The Walking Dead returns for its 8th season this Sunday night on AMC. At New York Comic Con, the cast and crew gathered to talk about the upcoming season, the series hitting the 100 episode milestone, the “f” word, parodies, and the show’s tight-knit community of fans.
This interview includes: Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Negan), Melissa McBride (Carol), Austin Amelio (Dwight), and producers Dave Alpert and Gale Ann Hurd.
What do you think The Walking Dead reflects in our time – then, when it started, versus now?
Dave Alpert: I think both the Republican and Democrats, nobody’s addressed the zombie problem in this country. [laughs] It’s up to us to pick up where those people leave off.
Gale Anne Hurd: I think that the show obviously deals with peoples’ fears, it’s one of the reasons I think it connected with the audience. Because people are afraid of financial collapse, they’re afraid of anything natural disasters. And it’s a show that allows people to connect with those fears and identify with the characters in it and see if the person they most identify with has the answers or not. I think we’re all looking for answers, and I don’t know that show provides them, but it certainly a provocative look at the choices people are making – the ethical choices – and the consequences from those choices.
Jeffrey, it’s the one-year anniversary of the death of Lucille. How do you feel about that?
Jeffrey Dean Morgan: Death of Lucille?!
In the comic.
Jeffrey: Oh. [laughs] I’m like, don’t tell me that. Comic, yeah. I mean, I hope the show varies enough that we don’t have the death of Lucille in the show. I’m very sad for Negan in the comics. Poor fella.
Negan hits Beta a few times with the bat during the whisper war.
Dave: Shame on you guys, read a comic!
Jeffrey: I thought you were going to say it’s the one-year anniversary of Glen’s death and I was going to feel real bad about it. [laughs] I thought he was going to go there.
Austin and Norman, what can we expect from you two in Season 8?
Austin Amiello: Well, in Season 7, Daryl comes in and gets an understanding of what I’m going through. But it’s still very much that we’re sussing each other out the whole time. I think that will probably continue for a while.
Norman Reedus: It’s a cat and mouse game, in other words. We’re trying to – you have sympathy for each other’s characters because you do things in this world that you wouldn’t normally do, and you understand that if you’ve been in it for a minute. But it’s… You go back and forth, can you trust them, can you not trust them, are they on your side, are they not on your side – it’s like every relationship.
What sort of impact it has on the cast and crew to reach that milestone, a hundred episodes, and how did you guys celebrate?
Norman: We kept working through it.
Norman: It was huge for us because we never thought that it would be this big, to go to a hundred. We’re a really tight family there and thanks to you guys and thanks to everybody else, we’re still rolling, so you know… Thank you to everyone. It’s a win-win.
Jeffrey: It’s a big thing for a show in this day and age to get a year – a full year order, much less do a hundred episodes. I mean, I’m the new guy, but you can’t be more proud. And to have, still, the passion and the love every single day that you show up to work that you did eight years ago is a pretty cool thing. So kudos to the cast and the entire crew. Everybody’s been there for the full run so it’s a pretty cool thing.
Austin: It’s kind of like your old high school albums, when you see all the bad haircuts you’ve had. You know, I get a lot of that.
Jeffrey: There’s no barbers in the apocalypse. Except for Negan. Negan is high and tight.
Carol and Daryl, obviously, have a very special bond on the show. What do you think it is about both their characters that draw each other to one another so much?
Melissa McBride: Oh gosh. I think that there’s, from the very beginning, probably just this… They shared this certain suppression that I believe they felt in one another and throughout the apocalypse together they’re allowed themselves the room to express themselves and to grow. A self-respect, a mutual respect. Or… a self-expression.
Jeffrey, obviously, it couldn’t have been too easy to take on Negan, a character who is so beloved by everybody else. How did you deal with that for yourself, all that backlash for taking on the role of the enemy?
Jeffrey: The fans have been remarkably generous to myself and Negan, I think. I think that they’ve created this character in the comics that people love. I mean, you love to hate. But most people are kind of taken aback by I think Negan’s charm, and there is some wisdom to him that this world needs and he does fit in. His introduction, as brutal as it is – and what’s to come this year – I think you find out a little more about Negan and who he is, and the fans were remarkably generous to me. I’m amazed. I mean, I still get the finger flipped to me all the time, and the occasionally “we hate you, but we love to hate you.” It’s been mostly good though.
