Cooper Andrews, Ross Marquand, and Seth Gilliam look back on the post-apocalyptic journey of The Walking Dead
Friendships at the end of the world in the Walking Dead panel at Florida Supercon
With the final eight episodes of The Walking Dead on the horizon, it was always a given that Florida Supercon’s Walking Dead panel would be packed with fans seeking one last moment with some of their favorite survivors. For Supercon, ReedPOP brought together three of the show’s fan favorites: Cooper Andrews (Jerry), Ross Marquand (Aaron), and Seth Gilliam (Father Gabriel). While Michael Rooker (Merle Dixon) was originally meant to be here, some last minute rescheduling put him in his own spotlight the following day. Still, we had three major Walking Dead character actors with us, and the audience was ready to take full advantage of that opportunity to speak to them about their favorite series.
The convention’s house DJ, Atomic Blonde, leads the crowd in a singalong of 'Don’t Stop Believing' as our stars get ready to take the stage with moderator Patty Hawkins. Hawkins welcomes the panel to Miami Beach; it’s Cooper’s first time. Ross recommends the Cuban coffee at Versailles while he’s here.
How Cooper Andrews, Ross Marquand, and Seth Gilliam became part of AMC's The Walking Dead
The moderator’s first question for the panel is their Walking Dead origin stories. Ross takes first crack.
“I was a big fan of the show before I got on. And I remember that Halloween episode in 2010, and my friends were really really broke and we could all afford either a 40 oz. or a six-pack. We couldn’t go anywhere, but my friend Miranda had TiVo. TiVo is… you’d call it DVR now,” he laughs. “She’s like, ‘I heard about this show, The Walking Dead, we can watch it whenever we want to.’ I remember all of us uniformly sitting and watching it like no one was saying anything. And we looked at each other like… ‘Do you guys wanna watch it again?’ And we did. That, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy, that reinvented TV, made it cinematic. The Wire obviously, too.
"It’s weird that it’s all over, very bittersweet."
“I auditioned twice, for Gareth the cannibal, and looking back I’m happy I didn’t get the role because he died in four episodes, and I was like, ‘Nice.’ It’s weird that it’s all over, very bittersweet, but I hope you like the last eight that will come out in October.”
Seth’s answer was much simpler: “They called me. I came in. I read. They cast me. I did it.”
“And killed it!” Cooper adds, enthusiastically.
Seth elaborates: “I got a call to come in for the show and read it on Thursday. They cast me on Friday. I watched the first four seasons Saturday and Sunday, and on Monday I was on the top of a rock screaming for my life. I had to watch it by myself. I didn’t have friends to watch it with like Ross. I don’t like horror. It scared me. It grossed me out. And… I thought that would be a lot of fun to do.
“Jumping into season five was like jumping onto a moving train,” Seth adds. “It was by far the biggest show in the world. And they were trying to protect the scripts from spoiler sites, so it felt like I was working for the CIA to hide from photographers in trees miles away.”
Ross interjects: “We had codenames too.”
Seth: “We had codenames, so people wouldn’t know who was shooting which week.”
"I was a boom op early on, second unit."
Cooper’s origin is much different: before he was cast on the show, he was part of the crew. “I was a boom op early on, second unit,” Cooper says. “The guy with the long stick and microphone who listens to the audio. Boom season five, season six. And I had auditioned twice before. And I had just learned this at the wrap party, but [Walking Dead writer Scott] Gimple said, ‘After I saw that audition we made that character for you, the Jerry character.’ So it was a Friday and Saturday audition of me sending in tapes, and Monday I was shooting a fight sequence in a pool with a camera, just a project with some friends. And my manager was like ‘Are you sitting down?’ And it didn’t matter, I was in a pool.
“And he said, ‘You got Walking Dead, and they want you tonight.’ And I was like ‘Oh! That’s… do you think I can come in… tomorrow?’ Because I was in the middle of shooting this scene, and everyone was there. All my friends were like ‘What? No! Get out!’ I’m not about to argue with stunt people, they’re gonna beat the crap out of you.”
Still, being part of such a huge show could be a harrowing experience, when it came to a few obsessive fans. “I would hear horror stories like, ‘Did you hear? This actor was followed home, and he was in his house. Like, oh my god, do I really want to be a part of that?”
“Josh [McDermitt, Eugene on the show] rented a new car every week to throw off the scent,” Seth adds. “And I was like ‘Come on Josh, we don’t need to go that hard in the paint.’”
The craziest experiences on the set of AMC's The Walking Dead
The moderator then asks about their craziest day filming the show.
“Seth has to wear a contact that makes one eye completely blind,” Cooper says. “Ross has this arm that, you know how it always looks way bigger? It’s how he can move around in there. We have some craziness.”
“Yeah, we have,” Ross agrees, somewhat sleepily. “Our brains are not working as well as they used to… I got in a car accident a few months ago. Why don’t you answer this Seth?”
