SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 20:  (L-R) Greg Nicotero, Andrew Lincoln, Danai Gurira, Angela Kang, Lauren Cohan, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Norman Reedus attend The Walking Dead Press Conference during Comic Con 2018 on July 20, 2018 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for AMC)

The Walking Dead | SDCC 2018 | Press Conference

By: Karen Kennedy Rutledge
AMC TWD press scifi SDCC2018 season 9

Ever participated in a San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) press conference roundtable? Me neither, but I do get to serve up some deets from an audio recording of this year’s session with cast and crew members from The Walking Dead. For sharing purposes, exchanges are paraphrased with specific quotes noted when possible. Getty Images photos from the larger panel discussion moderated by Yvette Nicole Brown are sprinkled in along with some AMC Season 8 and 9 snaps for your viewing pleasure.

The beginning was a bit jumbled as they arrived in two groups, one a few minutes after the other. Nevertheless, they were engaging, insightful and, at times, hilarious. Those who arrived first spent a few minutes chatting with the attendees to fill the time.

Andy Lincoln

Lincoln totally stole the show, kicking things off with a witty remark. “This is kind of nice. It’s such a relief to not have Norman Reedus here.”  Cue large laughs.

On to specific questions, the first one got to the heart of the matter – the announced departure of Lincoln who plays Rick Grimes. Andy was appropriately cheeky.

Is there a way for a character to leave this world without being killed off and would you want that for Rick’s exit?

“I think Lenny James is the perfect example of leaving without dying and doing rather well on it. I just saw him about five minutes ago and he looks incredibly healthy. He looks terrific.” The other way, we’ve done quite a lot. Obviously I’m not telling you which way I’ll be leaving but I prefer the way Lenny did it. What we have in store this season is truly remarkable and I’m very proud of the work we’ve done.

 “I’m going to miss you.”

It hit me at the end of the panel a little bit. “I got kind of choked up.” I’ve been coming here for nine (9) years and I love this place and I love seeing the fans. You’ve been such a vital part of this experience. “As I’ve said, my relationship with Mr. Grimes is far from over.”

We got a hint of the Whisperers.

I can’t tell you anything about that. I have explicit instructions – step away from the mic.

Others chimed in to express pride in the Season 9 trailer released at SDCC. We wanted to show you how the show has been reinvented. It’s a heavy, heavy responsibility. We get to see Washington, DC in that shot of Rick on horseback, bashing walkers. With the new characters and Whisperer tease, it’s one of the most exciting times with many new elements – threats, timelines, interpersonal issues and character combinations. We’ve seen these characters with great chemistry for years but we haven’t seen them in this way. For Season 9, the level of collaboration and dedication was phenomenal. The cast put in hours of rehearsal, working on scenes well in advance, wanting it to still be great for you. We were always on the phone talking about scenes.

Lincoln chose to give the absent Reedus a compliment. “I came to America work with actors like him…He’s the Steve McQueen I’ll never be.”

It was a privilege working with him and all my favorites, a real thrill. “As a farewell, it was the greatest present I could have got.”

When Reedus entered the room, another Lincoln comment drew uproarious laughter and applause. “He’s a piece of shit and I’ve never liked him!”  As others entered, the banter continued and there was a tussle over seats before the questions for Lincoln resumed.

How was the decision made to announce your departure?

Ask Robert Kirkman. Obviously I would have loved not to tell anybody it was happening. Once the story was out, we decided to speak directly to fans first, rather than through the press.

Cast and Crew
Will a character lose a hand?

Angela Kang answered “You’ll have to watch to find out.” Others spoke up with various responses including a reference to possessing someone else’s hand and losing it as opposed to someone losing their own.

What was in Michonne’s letter from Carl?

Danai Gurira responded it feels personal to share. I wrote what I thought Carl would say to Michonne and that’s what you saw me reading. Some of the things were remembering certain moments together, her strength, what she’s done for Rick, Terminus, and that he needs her to be there for Rick. There were parallels in his letters that brought us to the same place. He talked us into the next phase of our lives.

Back to Lincoln for a question from Morgan Jeffery who drew flack from Jeffrey Dean Morgan for not having a question for him. Huge laughs at Morgan Jeffery’s expense – sorry, dude!

How long have you been considering your departure and how did you prepare?

Lincoln responded that he had been thinking about it for nine (9) years! He and Gimple began discussing in Season 4 – “a shape and finding some way to complete something that was never going to be completed” without disturbing the mothership. The story has always been about a man waking up and seeing the world from his perspective. What’s exciting is that it freed up the narrative. It’s the show I’d always envisioned from the Pilot wrap. “It was something I started to think about as my children got older and less portable.”

Once the decision was made, were creative and performance changes made for Rick, like bigger, bolder stunts?

Lincoln responded, “Well, they put us on horses.” We just told and continued the best story possible. It’s been exciting and an extraordinary collaboration. It feels free again. Performances were more nuanced with the time jump and fragmented history. “I’ve loved this season.” I was really gonna do a terrible big spoiler there so let’s move on.

