Walking Dead's 100th episode screening delights fans in Los Angeles

(From left) Actors Josh McDermitt, Khary Payton, Steven Ogg, Austin Amelio, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Pollyanna McIntosh at the premiere of The Walking Dead’s new eighth season, the first episode of which is also the show’s landmark 100th episode.
(From left) Actors Josh McDermitt, Khary Payton, Steven Ogg, Austin Amelio, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Pollyanna McIntosh at the premiere of The Walking Dead’s new eighth season, the first episode of which is also the show’s landmark 100th episode. PHOTO: FOX ENTERTAINMENT GROUP
Actor Andrew Lincoln (left) stars in the eighth season of the drama series, The Walking Dead.
Actor Andrew Lincoln stars in the eighth season of the drama series, The Walking Dead.PHOTO: FOX ENTERTAINMENT GROUP

Cast members of the hit drama series turned up for a special screening of the 100th episode

It has been seven years since sheriff's deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) woke up from a coma in the first episode of The Walking Dead - and found his world had turned into a zombie-infested hell.

But despite flagging American viewership and savage reviews for its last few seasons, the post-apocalyptic drama, which showed Hollywood how lucrative the zombie genre could be, is still a ratings juggernaut, with millions of fans worldwide.

About 5,000 of them descended on a special screening of The Walking Dead's 100th episode in Los Angeles last weekend, one of several commemorative events held across the globe.

Some of the more enthusiastic fans came dressed as their favourite characters and many screamed themselves hoarse when 20 actors from the main cast appeared on stage for a live taping of the series' after-show, Talking Dead, where fans and actors dissect the episode that has just aired.

Series leads Lincoln, Norman Reedus (Daryl), Lauren Cohan (Maggie), Danai Gurira (Michonne), Melissa McBride (Carol) and Chandler Riggs (Carl) were joined by former castmates Sonequa Martin-Green (Sasha), Scott Wilson (Hershel) and Michael Rooker (Merle), who remain fan favourites even though their characters have been killed. The audience also cheered at a pre-recorded video message from Steven Yeun, whose beloved character, Glenn, met a gory end last season.

Executive producers Robert Kirkman, Scott Gimple and Greg Nicotero said the milestone 100th episode - the first in the eighth season - was a valentine to loyal fans as well as those who work on the show.

The new season airs in Singapore on Mondays on Fox (Singtel TV Channel 330 and StarHub TV Channel 505).

  • The Walking Dead hit

  • Did The Walking Dead revive or kill the zombie genre - and did it help elect Trump?

    1 The Walking Dead (2010 to present) sparked a zombie revival in Hollywood. Following its success, films such as World War Z (2013) and Warm Bodies (2013) hit the screen, as well as television series such as its own spin-off set in Los Angeles, Fear The Walking Dead (2015 to present) and iZombie (2015 to present).

    2 Not everyone thinks its legacy is positive, though. The late film-maker George Romero, who birthed the zombie genre with his 1968 film Night Of The Living Dead, said this and other modern zombie titles put too much emphasis on violence, gore, action and special effects.

    Last year, Romero said The Walking Dead and World War Z had made it tough for him to get financing for the small zombie films he himself wanted to make, which were intended more as socio-political critiques.

    3 The show made the career of Andrew Lincoln, the Love, Actually (2003) star previously little known outside his native Britain.

    At Sunday's 100th episode screening, producer Dave Alpert revealed that the show almost cast Jon Bernthal as Rick, but eventually settled on Lincoln despite him being the "counter-intuitive" choice.

    Asked what he would have done if he had not won the role, Lincoln, 44, joked that he might have become "a cheese-maker or pig farmer", or done the obligatory British-actor stint in the Harry Potter, Lord Of The Rings or Star Wars films.

    4 Other stars the show minted include Norman Reedus, whose fan-favourite character Daryl has become the show's unofficial heart-throb; Bernthal, who played Rick's best friend Shane on the show and will headline the new Marvel superhero series The Punisher on Netflix next month; and Sonequa Martin-Green, who played Sasha and now leads the cast of the new Star Trek: Discovery, also on Netflix.

    5 In a Forbes interview last November, Jared Kushner, who was then running his father-in-law Donald Trump's presidential bid, said the Trump campaign had identified TV shows popular with blocs of voters in specific regions.

    According to the campaign team's data, The Walking Dead was popular with voters worried about immigration and so the campaign paid for targeted TV advertisements during the show's broadcast in key states.

    This led some commentators to speculate that the series - in which zombies are a hostile "other" that is constantly trying to breach one's borders - may have helped elect President Trump.

In the season opener, Rick unites three groups of apocalypse survivors in a battle against the murderous Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the current villain of the piece.

A scene where Carl paces nervously through a petrol station deliberately echoes a similar one in the first episode featuring his father, Rick.

Gimple, the head writer and showrunner, said "so much of the show is about the handoff of ideas and experience to other people that carry it on".

"This is about honouring all of the work and the story that came before, and honouring all the people who have worked on this show."

Acknowledging the dozens of crew members in the audience, Nicotero - who directed the 100th episode and supervises the show's Emmy-winning prosthetic zombie make-up - said this is a gruelling show to produce.

"This 100th episode really pays tribute not only to some of the visuals and storytelling that we've done before, but to every single person out here and the fans too.

"We're grateful to be here. Our fans have given us so much energy and the ability to keep going."

Those fans, however, have been just as vocal about what they do not like - notably when Glenn and another character, Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), were bludgeoned to death in the Season 7 premiere last year, a scene many felt was gratuitously violent and drawn-out.

In reaction to the backlash, executive producer Gale Ann Hurd admitted, earlier this year, that the show decided to tone down the violence for the remaining episodes that season, although Nicotero and Gimple would later contradict her somewhat, saying they would never deviate from "serving the story".

Meanwhile, The Walking Dead remains the most-watched show on cable TV in the US, although it has seen roller-coaster ratings in recent years.

Last Sunday's episode drew 11.4 million viewers, down from the 17 million it got for last October's premiere, and the smallest audience for a season debut since 2012.

Kirkman, who also pens the award-winning comic books the show is based on, believes the series still has a lot of life left. And even though he recently announced his departure from AMC, the network that makes the show, he hopes it will make it to a 10th season.

"I'd like to think this is just the beginning," he said on Sunday. "What I want is for people to see that this is a really sprawling story that has a lot of depth to it.

"It is ultimately a story about people coming and working together against all odds and so I hope there is a positive message that comes from it at the end of the day."

• The Walking Dead Season 8 airs in Singapore on Fox (Singtel TV Channel 330 and StarHub TV Channel 505) on Mondays at 11.30am (same day as in the United States) and 9pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2017, with the headline 'Walking Dead's tribute to fans, crew'. Print Edition | Subscribe