"It wasn’t always wild for me because I’m a serious actor, man."
At this pass of the question, Seth puts up a false front of indignation. “I don’t know why you’re always tossing that concussion around,” Seth huffs. Then, regaining a sense of regal composure: “It wasn’t always wild for me because I’m a serious actor, man. The wild and crazy was really early on in the show with Norman [Reedus, Daryl Dixon on the show] and Andrew Lincoln [Rick Grimes]. They did things to each other that frat boys are still like, ‘What?’ I was on a show where the young actors farted on each other before takes. That’s what Norman and Andrew did.”
At this point, Seth begins telling a story about how Norman Reedus dumped glitter into Andrew Lincoln’s air conditioner, but no one is really paying attention – Michael Rooker has just made a surprise cameo, walking lazily across the stage behind the panelists from one end to the other with a dramatic fake yawn, bored by Seth’s anecdote.
Ross adds: “But then he put a live chicken in Norman’s trailer the next day, I think.”
Seth: “I didn’t hear about the chicken, but I respect that.”
Ross looks behind him, Rooker already long gone. “Hey, was that Michael Rooker?”
Cooper, adamantly: “No. Wasn’t him. Couldn’t be. Michael Rooker left the planet five years ago.”
The moderator makes the requisite Mary Poppins reference. It’s a Guardians of the Galaxy thing. Laughter of recognition echoes through Ballroom A.
“I think the big danger we had was shoes that don’t fit,” Cooper says, a crewman to the last. “We had a lot of accidents from that.”
“How did you get hurt?” Ross asks.
“Because I ran,” Cooper explains.
“You guys both blew out your knees during the show,” Seth observes.
Ross can’t help but cop to it. “We were both chasing after Alpha. I blew out my knee and he [Cooper] got a hernia.”
“You’re not supposed to do that for real, man,” Seth says. “You’re acting. Call in the stunt doubles. ‘We need a closeup of your knee blowing out, because that’s gonna look really good on camera. You all right?’
Seth theatrically limps across the stage. “I’m fine! I’m fine! Let’s do it again!”
“I’m just doing voiceover from now on,” Ross resolves. “That’s it.”
Ross tells a story about how he and Cooper were nearly crushed by a rock while filming their cave episode. There was a mishap with the pyrotechnics, and for a moment he and Cooper both believed they were going to die.
"Didn’t you sign a non-disclosure form that you weren’t supposed to be talking about this kind of stuff?"
“Didn’t you sign a non-disclosure form that you weren’t supposed to be talking about this kind of stuff?” Seth asks.
The best thing about working on AMC's The Walking Dead for Cooper Andrews, Ross Marquand, and Seth Gilliam
What was the best thing about working on The Walking Dead?
“It’s the relationships I was able to make with the eight or so years that I was on the show,” Seth says, “The many different people I made contact with. I’m still trying to cultivate some friendships, but people have to return your texts for it to be considered a friendship. Otherwise it’s stalking, or just sad. So I apologize, Ross.” Laughter, of course. Through their mock indignation for each other, you can tell the two actors are really close.
Cooper compares working on The Walking Dead to the joy of summer camp. Seth makes fun of him for this too, making light of one of the heaviest dramas in television history. Then he moves back to his favorite target.
“Ross, did you answer the question?” Seth asks.
“I was about to man!” Ross says. “Always on my ass, geez. This man does not let up on me for one day. It’s been eight years. Do you just wanna fight?”
“It would be more interaction than I get from our texts,” Seth ripostes. “You can text me back or punch me in the face. Your choice.”
Ross gets back to the question, as promised. “It was very high octane on top of all the emotional work we had to do. We had to shoot 14-16 hours a day. I loved working on Mad Men but it was very cushy, with air conditioning and lounging in suits. But when you finish a day on The Walking Dead, you feel like I’ve earned this day. You’re not only a part of TV history, but you’ve been on a journey.
“And I’ll return your texts!” Ross insists, turning back to Seth. “God!”
How long did each actor thing they'd last on The Walking Dead?
At this point, the moderator opens the floor for questions. First up is Maya, who asks how long each actor assumed their character would last on the show.
“I assumed every episode was my last,” Cooper says. “It’s gonna be the best day of summer camp ever.”
"I assumed every episode was my last."
“I thought I was gonna get killed off after three episodes,” Phil says. “I hadn’t read the comics so I thought I was a device to get someone else killed, like Tyrese would have to save him from getting bitten by walkers. So after those three episodes it’s been like playing with house money.”
Ross concurs. “I think we all thought we were gonna die, because we had a lot of series regulars dying on a regular basis, so any episode you got was a cherry on top. Cooper said it best,” Ross recalls, from a similar question at a prior convention. “The way you described it was, do you remember what you said?”
