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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014

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Norman Reedus, Steven Yeun, Lauren Cohan and Greg Nicotero (not pictured) came to Milwaukee Saturday night.
Norman Reedus, Steven Yeun, Lauren Cohan and Greg Nicotero (not pictured) came to Milwaukee Saturday night.

Cast of "The Walking Dead" brings Riverside crowd to life

The cast and crew of AMC’s hit television show "The Walking Dead" are used to working with stumbling, lifeless corpses. Rowdy, liquored up Milwaukeeans, on the other hand, are a very different story. At least that’s the way it seemed as a large crowd of vocal fans welcomed Norman Reedus (Daryl), Steven Yeun (Glenn), Lauren Cohan (Maggie) and producer/director/make-up artist Greg Nicotero to the Riverside Saturday night.

That’s certainly not to say that it wasn’t a fun event. Instead, it was like three separate events – one-third thoughtful behind-the-scenes discussion, one-third intimate night out with the cast, one-third chaotically entertaining fangasm – inelegantly mashed into a single 90-minute session. The drunken mayhem (if the stars are to be believed, the 7:00 show was a far more sober affair) meant the celebrity sit-down probably didn’t fulfill every Dead-head’s desire, but it was sure to leave everyone with at least an amused smile planted on their face.

After showing a few clips from the current season (which, as Nicotero pointed out, received crowd interaction on a "Rocky Horror Picture Show" level), the cast took their seats on the couches – or on Nicotero’s lap, in Reedus’s case – scattered on the stage. Master of ceremonies Kyle Ryan from the A.V. Club got the conversation going with a few questions, mainly about how the cast members got involved with the monster hit and the rigors of shooting in the killer heat of Atlanta.

Keeping both the cast and the crowd on track, however, would prove to be a futile mission. From the beginning of the night, Reedus was the most easily distracted. Most of the time, the culprit was the crowd, yelling out dedications of love to their favorite star and summoning multiple rounds of PBR up to the stage (by the end of the night, there were about ten Tall Boys scattered around the stage). Other times, it was simply Reedus’s microphone, which he couldn’t stop fiddling with throughout the evening.

Even with all of the distractions and yelling, for the first hour, Ryan drew interesting answers and entertaining anecdotes from his star-studded panel. Though a bit scatterbrained, Reedus provided several humorous comments and fun behind-the-scenes tales, namely a discussion about Daryl’s treasured crossbow and the convoluted "math problem" of filming the action in "The Walking Dead." One of the biggest problems? The weapons’ Nerf gun-like sounds that kill any sense of badassery the actors might feel like a bullet to a zombie’s brain.

As one might expect, it was Nicotero, the lone non-actor in the group, who provided most of the nitty-gritty technical details that hardcore fans were probably hoping to hear. He explained some of the show’s most intricate and impressive make-up effects – mainly involving blood-filled condoms – and background stories, both amusing and informative, about the show’s creation and development. His discussions about the emotion and psychology of the zombie genre even managed to silence the boisterous crowd (for a little bit, at least).

Yeun fell somewhere perfectly in the middle of Reedus’s distractedness and Nicotero’s braininess, providing answers that were equal parts entertaining and informative. He stole the show with his story about a harrowing run-in with a frisky tick that ended up in places no insect should be found. It was a hilarious tale, albeit horrifying for the gentlemen in the audience.

Reedus’s tale of saving an actual person trapped in a car accident – after a filming-related head injury no less – and Nicotero’s explanation of how actors find out (or don’t find out) their characters are getting the bullet come in a close tie for second.

It’s easy to tell Yeun, a relative newcomer, is grateful for his breakthrough role and the fans that helped make him a star. He was very cordial throughout the evening, thanking the fans in several of his answers. He had plenty of fun with the fans as well. After his Michigan origins received a fair amount of jeers from the audience, he egged the crowd on by saying thanks for Prince Fielder.

Maybe he loves his fans too much, however. During the Q&A section of the night, one particular member of the crowd yelled to Yeun that he was "delicious" – one of the few contributions from the audience that was worthy of a laugh. The actor leapt into the seats, found his adoring fan and took a question from the man.

It turned out to be a misguided decision as the Q&A went from a calm set of pre-submitted audience questions to a chaotic free-for-all. The rest of the cast followed Yeun’s lead and came out to the crowd to take questions.

The fans ate them up like, well, zombies. The questions mainly consisted of silly fanboy inquiries ("How would you do in a zombie apocalypse?" "Will you party with us later?"), which were loudly booed down by the fans. Questions and answers were yelled over one another. Reedus disappeared entirely.

The evening turned to mayhem, but it was always fun, memorable mayhem, and the game cast made the best out of the crazy crowd. I’m sure they’d rather deal with some overeager hooligans than a bunch of dead-eyed walkers. 

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