Members of The Walking Dead's cast and creative team spoke to a packed house of more than 1,200 fans at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles — home of the Oscars — at the 34th annual PaleyFest Friday night. To a very excited and sometimes rowdy bunch, cast members shared personal stories about life on set and some teasers about what's to come — including how Andrew Lincoln envisions his final scene going down.
As Rick, Carol (Melissa McBride), Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) Rosita (Christian Serratos) and more of our heroes march toward war with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the Saviors, showrunner Scott M. Gimple said Season 7's conclusion is about the end of a chapter. He hinted that Season 7's conclusion would be less wrenching (and in an interview with TVGuide.com before the panel, he said the finale would be more emotionally heavy than gory — another clue that we're saying goodbye to another friend.) The eighth season, coming in the fall, will herald the 100th episode when it kicks off and is more about setting up the next 100 episodes, Gimple said.
Given the heavy nature of the first half of the season, the 11 cast members created a remarkably upbeat affair. Though favorites including Norman Reedus and Jeffery Dean Morgan were among the talents absent, the vibe was happy and enthusiastic largely due to the excited energy from fans who clapped and cheered at nearly everything they said. They were treated to an extended clip, too, foreshadowing a couple of scenes that showed Sasha sharpening a knife and preparing for battle, glimpses at Maggie's ultrasound, Sasha and Rosita forming their new alliance, and Hilltop's leader Gregory (Xander Berkeley) peering out of a window and being very disappointed he's run out of booze.
Most of the panel was devoted to the actors talking about their roles and how their lives have been impacted by being on the show of a lifetime.
- Josh McDermitt shed some insight on what exactly is going on with Eugene, who's very much looking like a traitor right now. "I don't feel like Eugene is playing a game," he said. "He's trying to protect himself. Why not align himself with the man who is causing the most fear in his life?" Eugene lies and manipulates, but only as an act of survival. "He's like a cockroach."
- Lauren Cohan talked about how Maggie has been able to stay sane after losing her husband, father, sister and others. She sees Maggie as someone who recognizes she's here for a greater good, with a light inside her she has to pass on and "the more people she loses, the stronger the light gets."
- Melissa McBride, who seemed to get the most applause, talked about not feeling like the badass she's constantly called. "It's hard for me to wrap my head around [being called a badass]," she said, "because I don't feel like I've played her as a badass. She just does badass-y things."
- Alanna Masterson reveled in getting a script and coming back to work after having a baby. Over breakfast with Gimple, he told her she'd be in the standalone episode we saw in which she stumbled onto the all-female Oceansiders. "I was reading it like, 'Does he know I just had a baby?'" she said. "He was like, 'Do you want to fall off a bridge? Do you want to run on hot cars, just don't step on windows and break your leg?' I love Tara. She's got a lot of heart. I hope she's holding the torch for Glenn." She got a roaring applause.
- Perhaps the loudest cheering through, came for Andrew Lincoln when he described how he'd like for Rick's final scene to go down. Prompted by a fan in the audience to describe his ideal end scene, Lincoln described being "in a desert somewhere" and then Rick jumps off a bus, fighting walkers — until he gets bitten. He's waiting to die, but after patching himself up he realizes, "Holy sh--, maybe I'm the cure," as the audience howled. "[Then] you see a herd of zombies coming and Rick follows the tracks to go see Carl and the herd walking toward him just separates." And he walks right through them.
McDermitt, the comic of the bunch, shot back: "I could do all that. Then Eugene comes in a dune buggy and runs over Rick."
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.