We got the opportunity to attend The Walking Dead press conference at San Diego Comic-Con attended by Andrew Lincoln, Danai Gurira, Lauren Cohen, Jeffery Dean Morgan, Norman Reedus, and executive producers Scott Gimple, Greg Nicotero, and Angela Kang.
The big announcement that Andrew Lincoln would be leaving the show was the big news from the panel but there were also some other great questions brought up during the press conference that are listed below:
Question: Is there a way for a character leaving this world … without them being killed off?
Andrew Lincoln: Well, I think Lenny James is a 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. And then there is obviously the other way, which we’ve done quite a lot. And obviously I’m not gonna tell you which way … I mean, I prefer the Lenny James of it all. But, I think what we have in store this season is truly remarkable and I’m very, very proud of the work we’ve done.
Question: Did you get emotional saying goodbye to your character?
Andrew Lincoln: At the end of the panel, it sort of hit me a little bit. I got kind of choked up, and it’s been … Yeah, it’s been nine years of coming here, and I love this place, and I love seeing the fans, and you’ve been such a vital part of this experience. But, you know, as I said, my relationship with Mr. Grimes is far from over.
Greg Nicotero: I will also say that the level of commitment from the actors … there was a particular scene that Andy and Norman shot together and they rehearsed it over and over again, they spent so much time because we have these great opportunities to put these characters together that have great chemistry that we want to see where their relationships are going. This season so far, we’ve really had the opportunity to explore that. So, we’re always on the phone talking about scenes and what do you think about this line and how about this and I love where this is going to go. It feels like the level of collaboration, the level of dedication when these guys … I would walk past our screening room and him and Norman would be in there working on a scene and then it wasn’t shoot for a week but they were just really wanting it to be great. I mean that was amazing to me, to know that still after nine years, these guys care, they wanted it to be great. They want it to be great for you.
Andrew Lincoln: I will say Norman, when he’s not here, I’ll compliment him. He is a truly amazing, instinctive, brilliant actor. He’s kind of … I came to America to work with actors like him and he is like the Paul Newman, that I will never be. He’s the Steve McQueen. The work that he’s doing this season, along with Danai, Jeffrey and all the rest of it and Elyse and the gang. It was privilege, I got to do scenes with all of my favorite people this season and as a farewell, it was the greatest present I could have got and particularly working with Norman was a real thrill. On the back of what Greg said-
Scott Gimple: Oh, he’s here-
Andrew Lincoln: He’s here? He’s a piece of shit and I’ve never liked him.
Question: When Michonne is reading the letter that Carl wrote, when you were performing that scene what did you imagine was in the letter?
Danai Gurira: Well, my letter from Carl to me… I had actually had written what I believe he would have written me. So I was reading his words that I wrote… I wrote myself the letter. Like she wants Rick to have this personal moment with his letter. But it was … some of the things, it feels personal to share. I don’t know why. But some of the things that he definitely, you hear him saying to her in those final moments are more elaborated upon. Being the strength and remembering moments that he had with her that could keep him alive for her. Though she doesn’t need help with that but there are key moments that he mentions in the letter that, you know, like the moments of walking up to Terminus together and re-finding each other. And the things he feels she done for his dad and he needs her to be there for his dad in various ways.
So there are those, a whole lot of like that to fuel her ability to confront [Rick] and to make that connection again. To understand his son’s legacy lives on in that letter in the sense of his final words really being elaborated on. And leaving us both with the same vision of how to step in to the next phase, and us keeping Maggie alive. So I think there were things that paralleled in both letters [Rick and Michonne’s] that allowed us to come to the same place.
Question: Knowing that Rick was leaving at the beginning of this season, was there a bigger emphasis to balance out the bigger and bolder performances, in a sense? And things of that nature or was it sort of to honor Rick’s absence?
Andrew Lincoln: I mean they put us all on a horse which was quite informative. That was quite exciting. And I don’t really know, I think we were just telling a story and trying to tell the best story we possibly can and I’m really, as everybody has said, Angela has been extraordinary this season and I’ve loved this season so far. And love working with all of my buddies. And as people have mentioned already, it’s a big collaboration. It feels free again. It’s opened up the story and the performances are more nuanced, I think because of this time jump. It’s been really exciting jumping two years and then having this history, this fractured, sort of fragmented peace. I don’t think there’s any desire to try and make it anything but telling the best story possible and to continue exploring.
