watching the series settled into my bones after it was done and never left; and the sneak peek I talked about previously made it worse.
Once this series ends, I'll finally be able to breathe again. I don't want it to end, but I want to see someone from the beginning make it, to know things will be okay...or not, or maybe that it was all for nothing. I just want to know...and also I don't, because I'll probably not like the answer, though I'm sure it will be unforgettable. And that's the puzzling thing about loving The Walking Dead. I don't want to know what happens, but I need to know; I don't want the next episode to come, but I can't wait for it either.
It's been one hell of a ride through a terrifying landscape where good people have done brutal things they never imagined, or perished because they couldn't; and where those already built for the chaos unleashed their ruthlessness, loving every moment of their reign. The world is so messed up that a bat-wielding psychopath has a legion of warped followers wrapped around his finger. At least that's what I got from the brief glimpses of a few personalities and the incredible episode "The Same Boat."
At the very least we get incredible, indelible performances out of this amazing group of actors, exceptional writing, and constant change.
Negan must be an effective leader for the Saviors to be so loyal. He obviously delivered on any promises of safety and they won't be swayed against him. Even when they're watching someone being slaughtered in front of them, safety in numbers is a powerful motivator to shut up and go along. It's all they can do to survive, and after a while, whoever they used to be is firmly locked away. Monsters can be created out of ordinary people in extraordinary situations, but maybe we'll see some humanity left in a Savior or two. It would be vital for Rick to get one of them on his side.
But time will tell if Negan has anything left in him resembling humanity. As Jeffrey Dean Morgan said about his character...
"I think the challenge for me in this role is going to be: Is there any heart in Negan? And, for me, I look at that as a challenge as an actor; and that's the kind of thing that I embrace and really look forward to, so I'm super excited about it."
—Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Supernatural PasCon
And that's the kind of thing I always look for and embrace when watching a performance. Giving a character even the smallest spark can be the difference between a fascinating portrayal and one that makes you want to give up on a show. A bad guy who is one hundred percent evil and crazy is no fun to watch. There's a thin line between irredeemable and something recognizable as human. I doubt that there's even a sliver of a cold, dead heart in the despicable Negan, but I can count on the talented Jeffrey Dean Morgan to find a beat in a few small moments, the way David Morrissey did with The Governor.
I've only seen a few minutes of Negan, so all I know is that moment where he was introduced, the worst moment, and some things that I've accidentally read about him from the comic series. There's something colder than ice in those veins, that charisma coupled with a penchant for extreme violence as payback and to keep people in check. It won't be fun, but I won't be able to look away. All-encompassing heartache and devastation is the norm for The Walking Dead and somehow we clamor for more. Well, really, what I would love is for the Atlantans and Alexandrians to win once and for all, no more death, but that's just a dream, isn't it?
At the very least we get incredible, indelible performances out of this amazing group of actors, exceptional writing, and constant change: fleeing from place to place, bringing in new allies and enemies, and presenting the audience with different storytelling techniques so that many episodes feel like a new experience. Though it's always been a hard series to watch, both genuinely harrowing and horrifying, it also feels like a gift, created of blood, sweat and tears by people who are making the best series they can and give everything they have. Our love and loyalty is given in return.
Okay, so apparently I've had some things to say about The Walking Dead that I've been holding back for far too long. And now to actually finish the video since all this writing interrupted that. I'll add my favorite quotes below as I go.
"I feel like every time I run into anyone of the cast members that are working on the show, more than any other season, I'll say, 'How's everything going?' And there's this kind of like, 'It's intense.'"
—Chris Hardwick, NYCC 2016 (04:45)
"I got your glasses now, Cudlitz. Oh, my God, you're fuckin' blind! I'm going to keep these until you know how to act like an adult, sir."
—Chris Hardwick teasing Michael Cudlitz, NYCC 2016 (05:34)
"The performances this year are astounding. The actors this year are the star of the show...which I know sounds counter-intuitive, but Greg does great work."
—Scott M. Gimple, NYCC 2016 (06:38)
As they have always been. I get what he's saying, though. The makeup and effects have always been as much of a star of the show; they allow the world of The Walking Dead to really come to life, and Nicotero has done a spectacular job there. But also, even though the cast has always been exceptional, they were still able to find a way to step up their game even more when someone so vile who changes the so series completely showed up, when someone so important to the group took their last breath, when someone the actors have worked with and lived with, cried with and had incredible performances with had to go. This is a cast that has always given more than anyone could expect of them. Astounding is just the tip of the iceberg, and the fans will soon get to experience that again.
