“This is the weirdest Walking Dead panel I’ve ever been a part of,” Jeffrey Dean Morgan remarked to the crowd gathered at New York Comic Con on Saturday.
He was responding specifically to all the fans referencing his old character on Grey’s Anatomy, but the Theater at Madison Square also heard talk of shipping Jesus (Tom Payne) and Daryl (Norman Reedus), another fan interrupting Austin Amelio to shout his disdain for Dwight, talk of a crossover with Fear the Walking Dead, and host Chris Hardwick turning #SexyA—hole into his new hashtag, thanks to a brutally misquoted audience shoutout. But, as evidenced by the cheers drowning out some of the chatter on stage and footage shown on screen, the fans are ready for season 8 and the cast thinks they have something worthwhile.
The Walking Dead took a turn for the worse in terms of Rick’s reality on the show, in terms of critical reception, and in terms of ratings. But heading into the season 8 premiere, which marks the AMC drama’s 100th episode, Andrew Lincoln feels the show is more like what it was in the beginning.
“Season 7 sucked for Rick Grimes, but season 8, he’s definitely getting his strut back,” the actor told the roaring crowd. “We’ve got the gang back together, I’m working with a few of my special buddies,” he teased before adding, “It’s reminiscent of seasons 1-4.” Then he offered another oddball moment of the night by doing his best Napoleon Dynamite dance for the crowd.
Through it all, Morgan promises Negan will remain a charismatic a—hole. Echoing his earlier remarks to EW, the actor believes “this year we get to explore little slivers” of Negan’s backstory, which has been chronicled in a new comic book from The Walking Dead creator and series executive producer Robert Kirkman. “We get to see slices of what Negan’s past is,” Morgan said, noting the character is “so different from everyone else that we see in this world that it’s hard to hate him — and he’s f—king smart.”
Melissa McBride, who got rousing waves of applause at the mention of Carol, says she’s ready to fight this season (“Yes! Thank God, yes!”) and “caring less and less about what everybody thinks.” But “that doesn’t mean she’s not going to be baking something.” For Morgan, Lennie James says he’s stuck because “he knows exactly what he’s gotta do to protect the people that he cares about,” but it means “going against his own code.”
“In a weird way, he has to go to war to find any peace — you see what I did there?” James smiled. But fans are impatient. “Just do it!” one of them shouted as the actor spoke about fighting Negan and the Saviors. “Morgan’s argument isn’t about survival,” but “about how we live,” he continued. James solemnly teased, “He will argue it until he is no more.”
Katelyn Nacon, enjoying her first Comic-Con appearance, offered how Enid used to be all about her mantra, “just survive somehow” (JSS), but since Glenn (R.I.P.), Maggie, and Carl broke down those emotional walls, she’s now about “just survive somehow for these people around me that I care about” (JSSFTPAMTICA?). Fans can also expect to see some martial arts from Payne, including a moment between Jesus and Morgan where they, as Payne put it, “dance around each other a bit.” Aside from the family atmosphere with Maggie and Enid — which they joke is their “two sisters and the gay best friend” sitcom — the actor “was just [excited] to get into the fighting aspect of the show.”
The cast teased more developments, including how Daryl will always bear the weight of Glenn’s death on his back, but the 100th episode will bring “a lot of tributes to previous scenes that we shot through the first seven seasons,” according to executive producer Greg Nicotero. The footage shown for the audience with Carl, for instance, was meant as a “shot-for-shot recreation of something that is very near and dear to [the fans].”
“It’s overwhelming,” Gale Anne Hurd, who’s been a part of the show since the very beginning, said of the 100th episode. “It is, you know, the most important thing is we do it. You give us, all of you give the energy to keep doing it, your passion, your support, your love, your tears when we lose a loved one. That’s what we’re really feeling tonight.”
“It’s taken 100 episodes for Rick Grimes to come up with a good plan,” Lincoln joked. This time, “this is it.”
The Walking Dead season 8 premieres Oct. 22 at 9 p.m. on AMC.