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WALKER STALKER CON REVIEW

LONDON 4th-5th MARCH 2017

Written by Sharon Davies

Walker Stalker Con is by fans, for fans” is the quote on the Walker Stalker website. Reading this line and others such as this really made me excited to go to this convention and see what it had to offer. Firstly, as a horror writer who would absolutely love to get her teeth into a series such as The Walking Dead, but also as a huge fan.

I will always remember the first time I watched The Walking Dead: I had often rolled my eyes at most TV series that tried to be darker and never quite hit the mark. I had always felt that TV just wasn’t really for me, as a horror fan, it never dared to push the boat out and be a little bit shocking. Too tame. Too PG. Too boring.

Then the night of the first episode of TWD happened. I watched the moment a half ripped apart zombie slithered its way across to a wide-eyed Rick in its attempt to eat him. He did what I would have done, get on his bike and get the hell out of there while possibly letting loose a bit of wee. I genuinely remember thinking “wait a minute… is this for REAL? We’re… allowed to have this?”.

I do believe this was the turning point for TV and since then it gave other shows permission to dare to be controversial. To kill the good guys, to rip apart the guts of an always happy ending and to drop your jaws at the most inventive and amazing special effects out there. 

Of course, it was successful and of course, we all became fans. It was meant to be.

So back to my original point. I couldn’t wait to join this event. 

THE LEAD UP TO THE EVENT

1 month before: EEEEK – we’ve been approved not only for press passes but for Interviews permitted – woohoo! We want to (obviously) interview Rick, Negan, Darryl, Eugene, and ALL the cast but also Greg Nicotero! To name but a few, he has worked on Day of the Dead, Predator, Evil Dead II, Army of Darkness, Pulp Fiction, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, From Dusk Till Dawn, Scream, The Faculty, The Cell, Cabin Fever, Kill Bill, The Hills Have Eyes, Grindhouse, The Mist and The Walking Dead. Two words for this man: Holy Shamoly.

2 weeks before: - Getting really excited now. Can’t decide if it’s acceptable or not to fashion a Lucille of my own and bring it to the convention. It would make me immediately the best friend of Negan (probably) but I also think bringing a genuinely barbed wire encased bat through London may get me tazered. Flip of a coin really.

I have whittled down my questions for the cast to 20 a piece and Ilan and I are really looking forward to coming out of our hiatus. Walker Stalkers you better check yourselves before you wreck yourselves! (Appropriate arm gestures and stance included.) Also, attending the convention will be some of the cast from the Bates Motel plus Denis O’Hare from American Horror Story – sweet! Would love to pick at the scab of Norman Bates and see if we can get his Mother to fly out.

3 days before: - NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO we can’t get interviews! We need to hustle on the day and arrange there! 

Good job we’re excellent at hustling and being loud attention seekers. I am also open to using bribery.

The day before: - Camera – check. Questions – check. Appropriate HorrorTalk t-shirt and Walker Stalker convention t-shirt – check. Excitement is 9 of 10 on the Richter scale

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DAY 1

It takes an age to get here. Darn you London and your tube closures. Olympia is a HUUUUUGE venue and perfect for this. Having been to other comic cons before we were particularly looking forward to seeing what we could do, what we could buy and who we could see. Upon approach, we can already see some awesome sights. I count six Negans and two Carls before we get there, plus a Walker dragging his broken leg through the crowds. Nice. Peeps have made an EFFORT.

We burst through the doors, not unlike an alien chestburster would excitedly pop out to greet you good morning. Basically, like legends. But oh. Hmm seems like a massive room and not a lot of stalls or things going on. That’s interesting. We are used to literally not having room to walk near these things. But fair enough maybe we’re missing something, let’s see what else is in store. 

Immediately we can see the cast of TWD peppered around the outside. Signing autographs and doing selfies with the fans, Wicked! Everyone is smiling and it’s amazing to be so close to them. 

Of course, the main masses seem to be crowded around the top floor where Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus are, so we flock up there to start our journey off with a bang. Not going to pretend, I have adored JDM since Supernatural so right off the bat I want to get a signature at least. 

The top mezzanine has a few more stalls and some more of the cast dotted around. It’s busy, like MENTAL busy but we skip our way to the JDM line. No sign saying how much it cost – eek. That’s usually bad. But ok, how many opportunities do you get to do this? While in the line we are then asked where our ticket was. Ticket? Huh? Sorry, the yellow t-shirt lady said, you can’t get a signature with JDM or a picture unless you have a) paid a HEFTY price and b) already paid for it in advance. Better news, they’re all sold out and did weeks ago. Great.

