"Don’t Open, Dead Inside” should be familiar words of wisdom for The Walking Dead fans. And yet, to watch as hundreds of those very same (and very living) fans flooded through the doors of Walker Stalker Con’s debut event in Atlanta, Georgia – ZombieCast crew included — you’d think we’d learned nothing from our years with Rick Grimes and the gang.
But what can we say? We’re suckers for the dead. And as it turned out, Walker Stalker Con 2013 was more than worth the risk of infection.
Held November 1 to 3 at the Atlanta Convention Center at AmericasMart in Georgia, Walker Stalker Con welcomed WD fans from all corners of the globe for three-days of bloody fun, celebrity elbow-rubbing, and glimpses at the talent driving one of the most watched shows in television history.
For ZCast, the party kicked off Friday afternoon at the Atlanta International Airport where Shawn Freeman (ZCast founder and host) arrived with wife Angie to assemble his crew of travel-weary survivors. Joining him were Fred Rojas* (B-Team host and host of Gaming History 101) and Matt Bradford (ZCast host and VGO third wheel). Together, the team set out to scavenge the Westin Hotel and its adjoining convention halls for everything Walker Stalker Con had to offer.
(*Read Fred’s B-Team Walker Stalker Con review)
Following a quick preview of the Walker Stalker Con Expo (more on that soon), the team put on their party suits (read: fresh t-shirts) to join other VIP guests for an exclusive Walker Stalker party at the Westin’s ballroom. The event featured appearances by WD cast members Chad Coleman (Tyreese), Lew Temple (Axel, Travis Love (Bowman), Moses Moseley and Theshay West (Michonne’s zombie pets), Kevin Galbraith (Swamp Walker), and a slew of recurring walkers.
The VIP party had a strict “no photos” policy, but … uh … yeah …
(In our defence, it was totally Lew’s idea)
With the first Walker Stalker Con night a total wrap, and our cameras full of totally-not-taken-at-the-VIP-party pictures, the ZCast/B-Team posse hit the streets for a night of pints at the nearby Irish Pub. Here, we ordered fancy sounding pints and adopted our best “That’s a Celebrity, But I’m Not Going to Stare” faces as the likes of Theodus Crane (Big Tiny), Peter Wierling (Asthma Boy), and other thirsty WD actors took up seats around us.
Parker who? Asthma what? You’d be forgiven for blanking on the character name, but odds are there’ll be plenty of Parker Wierling in your TV and movie-watching future. Indeed, meeting Wierling and his family was unexpected highlight of our post-conference festivities. Seriously, watch out for this guy. Also, try not to spill an entire glass of water on his pants the first time you reach across the table to introduce yourself (totally Fred’s fault, by the way).
WE REST … THEN DO IT ALL AGAIN
Enter: Day Two. This big one. The day. After a night’s sleep overlooking the “Building Where Rick Saw a Reflection of a Helicopter” and “That Roof Where Merle Chopped Off His Hand”, the ZCast team shifted its Walker Stalker Con-ing into overdrive. The early hours included attending panels with Greg Nicotero (zombie effects guru and WD artist/actor/director), Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes), WD writers, and Giancarlo Esposito (Gus Fring, Breaking Bad)—all of whom appeared just as excited as the fans that were there to see them.
Each panel featured the aforementioned actors talking openly about their roles on the show, sharing insights about life amongst the WD cast, and answering questions from the crowd. Though no spoilers were dropped, it afforded attendees some fresh new perspectives on the vast amount of talent and prosthetics that goes into making a show like WD and—perhaps more importantly—what it takes to thrive in the nightmarish hellscape of TV production.
Between each panel, ZCast seized the opportunity to scour the exhibition floor, a bazillion square foot venue packed with zombie-related exhibitors and autograph booths. With our media passes in hand (thanks again, Walker Stalkers!), we were granted shotgun interviews with WD notables. Among the many who fell victim to our media pass invasion were Laurie Holden (Andrea), Daniel Thomas May (Allen), Chad Coleman, and the Greg Nicotero, who chatted with Shawn about his vision of the “perfect zombie”.
