London in March means only two things: 1) The rain and 2) The Walker Stalker Con. Oh, how every “Walking Dead” fan needs their fix of what has now become an annual gathering of friends and fiends over one glorious weekend. The venue as always was the magnificent Olympia, an exhibition center that was built in 1886, if only the walls could speak. But for this past weekend the Olympia was transformed into zombie heaven, as a huge piece of Atlanta’s finest took center stage.
In the key adults 18-49 demographics “The Walking Dead” is the most watched show in America and that’s well into its 7th season. The cast have repeatedly said appearing at these conventions is like meeting up with old friends, and there is a real sense of fan loyalty. But above even that there is a genuine camaraderie that fires out faster than a Daryl Dixon arrow hitting a walker between the eyes. Seriously when you see the notices that this convention has been created by the fans for the fans it is the truest statement of the weekend.
All Photos: David Bronstein
Early on Saturday Norman Reedus is already messing around on the upper level, waving his phone around to thousands of cheers and screams as he settles down for his first signing session. Once you see Reedus you know you’re in for the long haul here, the stars really are out in force, and the buzz and anticipation has just begun.
The first panel opens up with none other than The Governor played by David Morrissey and Hershel played by Scott Wilson. The last time these two were seen on screen was in season 4’s mid-season finale ‘Too Far Gone’. There The Governor was screaming “liar” and beheading poor Hershel with Michonne’s katana, in what a lot of fans cite as the best episode in the shows run. In real life the two actors share a warmth and understanding that comes over in the discussion. The pair were happy to get into character mode and reconcile so to speak. When Wilson is asked which other character he would most like to be, he creates a laughing fit amongst listeners when he answers “Judith”.
After the panel Katelyn Nacon who plays Enid entertained us with some songs – in 2015 Nacon released her first EP Love in May. Today she surprises us with a beautiful cover of Radiohead’s hit song “Creep.” After her set it was time for the sell-out crowd to settle down and get ready for Mr Rick Grimes himself, Andrew Lincoln.
Inevitably the place went a little crazy when Lincoln appeared complete with a smile that has melted a million hearts the world over. As one of the most important characters in the show it is refreshing though hardly unexpected that Lincoln is a charming and welcoming attendee. Halfway into his discussion he is reunited with on screen son Carl when Chandler Riggs joins him and the pair answers questions for the next half hour.
Following Lincoln and Riggs was the gore-master and occasional director of the show Greg Nicotero who gave some wonderful insights into how certain episodes played out. He talked in detail about Glenn and Abraham’s death scene and then surprised us all by sharing from his cell phone rarer than rare behind the scenes footage including himself, Rick, Negan and Lucille! He also assured fans that the show runner’s intention wasn’t to listen to pressure groups who wanted the gore toned down, inevitably this was followed by a chorus of approval.
The day was so cheerful, eventful and staff so friendly that coming back for a second dose on Sunday was as welcoming as the group stumbling onto Alexandria. The morning got off to an hilarious start when the first panel consisted of Christian Serratos (Rosita), Josh McDermott (Eugene), Alanna Masterson (Tara) and Michael Cudlitz (Abraham). McDermott was on form and when technical difficulties arose with his microphone, McDermott instead ran into the crowd and spoke to fans. He also hinted that his character Eugene really may have changed sides and is now a Savior!
The one and only King Ezekiel played by Khary Payton was next on the panel and was just as infectious as his character. Bringing his wife and family along to the show he recited the bible passage Ezekiel 25:17, made most famous by Samuel L. Jackson’s character in the Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece Pulp Fiction. And whilst he thankfully did not attend the show with his tiger Shiva, Payton did prove he has a lion’s heart by inviting a small child fan on stage and giving her a hug!
One of the most surreal and certainly funniest moments during Sunday was when band Issimo appearing in between panel discussions covered ‘Easy Street’ made so famous earlier in the season in episode ‘The Cell’ where Negan’s group attempted to drive Daryl insane with the song on a loop. The twosome got a reaction from the man himself, Jeffrey Dean Morgan who signalled to the band from the balcony.
Next up it was time to turn our attentions to the Hilltop, where we were joined by Tom Payne who plays Jesus and Xander Berkeley who plays Gregory. Both were engaging as Payne revealed that he is still learning how to look after his hair and said that when he joined the show both Andrew Lincoln and Steven Yeun were incredibly welcoming.
The day came to a close after a small delay with a triple dose of The Saviors- Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Negan), Austin Amelio (Dwight) and Steven Ogg (Simon). Morgan burst into laughter when a small kid dressed as Negan began his question and said “I am Negan”. He then became the luckiest kid in the room when he was invited on stage so Morgan could show him how to use Lucille properly, it was clearly a moment that he will never forget. The trio continued to answer questions for almost an hour and this was a fitting end to a superb weekend that saw celebrities, fans, traders and cosplayers unite as one for some serious fun. Roll on 2018 London, where tickets will go on sale by the end of this month!