We are now being apologetically pushed back into the masses. Damn. Same situation with Norman Reedus so they’re all a no go.

The site says, ”The best place to talk to a Celebrity Guest? At their autograph table! Just line up at each Celebrity’s booth to buy yours! Each actor has a selection of 8x10 photographs you can choose from, or you can bring an object for the actor to sign at their discretion!” hmm. Not exactly true. One lovely thing to hear was the Andrew Lincoln was donating his takings to a children’s charity. Nice. 

Crestfallen, we decide to make our way down to the staff to see about the “interview hustle” situation. We meet Liz, super helpful and lovely, but who reading between the lines says we haven’t got a snowball’s chance in hell of getting big star interviews but she’ll let us know if she gets any interview slots with any of the other cast. Cool. Hope is still out there. 

Onward to the stalls. The usual cool memorabilia is there, figures to buy, Lucille even if you want her and a mixture of cool things from an engraved bullet to movie jewellery and t-shirts. Certainly, things to look at and buy but we pretty much got around all the stalls in 10 mins flat. What to do now?

We head over to get some shots of the other cast, meeting and greeting fans. Nope blocked again. More yellow t-shirts saying no, can’t stand there, can’t take a picture of them. Great. What precisely do they think we’re going to do with a picture of a star in a crowd? Pretty sure they wouldn’t go for anything on eBay if my face is in it in the foreground. So that means that unless you queue up for an autograph and pay for one, you can’t capture any image of you and them being there together. Not cool and certainly not “for the fans”. Also, charging extra for a selfie…ooh. That seems like a bit of a low blow. I know this is big money but damn. £30 if you have something for them to sign, £40 for a picture of theirs and a signature and £50 for a selfie too? Wow, this seems steep. In fact, it damn seems vertical! So if you want to meet the big stars, or more than two, it’s triple figures. I remember meeting Elvira and getting a picture and signature for £20 and she let us have a selfie and talked to us for ages for nothing. Just because we were her fans. This seems extortionate and I can’t help thinking just too much like a money machine.

Anyway, it’s time for the David Morrissey (The Governor) and Scott Wilson (Hershel) panel. Favourites from season 4 (that seems so long ago!) They are funny and warm and happy to regale us with tales of their experience and their views on the series now. Seats are limited but luckily if you get a good spot just alongside the stage or on the mezzanine you get to see and experience everything just the same.

Next is Andrew Lincoln (Rick) and Chandler Riggs (Carl) panel. As predicted it is packed and finding a seat was impossible and the wait to see this was LOOOONG. But again, once it finally kicked off we could still see everything and a massive screen helped the paupers at the back. Please, Sir, I want some more!

Andrew Lincoln is charming and talked for aaaaages which literally everyone lapped up. I think he may have hypnotic qualities as I don’t think I moved a muscle while he talked, in fact I got serious cramp but didn’t notice till it was over. Still, I fitted in with the limping walkers this way. Possibly the switch from Deep Southern to British accent is the thing that made everyone gooey and the fact that he smiles a lot more than Rick. Rick seems to smile once a season.

Last we enjoy a BRILLIANT talk with Greg Nicotero. He talks about the making of the show, how he has had pressure to tone down the horror to which he said no (hurrah – legend) and he also shows us a clip of the Negan killings behind the scenes which was top secret but ACE. He made us all promise that we wouldn’t show it hence the cropped picture but trust me, it was a cool clip!

Now all the panels are over what is left to do? Not a lot. Can’t get near the celebs, we’ve circled the stalls a billion times and the queue for the Walker experience is so long I worry I may need to claim my pension by the time we get to the front. We’ll leave that to tomorrow. At this point, we head off and I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. For a weekend pass it's £80+ and as thankful as we are to get press passes, I do see lots of saddened faces who can’t meet their idols and can’t afford to do anything else.

Tonight from 9pm to 12am there is a Zombie Bash back in Olympia which is essentially a party with booze, music and cosplay. We decide against it but I hope it will be fun and not an over hype. 

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DAY 2

We get here early and it’s the same as yesterday, same stalls and set up. Fewer stars here today and no Andrew Lincoln but lots of activity and as the stars arrive they are very gracious saying hi to the fans and making everyone super excited. We mull around the stalls again and were half tempted to buy a Lucille but again I reckon I could make a cooler legit one.

We decide to drop off our bags (having a million tonnes of equipment) to be told, sorry no room at the bag inn. What? We and others then wait for half an hour for them to finally open another room. The lady is helpful and obviously stressed, bless her, but it’s just another thing which doesn’t seem to be organised or thought through.