Dave: I saw a father and son Negan on the floor yesterday and so I think you’re bringing people together.
This question is for Melissa and Norman. Both of your characters went through so much last season emotionally, physically. They lost a lot of members of the group, so what do you think your character’s mental state is going to be going into this next season?
Norman: Revenge, pretty much. We always have a plan, and sometimes they’re good plans and sometimes they’re not good plans, but sometimes there’s a little bit of… Going rogue, here and there. But it’s a one-track mind for Daryl.
Melissa: Just, revenge. And making some cookies. Gotta feed the troops.
This is for Jeffrey and Melissa. What was it like working on the Walking Dead Robot Chicken Special?
Jeffrey: I had a great time. Negan was kind of out there anyway, so it was great fun for me. It felt like I was in my element for a few hours. So I can’t wait to see it. Isn’t it on this weekend?
After a hundred episodes, for each of your characters, is there one takeback or one regret where your character would be like ‘if I could just do that over?’
Norman: There’s one, in this season, for me. I guess blowing up the bikers with the bazooka started the whole thing, right? But it’s fun to do. [laughter] That’s the thing about this show. There are so many regrets as you’re moving through that it makes all the characters human.
Melissa: I don’t think attacking the saviors…
Jeffrey: That was a little rough.
Melissa: That probably set things off. But who knew?
Jeffrey: Yeah, and I’m the bad guy. [laughs] For me it was when Carl cut his arm off. That was a rough scene. For me, that was – as a dad too – you can’t help but think about that stuff every now and then. As much fun as I had that episode, that was a rough way to go. Even worse than the killing of Glen and Avery, was trying to make the dad cut off the son’s arm. That being said, I don’t really take it back.
Jeffrey: It was important for character development.
Melissa: I kind of wish Carol had not been so snotty to Mrs. Neudermeyer about the pasta maker.
Melissa: She regretted that as soon as she served it. Sorry!
Austin: I would have liked to have done less popping out from behind trees and shooting people. I feel like maybe I could have come up and whispered something to him, you know? It was a little intense, and I got the finger after that a lot, too. So I could have pulled back a little bit.
And a quick follow up for Gale. Between the Walking Dead franchise and Lore, which I’m very personally excited about, what is it about horror that – especially now – seems to be working, particularly on television?
Gale: As I said earlier, I think that we live in fearful times. I think this is a safe way to get some kind of catharsis from a world that seems to be throwing things at us that we don’t know how to deal with. And you can get that kind of adrenaline jolt, and then you realize that actually, I’m safe. I’m at home, I’m at my computer, I’m watching my TV, and your problems in life seem to be recognized.
What advice would Carol now give season one Carol?
Melissa: These are always so hard. Because… Gosh, I think there’s nothing that the early Carol didn’t know that Carol now knows. It’s just she maybe didn’t have the faith that she would get there. I think that’s it. I don’t know, just hang in there.
The Walking Dead has had so many different mediums it’s crossed into, and the most recent one is The Walking Dead special from Robot Chicken. How was it not only parodying yourselves but parodying such a serious and dramatic show. How was that for you guys to do?
Norman: I thought it was really fun. I love that you can make fun of yourself. I remember Kurt Cobain saying, when Weird Al Yankovic covered “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” I think it’s fun, I like making fun of myself.
Melissa: I agree.
Dave: I think it’s great. The first time we actually saw that, Mad Magazine did a cover of us and it was like – I was kind of dazed, I always read those growing up and the fact that we were there on the cover – they were pretty dead on. They got some behind-the-scenes stuff right, it was pretty funny.
Jeffrey: Yeah, I mean I’m like Norman. I like to make fun of me and these guys, and I think they did a really good job of capturing us in the script that they sent us for the show. It was very witty and well-done and it covered a whole lot of ground in the eight years that Walking Dead has been around. It catches on all the key moments of the show and I can’t wait to see it.
The Walking Dead fandom is as diverse as it is passionate, and I was just wondering what it feels like to put something out in the world that brings people together who might not otherwise realize that they have anything in common?
Melissa: It feels so good. It feels so good, and I meet people that go to some of the conventions and people that met each other from around the world that never would have had they not had this show in common. That’s lifelong friends, I think.
