NYCC Panel Recap: Inside the Walking Dead

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As a brand, The Walking Dead is the hottest thing around. There’s the wildly successful television show that breaks records every single year. It’s adapted from a still continuing comic series that’s coming into its 150th issue. Telltale Games has successfully made two seasons of a critically beloved video game series that many desperately want to get more coverage. Then you have the novels which, compared to everything else, were flashes in a pan that have yet to continue. Sure there have been some mistakes (Activision’s Daryl Dixon lead Survival Instinct), but for the most part, this franchise is an unmitigated success.

Creator Robert Kirkman knows this, and is more than happy to rise up to the challenge. During his own panel at New York Comic Con, something entirely separate from the massive fan event at Madison Square Garden, Kirkman provided an inside look with all things Walking Dead. He talked about the show, the comics, the video games, and his own process when it comes to doing all the work that’s now expected of him. It was a very open panel that ended with a lot of people getting an even better insight into their favorite undead franchise.

Why The Premiere Party Was At MSG

New York Comic Con 2014 had one unanimous truth: The Walking Dead is the biggest panel of the Con. You had to get there ASAP or you would completely miss out. This year, to give more people a chance to see it, AMC chose to bring the show and cast to an exclusive Walking Dead fan appreciation event at MSG. Kirkman had this to say about the setup.

“AMC put everything together because the show is just too popular,” said Kirkman. “I’m very excited though because it’s cool to have a premiere event with fans in New York. We usually do events in Los Angeles with press and they’re not nearly as excited”

Season 6the-walking-dead-season-6-premiere

As expected, a lot of the panel was dedicated to the current season of The Walking Dead. People wanted to know what to expect and were desperate to get any new information. Kirkman wanted to keep everything close to the vest, but he did let this out.

“There are big cliffhangers at the end of every episode,” Kirkman told the packed Empire Stage. “Season 6 is by far the most intense we’ve ever done.”

Fans of the comics know we’re getting towards some major additions, like the Hilltop region and infamous antagonist Negan. Kirkman however wouldn’t budge.

“I can’t answer that,” Kirkman replied when asked about the Hilltop. “I can’t say [when or if] Negan is coming, but I do know.”

Seeing as how the television show has brought most important moments from the book onto screen, it’s safe to assume that Kirkman was keeping hush to avoid spoilers. For all we know, the Hilltop and Negan will come in Season 6. He just wants us to wait and see if it does happen.

What To Expect With Maggie Greene

Maggie Greene, played wonderfully by Lauren Cohan, has rapidly set herself up as a fan favorite character. Last season saw her push herself into a position of leadership within Alexandria. She’s not as harsh as Rick (Andrew Lincoln), but knows how to play a “politician.” Kirkman assured us that she will get even more material this season.

“Maggie will step up,” said Kirkman. “She’s become very assertive and is working closely with Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh). A lot of cool stuff is coming with Maggie.”

New Shows

Summer 2015 was monumental for Dead. In late August, the spin-off Fear the Walking Dead premiered, and it brought us back to the early days of the apocalypse in LA. It’s now had the highest rated first season in cable TV history. Branching off that, there’s also the new webseries Flight 462 which brings Dead into an airliner. Kirkman couldn’t resist giving insight into both.

Fear the Walking Dead Poster“It was a lot of fun playing with expectations [on Fear], Kirkman revealed. “I’m upset that we never saw how these people learned to survive. There’s definitely some water action coming up on Season 2 as well. It won’t be a bottle story every week. It’s boat heavy and very different.”

As for Flight 462, Kirkman said, “This was made to keep The Walking Dead present in the minds of viewers. It’s really cool. We’re introducing mini-characters and one will show up in Fear‘s next season.”

The Walking Dead‘s Past

Amid all the discussion about what to expect next, Kirkman detailed what happened before his comic became a massive hit. Turns out we almost didn’t get any Dead at all.

“Image first passed on the idea,” Kirkman revealed. “It’s insane looking back now but it wasn’t crazy at the time. There was no successful zombie stuff in comics.”

Kirkman then went on to say that he revised his pitch to Image to reveal that aliens were the ones responsible for the undead apocalypse. Image was game for this, and The Walking Dead became a reality. Kirkman later confessed that no aliens would come, but all parties agreed that was for the best.

Different Versions

The Walking Dead can be found on almost every medium now. All follow the walker uprising in their own way, and with that comes a lot of changes in material. Certain characters from the show, most notably Daryl, we’re not adapted from the comic books. Clementine, the antagonist of Telltale’s video game series, is a no show on other mediums as well. Fans have been clamoring for crossover for years and some have even gone so far as to write their own additions. Kirkman, however, remains steadfast on this issue.

“One of the coolest things about The Walking Dead is you can only get certain stuff in different versions,” Kirkman said. “I want to keep it that way. There will be no Lee, Clem, or Daryl in the comics.”

Speaking Of Daryl…walking-dead-150-cover

Daryl Dixon is unquestionably the most popular character on the television series. This is especially interesting because he’s an entirely original character. Many would much rather have him lead the show than Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes. According to Kirkman though, we almost had a world where Norman Reedus played someone else.

“Norman actually auditioned for the role of Merle,” Kirkman told the crowd. “We liked him so much that we decided to create Daryl exclusively for him. As the character grew, it was Norman who gave Daryl his personality.”

Room For Change

Since Robert Kirkman is such a busy man, not only leading The Walking Dead but also the upcoming Outcast on Cinemax, it’s only sensible that he plans ahead. There’s simply too much on his plate now to leave anything for chance. As it turns out, this has an even bigger benefit when it comes to planning.

“I always give myself the ability to change things drastically,” Kirkman said. “At least once a year, I change my mind. I originally didn’t want to have the recent time jump.”

Kirkman then went on to detail how, despite The Walking Dead being his main operation, he’s grown comfortable with the very talented people working around him. He also premiered the official cover of issue #150, coming January.

The Walking Dead is currently airing Season 6 every Sunday at 9 PM on AMC. Read our review of the excellent Season 6 Premiere, “First Time Again,” here.

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Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor. Every Saturday afternoon you can read his video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.

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