Danai Gurira: I think the best way to honor Rick and Andy is to stay true to telling a really honest story and not to go some big bold place that’s out of the realm of that tone that we’ve been trying to connect to since … you know, he set the tone in the pilot. So I think definitely the thing that was so exciting about what Angela’s brought, as Andy’s mentioned, is the fact that we were able to do that… To find those sort of connections through characters being connected in very different ways this year then we’ve experienced in the past. And go to that very key example that he and Lenny set in that first episode.
Question: Do you think Negan would be rehabilitated? Like is there any way he could function within this society based on his own personality, based on how others feel about him?
Jeffery Dean Morgan: I can’t say that we have shot anything yet but, I think there is. We’re going to find out quickly as season nine starts. And there’s been a big time jump, and we’re trying to figure out, I don’t know how to phrase it, the position he’s in. And I’ve been given the chance, Negan’s given the chance, to kind of get rid of some people, people on the stage here…Which is kind of thrill for me. And I think we’ll see a different side of him as the season goes on. Now is that a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know. But I think there’s redemption to be had for Negan.
Question: With Andrew leaving, are you all taking on a larger role? Picking up for someone like Rick?
Norman Reedus: When people, like Danai said, can stay true to Andy and to Rick, would tell you the true story. The truth. We’ve had a season or two of chest bumping. Two guys chest bumping and shooting each other but nobody really killing each other. You know what I mean? And the conflicts with that. This is a very …female driven season right now. And it’s nice to have that happen. The stories are told in different ways. Less bravado and more real depth. It’s like shooting a western with feeling. It’s well in the season, but I don’t know if … and you can’t take Ricks place on the show. That’s kind of impossible. Everybody’s branching out from doing different things but there’s always…
Question: Filming the season 8 finale, what were your thoughts knowing that your characters are going to turn on Rick?
Greg Nicotero: You’ve got to remember where we left Maggie in the last season. You know, they made a deal in the beginning of the finale that Negan was done. They were going to kill him. So when Rick spared his life, and Maggie broke down, she broke down because all the shared emotion of everything that he had done to Glenn and he had done to everybody around them. All the pain that Negan had inflicted on everyone. So Maggie felt betrayed. So that last scene when the camera’s sort of creeping in on her, and she’s kind of like listen, “I’m going to bide my time but that’s not what we agreed to. I’m not down with it.” And then of course Daryl steps out of the shadows and he’s like “I’m not down with that either.” If you look at season eight, Daryl was not a fan of Negan. In the trailer, Maggie relays to Rick one of those lines that we shot in the premiere last year, when Rick said “One of these days, I’m going to be following you”. And in the trailer we saw Maggie say, “you said you were going to follow me but you’re not. You’re not letting me do what I believe in.” They’re not at each others throats but they’re still not really down with the decisions that their friends make. They’re still friends, but they’re friends may not have made the smartest decisions.
Lauren Cohen: You know it’s interesting though because I fell like there’s so much tension as a result of that. It’s not all about them fighting each other in a pit with two sticks of whatever. It’s a lot of like, it’s more fraught because it’s people who love each other and it’s people who want to be on the same page but really, really aren’t. And it’s family. It’s family feud. So it’s actually much, in some ways, scarier. It feels much more volatile and dangerous.
Question: In the poster that was released at Comic Con, there were a lot fewer characters on it then the previous seasons. Is that any indication that the stories were too narrow to focus on these character relationships, especially with this news of Andy leaving the show? So are you going to have a lot more character development?
Angela Kang: Yeah, I think this season there are some really exciting opportunities to feature this core cast that has such deep relationships that we’ve seen develop over the years and that fans was really invested in and we’re invested in as storytellers. And there’s this kind of instant emotional history when you see any of these actors in a scene together. They’re really … this group is the group that is written up as the leaders of these communities. And so a lot of the story we’re talking about is how you rebuild civilization. Like how do you move on from war? And so we’re telling a lot of stories between these people because they are having some differences of opinions. You know, they still love each other. How do you move forward when you really, just fundamentally disagree about how certain things should happen? We have an amazing ensemble.
But you will see a lot more screen time for some of these relationships like Daryl and Carol, and Rick and Maggie, and Michonne and … it’s just really interesting triangulations that we just wanted to dive deep in to some of these relationships because there’s a lot of emotional weight to them.
Question: Can you guys talk about what is your favorite moment of Rick and Michonne’s relationship? And what can we look forward to in season nine?