"I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to Andrew Lincoln for all the pain and humiliation I've caused him over the years. The chicken in his trailer was juvenile. The ongoing glitter war was ill-judged. And consistently not knowing any new characters' names or plot lines that Daryl Dixon doesn't happen to be in is, quite simply, unprofessional.
—Norman Reedus reading a letter from Andrew Lincoln, NYCC 2016 (11:40)
That hilarious letter - only part of which I used - will probably be my favorite part of the entire panel. Why? Because in a show with little humor, it's always nice to hear of those moments that the actors have fun behind the scenes and show genuine care for each other.
"It's a weird feeling to be that powerless, when we've always fought to survive and all this stuff. And to just be put on our knees and not – it doesn't look like we're gonna get over that wall. You know what I mean? So, it's a horrible feeling. I hated shooting all of that, to be honest. It was miserable."
—Norman Reedus talking about Negan's introduction, NYCC 2016 (16:01)
I love that Jeffrey Dean Morgan, the one who came in and gleefully upset everything, looked a bit uncomfortable while Norman was talking about how it felt to shoot that scene that came at the end of "Last Day on Earth" and will continue in the 7th season premiere.
"It's an indoctrination process far beyond anything The Governor was doing or any other villain we've met so far."
—Danai Gurira, NYCC 2016 (18:49)
Danai always has eloquent – and long – answers. You really just have to listen to everything she said rather than a random quote.
"I think Negan coming in and flexing his...Barnum & Bailey style justice on these people is kinda his way of letting them know that they were wrong, and it's time to go down a notch or ten."
—Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Hey, easy! He's killing people you love.
—Chris Hardwick, NYCC 2016 (22:29)
But it's Jeffrey Dean Morgan. I totally get it. ;-)
"Negan is unlike any character that I've ever seen, that I've ever seen, certainly that I've ever played; and I've played some dastardly motherfuckers, and they don't hold a candle to Negan. And it is a lot to do with his charisma and kind of how he carries himself, and how he sees not only himself but this world."
—Jeffrey Dean Morgan, NYCC 2016 (23:45)
"I think what Glenn and Maggie have is they're kind of – together they're even better and they're greater. And you see that. You see the strength in Maggie, you see the strength in Glenn. You see the leaps and bounds they're willing to traverse to get back to each other, to get back to that team."
—Steven Yeun, NYCC 2016 (25:44)
Which is why it has to be one, or both, of them. Right, soul-crushing TV show?
"I think he's hurting and he needs love. He needs people. I mean, I've tried to penetrate Rosita..."
—Austin Nichols, NYCC 2016 (36:44)
That whole moment was amazing, because of course the cast and audience started laughing like children at that and everything else Austin said afterward. It was very difficult to not let out squeals of laughter myself to wake my entire family.
And that's where I have to stop for the night, maybe the next two nights. It's already 3AM. Should have been in bed 3 hours ago, since I have work in the morning. Yup, on a Sunday. Fun.
Okay, it's 12PM Sunday. I have a few minutes. Let's do one more for now.
"The thing about it is, if you notice at the end, when he shoots that Savior in order to save Carol, I think one bullet would have done it. But he emptied the clip. So, you better - you know, those people who are begging Morgan to come back to the killer...be careful what you wish for, guys."
— Lenny James, NYCC 2016 (41:40)
Morgan is definitely a man of extremes after his wife and son died. He was trying to keep himself in check, to do what Eastman taught him to bring him back from the brink. He doesn't want to even think about unleashing his rage on someone else, because he knows what he's capable of, and that maybe, just maybe the other person can be saved, no matter how far gone they are. He wants to believe there's hope for everyone, no matter how small, so that he can live with and not be terrified of himself, so he can come back to the man he used to be.
I love at 42:05 when Hardwick called upon Melissa McBride and the crowd started cheering wildly for the next 30 seconds. It was adorable that she got a bit embarrassed and she had tears in her eyes. Carol has had such an evolution and turned out to be the survivor most suited to this world. But I really feared for her life in two situations this season: when she was captured by the Saviors, along with Maggie, and then when she was being pursued by the Savior that Morgan killed.
"Where do you think [Carol's] at emotionally at the end of last season?"
