Though the final eight episodes of The Walking Dead’s final season are already airing, the cast took their last bittersweet bow this weekend at New York City Comic-Con. Moderated as always by Talking Dead’s Chris Hardwick, the panel consisted of Walking Dead chief content officer Scott M. Gimple, Norman Reedus, Lauren Cohan, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Lauren Ridloff, Eleanor Matsuura, Michael James Shaw, and Paola Lázaro.
First, fans in the audience got a special look at the opening two minutes of the October 9 episode, “A New Deal.” A particularly violent moment from Norman Reedus’ character Daryl got such fervent cheers from the crowd that both Hardwick and Reedus commented on it. (Reedus also observed that when Carol approached Daryl in the scene preceding the violence, the room went totally still and quiet.)
“It all comes together,” said the infamously tight-lipped Gimple about the final episodes. (During the Q&A portion of the panel, a fan labeled his non-answers “Gimplisms,” which Hardwick vowed to steal.) What he did promise is that all of the characters will reach their final forms, just like Pokémon.
Of course with spin-offs on the horizon, the end is not really an end for some of the cast — and so the panel also had some spin-off business to take care of. In addition to the ongoing series Fear The Walking Dead, the limited series The Walking Dead: The World Beyond, and the anthology series Tales of the Walking Dead, there are three upcoming series in the The Walking Dead universe. First up, and currently filming in New Jersey, is the Maggie and Negan series titled The Walking Dead: Dead City. Fans were treated to some stills from the upcoming series that showed Maggie in a bar, sporting a new leather jacket. He also revealed that the series will premiere in April 2023.
Gimple did not have much to share about the Rick and Michonne spin-off, which was first conceived as a feature-length film. But there were updates on the Daryl Dixon spin-off, which is set and will film in Paris, France. Reedus described the series as “epic in scope” and says France isn’t ready for what they want to do. “There’s been a lot of talk,” Reedus said, lightly alluding to Melissa McBride’s departure from the series. “Chill. It’s gonna be fine.” He also gave fans a Gimplism of his own, promising “familiar faces.”
But with the main series winding down and Gimple unable to tease that much (without simply spoiling the various shows and ending to come), the cast was given homework: They each brought in a photo from their time filming the series to share with the group as a jumping off point for reminiscing about their experience.
Gimple was the first to share a photo. He chose a handwritten note he once left for a hotel laundry service after an early Danai Gurira scene where she slice open a particularly gorey walker: “Please note: this is not real blood. I work for The Walking Dead.” As he remembers it the blood wasn’t even a byproduct of his involvement in the scene; after he encouraged her to really go for it, she passed the fake blood on to him by giving him a big hug and soiling the shirt he had to then give to a stranger to clean.
Reedus brought a sepia-toned photo of him and Michael Rooker, who played his character’s brother Merle Dixon, from the early days of The Walking Dead. Reedus talked about being a fan of Rooker’s from the film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer before forming a brotherhood with him on The Walking Dead, leading him to reflect on how Rooker’s character helped him better define who Daryl should be.
During the Q&A portion, a fan asked how he felt about creating a character who was not from the comic book. Reedus said that he felt a lot of freedom because of that to take the character in any direction, and even pushed for Daryl to not become Merle 2.0 back in the day. “There was a storyline that they allowed me to alter,” he said. He wanted to explore what it would be like if Daryl was ashamed of his family. “Once [Merle’s] out of the picture it kind of allowed Daryl to stand on his own two feet and become his own man.”
Cohan brought a blurry picture of the cast playing Head’s Up during dinner — the blurrier the better, because it meant they were having fun during a time when the cast was not giving farewell speeches at a “Death Dinner,” traditionally held when a cast member was killed off the show, and instead just playing around. Morgan’s photo — of a group selfie taken at lunch on Andrew Lincoln’s last day — similarly embraced the camaraderie of the cast and crew.
“I chose that picture because that was the fourth time I’d seen Norman,” Morgan said. “That shows you the kindness of these people and the way they welcome you. I just think it perfectly encapsulates exactly the hug that these people gave me.”
Ridloff and Matsuura, who both joined the show in season 9, both brought photos of their “little gang,” in Matsuura’s group (a.k.a. Magna’s Group) at different points in that season. Matsuura brought one from the end of their first year, when the remaining members of the group were psyched to have made it to the season finale. “I don’t want to leave,” she said. “I don’t want it to stop. I’m sure all of you feel the same way.”
Finally, self-proclaimed “Walking Dead baby” Shaw, who joined the show recently as Mercer (though, from the roaring crowd you’d never know he’d only been in the final season) shared a photo of him in costume with a walker played by Greg Nicotero, The Walking Dead executive producer, frequent director, and acclaimed make-up artist. “There are a lot of ‘Big Boys With Toys’ moments on The Walking Dead, and I feel like the best ones I’ve had have been with Greg.” Shaw also dedicated his performance to his father, who passed away earlier this year, and spoke to how the cast and producers supported him.
At the end of the panel Gimple answered a question about how the comic book series ends, and whether or not the flash forward in those final pages would ever be dramatized. “The way that the comic book ended was brilliant,” he said. “Robert [Kirkman] sprung it on all of us, and I love that he did that. I love that I did not get a call with a head’s up over that. Because he ruined many things over the years for me. I’ll tell you that I do wanna go into that world.”
Not only is that a good nugget to speculate on as fans wait to see how The Walking Dead will end and what happens next in the expanded universe, but it makes that ending less bittersweet. The show keeps getting resurrected through spin-offs and new locations and various continuations of character arcs. There will be new photos to share. Goodbye just doesn’t feel like goodbye.