'Walking Dead' Turns 10: Norman Reedus, Danai Gurira Draw Roaring Crowds at Hollywood Premiere

The AMC zombie series' cast and crew hit the Chinese Theater in Hollywood to celebrate 10 years of post-apocalyptic action.
Jackson Lee Davis/AMC
'The Walking Dead'

Cooper Andrews, aka Jerry, the axe-wielding Kingdom expat with a heart of gold, steps out of a limousine and onto the blood red carpet sprawled out in front of Hollywood's Chinese Theater for the world premiere of season 10 of The Walking Dead. Across the street, a huge mass of people, hundreds of them, easily, scream their heads off as Andrews and his co-stars — Norman Reedus (who plays Daryl Dixon), Danai Gurira (who plays Michonne) and Melissa McBride (who plays Carol Peletier), to name the top few — make their way down the press line, shuffling with considerably more energy than the rotting dead they fight on the AMC post-apocalypse drama.

For his part, Andrews pays these fans no mind. Not because he's ignoring them on purpose, not because he's too cool for school. In fact, it's quite the opposite. 

"I stepped out of the car backwards," the Long Island born actor tells The Hollywood Reporter with a big, self-deprecating laugh. "It was just perfect. It's exactly how I wanted to walk in here."

Andrews, who spends much of his time on The Walking Dead catering to friend and mentor King Ezekiel (played by Khary Payton), doesn't have to worry about anyone seeing his mishap, according to Eleanor Matsuura, who arrived in season nine as the sharp-shooting Yumiko. As she puts it to THR, the crowd on Hollywood Boulevard clogging the way (and making life miserable for anyone who just wanted to patronize nearby Wetzel's Pretzels on a Monday, for what it's worth) was not roaring for Andrews, or herself for that matter. They were lined up for one man, and one man only.

"Norman Reedus," she says as a point-blank matter of fact. "I have sat next to that guy on so many shows and so many panels, and here's the deal: Don't send him on before me, because it's just humiliating. You go out there and maybe you get a 'whoo!' But then Norman goes out there, and people are screaming, and you've never seen anything like it. He's like a Beatle. It's extraordinary."

For his part, Reedus doesn't act like a rock star when he makes his way down the carpet, dutifully speaking with all on the press line, even stopping to acknowledge a fan who has somehow strayed from the greater pack. Maybe it's because there's no point in trying to out-rock Marilyn Manson, who is very much in the house, wearing full gothic regalia. More likely, it's because Reedus is a Walking Dead veteran at this point; indeed, he's the veteran, one of only two castmembers from the first season still active on the show, and the new number one on the call sheet since Andrew Lincoln's season nine exit

"It was the highest rated year on Rotten Tomatoes we've ever had," Reedus says, looking back on the turbulent season nine with pride. "It's crazy, after nine years. It was a weird year for me, since I was in it so much. We had Andy's departure, we had Danai getting ready to leave, and Lauren [Cohan] was going … a lot of the storyline was moving in that direction and I had a shitload of stuff to do. I didn't have time to think about [the quality]. I was just in it, in it, in it. But I felt good about it, and I feel good about this season."

A lot has changed since Reedus' Daryl Dixon first arrived on the scene. The character first appeared in the third episode of the series, bitterly berating a walker for eating the wounded deer he was hunting for dinner. In the season 10 premiere (and the mildest of spoilers are ahead), Daryl once again watches a deer he's hunted fall to the maws of the dead; this time, he's a lot more level-headed about the whole deal. In the wake of his best friend Rick Grimes' "death," and the much more literal demises of the freshly beheaded survivors killed by Alpha (Samantha Morton) and the Whisperers, Daryl has been forced to step up into a leadership role — and it's one he wears with surprising ease.

"Daryl is such a different character this year. It's nice when he moves," says Reedus. "The ghosts of the people who were here before him are weighing on his shoulders. He's a different dude now. Alpha came to the door of the Hilltop, knocked on it, and asked to speak with the leader. I'm visiting, no one says anything, so I go, 'Okay, I guess I'll go talk to her.' That's not season five Daryl. Back then, Daryl would have said, 'Whatever. Keep knocking.' I find myself in all these situations thinking, 'Hershel could have done this. Rick would have done that.' There's a lot of that this year."