The first panel kicking off the day is the Alexandria crew and we get to see Christian Serratos (Rosita), Josh McDermott (Eugene), Alanna Masterson (Tara) and Michael Cudlitz (Abraham) all together. It’s lovely to see Abraham back without a dent in his head! Technical difficulties arise during the sit-down but as they have been throughout the event the cast are good natured and keep everyone going. Josh generously speaks to the people in the crowds until it was fixed again. Watching them really makes me worry for their fate! Oh, Alexandria will you ever return to your former glory?! Understandably there are lots of questions for Josh as the last episode has really thrown open some Eugene possibilities. 

OK what to do next, still no interviews... damn. We set off for the Walker experience for a bit of fun, still comes at a price but not too bad. After waiting in a VERY chilly corridor for 45 mins we are excited! I’ve often thought I’d be a dab hand at this killing zombies lark and now is my chance to prove it. I won’t spoil it for you but it was a laugh, mainly involving me dropping some F-bombs and running away. I was braver than Ilan. Fact. No chance to kill anything but something to break up the day. 

Next back to the panel is the charismatic Khary Payton (King Ezekiel). No sign of Shiva the tiger but no need as he fills the stage with funny tales for us all as well as reeling off the famous Samuel L Jackson monologue “The path of the righteous man..” nice! I do hope he doesn’t die soon and even though I love Negan I think he needs that tiger to chew on him. Just a little. Nothing from the knees up.

We decide enough is enough and we need to flex our media muscles so we, with a stern eyebrow, insist that we can get close-ish to Norman Reedus and Jeffrey Dean Morgan just so we can get a picture at least. 

After a good looking up and down, they say yes, hurrah! Sweet, we are now a couple of metres away. They are lovely, charming to every fan and show a real interest in everyone who comes up to then. It must be a real treat for fans to see that they care. 

As we are upstairs eyeballing Negan, we all hear a song we know and “Easy Street” pumps through the speakers. HA! Jeffrey Dean Morgan flashes that famous smile and we all have a mini (inward) boogie. Nice.

Next, we head down to see the Hilltop panel with Tom Payne (Jesus) and Xander Berkeley (Gregory – and Trevor from Candyman). Argh, we would have loved an interview with Xander. Sooo many questions we could have asked about this and Candyman! Damn it. Xander is relaxed and funny and Tom talks about how welcoming everyone has been to his arrival. Fewer people here for this one but there is a genuine excitement in the air and I can hear people saying that they aren’t moving and will keep their seats for the last panel. I wonder how this will turn out. Methinks it won’t be this easy. Also, I have just seen an email on my phone from Liz offering us an interview with Steven Ogg if we come right now. The email is 50 mins old.

Being honest, after this there was literally nothing more we could do. We stumble to the café but recoil in seeing that a flapjack is nearly £5. I can only assume it includes gold foil as a key ingredient. 

We can see some genuinely awesome cosplayers. One zombie is so brilliant that, as he tries to kill me (in jest), I was tempted to drive my press pass through his brain. I would have but then we are distracted by the shiny comic stand so we’re going there instead. We end up talking to a really interesting chap from Damaged Comics – Dave McClusky – look him up if you can. Excellent comics! We talk to him about the event and the day and how much has gone on. 

At this point we’re tired, it’s been a long weekend and our feet are done. We’re looking for something else to do until the last panel but frankly there isn’t anything. As there is a lull we think it might be a good idea to do an impromptu beat box session which may bring us to glory and potential interviews, but then we realise that we don’t have a speaker. And neither of us can beatbox. So we bought a Twinkie at the American sweet stand and talked about Twinkies and Ghostbusters for half an hour. 

Finally, it’s 45 mins till the last panel and I’m determined that with a failed attempt at interviews, no signatures and only a fake Ghostbusters ID card which I just bought from one of the stalls to show for the time here, we are getting to the darn front for this and asking a question. But it’s rammed. Not only that, but there is some odd queuing system which separates the VIP passes, Gold and press. Regular entries simply can’t come in. This time a yellow t-shirt seems to be on our side and allows us to the press section where we sit tight and get ready to see Negan himself and his crew. 

It’s delayed. Really delayed. Mainly because, bless him, Negan is still doing signatures and after this panel the event is over. So he is making sure all his fans get what they paid for. Everyone looks tired but the cast are still full of smiles and energy and in truth this keeps everyone else primed. 

