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'The Walking Dead' Producers, Cast Reflect on Bloody Season 2, Tease What's Next

Jon Bernthal reveals that Shane's death was always in the cards, Dale's offing was "one for the walkers" and Season 3 will continue to take twists and turns from the comic series.

The Walking Dead Season 2 Finale Andrew Lincoln - H 2012
Gene Page/AMC
"The Walking Dead"

The cast and producers of AMC's zombie drama The Walking Dead reflected on death in the postapocalyptic world during the show's bloody sophomore second year and looked to the future  during a lively panel Friday at the TV Academy in North Hollywood.

Showrunner Glen Mazzara, executive producer/comic creator Robert Kirkman, exec producer Gale Anne Hurd and co-EP/effects supervisor Greg Nicotero were joined by cast members Andrew Lincoln (Rick), Jon Bernthal (Shane), Sarah Wayne Callies (Lori), Laurie Holden (Andrea), Steven Yeun (Glenn), Lauren Cohan (Maggie) and Scott Wilson (Hershel) during the two-hour panel where they looked back on the season that was and dropped cryptic teasers about Season 3. Here are 15 highlights:

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1. Shane's death was always in the cards. "This end was always going to happen," Bernthal said, noting early conversations with former showrunner Frank Darabont about Shane's trajectory allowed him to be strategic with the way he played the character who walked the line between hero and villain for two seasons.

2. After coming out the victor during the "18 Miles Out" episode in which Shane and Rick finally come to blows, Lincoln would bet on his former onscreen rival to come out on top were the former castmates to come to fisticuffs in real life. "He's a lot bigger than me, and in a real fight, he'd win in seconds," Lincoln said to laughs.

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3. Getting the call to go see makeup artist/co-producer Nicotero is the kiss of death. Bernthal and Wilson both recalled getting the word that they needed to pay a visit to the effects whiz to be outfitted with makeup as their characters were being killed off. "When actors get a call from me it's, 'Oh shit!' " Nicotero said with a laugh. The cast members, meanwhile, have a "death dinner" to bid farewell their onscreen family members after shooting the episode.

3. Producers reaffirmed that they opted not to kill off Hershel as they'd originally intended because it didn't move the story forward. "We were just stepping over a body; it felt too violent, too gratuitous," Mazzara said. But nobody told Wilson as much as he'd already had the conversation with Nicotero that he was being axed and the actor just continued to get scripts. "I said, 'It's been fun,'" Wilson said, to which Bernthal immediately joked: "That's how you stay on? You say, 'It's been fun'?" As for whether Hershel will continue to be a "badass with a rifle" in Season 3, Mazzara was less than forthcoming. "We'll see what happens in October," he deadpanned.

5. Dale's death was one for the walkers. Mazzara noted the series "really needed a zombie death" as it was running the risk of being safe and needed to have someone killed at the hands of the undead. "Dale was the only worthy sacrifice; people would see Shane's death coming, but no one would see Dale's death coming," Mazzara told the audience, with Kirkman noting that the loss of the group's moral compass added more suspense to Shane's eventual death in the following episode. The loss of the character -- whose comic counterpart outlived him by a mile -- will continue to be felt, mostly by Andrea and Glenn, Holden said. A fun fact: The scene in which Dale died wasn't rehearsed, at the request of episode director Nicotero.

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6. Sophia's shocking death at the end of the Season 2 midseason finale took even series star Lincoln by surprise. "It felt like the Wild West," he recalled. "The carnage was shocking." The pain medication the actor was on at the time for an injured back "helped tremendously," he joked. Producers, meanwhile, took extra care to make sure young actress Madison Lintz had a good zombie experience, creating custom flavored zombie teeth for her to wear during the heartbreaking scene.

7. Carl is the anchor of the series, Callies said. Rick and Lori's continued struggle over how to raise their son in a postapocalyptic world remains a source of contention for the onscreen couple. "There are days when Lori thinks the best thing I can do for this kid is find someone else to raise him, and then there are days when she thinks, 'I have to keep this guy [Rick] away from him,' then there are days where I think, 'I have to keep this guy [Shane] away from him,' " she said. "Every day it's a sense of being unearthed and uprooted from yourself."

8. Lori is a stranger to herself in the aftermath of Shane's death. Following a season in which her son was shot, she learned she was pregnant and discovered that her husband and son killed her former lover, Callies says the character has crossed so many boundaries that she doesn't recognize herself. Calling Shane's death a "necessary execution," Lincoln says the troubled couple are not at a particularly healthy point right now and questioned whether Rick has a breaking point. "His strength and resilience is extraordinary," he said. Added Mazzara: "It's an apocalypse -- what are they going to do? They can't get divorced!"

9. The "Ricktatorship" was the endgame for Season 2. After spending the first half of the season playing by Hershel's rules and rounding up zombies to keep alive in the barn, Rick had to make the transition from naive to practical. "You have to keep evolving," Lincoln said. "How do we define ourselves?  How do we re-establish humanity?"

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10. Glenn and Maggie's romance allows both characters to grow. The former pizza delivery guy started walking a little taller and valuing his skills more after Maggie reminded him of the value he brings to the group. "It's always good to have something to live for," Yeun noted. "It opens your character up."

11. Kirkman is testing AMC to see if the cable network has a limit with how disgusting the zombie kills can be. "It's my goal to get to that point; I want to know that limit," he said. Pushing the boundaries is something Nicotero clearly relishes, as the former Day of the Dead effects artist intentionally tested the network by peeling away a walker's face in a scene following a car crash this season.

12. Season 3 spoilers were at a minimum, despite Mazzara just having completed the script for the premiere. "It's pretty dynamic and action-packed with tons of zombies but also a lot of quieter moments and a lot of heart," he teased. "This is a group of survivors, a family that has come together, and they have no good options, no place to go. And they're really trying to keep themselves alive, and keep each other alive. You can see how desperate they are; they're clinging to each other. It's those moments of human interaction and heart that are important."

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13. "The good stuff is coming," according to Kirkman. "For comic fans, they know the good stuff is coming, the really intense stuff with Michonne, the Governor and Woodbury [prison] really defined the comic book series, and we haven't even gotten to that stuff yet," he said. "So now that we're getting to that stuff in Season 3, it's really going to change the show quite a bit."

13. T-Dogg (IronE Singleton) will continue to trend on Twitter during every episode -- "in a good way," Mazzara said. Acknowledging that the fan-favorite character is considered to have been underused this season, the showrunner explained that T-Dogg has been intentionally quiet as he watches the insanity unfold around him.

14. The epic way in which Dale died in the comic series could still make its way onto the AMC drama -- for another character. In the long-running Image series, Dale winds up being bitten by a walker, kidnapped by cannibals and having his infected leg cut off and consumed before being set free and dying at Andrea's side. "There will be cases where something memorable like that will be displaced and given to somebody else," Kirkman said. "I'll hint that that actually happens in our first episode back in Season 3 -- there's something memorable that happened to a character in the comic is happening in the show in our first episode back and it's not the same character."

15. Daryl (Norman Reedus) will continue to grow. Carol's (Melissa McBride) "knight in shining armor" will continue to be Rick's right-hand man in Season 3. "It's interesting to put him in a position of power," Nicotero said. (Reedus had a wedding to attend Saturday and was unable to join the cast during Friday's panel.)

What were your highlights from Season 2, and what are you looking forward to seeing in Season 3? The Walking Dead returns in October.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@thr.com; Twitter: @Snoodit