The big takeaway tonight from a panel screening of The Walking Dead season 5 finale, held tonight at the Egyptian theater as part of AMC’s Emmys push: it turns out that behind the scenes, the show is just as much of a Ricktatorship as it is onscreen. Or to put it more clearly, Andrew Lincoln is far and away the most beloved – by his costars – member of the cast.

Again and again, cast members went out of their way to praise Lincoln as a supportive coworker who as often as not goes to the mat for his fellow actors. It was touching stuff, which is surprising considering how funny the discussion was generally. That and more came out of the panel discussion held after the screening, moderated by Deadline’s own Dominic Patten.

walking dead panelIn attendance were executive producers Robert Kirkman (also series and comic book creator), Scott Gimple, and Greg Nicotero, along with stars Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Steven Yeun, Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride, Chad Coleman, Sonequa Martin-Green, and Michael Cudlitz. The group treated the packed crowd to what amounts to a massive group hug, as they talked about their deep respect for one another, for Lincoln, and the show itself, along with a lot of laughs.

Chad Coleman, whose character Tyrese was killed off early in the second half of season five, was on hand as a kind of stand-in for beloved characters brutally removed from the show. Asked about the death of Tyrese, Coleman said “It’s understanding the magnitude of living out your ideology, not just saying words, but actually living it out. That’s an incredibly challenging thing to do for any human being, but in this situation… I thought when he died, he absolutely had found his absoluteness in this life.”

walking dead panel april 20This led to a discussion of how often characters are killed off, prompting Lincoln to weigh in. “It is inevitable that we’re all gonna get it at some point and the manner in which you deal with that is the mark of who you are,” he said. Praising former stars of the show such as Emily Kinney, he singled out Coleman for particular adulation. “When I watched [Chad] in that episode, it was extraordinary. He gave an acting performance that was like a master class… And of course we’re all gonna get it, but there’s this culture on the show, and I think it’s unique, that as long as it serves the story, none of us mind.”

“But don’t get me wrong,” Lincoln said to big laughs when the cast was asked if he spoke for them, “if they kill me off I’m gonna burn my trailer down”.

Gimple weighed in, saying that “it really takes your breath away to see how the actors support each other. walking dead april 20 panelAnd of course, the ultimate compliment is that Andy will pull me aside and say ‘I don’t think we should kill him, he’s a really good actor'”. Later, Coleman concurred, telling how after at once point during production, he got a call from Lincoln. “I’m thinking ‘who’s on the phone to leave me this in-depth message’ to just say how much he appreciates everything I do on the show. That’s Andy Lincoln,” prompting huge applause.

Other highlights: Michonne actress Danai Gurira listed the pilot, season three’s “Clear”, and episode nine of season 5 (in which Tyrese is killed) as her personal favorites; Andrew Lincoln said if he could play any other role, he’d play Herschel, “because he’s cool as s–t,” before joking he’d also want to play Daryl Dixon, ribbing Norman Reedus for not having to do very much owing to fewer lines for the brooding character; and Reedus explained how he developed his character as a result of joining the production after the rest of the cast had bonded, drawing from his feelings of relative isolation.

Finally, of interest to nitpicky fans, series and comics co-creator Robert Kirkman cleared up definitively why the word “zombie” is never uttered. “We decided very early on that there’s a lot zombie fiction out there, there’s a lot of zombie movies, and that leads to a lot of questions. Why are these characters never going ‘oh yeah, you gotta shoot them in the head, because I saw that on Night of the Living Dead‘,” he said. “And so we decided if we just strip that word out, and have this show set in a dimension where zombie movies just didn’t exist, it would kind of make things a little more believable.”

The more you know.