Hit AMC series “The Walking Dead” and “Fear the Walking Dead” usually open their annual Comic-Con panels on a celebratory note. But this year, the shows struck a different tone, in light of the recent death of stuntman John Bernecker.
“The Walking Dead” panel kicked off solemnly, as executive producer Scott Gimple read a tribute to Bernecker, sharing some of his credits – including “Looper,” “This Is The End,” “The Hunger Games,” “Get Out” and “Logan.”
“John passed away this week after he was injured doing something he loved,” Gimple said, “John was someone beloved in the stunt community. He was living his dream and he helped other people do the same thing.”
Gimple added that the cast and crew “didn’t know if we should do this panel today. But we wanted to be here for you. And we wanted to show you what weve all been working on.” He then rolled the trailer for the show’s new season.
The show’s cast came out on stage sans the placards that normally identify them by name, and moderator Chris Hardwick bowed out, leaving Gimple to lead the proceedings. The subdued panel, which mostly focused on fan questions, was a departure from raucous affairs in the past, when stars Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus would pull pranks on each other.
Earlier, Chris Hardwick (who did moderate “Fear the Walking Dead” kicked off the back-to-back panels by asking the fans inside the San Diego Convention Center’s Hall H for a moment of silence. “They lost a very dear friend,” he said. The crowd abided, and then clapped in tribute.
“I think it’s important to just say its a horrible thing that happened,” Hardwick said. “Theres not a silver lining I see. It’s important to talk about it and honor him.”
Hardwick said the cast and producers of “The Walking Dead” debated whether to still come to Comic-Con in light of the news. “They’re very emotional right now,” he said. “[But] they wanted to come and be here for the fans.”
Hardwick then started moderating the “Fear the Walking Dead” panel, with executive producers Dave Erickson, Robert Kirkman, Dave Alpert, Gale Anne Hurd and Greg Nicotero. As for “The Walking Dead” panel, which will come later this afternoon, Hardwick said the show’s stars and producers “felt necessary to run the panel themselves.”
Bernecker died after from blunt force trauma due to a fall during production of the hit zombie series. The stuntman was working on “The Walking Dead” Season 8 when he fell more than 20 feet onto a concrete floor. He was transported to a nearby hospital by helicopter. AMC temporarily shutting down production on the zombie series following the fatal accident.
Meanwhile, effects/makeup guru Nicotero also paid tribute to zombie originator George Romero, who died this week at age 77. “None of us would be here,” he said of Romero’s impact. “I was honored to work with him and he gave me my first job. I would probably be taking real kidneys out rather than fake ones because I was going to be a doctor until I met [Romero]. It was a sad day for all of us… he broke down the boundaries. His stories had social commentary. He used the zombie apocalypse to talk about what was going on in the world at the time and we’re doing the same thing.”
Kirkman also chimed in, noting that he grew up watching “Night of the Living Dead” and other Romero classics, which frequently aired on local TV in his Kentucky town. “To go on that ride for the first time, to see what it is a zombie story could be, leading all the way to the insanely poignant ending, I was instantly in love with the genre and the man as a filmmaker. I couldn’t be more upset about that loss.”
Also during “The Walking Dead” panel, executive producer and comic book creator Robert Kirkman noted that the show’s Season 8 premiere also doubles as its landmark 100th episode. “I think Judith [the baby born on the show] is old enough for her first zombie kill,” he quipped. “3 is appropriate!” As for hitting the 100 mark, “we’ve got really great stuff planned with AMC. I can’t believe its been 99, thats a lot of episodes.”
The Season 8 trailer promised plenty of action, starting with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) barking, “I hope you got your shittin’ pants on because you’re about to shit your pants!” Watch it here.
Something unlikely to pop up during “The Walking Dead” panel: the feud between original series developer Frank Darabont, AMC, and the show’s other producers will be addressed. Darabont has sued AMC, claiming $280 million in damages over allegedly being denied rightful profit participation.
“F*ck you all for giving me chest pains because of the staggering f*cking incompetence, blindness to the important beats, and the beyond-arrogant lack of regard for what is written being exhibited on set every day,” Darabont wrote in an email to producer Gale Anne Hurd and others on June 14, 2011. “Everybody, especially our directors, better wake the f*ck up and pay attention. Or I will start killing people and throwing bodies out the door.”