"The Walking Dead" is heading toward its Season 7 finale with the future in mind.
On Friday night, as "The Walking Dead" cast and producers appeared onstage during the opening night of PaleyFest Los Angeles, Executive Producer and "TWD" showrunner Scott M. Gimple addressed the new milestone the show will reach in Season 8.
"Episode 801, the first episode of Season 8, is going to be the 100th episode," the producer told a sold out crowd at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. "The first episode is, I think less about that we reached 100 episodes. It's more about setting up the next 100."
But, before that happens, there's a season to wrap up.
"The end of this season is very much the end of a chapter," Gimple continued. "It's very much a conclusion that promises this epic story ahead. And the first episode of Season 8 … it's about setting up this gigantic, epic tale to come, not only in Season 8, but beyond."
Gimple also reflected on the journey Rick's group took this season, from losing friends and submitting to Negan's will in the opener, to the hope that's started to spring up again in recent episodes.
"The first episode, you know, it was a trifle traumatic -- for you guys, and for everybody here … my mother," the showrunner said to laughs from the crowd. "And to get from that point to a point where these characters can smile again … It was seeing these people come alive again and earning the place that they are."
During the panel, Executive Producer Robert Kirkman told the crowd about what's impressed him about Jeffrey Dean Morgan's performance as the villain Negan.
"I think the thing that's most impressive about what it is that he does is that he is [playing] this horrible person and he's doing things to characters that we love, but he has this spark to him that's really engaging and really entertaining and really welcoming," Kirkman said.
Friday's panel also included "TWD" stars Andrew Lincoln, Melissa McBride, Sonequa Martin-Green, Lauren Cohan, Josh McDermitt, Christian Serratos, Alanna Masterson, Seth Gilliam, Ross Marquand, Tom Payne and Austin Amelio.
When it came time for fan questions, there were a number directed at Andrew, specifically about Rick's relationship with Michonne – including the characters' recent romantic, supply-gathering, zombie-killing road trip.
"It was amazing to work -- and it has been since the get-go -- with Danai [Gurrira]," Andrew said.
"And she's so committed to this role. And to explore that arc -- they pull so many different qualities [out] of each other," he added.
Andrew was also asked about Michonne's help in bringing Rick back from the broken man viewers saw at the end of the season premiere.
"I think that the story, certainly my character arc this season was a man who'd been completely diminished, humiliated and succumbed to this -- the big, bad wolf, you know, this new guy.... But certainly, Michonne is the key," he said.
"He's been beaten down to the canvas so many times and he keeps pulling himself up, genuinely for other people. This is the first time he hasn't done that and he's needed a helping hand and she is the absolute key in his return," Andrew added.
As the night came to a close, a fan asked if one day, Rick and Michonne might have a baby.
"I mean, you've got to repopulate the world," Andrew replied to a room full of laughs.
"The Walking Dead" continues this Sunday night at 9 PM ET/PT on AMC.
-- Jolie Lash