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The Walking Dead franchise’s annual occupation of Hall H began with moderator Chris Hardwick asking the crowd of 7,000 for a moment of silence to honor John Bernecker, a stuntman who died on the set of The Walking Dead earlier this month. The respectful gesture set a somber tone for the Fear the Walking Dead panel, which also saw co-executive producer and special effects/makeup guru Greg Nicotero acknowledge the passing of George A. Romero, the director whose groundbreaking film Night of the Living Dead launched the modern zombie genre.
“Everyone here owes a debt to one man, George Romero. None of us would be here if not for this guy,” said Nicotero, who worked with Romero on 1985’s Dawn of the Dead. “He really broke boundaries in the ’60s with stories that had social commentary. He used zombie apocalypse to say things about what was going on in the world. And he opened the doors for hundreds and hundreds of makeup artists.” Nicotero added that he was planning to become a doctor before horror films like Romero’s zombie flicks inspired him to become a special effects artist: ”I’d probably be taking out real kidneys instead of fake kidneys.”
The producers and cast of Fear the Walking Dead also engaged their fans with teases and insight into season 3 of the series. Prior to showing a trailer for the second half of the season, premiering Sept. 10, exec producer/showrunner Dave Erickson said the remaining episodes would have “more zombies than ever before” and also be “more personal.” Actually, he seemed to suggest fans would get more of everything. “It’s been an intimate first half of the season. We’ve had our bloodletting, but it hasn’t gone as apocalyptic as it can.”
Walking Dead creator, franchise captain, and executive producer Bob Kirkman had fun with an oft-asked question: Will there ever be a crossover episode between The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead, which are set in the same world but tell stories in separate regions of the country and several years apart? “The Dixon family [on The Walking Dead] was always somewhat splintered, so it’s possible there’s a connection,” said Kirkman, who then confessed he was just making stuff up. When Hardwick chastised him for messing with the fans and press with credible-sounding teases, Kirkman joked: “I’m trying to get as many inaccurate articles on the internet as possible.” He continued the jesting by suggesting that Daryl (Norman Reedus) on The Walking Dead has access to a “magic phone” that could allow him to call back in time to Madison (Kim Dickens) on Fear of the Walking Dead. He then got serious. “I think it’s something we’d like to try to work out [at some point],” he said. “It may or may not involve a magic phone.”
Dickens was asked what she thought about recent revelations about Madison’s past, particularly the abuse she suffered as a child, and how they inform her approach to —and talent for — leadership and survival. “That sequence, with that reveal, was really satisfying for me,” said the actress. “I thought the way it came about in the context of the story was beautiful. And I want to know more. There’s still a lot we don’t know.”
Colman Domingo, who plays Victor Strand, said the character’s final moments in the first half of the season send Strand in a new direction after a protracted period of character deconstruction. “We talked a lot about that last moment with Strand as he is walking off the Abigail,” said Domingo, referring to a beat in which Strand brings a fiery end to an epic drunken idyll aboard a yacht and resolves to re-engage the struggle to survive and find some kind of life. “We chose to give him a glint and a smile. He is ready to rebuild again, that’s just in his nature.”
Dayton Callie, whose villainous patriarch Jeremiah Otto was killed in the first half of the season, was asked what he’ll miss. “I guess a loving, caring, understanding father will be the hardest thing to let go of,” joked the actor. He continued in a humorous vein, suggesting that he won’t miss the sound of several English cast mates speaking “British nonsense” in between takes. “They just go into their own little code!”
Michael Greyeyes was nothing but sincere when talking about his character, Hopi chief Qaletaqa Walker. “For me, as someone who is really interested in representation and how media works, I was delighted to play a character who is vigorous, a leader, intelligent, articulate, and who is also brutal and strategic. … This is one of the most fantastic characters I have gotten to play.”
A member of the audience asked the cast if working on a zombie show gives them nightmares. They all said yes. Another audience member asked Erickson what show is currently scarier, The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead. Erickson gave the nod to The Walking Dead, because after eight seasons and so much invested in so many characters, the threat of death has that much more power.