At last year's San Diego Comic-Con, The Walking Dead hadn't yet debuted on AMC. Of huge interest to comics fans and zombie aficionados, filmmaker (and now showrunner) Frank Darabont's epic based on Robert Kirkman's acclaimed Image graphic novel series was a popular draw, if not quite the must-see hot-ticket that many other TV shows command, even over major movie panels.
In 2011, all of that is right out the window. The Walking Dead premiered last Halloween to record ratings and its powerful survival story has captivated an enormous cross-section of fans, genre or otherwise. On this year's brand-new schedule tracker on the official SDCC website, the Friday panel in Ballroom 20 was added to more con-goers' personal schedules than any other panel, even more than HBO's Game of Thrones and any number of film panels in big, bad Hall H. Capacity issues were unavoidable. By the time the show's panel (in which a brand new full trailer for the upcoming season) began, over 4,000 fans were seated in the room with a reported 9,000 still in line.
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Speaking to the cast and creators of the show, it is evident that their immense respect for the source material as well as fondness for the creative team and the desire to truly break ground on basic cable has informed the level of storytelling that fans have embraced so completely.
"Somewhere along the line you think, is it going to live up to expectations?" says Andrew Lincoln, who plays protagonist Rick Grimes. "And then, even then, you can have a great time during a shoot and people just go [non-plussed] 'Yeah. Great.' But on every aspect of this job, in every department, it's just been amazing. Just to come to Comic-Con and see [thousands] of people who care about it as much as we do... [Jeffrey] DeMunn said it when were our in the hall just now, he said 'It's such a priviledge to be here, to witness it'."