By Eric Deggans
Times TV/Media Critic
As half of the youngest, best-looking couple on AMC's hit zombie drama The Walking Dead, Lauren Cohan has become the green-eyed queen of every geek's fantasy.
Indeed, as her gutsy Maggie Greene prepares to marry geeky sidekick-turned-passionate survivor Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun), they are living most fanboys' post-apocalyptic dream, where even the most awkward guy has a shot at the pretty girl at the end of the world.
"I know that on the page, Glenn's character is supposed to be a dorky guy, but other than the fact that he's Asian, I don't really understand what makes him geeky to anyone," Cohan said. "Maybe the part of it that's the 'dream come true' is that Glenn was the really shy one where Maggie was concerned. But he's good looking and so is Steven; (Maggie) always saw him that way. It always made a lot of sense to me."
The topic of geeks comes up often in our discussion, not long before last Sunday's blockbuster third season finale for the show. To be precise, we talked right after the episode where hardcase Merle Dixon sacrificed himself to try taking out the show's villain, the Governor, but before the whirlwind finale in which Andrea died, shooting herself in the head after getting bitten by a friend who had died and returned as a zombie.
Cohan appears Sunday at Tampa Bay Comic Con with fellow cast member Emily Kinney (Beth Greene), signing autographs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Kinney also will appear Saturday.) Which means a lot of face time with the fanboys who cut their teeth on Robert Kirkman's Walking Dead graphic novels and helped turn the TV show into a magnet for the highly sought after 18- to 49-year-old viewer.
"I always end up doing sci-fi; I guess I really like the brains of it," said Cohan, who has also had roles on the CW series Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries. "I like the people that are devoted enough to put in the time to read the comic. I'm a geek myself; I grew up watching Star Trek, I don't do drugs. … They're my people."
That bit seems hard to believe. Born in New Jersey but raised in England, the 31-year-old leggy beauty has a beguiling British lilt to her voice, which surprises if you've spent much time watching her play tomboyishly tough Southern gal Maggie on The Walking Dead.
British actors pop up in the most unusual places on Walking Dead; star Andrew Lincoln is a London-born actor from British film and TV projects like Love, Actually and the BBC drama This Life. Bad guy the Governor is played by another Brit, David Morrissey, star of classic English TV series State of Play and Blackpool.
Tell Cohan that casting such actors in American projects allows producers to present U.S. audiences with super-experienced stars they have never seen before, and she gasps like it's an idea she has never heard before.
"It's always a fantasy for Brits to play Southern … maybe it's Tennessee Williams, or maybe it's that it's so foreign to us," she said, noting that playing American is a bit easier for her than for Lincoln and Morrissey, who are "through and through Englishmen."
"There's something old-fashioned about the South; it calls to your spirit," Cohan said by cellphone from a coffeehouse in Atlanta not far from where the show films. "I love the pace and the sense of priorities. It makes me feel like a lady."
You expect death to be a major theme in a show centered on zombies, but The Walking Dead takes that idea to new extremes — killing off major characters in ways both exhilarating and daunting for longtime fans.
Which raises an important question for Cohan: Has she ever worried about getting that fateful call?
"Maggie and Glenn will never die," she said, laughing. "Obviously, you hope to never get the call, but that's part of the honor of being on the show. These deaths always further the story and it's always going to propel big arcs for the characters. It really has an unprecedented effect on people and that doesn't come without some kind of cost. It just shows you, there are no rules."
Indeed, thanks to their love of The Walking Dead, the geeks of the world have rewritten the rules for series television, making an unlikely hit of a cable TV show featuring gruesome zombie deaths and a bleak, world-ending vision.
Nothing speaks louder than ratings in series television, and The Walking Dead has earned numbers among viewers 18 to 49 that surpass any rival show on cable TV or broadcast (Sunday's season finale drew 12.4 million viewers, with 8.1 million viewers 18 to 49, more than network hits like CBS's The Big Bang Theory and Fox's American Idol). Even its live, after-show analysis program, dubbed Talking Dead (Cohan calls it "the hug after the show that everyone needs"), scores ratings other broadcast shows would be happy to have, 5.2 million viewers on Sunday.
In an interesting way, the geeks have inherited the future of television, giving us all a show that will encourage the TV powers that be to break more rules — hopefully in ways that benefit the audience most of all.
"If The Walking Dead can do everything, then no one has any excuse," Cohan said. "I'm waiting for every other show to have its own after-show."