As with the Fear the Walking Dead panel before it, The Walking Dead panel started with a brief tribute to late stuntman John Bernecker. Showrunner Scott M. Gimple told the audience, "John passed away last week after he was injured doing something he loved ... he was living his dream."
With that, the tone shifted dramatically as the trailer for Season 8 was unveiled. “I hope you got your s**ttin’ pants on,” was the first thing we heard, in the unmistakable voice of Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), as he continued to a captured Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), "Because you are about to s**t your pants."
The trailer then opened up into a series of shots of all the major characters, followed by a quickening montage of Rick's group and the Kingdom preparing for all-out war. "This world is ours!" screamed Maggie (Lauren Cohan) in one shot, while a long, rousing speech from Rick (Andrew Lincoln) ended with the promise "We've already won!"
The biggest cheer was reserved for Daryl (Norman Reedus), of course, who we saw riding his motorcycle, firing his gun and leaving a trail of fiery explosions in his wake.
A final mysterious shot showed a much older Rick waking up in a bed, his hair gray and his beard even longer.
Kirkman noted the October 22 premiere will be the show's 100th episode, and that was commemorated by a montage reel showing the history of the first 99 segments, going all the way back to the pilot. The most fascinating aspects of the reel were seeing departed cast members (like Scott Wilson, Jeffrey DeMunn and Michael Rooker) as well as the way that Dixon and Chandler Riggs' hair lengthened over the course of eight years.
Kirkman added that AMC will roll out plans to celebrate the premiere and the 100th episode.
The panel was opened right away to fan questions, which were fielded by executive producers Gimple, Kirkman, Greg Nicotero, Gale Anne Hurd and cast members Andrew Lincoln, Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride, Chandler Riggs, Lennie James, Lauren Cohan, Norman Reedus, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alanna Masterson, Seth Gilliam and Khary Payton.
Many of the cast members spoke lovingly about the friendships they have forged on the show, with Lincoln and Reedus both saying that it's been the most incredible professional and personal experience of their lives.
Lennie James recalled a moment on the very first episode: "There was a moment when we went in the corner, two Englishmen playing Americans, and we said, 'Can you believe this is happening?'"
The cast did seem rather subdued in the wake of their recent tragedy, but whatever one thinks of The Walking Dead's ups and downs, the genuine friendships among this cast remain sincere and palpable.
"That's what draws people to the show," said Payton. "These people fight to hold onto what makes them human."