Any longtime Comic-Con International attendee would be familiar with the hallowed Hall H. The largest room at the San Diego Convention Center, it seats nearly 7,000 people and plays host to many of the pop culture expo’s most popular panels. Before attendees can enjoy the splendor of Hall H, though, they must first brave the line to get into Hall H – one so notoriously long that it has its own Twitter feed.
True to its reputation, the Hall H line was particularly punishing on Friday. Before the sun had even come up, it was stretching at least half a mile down the street and coiling around a nearby park, as countless convention attendees camped out with blankets, sleeping bags and foldable chairs, eager to see the highly anticipated panels for Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead.
It's little wonder why they were waiting so long. The Game of Thrones panel was particularly special, as it offered a chance for fans to get some closure over the "Red Wedding," the spectacular and traumatic wedding bloodbath that marked the climax of Season Three and saw the deaths of two of the show’s most beloved characters, Robb Stark and his mother, Catelyn.
"I have many characters, so killing a few – there’s always more," quipped George R.R. Martin, author of the A Song of Fire and Ice book series that spawned the show. "I should say, in my defense, [producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss] have turned everything up to eleven from the books. They’ve killed many characters who are still alive in the books. I’ll only take some of the bloodthirsty blame here."
The panel – moderated by film critic Elvis Mitchell – featured Martin alongside Benioff and Weiss and stars Richard Madden (who played Robb), Michelle Fairley (Catelyn), Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), Kit Harrington (Jon Snow), Rose Leslie (Ygritte), John Bradley (Samwell Tarly) and Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen).
Throughout the panel, the stench of death was in the air. It opened with an "In Memoriam" video tribute – set to the tune of Boyz II Men’s "Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday" – that memorialized dozens of departed Game of Thrones characters in gruesome detail. Later Jason Momoa, who played the late Khal Drogo, briefly came back to life to visit his Khaleesi, popping onstage briefly to plant a kiss on Clarke’s cheek and taunt Martin.
"I’m not dead, George!" Momoa cried.
Asked about how she prepared for her harrowing final moments in the "Red Wedding" – punctuated with a gruesome death-cry that the producers said she’d had to repeat about 20 times – Fairley described a rather calm, patient approach.
"It’s like a piece of music," she said. "You have to work your way through it. You don’t want to overplay it. You want to discover it as you go along."
Clarke – who recently bagged an Emmy nomination (one out of 16 for the show) in the supporting actress category for her role as Daenerys Targaryen – said her character had gradually grown in confidence throughout the past season and has been "testing herself" while amassing an army and liberating the slaves of Astapor and Yunkai.
"It’s the biggest risk she’s ever taken," Clarke said. "She knows if it doesn’t work, then that’s it. Game over. And if it does work, then game on. And, amazingly, it does."
If times have been tough for some in the fantasy world of Game of Thrones, they haven’t been any easier in the zombie apocalypse landscape of The Walking Dead. Though the cast has already endured numerous trials and tribulations, new showrunner Scott Gimple made clear in a panel featuring producers and cast members that things aren’t going to get any easier in Season Four, which premieres on October 13th.
"It’s going to get insane very quickly," he said.
On the big screens at Hall H, the audience was treated to a video preview of Season Four. The video alluded to threats both human and zombie, showing Carol teaching some kids how to use knives, Hershel sermonizing about the risks of everyday life and zombies pressing closer to the prison compound, some of them drawn by dead rats that might’ve been planted by a human.
Andrew Lincoln, who plays Rick Grimes, said that his character will have a different mindset in the new season. With his son Carl "turning into a sociopath" at the end of last season, Lincoln said Grimes will spend more time focusing on being a better dad.
"You find Rick in a completely new place at the beginning of the season," he said. "He’s trying to repress his brutality and he’s renounced quite a lot of responsibilities in leadership for the sake of his children."
During the Q&A session, a fan asked what the cast would do in the event of an actual zombie apocalypse. Robert Kirkman, creator of the comic book series on which the show is based, said he’d consider just killing himself. But Norman Reedus, who plays Daryl Dixon, vowed to take a more playful approach.
"I would take over a hotel, spray paint myself silver, run around in circles naked and watch South Park," he said.
For all the severity of the two panels, other panels at Hall H were a bit more lighthearted. Earlier in the day, Veronica Mars star Kristen Bell joined fellow cast members and creator Rob Thomas onstage to discuss the upcoming, Kickstarter-funded feature film, which is set to be released in early 2014.
Thomas said the Veronica Mars movie picks up several years after the popular drama – about a teenager working part-time as a private detective – left off when it was canceled in 2007.
"It sort of has – and this is a weird reference – but a Godfather III theme to it," he said. "As we find Veronica in the movie, she has not worked as a private detective since the last time you saw her in Season Three, and so part of the movie is her getting pulled back into this life that she thought she left behind."
Working on a tight budget, the crew plans to wrap up a 23-day shoot on Monday. Bell said it was exciting playing her old character on set. Her first scene was with Jason Dohring, who on the series played Mars’ onetime arch-rival, Logan Echolls.
"We just kind of kept staring at each other," Bell said, "going, like, 'Are we really here right now? Are they allowing us to do this? Are we in The Twilight Zone?'"
For the last panel of the day, Metallica premiered the trailer for their new IMAX 3D concert movie, Metallica Through the Never. Later, raffle tickets were doled out to attendees for a Metallica concert held at San Diego’s Spreckels Theatre that night.
According to the trailer, the Metallica movie stars Dane DeHaan as a delivery boy who gets caught up in a bruising battle between angry rioters and police; all the while, the heavy-metal legends rock out atop a crazy-looking, high-tech stage. Frontman James Hetfield emphasized that the movie isn’t the usual concert flick.
"The film itself is multilayered. It’s not blatant. It doesn’t tell you what it’s supposed to be," Hetfield said. "Hopefully you can see it more than once and see something different every time. And not just a week later, but a couple years later."