While we all wait they let rows of people in one by one, then once full move people around and basically seat people with NASA precision. They also let us watch an episode of a new show they have put together called Control. Cool! Well, it would be cool if it wasn’t episode 3 and no context for what’s happened to date. All I know is some girl has a very wired boyfriend and they have a secret and he wants to know how she got his number. Clueless. 

The staff try to keep everyone going with some freebies and jokes but in the main we are all quiet. There is an obvious difference between an English and American crowd. Nothing wrong with either but we were simply more reserved and obviously waiting. 

Finally here come the Saviors. They march onto the stage and we all go mental. Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Negan minus Lucille), Austin Amelio (Dwight) and Steven Ogg (Simon) are all in attendance and they are crowd pleasers. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is in great spirits, and happy to answer anything. Steven Ogg is really funny and the trio really show how much they have bonded on set. Of course the second they opened up questions every person made a mad dive to the microphone and even with my cheetah-like speed I had no chance.

Practically all the questions are for JDM, but he involves the rest of the crew graciously and the crowd love their responses. A kid dressed as Negan soon gets to the mike and starts his question with “Hi, I’m Negan…” which the guys get a real kick from. JDM then invites him onto the stage to show him how exactly to BE Negan. Goddammit why didn’t I think of that?! The panel ends tremendously and everyone is thanked for their work, support and being a part of the event. 

As we leave Olympia we do leave on a high. The Saviours have saved the day and everyone who stayed really felt like they got a piece of their favourite show. 

OVERALL

You know what? I have been to many comic cons and I am used to this setup. This was good, great even in parts. The panels were excellent and the cast worked tirelessly to see everyone. I bet they were exhausted afterwards. To stand there for hours and smile and greet every single person with such grace was lovely. For the lucky ones who got to meet their favourite people they really did get a lovely reception. In particular, Michael Cudlitz (Abraham) and Josh McDermitt (Eugene) should get a shout out as they stayed way past closing time to make sure all their fans got to see them. If you are lucky enough to afford a Gold or Platinum pass then you’re sorted. But they are hundreds or in the Platinum case thousands of pounds. For the platinum pass it does get you lunch, 4 autographs, 4 photo opportunities and front line everywhere. But still, those are limited and who has that sort of money at hand. Not the main fan base I would say.

It couldn’t help but feel simply like a money maker. Like I’ve said before I think £50 for a selfie and a signature is really too much. I don’t blame the actors at all because I doubt this is their call and they work hard all day for that. But unless you have lots of money (and frankly lots of time to stand in line all day) then you couldn’t really get a lot out of this. The yellow t-shirt people were mainly there to say no to requests and I did get feedback from many of the stalls that they didn’t get much out of it. People were simply too fleeced to spend any more money on fun memorabilia.

Plus the pre-booking for the main cast members seemed unfair. I get why they did it. To manage crowds. But I simply didn’t see this anywhere on the site until after. It wasn’t well advertised and I saw lots of disappointed faces. If you had travelled far, paid for travel, hotels, food and your ticket to then be saddened when you can’t meet your favourite star is just a huge shame. 

I can get over the fact that we didn’t get interviews. It wasn’t an event for press. But it is press who will and did cover the event and get people excited about it all. If you can’t grant interviews, then just don’t offer them. Simple. I would like to personally thank Liz however as she was a complete doll and tried her best for everyone. 

Other cons I have been to have free things to do and watch. Games, episodes and things constantly going on, it’s that which keeps you there, spending money and enjoying the vibe. Here it just wasn’t like that and once you’ve walked round the stalls once then pretty much you are just waiting for panels which you may not be able to get into. A weekend pass at £88 literally just gets you through the door to spend more money. There is the shame: It’s supposed to be for the fans when really, it just didn’t feel like that to me. 

However, don’t let me overshadow all the work involved. The building was perfect, the actors amazing, the yellow t-shirts had a difficult job to do and they did it well, it was well organised, the stalls that were there were well stocked and helpful and for those lucky people who did get to meet their favourite cast members I’m sure they came away light a few pennies but walking on air. That leads me to my final point. It was meant to be for the fans and the fans made it for me. The cosplays were amazing and there was lots of laughter to be had.

I’ve heard about last year and I think this has improved hugely. Perhaps next year, though, even more can be learned and they can think about how to get more people there. More people will buy day tickets if they know there are things to do whether they buy autographs or not and more people will rave about it if they all get the most out of the event.

I want to thank Fan Fest for granting us the passes which allowed us to experience this event. Frankly, we are very lucky and I don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. It was a good event. Maybe next year it can even better.

Note. Next year I’m definitely dressing up as a zombie. That way I will look cool but if I get bored I can have a sleep and no one will know. 

 

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