Andrew Lincoln: It’s kind of interesting because we’ve had two years of peace since the end of the war and that has changed their dynamic, their relationship. And that was for me, some of my most satisfying scenes with Michonne have been this season. Just because they’re much deeper, more grounded than … it’s just in that new phase of a loving relationship. And there’s so much sort of knowledge of of one another in it.
I was going to say, I rarely get to be happy in a season. 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 times. Which is just, I couldn’t believe it. It’s just stunning. And that’s because I got to do scenes with all of these guys here. And Melissa McBride. And a few other surprises. And it’s the reason I became an actor. I came to America to work with people like these people here. We don’t get actors like this in Europe. I’m not joking. These guys are … there’s an ambition. There’s a kind of desire to keep changing and keep pushing themselves which I’ve learned so much in the nine years that I’ve been working with people like these.
Yeah, I love this relationship [Rick and Michonne], Sarah Wayne Callies said that was the hardest thing for her and I’m realizing it now, is when you put the job down and your deep, loving, friendships stand. They continue but the characters relationships on screen, that’s the depth that you regret. And that’s the bit that I’m trying to … I’m in shock about. I’m sort of still numb. But yet there’s some great stuff we got to do.
Danai Gurira: I would say this, and I truly mean it and I say it to [Andy] as well. Though this is the only show I’ve worked on as a regular, I will say, I truly believe this is the best leading man on television. And I do believe that he has made us all better. His leadership, his character, his discipline, his heart, his generosity, his kindness, have really paved a path for all of us to understand how to carry on without him, even though it’s extremely painful to as he said, the death of the relationships that happen when Rick exits are very real but at the same time, he’s so equipped us to carry on…which is what a great leader does. So I just couldn’t be thankful enough for the time I’ve gotten to work with him and learn from him and understand him. And it’s been a true joy to get to explore my character’s growth. She grows basically in connection with him, really from the second she meets him. And you know, saves his ass a bunch. Because she can see the goodness, and the strength, and the power in this man. How he takes on, this is Rick and Michonne now, how he takes on what he has to take on from a place of understanding what he must do versus any sort of ego or pride and Michonne respects that so much. I love how nuanced we got to be, even more so in this season. Because of peace we could find more … a time of peace, we were able to find moments that we hadn’t really been able to explore before. I’m excited for you all to see that. Yeah, it’s all heartbreaking…as Walking Dead always is, but this is a special kind of heart break. It’s been an honor, sir.
Question: What was your most challenging moment? Like for instance, the season finale of season six, the beginning of season seven, it was just so emotional. I was going to ask you guys, what was your most challenging scene for each one of you individually?
Lauren Cohen: I think for me the most challenging was Glenn dying. Because it was so long. We had two whole episodes and the next season in the same emotional state and so in a lot of ways we were getting ready to wind down and take time so to sort of hold the space of that … and as actors and as people to hold the secret. Which is simultaneously one of the greatest things of this show, the secrets in this show are so sacred…the information is so desired and the story is so … people are so hungry for the story. I mean, Maggie was in such pain when that was happening and shock because of the physical and emotion of the whole thing. But that was also one of the best parts of the show. Going through those places. It’s very infrequent on television that you’re going to have these great theatrical tragedies, you know? So I say challenge but I also say a gift. The trust that we all have with each other is really special.
Norman Reedus: For me, it was this year. Episode four of this season was one that Andy and I had a scene that was a fucking effort but it was really well written and we worked on it and we really fine tuned it and got it to a place where it became sort of effortless. And it could have gone in so many different directions but I think both of us are really proud of that.
Danai Gurira: There are so many places I could go with that but it’s something I can’t really talk about, sorry. In terms of it being this season, but it’s interesting because in Georgia, you know, anywhere I guess, you’re dealing with weather. So I had this scene I had to shoot and I’m sitting up, I’m holding it, I’m holding it, I’m holding it. And they’re like you ready? They do one take it’s like, get rained out. It’s like we got it. It’s over. Okay. I’ll carry this through the weekend. And then Monday it’s like, oh it’s raining, we can’t do it. Okay. I hadn’t experienced that three times, a scene I had to do that required all of me like that in a very, very vulnerable way. I had to carry that through about six days and three different attempt that didn’t happen because of Georgia weather. So that was definitely challenging because I think when the scene was over, I remember this very weird physical response to having released it and that was a new, I was like, what is happening to me. I was thinking something was wrong with me. It was a different and challenging journey, but it was all for the story.
The Walking Dead returns to AMC October 7th