Danai said the best way to honor Rick and Andrew was to stay true to telling a really honest story. Angela helped us find  new connections between characters. There was no need to go to some big bold place out of realm of the tone Andrew and Lenny set in the Pilot.

For Lauren Cohan, what can you tell us about Daryl, Maggie and Rick’s strained relationship in Season 9?

They have very different feelings but are still family. It’s been a pleasure to have the chance to go deep into scenes.

For Jeffrey Dean Morgan, based on Negan’s personality and how others feel about him, do you think he can be rehabilitated and function in society?

“I can’t say we’ve shot anything near like that.” We’re going to find out there’s a very different side of Negan quickly in Season 9. It will be a growing period with him trying to figure out how not to go crazy. You’ll see him interact with different people, some of them up on this stage. That’s a thrill for me. “I think there is redemption to be had for Negan whether or not we see that.”

After a busy day killing zombies, with blood and guts, do you guys go home and cook?

Various responses included:

  • Andy, Norman and I eat Indian food a lot.
  • I’m so tired, I just go to bed and wake up with the sheets covered in dirt and blood.
For other cast members, with Andrew leaving this season, how do you feel about taking on larger roles?

Reedus commented that, like Danai said, to stay true to Rick, we’re telling the story in a very real way. This is a very female-driven season with less bravado and I love it. It feels like physically shooting “a Western, with feeling.” Everyone’s playing the same characters. It’s not possible to take Rick’s place in the story.

Cohan said, there’s the obvious time jump, how things have changed and stayed the same and the introduction of new characters but, “It’s the show you know, but…” Oops, she almost shared a spoiler.

What were your thoughts filming the season finale final scene knowing your characters were going to turn on Rick?

Lauren shouted out, “Whoa!” Norman said we definitely felt it but didn’t know where we were going next with it.

Greg responded as the director, recapping where we left Maggie at the end of the season. They made a deal at the beginning of the finale that Negan was done, they were gonna kill him. So, when Rick spared his life, Maggie broke down from the sheer pain of all that Negan had done, his killing Glenn and the pain he had inflicted on everyone. “So, Maggie felt betrayed.” As the camera zoomed in, you saw her thinking, I’ll bide my time but that’s not what we agreed to, I’m not down with that. “Then Daryl stepped out of the shadows and said, ‘Yeah, I’m not down with that either.'”

In the trailer, you saw Maggie harkening back to last season when Rick said, “One of these days I’m going to be following you.” Then she called him out, saying you’re not letting me lead. Watch the trailer 60 times and you’ll find answers to a lot of questions! There’s information there as to where the characters are emotionally in the story. They’re still friends but that doesn’t mean they like the decisions others made.

Danai said there’s a new type of tension between the characters, it’s more fraught because it’s people who love each other. They want to be on the same page but really, really aren’t. It’s a family feud so in some ways it’s much scarier, volatile and dangerous.

Kirkman has said that it is not a Rick dream, but when we see Rick at the tree in the finale, both panes of glass are intact. Is there any chance that Negan hit Rick with the bullet and now we’re going in to hallucinations?

That’s an awesome question, but, no. A little of that glass was broken. We’ve seen a lot of Rick looking back but this season is real.

For Scott and Angela, there are fewer characters in the recently-released key art. Is that an indication that the story is going to narrow to focus on those characters?

Angela responded that there were some really exciting Season 9 opportunities to feature the core cast with their deep relationships that have developed over years and years. When you see any of the actors on screen together, there’s an instant emotional history with these characters. As the leaders, they are tackling the big question of how – how do you move on from a war, how do you rebuild civilization, how do you really move forward when you fundamentally disagree on important topics? The scope is still huge and epic. “The art direction alone just blows me away.” We continue telling everyone’s story but you will see a lot more screen time for Daryl and Carol, Rick and Maggie, Michonne and Rick and deep dives into some interesting triangulations with a lot of emotional weight.

Will we see a back story for Negan?

From Morgan: Yes, it’s awesome. From Nicotero: No.

Morgan went on to say I hope so, we’ve all talked about it. By all, I mean me, with myself. It turned out great, the back story, a standalone feature. There’s a lot of material but that’s an Angela, Scott, Greg thing.

How would you approach it?

How would I, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, approach it? “Happily!” There’s a bunch of source material and we’re finding out slivers here and there. It would be fun to go back and find out why he is this guy and about other characters as well. What Angela has in front of us about all of us together is what makes this show great. We may tell more of Negan’s story but I’m happy either way. “We’re telling our story and that’s what’s important. There’s truth in it. Cool? Goodnight, everybody.” Cue the laughs.

For Angela, or anybody, will we ever find out what’s happened to Heath?

