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The Walking Dead: Andrew Lincoln pranked Norman Reedus with a sex doll

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Gene Page/AMC

It was the baseball crack heard ’round the world, one that inspired a question that has plagued fans of The Walking Dead for nearly six painstaking months: who does Negan kill, and how will Rick’s group carry on without one of its core members?

On the topic of which character meets his or her grisly demise at the hands of Negan, the cast and crew of the long-running AMC series, which returns Oct. 23 for a seventh season, remained tight-lipped during an hour-long panel presentation at Saturday’s New York Comic Con, though Norman Reedus, who plays Daryl Dixon, filled the audience in on how the cast and crew made light of one of the most emotionally taxing shoots they’ve done since the show’s debut season in 2010: with a sex doll, of course.

Speaking at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the show’s cast and crew, including Reedus, Danai Gurira, Alanna Masterson, Lauren Cohan, Melissa McBride, Lennie James, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Sonequa Martin-Green, Austin Nichols, Michael Cudlitz, Greg Nicotero, Seth Gilliam, Steven Yeun, Scott M. Gimple, and Gale Anne Hurd, whetted fan anticipation by teasing the fate of several characters, showing off brand new footage, and sharing how on-set pranks kept the gang sane through the misery of what promises to be the most brutal season The Walking Dead has ever aired. 

Here are eight things we learned about The Walking Dead season 7 at New York Comic Con: 

1. Andrew Lincoln pranked Norman Reedus with a sex doll on set

We all know the tone of season 7 is going to be grim, but that didn’t stop the actors from livening the mood on set with a few practical jokes. 

“We’ve always screwed with each other,” Reedus said, describing a particular incident that involved a sex doll on the set of season 7. “The last thing that happened? [Lincoln] put my motorcycle out on a boat and pushed it out in the middle of a lake with a sex doll sitting on top of it. It gets pretty heavy, so we all kind of goof around on the set when we can.”

As for the moment lingering in everyone’s mind – members of Rick’s group, including Daryl, staring Lucille down – Reedus said the lighthearted moments shared between the cast were necessary to counteract the gloomy headspace he had to conjure while shooting the final moments of season 6. 

“We’re all going to die. That’s what’s going through [the characters’] heads… we’re outnumbered and it doesn’t look good,” he admitted. “It’s a weird feeling to be that powerless when we’ve always fought to survive, and to just be put on our knees, and it doesn’t look like we’re going to get over that wall… I hated shooting all of that. It was miserable. It sucked, it really did.” 

2. The Governor is “small potatoes” compared to Negan 

You thought The Governor’s murderous tactics were bad? Think again. According to Gurira, The Governor “is small potatoes” compared to Negan. 

Why?

“Because he has a structure in place. He doesn’t have one town of Woodbury, he has outposts in various places we don’t even know about yet. We know it’s more than one at this point. He’s also extremely smart… he gets Rick on his knees in many ways… [he has] an indoctrination process which is far beyond what The Governor was doing… there’s a whole other level of creating a system and an order where you can reign supreme as a demagogue in a way that’s deeply insulated in a way that no one has touched before” 

3. Jeffrey Dean Morgan believes in what Negan is doing… sort of 

Negan is shaping up to be the cruelest villain The Walking Dead has ever seen, but the actor playing the iconic character — a fan favorite despite his nefarious deeds — says he tried to empathize with the character’s maniacal mindset despite Negan’s inability to sympathize with Rick’s group.

“In order to approach a character like Negan, to have somewhere to go, you have to believe in what you’re doing,” Morgan said. “What he’s doing is essentially the same thing these guys have been doing for the last seven years; he just happens to carry a baseball bat he loves dearly.” 

While Morgan acknowledges Negan is downright heartless, as a performer he respects the character’s convictions, twisted morals and all.

“I think he absolutely thinks he’s right, but he’s also, as we know, a bit of a showman. This world is his stage and he owns it. You call it cocky, but we watched Rick and these guys get cocky in the last seven years… I think Negan coming in and flexing his Barnum & Bailey-style justice on these people is his way of letting them know they were wrong, and it’s time to go down a notch… or ten.” 

4. Gabriel could be taking on the role of a “warrior” in season 7 

“He’s basically surrendered himself to Rick’s will,” Gilliam said of the typically passive Gabriel’s newfound identity at the tail end of season 6. “I think Rick must see some potential in Gabriel to be more of a warrior and to be of more use and service than he has been before, but I think his willingness is pretty clear and evident.”

He continued: “I think Rick sees that at least this guy is willing to try. He might not be as capable as the next guy, but at least he’s willing.” 

5. Tara doesn’t know Denise is dead, and the revelation might be too much for her to handle

Next to Glenn and Maggie, Tara and Denise (Merritt Wever) were arguably the cutest couple to appear during season 6, but, in typical The Walking Dead fashion, things came to a bloody end as Denise was killed by the Saviors shortly after Tara set out on a lengthy supply run with Heath. 

“She doesn’t [know Denise is dead],” Masterson said, noting that losing Wever on set was “such a blow” for her as an actress, though she’s not sure Tara can handle discovering her lover’s fate — if she survives to find out at all. 

“For Tara I think [news of Denise’s death is] going to be a really hard thing for her to hear… she really loves Denise… people like that relationship. It was very sweet. It’s fun to have two girls dating.” 

6. Carol still hasn’t found clarity

At the end of season 6, Carol finds herself caught between a Morgan and a hard place: after being shot by a Savior, a critically-wounded Carol hits rock bottom — literally — as she lay on the ground, approaching death while her companion unloads a full clip of bullets into her attacker, saving her life. Still, Carol insists Morgan leave her there to die, and season 7 will see the fan-favorite character grappling with the same conflicting feelings that prompted her abrupt departure from Alexandria.

“[She’s adapting, changing, getting stronger, and loving the group so much,” McBride said. “I think every step she’s taken up  to this moment has devastated her. She needs to get her head together and try to find some sense in how it is. What we have to do is so monstrous, in order to survive, and we’re becoming the monsters we’re trying to protect ourselves from… this is the way it is to survive and, now, to what end? What is it about this world that makes us want to survive so much? That’s a huge question.” 

7. We might see a much darker side of Morgan across season 7 

Morgan spent most of season 6 refusing to kill — even those who posed a threat to the group. That’s likely going to change during season 7. 

“I think the path he’s walking is a path he’s trying to walk. He’s not locked away in a shed with a goat, so he’s out in the world” James said. “When he shoots that Savior in order to save Carol, I think one bullet would have done it, but he emptied the clip. Those people who are begging for Morgan to [be a] killer: be careful what you wish for, guys.” 

8. Who Negan kills isn’t the only thing that will surprise viewers during season 7

Nicotero, who directed the first episode of the series’ upcoming seventh season, said that while it’s been a taxing summer trying to keep the identity of Negan’s victim a secret, the Oct. 23 episode won’t be defined by the moment the slaying occurs. 

“Because everybody knows how the season ended last year, that someone’s gonna go, it was more of a challenge going into it this year knowing what people are going to expect,” he said. “For me, some of the most amazing moments are found not where you’re going to expect them when you watch the first episode. There are some unbelievable moments and performances that’ve come out of the fog and the haze and the post-traumatic stress of the actual moment that set the stage for the entire season.” 

He added: “All of these guys went to some insane places, emotionally… I thought it would be easy to come in starting where we left off… boy was I wrong. I know when we were finished, it took me a couple weeks to recover from it.” 

The Walking Dead‘s seventh season premieres Sunday, Oct. 23 at 9 p.m. ET on AMC. 

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