The Walking Dead had 15 people on stage for the show’s 2017 PaleyFest panel in Los Angeles, and that’s not even half of the cast. Andrew Lincoln, Melissa McBride, Lauren Cohan, Sonequa Martin-Green, Alanna Masterson, Christian Serratos, Josh McDermitt, Seth Gilliam, Ross Marquand, Austin Amelio, and Tom Payne joined producers Scott Gimple, Robert Kirkman, Dave Alpert, and Greg Nicotero on stage to discuss the season 7 finale, season 8, and beyond.
Rotten Tomatoes attended the panel, where Gimple dished on the last few episodes of season 7 and the show’s future. Here are 10 things we learned at The Walking Dead PaleyFest panel.
It just so happens that the season finale of season 7 is episode 99. That means when The Walking Dead returns, the show will hit the 100-episode landmark — and the producers are already thinking long-term.
“The first episode is, I think, less about that we reached 100 episodes,” Gimple said. “It’s more about setting up the next 100 episodes. The first episode of season 8 is about setting up this gigantic epic tale to come, not only in season 8 but beyond.”
Expect a conclusion of sorts at the end of season 7, as well as a hint about the epic story to come.
“The end of this season is very much the end of a chapter,” Gimple said. “It’s very much a conclusion that promises this epic story ahead.”
Whether it’s 200, 400, or more episodes from now, Lincoln has his own idea for Rick Grimes’ last stand. The actor performed a dramatic reenactment of the proposed ending, even making fun of his own exaggerated pronunciation of Carl.
“We’re going through a desert and I jump off the bus in a very heroic act, [calling to] ‘Cararararl!’” Lincoln said. “Maybe that’s the last thing I say. I jump off and I’m kung fu kicking [zombies], I earn my action figure. Halfway through I get bit, ‘Ow.’ Doesn’t matter, keep going!”
After Rick has ensured the survivors’ safe passage, Lincoln had a twist.
“I’m dying on my own,” Lincoln continued. “A day passes, I don’t die. Holy s—, maybe I’m the cure. High shot, zombies coming. Rick gets up, follows the [bus] tracks. The herd comes towards him and they separate.”
Creator and comic book author Kirkman weighed in on Lincoln’s proposal.
“I just want to say that was cute,” Kirkman said.
Kirkman is used to people speculating about The Walking Dead after all these years, and doesn’t even entertain false theories anymore. He just shoots them down, like when Martin-Green suggested the survivors might reach shore and find a blockade, because the outbreak is only in America.
“Nope,” Kirkman said. ”Nice try.”
An audience member floated the popular theory that the whole series is just Rick’s coma dream in the hospital.
“Nope,” Kirkman said again.
When you see how far Carol has come on The Walking Dead, it’s downright shocking that McBride doesn’t feel like a badass. Maybe that’s what makes her so badass.
“Badass is really hard for me to wrap my head around because I don’t feel like I’m playing her as a badass,” McBride said. “She just does badassy things.”
It’s hard to imagine losing as much as Maggie has and still waking up every morning. First her father died, and then Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) killed her husband, Glenn (Steven Yeun). But that’s exactly why Maggie still rallies, Cohan said — so they did not die in vain, and for the life she’s about to bring into the world.
“I think that the only way she can comprehend these things happening is that she’s now come to understand it’s not about her,” Cohan said. “It’s not about any of us as individuals. It’s about them as a whole and them as a greater good and them persevering because what other reason would there be to experience such a loss but to have life inside of you? And to know that you still have to live for them.
“We’re just pieces in this puzzle now,” Cohan continued. “I think when you still have light to share, you still have a flame to pass the next torch on, that’s just who you are. That’s what you have to do. The more people she loses, the stronger the fire burns and helps strengthen everybody else she’s with. I think that’s where she takes all of her strength is knowing that you’re not just one. You’ve got family and there’s just no delineation between us as survivors.”
It is tough to hear that Negan is a fan favorite character though.
“It bugs me,” Cohan said. “It bugs me. I love Jeffrey Dean Morgan, so I get it, but Negan…”
Eugene says whatever he needs to to survive. He said he was a scientist so Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) would let him join their group of survivors. Then he joined The Saviors in calling himself Negan.
“You may see him change and adapt again if he continues to live on in the series,” McDermitt said. “That’s just how he survives. He lies, he manipulates. He’s like a cockroach, man.”
Now let’s be clear. There’s no replacing Glenn. His death will always hurt. Some fans caught Tara (Masterson) quoting Glenn, saying, “There’s nothing left in this world that isn’t hidden. We just have to find it.” Masterson, who filmed an action-packed episode just after giving birth, said hopes her character lives up to Glenn’s legacy.
“I felt like it was Tara’s time to shine,” Masterson said. “I think she’s got a lot of heart and hope she’s holding the torch for Glenn.”
Aaron (Marquand) is still new to fighting. He’s spent much of the apocalypse trying to solve conflicts peacefully, but Marquand says he just needs time. He’ll catch up.
“Now he’s seeing this breakdown of society and he’s still trying to maintain that dignity but it’s not working with the Saviors,” Marquand said. “It’s not working at all. Diplomacy doesn’t work. I think he’s finally realizing that if he’s going go fight with Rick, he has to put some of that diplomacy aside, pick up arms and fight.”
Everyone wants to be the Rick Grimes of their group, but not everyone is cut out for leadership. Jesus (Payne) had to learn that the hard way, but now he understands his role.
“He’s kind of crapped out a couple times,” Payne said. “He’s taken Rick’s group to two different places and neither of those places really worked out. He’s been on his own a lot. With the arrival of Maggie and Sasha, he sees the opportunity for a real human relationship. With the arrival of these two, he feels like actually there’s a future.”
Perhaps being of service to others is Jesus’s true purpose.
“With his connection with Rick’s group and everyone he’s meeting on the way, I think he’s in this grim world kind of excited about how he can better himself through other people,” Payne said. “He tries the best he can in the situation but he’s not a leader. I think he sees that in Maggie and is willing to help her out in any way he can.”
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC