The Undead Invade Atlanta: Walker Stalker Con is a Bloody Good Time

When “The Walking Dead” first aired in 2010, it was a relatively small-scale television series. Chronicling the adventures of Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) who awoke from a coma to find the world in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, the Emmy-nominated show had only a few characters and a simple plotline. The Zombies, known as “walkers,” served as the main threat to our human protagonists.

Now a few episodes into its eighth season, the show has clearly evolved, with several human civilizations and multiple villains threatening the lives of the protagonists. Zombies, while present, play a minor role in the plot. In addition, “The Walking Dead” has evolved into a pop-culture phenomenon. As Lincoln put it during a panel at the Walker Stalker Con convention, “This started as an indie [show], and it has become a movement.” This “movement” resulted in the creation of the convention, which is mainly dedicated to “The Walking Dead.”

From Oct. 27 to 29, the Walker Stalker Con took place at the Georgia World Congress Center in Downtown Atlanta. People from across the country gathered to share their love for the undead, and actors came to appease their adoring fans.

One could not walk within a few feet of the convention center without coming across a fan in some sort of sci-fi costume, from zombie makeup to “Ghostbusters” garb. “The Walking Dead” gear was found on countless bodies, including those of some service dogs.

A plethora of fan attire mimicked the show’s bat-toting baddie, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Fans sported black leather jackets, red bandanas around the neck, jeans, slicked back hair and, of course, Negan’s infamous barb-wired bat, Lucille.

That weekend, the Congress Center buzzed with excitement in anticipation the convention events. The main room featured vendors selling posters, artwork, books and other merchandise. It also included a series of meet-and-greets with the cast of “The Walking Dead” as well as other popular television shows and films.

For prices ranging from $40 to $100, fans had the opportunity to get an autograph, picture or video with one of the actors. The most popular booths appeared to be those of Morgan and Norman Reedus, who plays Daryl Dixon on “The Walking Dead.” Other notable names included Bruce Campbell (Ash Williams in “Ash vs. Evil Dead”), Tobin Bell (Jigsaw in the “Saw” films) and Ron Perlman (Clay Morrow in “Sons of Anarchy”).

As “The Walking Dead” currently films near the Atlanta area, many members of its cast attended the convention. Various actors from the show took part in panels, where they answered questions in the Thomas Murphy Ballroom.

Lincoln and Danai Gurira, who plays Michonne in “The Walking Dead”, headlined the “Lovers, Fighters” Oct. 29 panel.

An emcee, along with audience members, asked Lincoln asked about his experience on the show, which aired its 100th episode Oct. 22 of this year. When the emcee asked whether Rick would be around for the 200th episode, Lincoln smiled and replied, “I don’t know if my knees are gonna make it.”

Lincoln treated his fans to a tease of season eight, remarking that after a rough seventh season, the show is now “back with a swagger,” and that he thinks people will enjoy it.

He said that if he could play any other character on the show, he would play Michonne.

“I could rock the dreads and katana,” Lincoln said to a laughing crowd.

Midway through the panel, Gurira joined Lincoln on stage. When asked about her favorite moments on the show, Gurira discussed her love for Rick and Michonne’s relationship. She said her favorite episode to film was their “honeymoon” episode in season seven when the two went on a romantic excursion to gather food and weapons for their group. She even hinted that she would support a Rick and Michonne baby.

“[Michonne would] still be badass with a bump,” Lincoln said in response.

The next panel, “Negan,” featured an enthusiastic Morgan talking about his role as “The Walking Dead”s current antagonist. Morgan owned the stage, casually cursing and sometimes sounding just as villainous as Negan himself.

But playing the villain has come with its disadvantages, he said.

“When you see me walking down the street, I am Jeffrey Dean Morgan,” Morgan said. “You can flip me off if you want, but I’m a paid actor. I don’t actually kill people … yet.”

Morgan, who has starred in shows such as “Supernatural” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” emphasized the cast’s dedication on “The Walking Dead.”

“I have never seen a more passionate, hard working group of people,” Morgan said.

The cast’s hard work has clearly paid off. The droves of dedicated fans who traveled from afar and the enthusiasm of the crowd at the convention proved how passionate the show’s fans are, and how acclaimed “The Walking Dead” has become. While an actual zombie apocalypse may be far down the road, it’s reassuring to know that “The Walking Dead” fans will certainly be ready — with leather jackets and baseball bats.

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