“No,” Cooper admits. “It’s yours now.”
Ross goes ahead. “It’s less like a tidy wrap-up of the show, but it’s not like the end of the show. It’s a nice commercial for what’s coming next, with the spinoffs and the movies. It leaves you happy but also wanting more.”
How do you kill the Whispers exactly?
A very young attendee takes the mic next, and asks how many shots did the Whispers took.
“Kind of hard to say,” Ross says. “I don’t know… I don’t even know if we can calculate that.”
Seth boldly attempts some kind of answer: “I would say Samantha Morton is a brilliant actress who worked because she came to set so prepared and stayed in character, she worked three times faster than your average actor. So I would say it took a third as long as it would with anyone else.”
“Kay. Thanks,” the young attendee says flatly, unimpressed. Clearly she wants an exact number. The moderator smooths things over by complimenting her costume.
Their reaction to the surprise ending of The Walking Dead comic
Next up is Colin, who wants to know how the cast reacted when the Walking Dead comic series suddenly announced it was ending just days before its final issue.
“I felt that the show has deviated enough that I didn’t think it would [be a matter of]… ‘Hey guys, next week, that’s it,’” Cooper says. “But as far as a comic goes, I love that. Like, surprise, that’s it! That’s The Walking Dead. Like, they’re talking, and now they’re gone. That sounds like a cool way to do it.”
"We really thought there was going to be a Season 12, if not more."
“In terms of the show,” Ross says, bringing it back to his own medium, “We really thought there was going to be a Season 12, if not more. And then in 2020 we got the call that it was ending at Season 11, but it would be super-sized, Which is why you saw this three part last season. And I was bummed. But I do think the show is wrapping up in a nice place. Because the Commonwealth is the last great source of villainy, and I think it’s great that we’re ending with them.”
Growing up a The Walking Dead fan
Next is Bianca, who says the show shaped her growing up. She’s been watching since she was six years old.
“Do you kill zombies?” Ross asks.
“If the need arises, I know what to do,” Bianca says.
“Go for the head,” Ross shares sagely.
How each actor's characters evolved over the course of their Walking Dead run
Bianca’s question is about how each of the panelists’ characters evolved over time from pacifists or more laid back individuals into total badasses. How did they feel about that transition?
“It was a lot of fun,” Seth says. “I appreciated playing terrified, where everyone else was so fortified. I thought there was a good population who would relate to them, but I was wrong. People related to the heroes, even though in real life, most of these…” Seth trails off, omitting a likely rude word. “...would run and hide for themselves. But becoming more fortified was also fun, because the ways that he evolved were sort of ingenious. It was a challenge, and it was really fun to play, because he would lose his faith, and regain his faith, and needed companionship, there were so many flavors that kept me interested in the character. There are so many roles where you don’t challenge yourself because the audience won’t accept change, but the Walking Dead fans were very accepting. And I’m talking a lot because I know Ross is trying to think of an answer and isn’t listening to a word I say,” he adds.
"And I wanted to say that a big turning point was when your character uses my arm as a mace, and it was really powerful. I love you man."
“I listened to every word,” Ross insists adamantly. “And I wanted to say that a big turning point was when your character uses my arm as a mace, and it was really powerful. I love you man.”
Ross touches Seth’s shoulder in a distant embrace. Seth makes a big show of pulling away.
“You’re always like this in public,” Seth says.
Ross gets back to the question. “For my character, I was like, this guy is beaten up and pushed around by everyone he comes around, and has lost everyone he cares about, and after a certain point I was like ‘When is the breaking point? When am I going to get darker?’ And then I was told ‘Great news, we’re gonna take your arm off! Will that make you darker?’ And I was like, “...I guess.” And that was the birth of Dark Aaron, or Daaron, as Chris Hardwick says [on The Talking Dead aftershow].”
“Jerry’s always been tough,” Cooper says. “He’s survived a lot of battles for a reason. As far as a character change, I feel like as Jerry’s family got bigger, he had to think more through and had to become more calculating. Jerry’s had some bad days, but he takes it out on the battlefield. That’s always been his way. ‘You just gotta hit some walkers, bash some heads, you know?’ he asks, putting on Jerry’s voice.
Asking the awkward questions about The Walking Dead
The next attendee is a nervous fellow who’s come on behalf of his friend, who couldn’t make it due to illness. He didn’t want to, but had to ask a question that his friend insisted on confronting the panel with: Why did The Walking Dead overstay its welcome?
The audience is stunned into silence for a moment at the brazenness of this moment. It’s Seth who breaks the tension.
“One answer is, why is your friend still watching it after it overstayed its welcome? What’s wrong with that motherfucker?”
The audience breaks into wild applause. The moderator gamely moves on.
