After months of horrible zombie-drama anticipation, fans of AMC’s The Walking Dead were treated to a veritable buffet of amazing reveals at the show’s San Diego Comic-Con panel event on Friday, July 22 — the most important, of course, being the incredible season 7 trailer and an official air date for the premiere.
But beyond the tantalizing glimpse of all the blood, guts and zombie shenanigans to come when The Walking Dead returns on October 23, the panel was also a nonstop source of interesting (and occasionally adorable) facts about the making of the show, from the cast members’ supersweet friendships to hints from the production team about what’s in store. Here are the best things we learned.
1. The premiere is going to break your heart.
The first episode — which will pick up right where last season left off, on a cliffhanger in which a major (and as-yet-unknown) character died — took a whopping nine days to film, and even special makeup effects creator Greg Nicotero was devastated by it.
“The first episode was intense,” he said. “It affected me in a way I didn’t expect.”
2. The showrunners are on record: The sets will be bigger, the zombies will be gooier and the satisfaction will be super-satisfying.
Even executive producer Dave Alpert is awestruck at what they’re pulling off this season. “The stuff we’re building is so much larger in scale and scope than I ever anticipated,” he gushed. Nicotero (the man responsible for the show’s award-winning zombie effects) promised, “It’s been a brutal season. … We try to keep exciting stuff for you guys up there.”
And the final word from executive producer Robert Kirkman?
“It’s absolutely worth the wait,” he said. “You guys are all going to love it.”
3. Chandler Riggs is dealing pretty well with one-eyed acting.
“Depth perception is my biggest loss,” said Riggs, whose character, Carl, got his eye shot out last season and has been sporting a pirate patch ever since.
4. Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus are in a perpetual prank war.
And it sounds like Norman Reedus is winning: He had the brilliant idea to put glitter in the air-conditioning vents in Lincoln’s car.
“Now they’re calling me Sparkles,” said Sparkles — er, we mean, Andrew Lincoln.
5. And IRL, Abraham and Sasha are, uh, breast friends.
Sonequa Martin Green (Sasha) and Michael Cudlitz (Abraham) are exploring a romance on the show, but in real life, he’s already gotten up close and personal with her mammaries after Martin Green needed some help pumping breast milk on set.
“It got real,” she said. “He was taking great care.”
6. Animal lovers, you’re on notice.
“There might be some interesting nonhuman characters as well,” said executive producer Gale Ann Hurd — and between the arrival of new character Ezekiel (a zookeeper in the original comics) and the actual live tiger in the season 7 trailer, she’s not kidding.
7. Jeffrey Dean Morgan loves The Walking Dead — and the Walking Dead fandom.
“I was in NYC when the first episode aired, and I’ve never been stopped so much in my life,” said Morgan (new villain Negan), who’s been a fan of the show since long before he was cast on it. “People come out of the floor and ceilings and walls. It’s amazing. And the fans have been nothing but awesome.”
8. And yes, Morgan loves playing a Big Bad.
Lincoln confirmed what was obvious to anyone who watched Negan’s big entrance in last season’s finale. “He’s having way too much fun playing this dude,” he said of Morgan.
9. Episode 2 has an official body count.
In case you were worried that the zombie slaughter would slow down amid all the Negan drama … um, don’t. According to folks in the know, at least 61 walkers will be killed in the second episode of season 7.
10. Finally: Gird your loins, fans. There’s a war coming, and the cast is going to need you to be strong.
“I think we’re headed toward one of the greatest showdowns since Terminus,” Lincoln said. “So hang in there. I know you will.”
The Walking Dead season 7 premieres on AMC Sunday, October 23, at 9 p.m. ET.
After that season finale, The Walking Dead is an even bigger deal than usual at this year’s San Diego Comic Con. I was lucky enough to go to the season 7 press conference with the cast and while they wouldn’t tell us who met the bat-end of Lucille (shock, horror!), I asked whether Andrew Lincoln thought the show could survive without it’s main character Rick Grimes.
“Absolutely, I think that was always the intention.” Andrew told me. “I mean, I’m speaking on behalf of Robert Kirkman, but it was sold to me by my agent that it was seen through the eyes of Rick and then it would turn into an ensemble. They lied. And I coined the phrase ‘a one-semble’.”
The Walking Dead showrunners have always made it clear that no one is safe so could Rick be the one who gets beaten to death in the season 7 premiere? Probably not, but Andrew thinks that if that was the case there’d be someone to step into the shoes of the main man. “Fortunately, we have a new guy on the block. My wife is very happy because he gets all the lines and I get a bit of time off. So, yeah, welcome to the Negan show.”
The Walking Dead season 7 will debut on AMC in October 2016.