Norman: Same. I remember I tweeted out a link to a person’s hospital bill, a little kid, something bad happened to him and the family started to raise money for him. And this was Season 2 I think. By the time I got home they had raised all the money and I was like, ‘woah I can do that?’ So from then on I just try to do stuff like that all the time. The weird part is when I argue. I mean you can post a picture on Instagram of a kitten and someone will go ‘dogs are better what’s wrong with you?!’ you know what I mean? I like that side, the other side I’m totally good. But it’s like Melissa said, I meet people all the time who say ‘you helped me get through stuff’ or they’re lifelong friends and you know, it’s cool.
Gale: It’s why we have the hastag #TWDFamily. It’s not everyone who is up here, it’s every who is a fan of the show, and you know, as you said it brings a diverse of people together. I mean I think we heard that “The Walking Dead” is one of the few shows on television that is equally popular in red and blue states and I think more than ever we need a dialogue between people and to find some commonality and start to repair some of the tears in the fabric of society. And if this show, and the zombie apocalypse, and all of these great people up here can help do that just by existing and continuing to make the show, I think that’s fantastic.
We saw Carol struggle with a lot of moral conflicts last season, but now we’re in this all-out total war and there’s a very clear enemy. Are we going to see Carol return to this sort of soldier-y woman that we’ve seen in previous seasons, or are we going to see her struggle with having to do violence and kill people?
Melissa: Maybe even both. We’ll see her fight, but she has to. It doesn’t mean she wants to.
Jeffrey: You don’t have to fight.
Are we going to see you guys actually share a screen ever?
Jeffrey: Hmm.. I like cookies…
Norman, Melissa, you guys have been here since the beginning of the show so I’m curious what it feels like to be in your hundredth episode and finish season eight and for Jeffrey and Austin – I mean you guys are semi-new to this so what is it like being new to the cast on this monumental episode?
Melissa: It’s crazy! It’s kind of crazy. We were talking about it earlier. We didn’t think – we thought about it earlier, ‘Did you ever think we could get to a hundred episodes?’ And I was just happy to get three. I thought that was a real milestone.
Norman: But we have a room back in the studio that has all the fallen members of our cast from season one and it’s like Gale said, it’s all of us – they’re all with us for a hundred episodes. We know the people who helped us get here and they’re still with us. They’re still sprinkled throughout the show. All our friends are in Georgia now. These are like my besties. It’s great.
Jeffrey: You just used “besties” in a sentence.
Norman: I didn’t, did I?
Melissa: Before you guys got here, I saw Sonequa [Martin-Green] walk by. And you run up and hug each other and it’s the same thing, Jon Bernthal and Scott Wilson – it goes on and on and on. It’s not like we feel they ever really left, we just don’t get to see them every day. Waling Dead family forever.
Jeffrey: And to join this family feels like – from day one, from the minute Negan walked out of the RV, as horrible as that was, these guys have been nothing but awesome to me. And it was an honor to be a part of their hundredth episode. It was really an honor, because that’s a hard thing to accomplish. And I’m not sure when you’re so close to it you even realize it. It’s an amazing experience and they should be proud.
Austin: It’s extremely inspiring too, they got to a hundred episode for a reason. When you step onto the set, their work ethic is insane and the bar is held so high, you know. It’s the most physical and emotionally demanding show or acting thing I’ve ever done and they do it with ease. I feel very blessedd to be a part of that.
I know that AMC already gave the greenlight for you to use the f word, so I want to talk about that and how pleased are you?
Jeffrey: I can say fuck! It’s a year fucking late.
Jeffrey: That was all I got. I’m real excited, I think we should have had that rule when Negan came out of the trailer.
Gale: There was a time when Rick had to say ‘screw you.’
Can you talk a little bit about how much we are going to see or are we just going to have one episode, one line?
Jeffrey: You get two in a year, right? So we need to be fighting for them. Let me say that.
I know that this season is going to be action-packed. Is there any specific memory you can tell us to say this year is over-the-top?
Norman: This is a huge season coming up, it’s very ambitious. Great writing and great acting and every single episode this season is full-on a hundred miles an hour. All the things that you like, this season is packed. It’s exhausting.
Melissa: And everyone is bruised. Everyone.
Norman: You’ll love it.
Melissa: There are a couple times for Carol where I’ve said ‘I never did that before. That’s fun.’
Austin: There’s a lot of physical stuff going on. And I remember shooting one episode and the next day it was the first time I’d ever fallen asleep in my makeup chair. I was so exhausted. It’s going to be a crazy season. Intense.