Actors talk about who else they would love to play on The Walking Dead
The next attendee, Jared, is dressed in Fred Flintstone’s tunic with a club wrapped in barbed wire. He’s Negan Flintstone. The panel is awed by this costume. He asks, if they could have played anyone else on the show, who would it be?
“I always say Shane,” Ross says. “He was a son of a bitch for sure, but he was one of the most complex and interesting characters the show ever had. And later Rick turned into early Shane. I feel like the two of them together would make a really interesting dynamic duo against Negan. I’d just like to see him throughout the years if he wasn’t killed off in season two.” Of course, they’d have to work out their… differences regarding Rick’s wife.
“Beth,” Seth says.
“Because she gets to be with Daryl?” Ross asks.
“Because she’s beautiful and has an incredible voice,” Seth explains.
"Wanna hear him sing?"
“You have a beautiful voice,” Ross says. Then he turns to us. “Wanna hear him sing?” Cheers. Seth begins singing the opening bars to 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' by the Rolling Stones, and the cheers get louder.
“I’ve been asked this question before,” Seth says, “And I’ve said Carl because I’m in arrested development. I’ve said Carol because she flips and makes cookies. But I think it’s Beth, man.”
“I always wanted to be Abraham,” Cooper says. “At this moment, right now, Abraham. Tomorrow? I don’t know.”
What was the hardest death to process on The Walking Dead?
“Who was the most impactful loss on the show to you individually?” another attendee, Sam, asks.
“To me, Herschel and Shane,” Cooper says. “For the show Shane was the most impactful because we can’t just negotiate our way out of things. We have to put our foot down if we have to. I think that was the most impactful, that this was not society as it was.”
“Abraham for me was such a big shock,” Ross says. “We knew Glen was probably going to happen because of the comics. We had a little time to prepare. But 3 months before we came back to season 7, [Michael Cudlitz, who played Abraham] was like ‘Yeah I’m not coming back.’ And we all thought he was going to last at least another season, and in the comics he gets Denise’s death with an arrow through the eye from Dwight. That’s how we thought he was gonna go.”
“For me, it’s when Daryl hangs himself,” Seth says. “Wait, did that not happen yet? I’m going with Herschel. Herschel was a big loss for me.”
Favorite moments from The Walking Dead
An attendee dressed as Carl from the show asks what was their favorite part was to act in?
“My favorite part was when they introduced this priest on top of a rock, and he was screaming… that was my favorite part of the series,” Seth says evenly, describing his own character’s introduction. “My favorite part acting has been sermonizing over someone before shooting them in the face.”
“You’re gonna call BS on me,” Ross says, “but I think my favorite part was working with him in ‘One More.’ I think the show is at its best when it’s about character. Season four for me was the best season, with the grove, and the ‘Look at the Flowers’ episode. But that episode where it’s just three men dealing with the sadness and chaos of the world, how do you manage each day, how do you care for the people you love. That and the lineup too, with Negan. God that was an awful sequence to shoot. But the emotional impact, the weight of it, was so insane. I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again, because it packs such a guttural punch.”
"I loved our cave episode. We got our own Goonies."
“I liked the early seasons,” Cooper says. “Because I like the idea of we’re gonna start seeing people come desperate for a thing, this is how villains begin because they have a difference of opinion and we have to fight to get it. I loved our cave episode. We got our own Goonies. We have fun scenes, but we have boring scenes where it’s really just a fun time because we haven’t seen each other for so long. That scene where… oh, it hasn’t aired yet. That one. That’s my favorite scene.”
Life after The Walking Dead for Cooper Andrews, Ross Marquand, and Seth Gilliam
Heather asks what the panelists plan to do next.
“I don’t necessarily want to jump into a big show like this,” Ross says, “Because it does take a toll on your friendships and your family. Especially this last season, which was 15 straight months of shooting. You can have fun, but at the end of the day you want to see your friends and your family. So I’d like to focus on voiceover and doing fun animated stuff. Then I could think about the next thing. That’s where I’m at.”
“Same,” Cooper agrees. “Applying to a lot more voice things recently. And then some writing. But man, they never talk about when a thing is over. For me it was six years, and it feels like that character is with you the entire time. You could have warned us, Seth.”
“I’m taking up painting,” Seth says. “Painting signs that say ‘Will Work for Food.’ ‘Actor for Hire.’ Things like that.”
“They’re really nice paintings,” Cooper says. “Every letter a different color.”
“Like Banksy,” Ross adds.
For Cooper, his next appearance will be the Shazam sequel, Fury of the Gods. Ross is working on season two of Invincible, and voicing Han Solo for LEGO Star Wars on Disney+. As for Seth, he’s not sure when that Teen Wolf movie’s coming out. He has a couple other things in the works, but it’s bad luck to talk about them this early. Look for him on the festival circuit. After all, he is a Dramatic Actor.
Here's how to watch all the Walking Dead episodes (and all the shows) in order.