Spoiler Warning: The following article refers to the latest season of The Walking Dead.
It’s Oz Comic Con time again in Adelaide, with a number of actors, authors, voice actors and more nestling into the City of Churches for a weekend of meeting with fans and engaging in a round of panels and other antics down at the Royal Adelaide Showgrounds. Ahead of the chaos, we’re able to grab some time with stars of The Walking Dead, Chad L. Coleman and Sonequa Martin-Green, two actors who as Tyreese and Sasha, featured in some of the most emotionally arresting and key plot lines in the post-apocalyptic drama.
“Scott Gimple and Robert Kirkman are mad geniuses, they really are.” Coleman says of the show runner and comic book series creator. “We have to really give it up to Robert Kirkman for creating that source material. Scott Gimple knows the show as well as Robert Kirkman, inside out they know it. They’re able to move the chess pieces and rearrange things in a way that makes it really compelling for people. Obviously, we wanted to keep the graphic novel fans, but you have the opportunity to revisit… You look at your own life: you learn lessons and you can go back and replay it. You evolve as a human being, you become richer as a person, you know? I think that’s so gratifying about this – we already had some juicy material, but to go back and re-examine it and put this story on that person, it’s like, ‘Wow!’ That’s the fun part. These guys understand human behaviour, they’re curious about human behaviour in a really, really compelling way. It’s exciting for us. It is hard, it wears us out!”
Of course, fans of The Walking Dead saw the tragic loss of Tyreese and the effect his death had on Sasha, who was already still dealing with the loss of her lover, Bob, during the ‘Terminus’ storyline of Season 5. If you’ve followed the comics, Tyreese’s death was one we’d known was on the horizon, but how it played out on TV screens was nonetheless heartbreaking. Reflecting on this part of the season and the pain they channelled to effect the proper reaction from what’s now a fiercely loyal and strong fan base, not to mention giving the characters the amount of emotional depth deserved, both Coleman and Martin-Green note the difficulties and the effect this part of The Walking Dead narrative had on them.
“It’s like, a fireman runs into a burning building,” Coleman muses. “We run into the burning building of emotion, because that’s what’s required of us for you have the experience that you deserve. It’s why we do it.”
“When you [Sonequa] laid on those walkers I was like, ‘Wow – Imagine this human being…’ I wanted to be there for her, you know?! She wasn’t going to listen to me, no way, she was going to find her own way! But that’s what’s so beautiful about watching her work. You see this woman just fighting hard. Sometimes she’s in the dark and other times she’s just grabbing hold…it’s amazing to watch. It’s a lot of pain.”
“It takes a lot,” Martin-Green agrees. “Like he was saying, to run into the burning building of emotion and it’s extremely challenging to live in a dark place like that, it does take a lot out of you. I love what you [Chad] said, it’s where we have to go to tell the story that you deserve to see. Losing my brother is just the worst thing in life, that could have happened. No matter what, no matter how tragic the things around her became, she always had her brother. There was always that security there, there was always that home there. Losing her lover and then immediately losing her brother, the longest relationship of her life…Seeing Chad in that episode and watching it as an audience member way after the fact, it broke my heart all over again. You see this man coming into his own and putting his stamp on life and saying, ‘This is who I am, this is who I’ve always been and this is my legacy.’ To see him grappling with that in the midst of actual physical pain and then the surety of death before him…it was almost too much!”
It’s quite obvious some themes the show deals with (personal loss, abandonment, unstable governments…) can be related to current events in the news, an obvious element of the show both cast members agree has been an important and successful one of The Walking Dead’s accessibility for many TV audiences around the world.
“It gives you a safe place to transform, basically,” Martin-Green says of the environment the show has constructed for the writer’s to explore such storylines.
“This [the show] is just a metaphor, that’s what it is.” Coleman says. “It’s a place where you can examine all of those things for sure. But then it’s almost like slight of hand, because you need that ‘walker’ aspect of it for it to not be overwhelming, you know what I mean? That’s the only way it’s palpable, which is great. I go back and I realise that I was reading comic books earlier on and that’s what they do.”
“There are those of us who have the heart, the character and integrity that’s necessary within the community, but we must experience loss. Profound loss. What does it matter if I don’t matter? It matters. I also believe that now, instead of the show giving one flag post of a character’s integrity, it allows everyone else to examine that part of themselves more, you know? You’re confronted. God…you [Sonequa] with Seth [Seth Gilliam, who plays Fr. Gabriel], that was crazy. It was like, ‘She has every right to blow his damn head off. She’s not going to do it, please don’t do it!’ I thought she was going to do it! But then she pulled back and they prayed together and I was like, ‘Whoa! Okay!’ It was powerful.”
Adelaide fans of The Walking Dead are no doubt going to be hearing more stories about this last season of the show from both Coleman and Martin-Green over the weekend and it’s quite clearly a creative project they’re so attached to and invested in themselves. In Australia for the first time, the on-screen siblings have been enjoying exploring the city off the back of their debut appearance in Perth for the Oz Comic Con expo last weekend. For Coleman, though his time dodging zombies may be done, he’s not off-screen completely, now involved in the sci-fi universe.
“I’m working on a show called The Expanse on the Syfy network.” he explains. “It’s that spaceship drama that we don’t have. Once again, another backdrop for people to deal with really heavy things. This character is named Fred Lucious Johnson and he reminds me a lot of Colin Powell. He gets duped and he ends up destroying some lives that he had no intent to do and the government spins it like, “You’re a hero! Thank you.” because they knew. They’re like, “Yeah, we played you, but it’s okay!” It’s Mars and Earth and so they call me ‘The Butcher’; their people think, “That guy slaughtered a lot of people, he’s insane” and so I’m working to right that wrong. The government doesn’t know it, they just think I’m playing along. It’s really fun!”
As for Martin-Green, it’s back to the world of The Walking Dead and everything that comes with it. The new mum praises the opportunities the show and its own little world that has been established around it in the last few years, particularly the chances she’s had to now travel to the likes of Australia and meet fans from all over the world.
“I mean, it’s nothing short of a blessing,” she enthuses. “Nothing short of an honour. It’s a true privilege, it’s a blast. It’s kind of surreal, honestly, that all of this and everything that we’ve experienced…travelling the world and meeting so many people and all of the experiences that have come as a result of being on this show, it’s mind-blowing.”
Oz Comic Con will be held at the Royal Adelaide Showgrounds this weekend, April 18th & 19th. For tickets and further information, head to www.ozcomiccon.com.