Speaking of which, you can hear Nicotero’s answer, along with all the WD bumpers and shout-outs, on ZCast (plug!)
The expo floor was also where we ran into Dave Fennoy and Melissa Hutchison, the dreadlocked and ponytailed voicing stars of Telltale Game’s 2012 The Walking Dead videogame (Fennoy playing Lee and Hutchison playing Clementine). Both were more than happy to share their experiences with the game’s development and drop tantalizing clues as to their involvement in the game’s sequel season. Our bet is on a Lee flashback (given his fate in the original), but Fennoy was careful not to say anything concrete. Pft … way to be professional, Fennoy.
Actor meetings notwithstanding, The Walker Stalker exhibitors were also a sight to see. They included a massive mix of comic artists, toy makers, zombie make-up professionals, and [insert any imaginable zombie-related business here]. Shawn and I also caught up with 900 Miles author S. Johnathan Davis, ZCast guest (plug #2), who gifted us with a signed copy of his book (plug #3 – you should read this book).
Day Two capped with another VIP party, this time featuring stars from the previous night as well as new arrivals. Melissa Ponzio (Karen…former galpal of Tyreese) was among the night’s celebrities who had no problem sharing a drink and chatting about her experience on the show. Our party experienced included lengthy talks with other WD familiars and a surreal chat with Night of the Dead icon Judith O’Dea (Barbra) and Dawn of the Dead’s “Hare Krishna Zombie”, Mike Christopher.
After a detour to Emily Kinney’s (Beth Greene) live concert (plug #4 go buy anything she puts out. Now. Do it.), ZCast struck out to find a uniquely Atlanta meal … and eventually wound up back at the Irish pub after we got tired of waiting in line with everywhere else who had the same idea. Not that we were disappointed. Once again, we ordered our classy drinks and played “Spot the Zombie Actor”.
[Ed note: This is the part of the story that gets a bit fuzzy. Something about Mantelopes, Guinness, lost wallets, fried pickles, and hanging out with Scott Wilson (Hershel Greene) at 4am. True story.]
WE PREPARE FOR THE END
Alas, Day Three. The end. The dramatic finale. Not ones to let a late night slow us down, we rose at the wee(ish) hours of 10am to join Steven Yeun (Glenn) for his panel. The session consisted of even more behind-the-scenes perspectives from one of the show’s most-loved characters, as well as a ZCast plug posed in the form of a question (ps: turns out Steven isn’t too afraid of the show casting Negan after all).
Steven’s panel marked the end of our official Walker Stalker Con plans. That said, we couldn’t help squeeze in one more walk of the expo floor where we shook hands with Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon) and collected as much free swag as our weary arms could hold.
But before we returned to the airport, there was one final place we needed to see…
Last stop: Woodbury—or rather Senoia, the small town stand-in for one of WD most iconic locations. A short twenty-minute trek from the Westin Hotel, Woodbury served as the blood-soaked cherry on our WD cake. Here, the team met up with Michael Jaegers, ZCast regular and WD walker. To our surprise, Woodbury looked everything like its TV show counterpart, save for the blockades, empty storefronts, and lunatic governors. We took the opportunity to take self-guided tour of the town’s most familiar locales, include the torture shed, the blockade location, an outside look at the Governor’s office, and a suspicious patch of overgrown land we were told would appear in a later season four episode.
(We were also told a few other things, but asked to keep them on the down-low. Suffice to say, we’re really looking forward to how this season plays out).
And thus, with Woodbury at our backs, and our regular lives calling, we made one final lunch stop at Popeyes to toast our oversized drinking cups to a memorable vacation. good friends, great times, and gory fun—and all of it confirmed our love for zombie genre and its newest champion.
Special thanks to james and Eric of The Walker Stalkers podcast for including ZCast in Walker Stalker Con’s freshman year. We had an absolute blast look stalking the halls of future editions. Until then, listen for our impressions of the big event, and updates on the newly announced Walker Stalker Cons (that’s right…plural) on ZCast.