Comic-Con 2012: The Walking Dead Adds New Survival Skills

One TV property that's tailor-made for Comic-Con is AMC's The Walking Dead. It's based on a comic, it's a drama about zombies, and it's one of the most interesting shows on television right now, and so as you might expect, The Walking Dead is all over the San Diego Convention Center in one shambling form or another. So of course the cast members would be treated like rock stars.

The press room started with a bunch of us lucky reporters sitting around super-tables, tables put together to accommodate the heavy press-access request. Of all the press rooms I have been to over the last few days, this one was by far the most popular and populated of them. And when the doors opened for the cast and producers to come in, we didn't even see them first. We saw their bodyguards. Whoa.

Cast members Andrew Lincoln, Lauren Cohen, Steven Yeun, Laurie Holden, Norman Reedus, David Morrissey, and Danai Gurira all participated, and showrunner Glen Mazzara, producer Gale Anne Hurd, effects guru Greg Nicotero, and producer and comic creator Robert Kirkman represented the crew. It was a full house even without Sarah Wayne Collies, who had a previous engagement in another panel.

The biggest topic of the chat was obviously the addition of The Governor, one of the comic's most notorious villains, played by series newcomer David Morrissey. When Morrissey was announced for the role, I admit I was a bit puzzled, not because I doubted Morrissey's acting ability–he's brilliant–but because I had a firm opinion of who I thought The Governor was from the comics. But after hearing the cast talk about him and just being in Morrissey's presence–the man can command a room–I'm convinced he's the right man for the job and I'm really into this new take on a man who [spoiler]ed Michonne and [spoiler] [spoiler] Rick's [spoiler].

"I can say that he's an amazing Governor," said Holden, who plays sharpshooting Andrea. "He's very unexpected and an incredible departure from the comic book and even better. He's charismatic and villainous and sexy, and everything that we need."

Morrissey was asked about the visual differences between the Governor from the comics, who is almost a dead ringer for Danny Trejo, and the Governor he'll portray on the show, who, for lack of a better description, looks like David Morrissey, which is to say, a fine British gent. Morrissey said he didn't have a conversation with Mazzara and Kirkman about the appearance, and that he thinks the departure was decided upon before he was even cast in the role.

Another recurring theme of the session was this amped up level of survival instinct. The early seasons were about learning how to make it in this world, and it quickly became a case of the fittest living to see tomorrow. This season, only the strongest are still alive because of a "primal" attitude, said Holden. You didn't expect more seasons of the group figuring out where to pitch tents, did you?

"We've all got much thicker skin," she said. "We've all become rather tough. If you're going to live in this world, you have to learn how to survive and acquire certain skill sets. And I think we're all pretty damn good at what we do now. If not, we'd be eaten by zombies. It's fair to say that with a lot of the group, a lot of the people [who were] on the farm, there's a lot more badassery."

A lot of that badassery belongs to The Governor and Michonne, and their inclusion in the series brings things up to another level that, to our zombie-free world, seems like it can only exist in the comic-book world. While we can all get down with the idea of a zombie apocalypse, we also feel stretched when we see Michonne walk into the scene with two armless zombie "pets." It's the kind of thing that could turn people off, but Mazzara says not to worry.

"We have a lot to balance," said Mazzara. "We have the horror, we have the comic-book elements, we want to keep it the show real and grounded. We're lucky enough to have talented writers and producers, and the cast is so smart about the material they get. It's a very collaborative process that brings in checks and balances." In other words, it sounds like they'll tone down some things, but still keep the spirit of the comics intact as much as they can. I'm very interested to see the reaction of viewers who haven't read the comics, because things get very crazy and require a little more faith to enjoy than they did earlier in the story. (At least there was no Dale-Andrea relationship in the show. Now THAT was unbelievable!)

The subject of Lori hate campaigns came up, and Hurd said that it's simply a very vocal minority, something like hundreds out of the millions that watch the show. I'm not sure I agree with her and think a much higher percentage has a strong dislike for Lori's character because or poor parenting and driving skills, but whatevs.

When Lincoln talked about Rick, he did so with such passion that the two almost seemed to fuse. "He's sick and tired of people dragging their heels," said Lincoln. "He's gone through the 48 hours since the killing of Shane. He's had to kill his own best friend for this group of people. He's furious. And he's conflicted. And that's human. The great thing about this character, I don't see him as a superhero at all. The great thing about the graphic novels that really intrigued me is the central character that began in one place–he's a sheriff, a perfect embodiment of law and order–and he just gets thrown into this leadership role and he has to make all the hard decisions. Some of them are wrong, and some of them are bad, and some of them are great. And that's the fascinating thing, is that you are still rooting for this guy who hasn't made the best decisions, and yet you still feel this allegiance because he's driven by a moral center."

It's not often that a show switches showrunners in the middle of the season, and it's certainly not normal for a show that does that to take off creatively like The Walking Dead did in Season 2 when Mazzara took over for Frank Darabont halfway through the season. I asked Kirkman about the change, and what Mazzara brings that Darabont didn't.

"The second half of the second season was a very good indication of Glen's style," Kirkman said. "That really ramped up in a cool way and was a muchmore fast paced and was a little more gritty, and that definitely continues into Season 3. Bringing his sensibility from The Shield over into this show has been a tremendous benefit to it."

Yuen later gave a really great answer about how the show has become a big success. "It seems like it's a zeitgeist that an apocalypse could be imminent, it could be 2012 or the financial crisis and all these wars and stuff like that," he said. "Because of that, I think it's really cool for people to watch and identify with these characters, and that's the thing that keeps our show going as well, in terms of popularity. You understand an apocalypse might happen, but then you go, 'Who would I be? Would I be Daryl, would I be Rick, would I be Shane, would I be Glen, would I be Maggie.' To show all different facets of that, that's very interesting and I think that's what keeps people coming back to the show."

And come back we will, on October 16 when Season 3 premieres.


– Mazzara, Hurd, and Reedus all agreed that a crossbow is still the coolest zombie apocalypse weapon, and is way more preferable than Michonne's katanas. Really? What happens when you run out of arrows, huh?

– Kirkman almost decided to kill off Rick instead of Shane in the comics!

– Reedus described Daryl as a "wet coyote in an alley." He also wore sunglasses for most of the session, which made him even cooler than he already is.

– Mazzara said he looks at the 16-episode Season 3, which will be split into two halves like last season, as "16 season finales in a row."

Psst! Check out our complete Comic-Con coverage for the latest news, photos, and more.

Follow writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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