At the Dolby Theatre tonight, just two weeks after the Oscars’ envelope fiasco rocked the same room, a raucous crowd gathered on opening night of PaleyFest to greet the cast and creatives behind AMC’s The Walking Dead.

While Danai Gurira and baseball bat-wielding Jeffrey Dean Morgan were notable absences this evening, on hand for the panel were stars Andrew Lincoln, Melissa McBride, Josh McDermitt, Lauren Cohan, Sonequa Martin-Green, Alanna Masterson, Christian Serratos, Seth Gilliam, Ross Marquand, Austin Amelio and Tom Payne.

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Also present were executive producers Scott M. Gimple, Greg Nicotero, David Alpert and Robert Kirkman, the latter of whom wrote the comic books on which the series is based. And while the EPs held their cards close to their chest throughout the spoiler-free evening, with the Season 7 finale of The Walking Dead fast approaching, Gimble did take a moment to reflect on where the series is heading.

“[The future of the series] focuses on Eugene’s shorts,” the showrunner joked. “No, the end of this season is very much the end of a chapter. It’s very much a conclusion that promises this gigantic, epic tale to come.” Gimple noted that the first episode of Season 8 will also mark the 100th episode of The Walking Dead, a revelation that drew big applause from the crowd.

“The first episode [of Season 8] is, I think, less about [the fact] that we reached 100 episodes; it’s more about setting up the next 100 episodes,” he said.

Throughout the 90-minute conversation, the’ cast shared anecdotes from production, reflecting on their character arcs and the brutal situations the survivors now find themselves in, as Morgan’s Negan looms large. McDermitt discussed Eugene’s “cockroach”-like survival impulses; Cohan discussed Maggie’s reaction to Glenn’s death, and the life inside her that drives her on; and Masterson recalled jumping back into action-packed Atlanta days shortly after giving birth.

While not included in PaleyFest’s initial cast announcement for the panel, Martin-Green was also on hand to discuss her journey with the series. In December, she was cast as Lt. Cmdr Rainsford in CBS All Access’ series Star Trek: Discovery, leading to speculation about her future on The Walking Dead and the potential for her character to be among those next meeting their maker. Featured prominently in an extended sneak peek at upcoming episodes, her comments left fans no reason not to speculate.

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“What is it, if not a miracle, just to be a part of this experience, this world, this story, this family, this extended family?” she said. “It’s been truly phenomenal to dig deeper and deeper into the story as I’ve been on the show. For me as Sasha, I feel that all roads have led here.”

Among the sprawling TWD ensemble, the MVP of the night was Lincoln, who had the audience in the palm of his hands while plotting out the way he’d like to see Sheriff Rick Grimes die—getting bit by walkers, patching himself up like the true survivalist he is, and simply refusing to die. “Holy sh*t. Maybe I’m the cure,” Lincoln joked.

Following the panel, fans amassed like herds of walkers at the foot of the stage, much to festival planners’ chagrin.