The Walking Dead's sixth season ended with the introduction of the super villain Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the lives of numerous characters up in the air. Ahead of its seventh season, which will premiere Oct. 23, the cast offered their takes on what may or may not happen to their characters.
"Maggie's a hopeful character," Lauren Cohan said during a press conference at San Diego Comic-Con. "There's a repeated theme of rising through the ashes time and time again, and I think that the lesson I've always taken away from that is that there will be suffering and that is inevitable. Maggie wants to bring a child into this world, so I hope that means something good for her character."
Others, like Chandler Riggins who plays Carl, said that he's hoping he survives because he's one of the few that actually wants to take on Negan. While most of the characters are willing to submit themselves to the cruelty of Negan if that means their survival will be ensured, Carl doesn't want to become another victim to a power-hungry monster.
"I think it's really cool how far he's come along since we started," Riggins said. "Carl's one of the only ones that wants to step up and fight him and I enjoy playing that."
The biggest question of the day was how Morgan felt coming into television's most popular show, and, of course, how he felt wreaking absolute havoc. For the actor, who's become a prominent figure in the world of genre television following long stints on series like Supernatural, he was aware of the challenges he was going to have going in and how difficult it was going to be to get fans to like his character because of just how intense his introduction is.
"It's going to be hard until it isn't," Morgan said. "And I have no idea when that time is going to be."
In the comics, Negan is a relentless, sadistic leader that controls an army of men with similar mindsets. He and his best friend — a baseball bat he's lovingly dubbed Lucille — are the reason for a good amount of the devastation that affects Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his newfound family. Negan is a big figure in the comics and Morgan said he didn't approach the role lightly. Instead, he studied up on the comics to try and get into the mind of the villain and learn what he could do to translate the character from comic book to television.
"The comic books and they're great to have as a resource, but playing Negan has given me the chance to do something I've never done before," Morgan said. "There's not one ounce of Jeff in there. I see parts of Negan in the comics that I want to bring to life and it's become a really weird thing to see happen.
"Scenes will happen and we'll just look at each other and go, 'What the hell just happened?'"
David Alper, an executive producer on the show, said that it was also important to them to make Morgan's Negan slightly different from the comic to keep fans entertained. Alper said that one of the big challenges they have is — and one of the aspects of the show they're committed to — is ensuring that the series and comic books are just different enough that readers won't get bored with what they're seeing on screen. In that way, the seventh season will incorporate new characters, like King Ezekiel and the tiger, Shiva — but it'll differ from the events that happen after issue #100.
"We'll just look at each other and go, 'What the hell just happened?"
"We're going to be hitting a lot of milestones, and there will be a lot of events that you'll recognize," Alper said. "But there will be a lot of zig-zagging that's similar to what we've done in the past six seasons so even if you think you know what's happening, it'll be slightly different."
Scott Gimple, the series current showrunner, echoed Alper's thoughts and said as much as they respect the comics and its legion of fans, they had to have the creative license to do their own thing. He added that it's important not to be afraid of changing some things and not thinking about how fans will react to it.
Luckily for the team, however, the comic does act as a reference and special effects supervisor-turned-director Greg Nicotero said they've had four years to prepare for this moment. It was four years ago this weekend that they read issue #100 and realized they would eventually have to incorporate that scene. As terrifying as the idea was at the time, Nicotero said they're prepared to step into that moment now and move forward with the characters.
"When we shot the episode, that was the critical moment," Nicotero said. "The five minutes after, the ten minutes after that are just as important, though. It's like when the smoke clears from the battlefield.
"The trick with this episode is that you know it's coming."