Anything The Walking Dead related is always a massive draw at New York Comic Con (NYCC), which is why fans started showing up to The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden more than 10 hours in advance for The Walking Dead panel on Saturday night. As the Outlander panel inched closer to its end time of 7 p.m., which was in the slot right before The Walking Dead, hoards of people started clustering in the aisle like a herd of walkers about to descend on the Hilltop.
By the start time of 8 p.m., every single seat in the house had a body in it, ready for Andrew Lincoln to make his last NYCC appearance representing Rick Grimes. As everyone knows by now, fan-favorite Rick will be departing the show after nine thrilling seasons as one of the few core characters still alive during the never-ending zombie apocalypse.
New showrunner Angela Kang, and executive producers Scott M. Gimple, Robert Kirkman, Dave Alpert, Gale Anne Hurd, and Greg Nicotero (who also does special effects makeup) were the first to take their seats on stage. Then out came Andrew Lincoln to thunderous screams as he removed his sheriff’s hat and flung it into the crowd. Joining them were Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon), Melissa McBride (Carol), Danai Gurira (Michonne), and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Negan), several of them wearing replicas of Rick’s hat in black.
“Don’t make me cry, guys,” Lincoln said as a chant of his name broke out amongst the crowd.
Much of the panel was a tribute to Lincoln’s emotional departure. “The amount of work that you, sir, have put into this role, it always made me feel like I wasn’t trying hard enough on the comics,” executive producer Robert Kirkman, who co-created The Walking Dead, told Lincoln. “It’s tough when anyone leaves the show. I love you Andy.”
A deep voice bellowed from the audience, “I want to hug you!!!!” to which Lincoln responded, “And I will stay here for four hours to hug every single one of you.”
“Telling a story that’s emotional for the fans, that’s what we aim to do,” said season nine’s new show runner Angela Kang.
Lincoln revealed that he just watched his first episode ever. “I don’t watch the show,” he said. “I’m kind of allergic to my face.” He also spoke about filming his last episode, in which he got so amped up (by Reedus slapping him in the face and egging him on) that he pulled the entire set down and knocked out a cameraman.
He said that he had to smile and act giddy in the last scenes that he filmed, which was very uncharacteristic for Rick, so Reedus and Nicotero gave him a helping hand by tickling his toes. “I like to think of myself as a serious method actor, and I finished like a fool,” said Lincoln.
The cast spoke about how intense Lincoln is as an actor because he really throws his whole body and soul into the role. “It was very clear that the spirit of the thing was anchored in him,” Gurira said. “I sort of got out of my own way when I saw that number one on the call sheet was utterly insane.”
Executive producer and special effects make-up creator Greg Nicotero said, “When he’s in that zone, you don’t go near him… he’s intense.”
“That’s not true,” Lincoln interrupted.
“These actors go through some crazy dark places,” Nicotero continued. “We say cut, and they still stay there.”
When asked what it was like working with Lincoln, Jeffrey Dean Morgan deadpanned, “I f—king hated him. No one is happier to see him go than I am,” before continuing, “Working with him will go down as one of the greatest pleasures of my life. When you look into his eyes, you know he’s in this 120 percent with you and there’s no better partner… We could talk for days about how f—king great he is.”
Reedus recalled how he and Lincoln ate lunch in Reedus’ trailer together every single day, and how on Lincoln’s last day, he joined Reedus for one last meal, covered in fake blood from filming his final scenes. McBride chimed in that Reedus still won’t let anyone wash it off.
As they opened up the floor to fan questions, people flew down the aisles and a line the length of a CVS receipt instantly formed.
It wasn’t ALL about Rick Grimes either. There were also some exciting nuggets dropped about the upcoming season, including the bombshell that Shane (Jon Bernthal), Hershel (Scott Wilson), and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) will be back on screen in some way, shape, or form. Considering the fact that all three characters died in earlier seasons of the show, it’s unclear if they will appear as ghosts or in flashbacks or dream sequences. The news is bittersweet—only an hour after the panel ended, it was announced that Wilson passed away at age 76.
Other fan favorites weighed in on their characters, including McBride speaking about Carol, who has been in the show since the first season. “She’s had so many evolutions,” McBride said. “I’ve had a blast playing this character and I’m so happy she became such a badass.” The audience whooped and hollered in agreement.
Morgan spoke about what fans can expect from his villainous character this season: “It’s just a wholly different side of Negan that we’re going to see this year. I think Negan is fighting a lot of internal battles this season.”
As the panel came to an end, Lincoln spotted a little boy dressed as Rick’s son, Carl, in the crowd and called him out to come on stage. The boy was wearing angel wings and an eye bandage, holding a sign that read, “See you soon dad (maybe).”
Fans will find out if the little boy had the right idea with his death sentence for Rick at 9 p.m. on Sundays on AMC.