Angela responded that “We may” then kicked it over to Scott who said the best answer is, “Yes, if circumstances play out right. It might not be on The Walking Dead or even Fear of the Walking Dead.” Corey Hawkins is an amazing actor. We only had him for a short time and now he’s a movie star. We want to work with him again. The way his character left the show, there’s a story there for that character with a lot of flexibility built in.

For Greg, we have casting news about Alpha, what about Beta?

We talked a little bit about the trailer today. We’ve seen Alpha and it’s probably safe to say that “Beta will be close behind.” Right now we’re concentrating on the new characters you saw in the trailer and those coming subsequently. “I think Andy Lincoln is going to play Beta, actually.” There’s your spoiler! More uproarious laughter.

For Norman, what can you say about Daryl and Carol’s relationship in Season 9? I know there are fans who ship it but anything in general you can tell us, like how does it evolve?

Those two characters are so similar. “They go on a journey that’s not about them, basically.” They interact with each other but it goes down a rabbit hole to something else. They’re constantly doing favors but not without the other doing a favor in return. There’s a really sweet heartfelt moment. It’s one of my favorite things we shot this season. “Those two will forever have each other’s backs.” I’m glad we played it real. No making out behind the bushes. She and all these guys are my best friends. She’s an amazing actress, super talented. “You can’t go wrong if you’re in a scene with her.”

Lincoln talked about Daryl and Carol’s scene in the Pilot. “It was so good.”

For Andy, can you talk about your favorite moment of Michonne and Rick’s relationship and what can we look forward to for them in Season 9?

We touched upon it, on the combinations of characters and the time jump. It’s interesting that there’s been almost two (2) years of peace since the end of the war and that has changed their dynamic, their relationship. For me, some of my most satisfying scenes with Michonne have been this season just because they’re much deeper, more grounded. “It’s just in that new phase of a loving relationship and there’s so much knowledge of one another in it.” Usually once a season I’ll drive home happy with the day’s work but, in the last two weeks of my filming, I drove happy four (4) times. “I couldn’t believe it. That’s because I got to do scenes with all of these guys here and Melissa McBride, and a few other surprises.” It’s the reason I became an actor and came to America, to work with people like these people here.  “We don’t get actors like this in Europe.” I’m not joking. There’s an ambition, a desire to keep changing, keep pushing themselves, that I have learned from in the nine (9) years I’ve been working people like this. I love this relationship and Sarah Wayne Kelly said the death of the relationships of the characters is the one you regret. That’s the bit that I’m in shock about at the moment, still numb. It was some great stuff we got to do.

For Danai, what’s tougher for you, saying goodbye to Andrew  Lincoln in The Walking Dead or to Chadwick Boseman?

Wow, wow. Well, all I can say is that’s its own thing. Someone chimed in and asked, “Are you saying Thanos was not succesful?” and she replied, “I’m not saying anything!”  I can actually not speak anymore, being part of these two franchises.

About Andy, I truly believe he is the best leading man on television and his leadership has made us all better. His character, discipline, heart, generosity, kindness have really paved a path for all of us to understand how to carry on without him. The pain is very real but “he has so equipped us to carry on which is what a great leader does.” I couldn’t be thankful enough for the time I’ve gotten to work with him, learn from him and understand him. It’s been a true joy to get to explore my character’s growth in connection with Rick from the moment she meets him. She saves his ass a bunch! She sees the goodness, the strength and the power in this man and how he takes on what he has to with no ego or pride. Michonne respects that so much. I loved how we got to be even more nuanced in Season 9. We could find a time of peace and moments that we hadn’t been able to explore before. I’m excited for y’all to see that. It’s all heartbreaking but this one is a special type, the biggest one yet. “It’s been an honor, sir.”

For everyone, what was your most challenging moment? There have been so emotionally-charged scenes.

Cohan said for her it was Glenn’s death. Maggie was in shock and in so much pain. But that makes great television – great theatrical tragedies, the absolute depth of emotion. It was a gift. There’s no better people to go there with, it’s been very special.

Reedus recalled Season 8 Episode 4. It was epic and we fine-tuned it to a place where it became effortless. It could have gone in so many different directions.

Gurira said hers was from Season 9 so she can’t share yet. Weather got in the way of some of my intense scenes that required all of me in an emotive way. I was ready each time and then had to hold on to it for a couple of days until the weather broke. Then I had a weird physical response to having released it. It was a different and challenging journey.

Morgan closed the session by going back to the introduction of Negan. It was technically and physically a thing and it was also my first time to meet this cast. It was a helluva way to meet a group of people who are so tight and close, to be thrown into The Walking Dead world by taking out two (2) of their friends. I just hoped that I would be accepted by them. This season I’ve gotten to do some stuff that we’ve not seen Negan do, things that I’m excited for people to see. It was hard to play, challenging and super cool.

Season 9 Extended Trailer

In case you missed it, here’s the trailer released at SDCC, the one you need to watch 60 times. It may be THE best TV series season trailer I’ve seen. What do you think?

AMC’s The Walking Dead returns October 7, 2018. Who will be watching?

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