Who did Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) kill? Not since J.R. got shot on Dallas (or, you know, what happened to that Jon Snow guy) has a mystery so dominated the pop culture conversation. When The Walking Dead left off at the end of Season 6, 11 (!!!) different characters were the chopping block, and who would go was anyone's guess.
With that in mind: no, of course the show's New York Comic Con panel didn't reveal who Negan killed. You'll have to wait until Oct. 23 to find out which of your faves will get their brains bashed in by Negan's deadly baseball bat Lucille. Instead, as always happens on TWD panels where the cast is hamstrung by the need to avoid spoilers entirely, they had a ton of fun. And isn't fun what The Walking Dead is all about?
Oh, and we did get to see a scene from the premiere that teases The Grimes Gang won't just lose one of their own courtesy of Negan. They're going to lose a little something else...
Before we get to the panel itself, though, let's talk about the feeling in the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Twenty minutes before the panel started, the thousands of fans (the Theater holds up to 5,600) was pumped, as AMC showed off a compilation reel of the events so far, leading up to Negan's deadly monologue in the finale. Every big death, every big moment elicited enormous cheers -- with fan favorites Carol (Melissa McBride) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) getting the biggest applause.
And then they transitioned into a series of promos cutting from each of the possibly dead characters' first scenes with the words "The Beginning," followed by the Negan scene with the words "The End," and it. Was. Excruciating. We talked to actor Michael Cudlitz the other day about how what happens after Negan kills one of the cast members is where the real meat of the season is at, and frankly, given how horribly emotional it'll be to get rid of any of these characters, we really can't get to the post-bat scenes quickly enough.
Finally, the panel started, with the cast members and executive producers heading on to stage to huge applause from the crowd. First piece of business? Yes, showrunner Scott Gimple confirmed, we will find out who Negan killed in the premiere. We'll also explore new areas and meet new characters, but Gimple also noted that this is the most character-driven season yet.
The whole thing got almost immediately derailed by Seth Gilliam's late entrance, followed by a very funny note from Andrew Lincoln (who couldn't make it), forcing Reedus to take off an item of clothing to give to a lucky audience member.
Getting back on track, Morgan noted of his new villain: "He's a bit of a showman, the world is his stage, and he owns it. We watched Rick and these guys get cocky in the last few years. Watching him stretch these Barnum and Bailey style justice on these guys ... it's time to take them down a notch."
One aspect of Negan that's the most difficult to capture? His expletive-heavy language. "We surgically capture the F-bombs that matter," Gimple joked.
Looking back a bit, Steven Yeun mused that Glenn and Maggie's relationship is "classic," with Danai Gurira recalling enjoying how her character Michonne has grown by leaps and bounds emotionally over the seasons.
Asked about the relationship between Michael Cudlitz's Abraham and Sonequa Martin-Green's Sasha, Cudlitz sashayed over to Green, asking the crowd to look at her, and saying, "I think the question is, what the hell is she thinking?" Green added that she thinks Abraham is "a warrior," and that she sees he's in a place where she used to be emotionally. "All I'm trying to do is survive, and I hide behind battle in all of its forms."
Both Abraham and Sasha's relationship is in jeopardy, of course: They're both on Negan's chopping block. But Cudlitz still credited that the relationship is a major growth point for both characters, since Abraham wasn't a good husband before the zombie apocalypse, so now (assuming they both survive) is his chance to really figure out how to be good in a relationship.
Speaking of relationships, Alanna Masterson's Tara has been on a supply run for a while now (since Masterson was pregnant in real life), during which her girlfriend Denise died. "It's going to be a really really hard thing for her to hear when she finds out," Masterson said. "I love Denise, just as Alanna. People really liked that relationship, it was very sweet."
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Lennie James' Morgan, who wrestled with killing humans throughout last season and lost. "Those who wanted Morgan to come back to being the killer..." James said. "Be careful what you wish for, guys."
For Melissa McBride's Carol, her Season 7 is about getting her head together. She was a killer, and went in the opposite direction from Morgan. "She just needs to get her head together, and what we have to do is so monstrous to survive..." McBride said. "What is it about this world that makes us want to survive so much? That's a huge question."
The season premiere picks up -- as mentioned -- right where we left off, but director/executive producer Greg Nicotero had an extremely hard time getting back into the Negan scene. He noted that he thought it would be easy, since they knew the blocking and camera angles from the Season 6 finale. It was not. "When we were finished, it took me a couple of weeks to recover from it," Nicotero said. "I was just whispering into people's ears, and watching them do what they do so well."
Nicotero also noted that the Season 7 finale will be the 99th episode of the show, with the Season 8 premiere being the show's 100th episode. Turning to Lauren Cohan, conversation immediately turned to her character Maggie Greene, as an incredibly emotional Cohan said to the crowd that she couldn't believe they're almost to 99. "You've all been on such an incredible journey with us," Cohan said, crying. "This is larger than our lives, larger than our show. This is such a great privilege."
When asked by the crowd how they've felt about dealing with the Negan death mystery, Robert Kirkman joked, "Personally I've been enjoying it, it's been a lot of fun."
And then we got to see a scene from the Season 7 premiere, right after Negan kills whoever he kills. As he looks Rick in the face, Rick says, "I'm gonna kill you." He repeats it, and then Negan mentions that he has a "right-hand man. Do you have one?" Negan looks around, asks what weapon Rick had on him. He's told it was a hatchet. Negan grabs the hatchet, drags Rick into his trailer. The camera slowly pans down to a pile of brains, blood and viscera.
That was it, but comic fans know: Rick loses a hand. In the comics, The Governor (David Morrissey) took it, but on the show... well, things don't look good, so we'll just have to stay tuned to find out.
The Walking Dead returns to AMC on Sunday nights at 9/8c, starting Sunday, Oct. 23.