"Well, I think every step she's taken up to this moment has just devastated her to this point. She just needs to get her head together and understand - try to find some sense in how it is that what we have to do is so monstrous in order to survive, and we're becoming the monsters that we're trying to protect ourselves from. Just to make sense of it, to say, "This is the way it is if you want to survive. And now to what end? What is it about this world that makes us wanna survive so much? That's a huge question and it's a cool question. I love that question."
—Melissa McBride, NYCC 2016 (44:20)
Carol went from a loving mother to losing her child. She did an unimaginable thing in killing one child to save another. If not for her, everyone at Terminus would have been slaughtered and eaten. She became cold and distant and uncompromising. She became a skillful, merciless fighter, like Morgan without Eastman. But through all of it, she lost herself. The horror and pain of the things she had done, killing for the people she loved and knowing they would inevitably all fall one by one, piled on until she broke down and realized she needed to leave Alexandria. And McBride was brilliant at every iteration of Carol.
Nicotero had a lot to say about getting to work with the incredible cast and crew of The Walking Dead, but these were my two favorite moments.
"Going through life with these people by my side, it's pretty astounding to grow as an artist with all of these great actors; and we all sort of go through it together."
—Greg Nicotero, NYCC 2016 (45:41)
"For me, some of the most amazing moments were found not where you're gonna expect them when you watch the first episode. There are some unbelievable moments and unbelievable performances that sort of come out of the fog and the haze and the post traumatic stress of the actual moment that I think really set the stage for the entire season."
—Greg Nicotero, NYCC 2016 (46:58)
"I used to think Talking Dead was therapy for Walking Dead. And then I realized I'm actually Walking Dead customer service."
—Chris Hardwick, NYCC 2016 (50:10)
No, Chris, you are definitely a heaping helping of therapy. And insight. So often an actor will come on and explain the mindset of a character (confirming what we thought or giving us something else to ponder) and little details we may have forgotten about what someone has been through. And don't forget the laughter. It's very much a necessity before bedtime, after a depressing hour of TWD, to have the latest victim come on the show, console us over their demise, and crack a joke or two.
"You guys have all been on such a huge journey with us. I'm like..."
—Lauren Cohan, NYCC 2016 (50:59)
I had read in the comments that Lauren Cohan started crying. Didn't expect it to happen so quickly after she started talking, and I'm fearing more than ever for Maggie or Glenn. And Steven didn't look very happy to be there, like he knew he wouldn't be on that stage next year. Please, not either of them. I know what happened in the comics because of unlabeled spoilers in an article I read last season, but there's some hope since there have been deviations before.
"This is larger than our lives. This is larger than our show. This is such a privilege. This is such a great thing. We're so grateful for you guys."
—Lauren Cohan, NYCC 2016 (51:49)
I'm not one of those people that says I'll quit a show if a character dies. I've only actually done that a couple times way in the past because the one person I was there for was the one who left. But the The Walking Dead isn't about just one person, no matter how beloved that character or actor is to us. It's about the group and how they survive. Hard, unexpected, heartbreaking goodbyes have always been a part of that journey. Anyone who quits now, after coming this far, never really had the passion that The Walking Dead deserves.
"I think the thing that sets the show apart from so many other shows is that you guys legitimately give a shit. You care as much about this show and this fandom and this universe as these people here. Like, you're fans of the thing you're working on....
I don't think anyone wants you to ever feel sad, but to see that it means this much to you is like a – it's a really big deal to these fans and to everyone."
—Chris Hardwick to Lauren Cohan, NYCC 2016 (52:22)
This is why Hardwick is the perfect moderator. He asks the questions we want to know the answers to, and he genuinely loves the show and the cast. He'll joke around with the actors one minute and reassure them next, and get fantastic responses in return. I can't see anyone else being host for Talking Dead.
"I could never say how she would have handled it differently. I don't know. It was just - I think that's what's so rare about this episode and what's so rare about what this propels everyone into, because it's so unexpected, jarring, and destabilizing in a bigger way than we've ever had."
—Lauren Cohan, NYCC 2016 (54:13)
"No matter who it is, you guys, I'm sure you understand that you're a part of this family forever; and this is a significant community to be a part of, and you'll never be fully gone."
—Chris Hardwick, NYCC 2016 (55:09)
I'm really going to miss "poor fuckin' Gary." (See 58:17) Joking aside, whoever it is, I'm going to miss them terribly. The Walking Dead does devastating better than anyone.
I also need to watch this Comic-Con panel. It was such a busy summer and I kept putting it off, thinking I would have the chance to watch later.