How Auckland Armageddon Expo brought back the stars from the COVID-19 ashes

Thousands are expected to descend on Auckland's ASB Showgrounds this long weekend for the first Armageddon Expo with in-person guests in over four years.

The event offers fans the chance to meet actors from the likes of Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, The Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter, Vikings and DC's Legends of Tomorrow.

For the last few festivals in Auckland, the guests have beamed in only via virtual panels due to COVID-19, denying fans the opportunity to get autographs and photos with their favourites.

Armageddon organiser Bill Geradts told Newshub that while the virtual appearances worked well during the pandemic, having stars back again at recent shows in Christchurch and Wellington gave the events a completely different feel.

"The environment was so much different. People really got into it. The joy on people's faces alone was very, very enjoyable for me," he said.

"You can do a home show or a food show, and it's new products, but it is very much the same stuff. Whereas Armageddon is always reinventing the wheel every time we do a show. Emerging from COVID-19, there's a big difference in terms of the way people feel about doing events and how they respond to them as well."

Keeping the show fresh is something Geradts is passionate about. The Auckland 'Wintergeddon' will be the 28th year of the Armageddon Expo, which has clocked up over 100 events over the years. It's also one of two events in Auckland alone that Beyond Reality Media will put on alongside the traditional Labour Weekend show.

This year, one of the new attractions will be the Armageddon Talent Quest where 35 performers from all walks of life and skills will be trying to win the title - as well as a $5000 first prize.

One of the hopefuls is 23-year-old Charlotte Jackson, who works as a behavioural therapist for kids on the spectrum and will be entering as a singer.

Gaming is always big at Armageddon.
Gaming is always big at Armageddon. Photo credit: Supplied - Armageddon

"I have been performing live for about two years on and off. Although this is the case I still do get quite nervous as sharing my music is quite a vulnerable thing to do, however the rush you get on stage is definitely what makes it all worth it. I will be performing my original song called 'The Comedown'," she told Newshub.

"I'm excited to get on stage and share my music at Armageddon. I'd love to win - I feel like it would give me the jump start I need to begin my EP but do not have the funds to record the songs."

Geradts is optimistic the new attraction will work, but told Newshub while he was "not 100 percent sure", he believed it would take a little time to bed in as a part of the show and would hopefully become an annual thing.

"We're always looking for new stuff, something that's a little different," Geradts said.

"Once people really get into it, it'll be this thing that they come to every year and be like, you know, soon it will be the new New Zealand's Got Talent. I'm expecting fun and entertainment."

In addition to the cosplay, gaming and merchandise stands, the return of the guests to the event will for many fans be a big drawcard once again.

One of those heading to New Zealand from her native San Diego is DC Legends of Tomorrow actress Caity Lotz. It's her first time in Aotearoa, and having been recently married to fellow actor Kyle Schmid just weeks ago, she confessed with joy to Newshub that this trip would be her official honeymoon.

Caity Lotz will be in New Zealand for the first time.
Caity Lotz will be in New Zealand for the first time. Photo credit: Supplied - Armageddon

"I have really high expectations. I mean, everything that I hear about it is that it's beautiful nature and adventurous, with lots of fun activities and sports and such. So my husband and I are going to definitely try to do some exploring," she enthused, before revealing they'd later be heading to Queenstown.

While DC Legends of Tomorrow started in 2016, it recently drew to a close finishing in March 2022. The series was part of the 'Arrowverse'; a television franchise of superhero-led series from the DC Comics world that included the likes of The Flash and Arrow and often had interconnected ongoing stories.

The last episode of The Flash aired in May 2023, wrapping up the television arm of the DC Universe - it will now start afresh under the guidance of James Gunn and Peter Safran as part of the recent Warner Bros. Discovery merger, which also owns Newshub.

Lotz becomes animated when discussing the legacy of the show, saying it would probably never happen again like it did in today's fast-paced streaming landscape, and revealing why her fans are so important to her.

"[US Network] The CW really took chances on a lot of these shows, and we're so lucky to have so much time for everything to find its legs. I think most networks usually don't. If it doesn't know what it is like within the first couple episodes, they're cancelling that show and they really gave all the shows breathing room and time to kind of develop and turn into their own thing."

Lotz knows a thing or two about the industry. Recently she was on the picket lines with fellow Writers Guild members who are currently on strike over conditions within the industry.

"Nobody really understood or knew what was going to happen with these streaming services and it's taking over. And if they don't negotiate those things now in a way that can maintain a livable wage for writers and the protections that they need knowing what's coming in the future, then that could wipe out their whole industry," she warned.

While on the picket line, Lotz said Instagram fans had organised for an ice cream truck to show up in support of the striking writers. It's just one of a series of interactions that Lotz adores her fans for.

"It was so sweet. It's crazy. They're literally the best. I mean, it's so awesome how supportive and thoughtful they are," she said.

"For a lot of people it's been many years that I've been in their living room as a guest. And they've grown up with me.

Cosplay is always big at Armageddon.
Cosplay is always big at Armageddon. Photo credit: Supplied - Armageddon

"Coming to the Comic-Cons [like Armageddon] is like really where you get to feel that what you've been doing, the work that you've been doing is connecting with somebody and has made an impact on their life. Most of the time everybody I meet says that's what they want to share with me, how the character has affected their life. And I'm so lucky to play such an amazing character."

But it's not just the fans who are excited for the return of the stars.

Self-confessed Doctor Who fan Geradts says he got a thrill when Michelle Gomez, who played a female version of the evil Master alongside Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor, agreed last minute to come to Auckland.

"I think that if you're not a fanboy, then you couldn't go the distance. It's one of those things where you really need to be. You need to be part of this community to really get it. A lot of the stuff that we do, sometimes we do it just because we are fans and we want people to enjoy themselves," he laughs.

Wintergeddon takes place at Auckland's ASB Showgrounds from June 3 - 5.