The unprecedented success of AMC's "The Walking Dead," based on Robert Kirkman's hit Image Comics series, shows that zombies can appeal to a broad audience. But with a crowd primed for horror stories and longform drama primed in character studies, the room at New York Comic Con was packed to bursting. Ahead of Sunday's Season 3 premiere, Andrew Lincoln, Chandler Riggs, Danai Gurira, David Morrissey, Gale Anne Hurd, Glen Mazzara, Michael Rooker, Norman Reedus, and Robert Kirkman took to the stage along with host Chris Hardwick.
The panel began with a clip from the Season 3 premiere, and the crowd cheered as our heroes systematically execute a houseful of zombies—and an owl. The sequence had no dialogue.
"The props department, who all love the show, said there are more zombie kills in this first episode than in the first two seasons combined," Lincoln said. He also recalled, "I walked into the writers room and asked, what do you think Rick's breaking point is? Well, that's the worst thing I could have asked. We find out this season."
Riggs, whose Carl showed no regret in killing zombies in the clip, said "it's nice playing a darker character" and said that there were now almost two sides to his character.
Reedus pointed out his son Mingus in the audience, and indicated it was the boy's birthday. The entire crowd sang him the birthday song, applauding loudly.
Reedus said his character Daryl "feels valuable in his new family, and I think he would do anything to keep them alive."
Gurira said playing Michonne is "like the icing on the cake." "Being a part of ['Walking Dead'] has been a really great time." Hardwick said "next year you're going to start seeing more Michonne cosplay" at the con.
"I think Michonne is a bit of a survivor," Gurira said in response to how her character got to where she is when she joins the story. "She's an intense chick."
On the subject of Michonne's "pets," Gurira said she saw these zombies as "the lower lifeform" and "she's smart, she takes advantage of them."
Morrissey took the mic next to talk about his turn as the Governor. Asked whether he saw the character as evil, the actor said, "Nobody really sees himself that way." Morrissey also praised the character as Kirkman had presented him in the comics. Morrissey said he sees the Governor as offering "a secure place in an insecure world—I like him."
Hardwick suggested Merle is "a jerk," which but Rooker, the actor who plays him said, "I don't think he's a jerk—I think if you lived in this world, you'd think, I want to be behind that guy." Merle in one line: "He's a tough asshole."
Hardwick then opened the floor to questions.
A young fan asked whether "there would be a raid at the prison like in the comic." "We can't answer that!" Kirkman said, adding that there's "cool stuff coming up, you won't be disappointed." Then: "You shouldn't be watching this!" The fan said he was 12.
Another underager asked whether Riggs would like to see another young character, "maybe a girlfriend" for Carl. Riggs said, "I don't want to spoil anything... but Beth is 17, Carl is 13... you might see something there."
Kirkman said that the web series will remain separate from the core show, but continue to tease out the world.
When another youngster came up to the mic, Hardwick said, "Oh, even younger children! Does anybody have a toddler or a fetus we could bring up?" The question involved choise weapons they'd like to use. Riggs suggested the Lancer from "Gears of War," which is unlikely to turn up on "Walking Dead." Rooker wanted a bazooka, while Lincoln picked a flame thrower.
Asked about Daryl Dixon, who does not appear in the comic, Kirkman joked that "because he's not in the comic, I just sort of ignore him whenever he comes on." He said, though, that the TV's additions do bring a whole new element to the story.
"An even younger girl," according to Hardwick, asked Riggs whether Carl wanted to shoot now-Walker Shane. After on-stage jokes about "he slept with your mom," Riggs said he wouldn't have necessarily wanted to do it but realized "you can't continue to live in this world without becoming a man." Hardwick asked whether he would shoot Rick. Answer: Yes, without hesitation.
Reedus said he feels "Daryl has no game, whatsoever, to the degree that if someone made a move on him he'd be like ehhhh [recoiling]."
Asked if viewers would ever find out what "really happened" to Sophia. Kirkman said simply, "she died," before explaining that there were offscreen moments leading up to her fate and these could lend themselves to interpretation.
On the subject of getting to know the characters, Lincoln said that playing Rick Grimes was rewarding for the character's evolution. "Starting from the point where a character wakes up, in the hospital, with no idea what's happened, allows him to find his place in this new world." He said Season 3 would see Rick "go to the dark place." This would also allow the show itself to continue evolving as character dynamics change. "It's just about honoring the story," Lincoln said.
Riggs said he read the scripts for Season 3 and "some of the scenes, I didn't know if I could do it." But Lincoln assured him, "you nailed every single scene."
Asked whether there would ever be a cure, Kirkman said that "it's kind of not important." The zombies, he said, are just a fact of life in the world of the series. "To find a cure, they'd have to go to a lab, and so on, and it would be a very different show. This is just about people living day to day."
Morrissey cautioned against weighing the show against the comic book, because "then you'll be waiting for that scene" rather than enjoying the story for itself. "It's in the spirit of" the comics, he said, but not beholden to them.
Following on this theme, a woman was fiercely booed for asking whether, with Laurie gone in the comics, Rick might strike up a romance with another character. Kirkman reiterated that "certain big events in the comics may happen differently, or not at all."