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Zombie fans ravenous for more at 'Walking Dead' convention

By Henry Hanks, CNN
updated 1:32 PM EST, Mon November 4, 2013
Zombie fans gathered by the thousands at the first-ever Walker Stalker Con, which celebrated the "The Walking Dead" and all things horror this past weekend in Atlanta. In this photo, Forrest Ainsworth, from Canton, Georgia, dresses as Rick Grimes from the popular television series "The Walking Dead." Zombie fans gathered by the thousands at the first-ever Walker Stalker Con, which celebrated the "The Walking Dead" and all things horror this past weekend in Atlanta. In this photo, Forrest Ainsworth, from Canton, Georgia, dresses as Rick Grimes from the popular television series "The Walking Dead."
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Zombies never been bigger, evidenced by series, "The Walking Dead"
  • Walker Stalker Con hosted thousands of "Walking Dead" and zombie fans
  • Fans invested in characters and idea of surviving apocalypse

(CNN) -- Chris Pezzano, a soft-spoken man from Huntsville, Alabama, is passionate about horror.

"I've been into the horror world since I was a kid," he said, dressed in full zombie regalia at Walker Stalker Con this past weekend in Atlanta, Georgia.

Zombies have never been bigger, evidenced -- or perhaps caused in part -- by the top-rated TV series, "The Walking Dead."

Thousands of rabid zombie fans like Pezzano swarmed the Walker Stalker Con, hoping to meet "Walking Dead" cast members such as Norman Reedus, Steven Yeun and Danai Gurira, and executive producer/special effects makeup designer Greg Nicotero.

"I'm 44 years old, I probably look like I'm 440 years old now," said Pezzano who sometimes goes by the name "Pezzombie."

It's extremely rare for a horror series to gain an audience of this size. The only thing that comes close is "The X-Files" at its height.

So why exactly has "The Walking Dead" infected the country like a zombie plague?

"I think one of the main things very intriguing about the show is it allows you to vent some of your fears and frustrations and gives you an hour of being able to deal with the zombies in your own life," said Nashville resident Eric Nordhoff, co-founder of Walker Stalker Con.

Nordhoff and his neighbor James Frazier traveled to Senoia to watch the filming of the show. That led to a podcast which eventually led to a full-fledged fan convention.

What separates "The Walking Dead" from similar shows is that it is character- based, Nordhoff said.

"You're investing in these characters and these people. There's always the threat that someone could die at any moment."

Bite into the new season

Roberto Reyes who traveled to the convention from San Luis Potosi, Mexico.

"Every episode brings new surprises," he said. "You're living the experience with them."

But would some like to go as far as to actually live it?

"I think in the back of some people's minds, they want the zombie apocalypse to happen, with just the thrill of it all," said Monique Franceschi of Cleveland.

"They think that's what really happened, that Daryl Dixon (Reedus) will really show up on their doorstep, or Andrew Lincoln."

Then who better to settle this than the series' star, Lincoln himself?

"I think it just seems to have captured people's imaginations," he told CNN.

"I've fallen in love with this ragtag group of misfits and I think that's possibly what's happening. People are rooting for the characters that they love every single weekend. It's a real thing for them. They're living through this hell with Rick and the survivors."

Lincoln made a point to attend Walker Stalker Con, to thank the fans in a rare convention appearance.

"The whole point of this is you get a dialogue with the fans. I feel more and more this isn't our show, it's the fans' show."

Fans such as Brandi Benton, a writer from Minneapolis, have certainly made it their own.

"The basis of the show is: 'Who are you gonna be?' " she said.

"When your world falls apart -- whether it's a zombie apocalypse or life in general -- who are you going to choose to be? Are you going to be a good person and try to do the right thing? Are you going to let your circumstances determine who you're going to be?"

"The Walking Dead" will pose more intriguing questions this season, Lincoln said.

"Can we ever come back from the things we've done and seen?" he asked.

"After the brutality of the things we've perpetrated, Can we be the same people we once were? I think that's a theme interwoven into everybody's character arcs this season, no more so than Rick. A lot of his sacrifices and him pulling back from the brutality and the leadership role is because of his son. That relationship is certainly one of the most interesting relationships this season."

Suffice it to say, the fans at Walker Stalker Con -- from those covered in zombie makeup to those dressed as Rick Grimes and everyone in between -- will be among those tuning in for answers.

A few questions with 'Walking Dead' special effects guru Greg Nicotero

CNN's Anika Chin and Ashley Strickland contributed to this report.

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