Season 10 marks major changes for several other Walking Dead castmembers, including Jeffrey Dean Morgan, whose Negan finally steps out of the prison cell he called home for the entirety of season nine (and nearly a decade of in-universe time), providing some assistance to the Alexandrians as tensions with the Whisperers escalate. 

"I love what the story has done for me this year," Morgan says, very clearly over the moon with the quality of stories fueling his season 10 performance. "I think the foundation from the past couple years has been great, and it's led us to this fleshed-out character. It's going to be a lot of fun for the audience, and for me. I'm having a blast."

Of course, there's no bigger change than this: Danai Gurira walking away from The Walking Dead. As with Lincoln in season nine, Gurira's impending exit looms large over the new season, as the Tony-nominated playwright embarks on new creative ventures. Among them: her new role as showrunner for HBO Max's Americanah, starring fellow Black Panther co-star Lupita Nyong'o and based on the best-selling novel from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The season 10 premiere of Walking Dead offers few hints about how Michonne will depart the series (will she live to go find the missing-in-action Rick, or will she fall to the zombie apocalypse as so many others have before her?), but at the premiere event itself, there was no uncertainty surrounding Gurira's inevitable pivot away from the world of the Dead.

"Danai Gurira, your work has been blindingly brilliant," AMC Entertainment Networks Group president Sarah Barnett said to a full theater in the moments before the premiere, speaking specifically to Gurira, sitting in the audience. "You have been part of this family since season three, and I speak on behalf of the entire cast and millions of fans around the world when I say thank you. Thank you for all you brought to this extraordinarily rich character, Michonne, and for wielding the katana with panache, bringing such depth and integrity and talent into this universe, and for being a true leader among this great cast. We will be cheering you on with pride and admiration as we watch your genius talent unfold in new ways."

Following a massive ovation for Gurira (not to mention large audience applause for showrunner Angela Kang and co-executive producer Greg Nicotero, who wrote and directed the premiere, respectively), the episode, titled "Lines We Cross," finally screened for attendees, nearly a full hour after its scheduled start time. Credit for the delay goes at least in part to the Beatle-like Reedus and the other cast and crew members lingering on the red carpet, soaking in the considerable excitement for 10 years of The Walking Dead.

"This never gets normal," according to Robert Kirkman, creator of the Walking Dead franchise, who ended the comic book series in surprise fashion this past summer. Kirkman says he never could have imagined the success of the series when he was first mapping it out nearly 20 years ago: "It's absolutely amazing that the fans are still supporting this. Year after year, they're still coming back, and the show is still going strong."

"I believe The Walking Dead is the greatest piece of fan fiction in the world," says Scott Gimple, the series' former showrunner and current chief content officer, presiding over the many live-action iterations of the franchise. "We're essentially writing fan-fiction of the comics. Granted, we're shooting it and turning it into a TV show, but that's the idea: How do you bring the comic to life, but bring even more out of it for people who have read the comic before? You have to hit them in an unexpected way."

Following the premiere at the Chinese Theater, the Walking Dead spilled over to the afterparty at the Sunset Tower Hotel, where network execs, cast and crew members wined and dined (shout-out to the tuna rice cracker, the Norman Reedus of passed hors d'oeuvres) while trying to hear each other over the beating thrum of DJ music. Who can say if anyone was successful in that effort? If nothing else, the Sunset Tower's spectacular view of Hollywood provided great company and background scenery for all in attendance — not to mention an easy metaphor for the greater Walking Dead family, not only celebrating 10 years on television, but who knows how many more offerings still on the horizon.

"This is my seventh season," says Josh McDermitt, the man behind Alexandrian super-genius Eugene Porter. "I'm here, and I'm still having fun. I worked in radio a long time ago, and the show host would ask me every other month, 'Are you still having fun?' And I was, I was having a blast. I asked him about it one day, why he was always asking me about it. He said, 'When you stop having fun, you should go do something else.' It's so true, of any occupation. I keep checking in with myself: Am I still having fun? And I am. I get to go to work with people who have become dear friends. It's very special."

The Walking Dead season 10 is set to premiere Sunday, Oct. 6, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC. Follow THR.com/WalkingDead for more.