Rain came down hard on Friday, Oct. 9, in New York and with it a deluge of hungry fans waiting to see their favorite characters from AMC’s “The Walking Dead” at iconic Madison Square Garden, nearly filling the entire arena and aligning perfectly with New York Comic-Con happening just blocks away.
In the lobby areas, fans were greeted with rolling behind-the-scenes clips, a life-size Daryl Dixon with his motorcycle, a replica of The Governor’s human head aquarium and best of all, walkers milling about the crowd scaring unsuspecting fans. Those brave enough stopped to take selfies with the “creatures.” Several fans dressed up as zombies, favorite characters and their own interpretations of horror.
“I think it’s the biggest (fan event) any television show has ever had. If not, it certainly comes close,” said executive producer Gale Anne Hurd. In reflecting on how far the show has come, Hurd said, “I think the first thing that my mind goes back to was what an amazing thing it was for AMC to say yes to this show. AMC and Fox International channels teamed together and greenlit not a pilot, but the first six episodes and that’s a big roll of the dice.”
Executive producer and special effects extraordinaire Greg Nicotero also said “it’s insane” how much the fanbase has grown over the years.
“I’m a fan, too. I grew up (with) George Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead,’ ‘Night of the Living Dead’ — those are my favorite movies and I grew up a half an hour from where they filmed those. So I felt a connection. So the fact that I get to share that connection with millions of other fans who love zombie stuff and love the characters and love the effects that we come up with. I mean I just feel like I have a million new friends that I can talk zombies about. It’s pretty great.”
Hurd, Nicotero and comic creator Robert Kirkman helped kick off the festivities kicked off with greetings to the fans.
The screening of season six’s first episode was very well-received with lots of cheering and welcomed commentary from the crowd. Before the screening on the red carpet, the cast offered some insight into where season six might go.
Michael Cudlitz, who showed up in a traditional Scottish kilt, touched on how trying to get things back to “normal” may not be all it’s chalked up to be in post-apocalyptic life.
“I think there’s times when people come unhinged and you see it and there’s times when people come unhinged and it’s under the surface. I think there’s a lot of unhinging going on. And a lot of it, in my opinion, has to do with the fact that we’re in Alexandria and everyone has time to think. Everyone has time to reflect,” he said.
|Josh McDermitt and Michael Cudlitz at AMC’s “The Walking Dead” Fan Premiere at Madison Square Garden.
Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Variety/Rex Shutterstock
As for how living in Alexandria will affect Cudlitz’s Abraham? “It’s going to be real rough for him. He doesn’t take well to downtime. He doesn’t take well to reflection. And all these things are what happen when you have downtime, when you don’t always have to be fighting a mission or worrying about your next meal or how you’re going to to live until tomorrow. There are tomorrows now. What does that do to him? What does that do to everyone?”
Andrew Lincoln, on the other hand, does not believe Rick is unhinged.
“He’s a complicated cat. He’s been through quite a lot. He’s not unhinged. He’s an uncompromising, realistic brutal leader. He’s lived outside those walls for two years and kept people alive and I think where you find him (this season) is very much a spillover from last season where he’s not willing to tolerate incompetence. If people can’t keep up with him then you will get left behind. He’s trying to school the Alexandrians. It’s a tough school but it’s a tough world,” he explained.
Another story arc he believes viewers will find interesting is having Morgan back (played by Lennie James). He continued, “Having that relationship back is beautiful. They have a common shared history but they don’t know each other. And it feels like they’re two men diametrically opposed in ideologies and yet they regard and kind of love each other because they saved each other. So it’s a struggle. It’s a complicated beautiful relationship. Lennie and I have been having a great fun playing it. It’s also interesting to have a strong counterpoint to Rick in the community. Someone who’s going to challenge him and not back down.”
While Rick is pleased to see Morgan return, Norman Reedus‘ Daryl may not share the same perspective this season. “Daryl and Morgan haven’t really gone toe-to-toe yet. I think that might be coming.” Reedus also hints that the Wolves will make an appearance “right away.”
|Danai Gurira and Lennie James at AMC’s “The Walking Dead” Fan Premiere at Madison Square Garden.
Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Variety/Rex Shutterstock
Post-screening, event host and “Talking Dead’s” Yvette Nicole Brown brought the cast out on stage in pairs. For fan favorite Reedus, however, after a pause, piercing screams from the fans and blaring heavy metal music, the aud’s attention was directed to the middle of the arena where Reedus rode his bike down the aisle and up onto the stage.
“I mean, if you’re going to enter, you might as well enter,” Brown quipped.
Once the crowd settled down a bit, Brown began to ask the cast questions about the episode and their characters. Reedus quickly let the audience know his son Mingus has a birthday coming up and asked if everyone could wish him a happy birthday. A resounding chorus of voices did just that and Mingus shot his hand up in the air in the front of the arena to acknowledge.
During questioning of Seth Gilliam, who plays Father Gabriel, the crowd started booing given his character’s plotline last season. “Listen here, we will respect the actors on this stage,” said Brown.
For his question, Chandler Riggs took a moment to admire the event and massive crowd.
“This is so bizarre. It’s just like a sea of heads,” said Riggs.
“Has Chandler got a deeper voice than all of us now?” Lincoln said.
After the debrief, the cast broke into a battle of the sexes, Family Feud-style game, involving how well they know the fans and brought back Emily Kinney to join in on the fun. Reedus, Lincoln and Steven Yeun were surprised with baby photos of themselves (Yeun’s was particularly adorable, holding a violin almost larger than him and looking very serious about it). Also on stage: Melissa McBride, Lauren Cohan, Danai Gurira, Sonequa Martin-Green, Alanna Masterson, Cudlitz, Josh McDermitt, Christian Serratos, Gilliam, Tovah Feldshuh, Austin Nichols, Alexandra Breckenridge, Ross Marquand and James.
Everyone was delighted by the blooper reels (hint: Lincoln hits things quite a bit to build up his rage in preparation for Rick’s intense scenes, sometimes ruining set props), surprise video messages from actor Simon Pegg from his Dubai “Star Trek” set and “The Late Late Show” host James Corden, and many surprise appearances by former cast members including Chad Coleman, Michael Rooker, Scott Wilson and Jon Bernthal. The latter’s appearance was such a surprise (even to the cast), that all of the actors leapt from their seats to embrace him.
Wilson became the first cast member to be inducted into “The Walking Dead Hall of Fame.” He was given a swanky award, but his acceptance speech was interrupted by a video message from David Morrissey, who tried to pull a Kanye West despite being across the pond for a play. He joked to Wilson that “it was a pleasure beheading you,” before Wilson was allowed to finish his speech, graciously thanking the show’s writers, producers, cast and fans.
With the companion series “Fear the Walking Dead” successfully wrapped for the first season, this means more fans and with a second season on the way, walkers year-round.
“I think that’s the plan. I think if you turn on your television and there’s not a zombie show playing on AMC then somebody did something wrong,” Nicotero said on the red carpet. “The thing that I was most happy about with the spinoff is that it’s very, very different than our show. People wouldn’t get fatigued from watching ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ and then go back our show again. And I think we set that up even a couple of years ago when we did some webisodes. We sort of showed that there’s a world out there of stories that we can tell.”
The cast headed to NYC hot spot Up&Down after the fan premiere for a night of karaoke.
The sixth season of “The Walking Dead” airs Sunday, Oct. 11 at 9 p.m. on AMC. The panel also did provide some news: the second half of season six will premiere on Feb. 14, 2016 — the perfect Valentine’s gift if you’re in the mood to eat your heart out.
Laura Prudom contributed to this report.