The Walking Dead: 12 Behind-the-Scenes Facts for Die-Hard Fans
The Walking Dead show is never enough for a die-hard fan who wants to know all the show's mysteries! Why did Danai Gurira need to always keep a sword in the trunk of her car? How did the real SWAT team scare the cast of The Walking Dead? And what hilarious CGI secret hides behind Shiva The Tiger? Let’s get to know all the behind-the-scenes secrets!
#1 ZOMBIE SCHOOL
Extras who play the walkers don’t just show up on set. First of all, they have to go to a special so-called ‘Zombie School’ to learn how to move, walk, bite people, and even how to take a bullet. Besides walking like they are totally drunk, the extras are told not to blink and to stay absolutely silent!
Oh yes, those creepy sounds are actually added in post-production. So, if you want to play a walker, simply forget about making any growling noises to make the performance more realistic. By the way, the special make-up effects creator of the show - Greg Nicotero - has also appeared as a walker on the show in four different episodes.
In season 1 he was the walker eating the deer shot by Daryl. In the next episode, Nicotero played the zombie that bit Andrea’s little sister Amy. And in Season 6 he was clearly seen in the scene where Glenn and Nicholas are stranded on the dumpster.
#2 A 'YOU-WILL-BE-KILLED-OFF' NOTICE
There’s a tradition that when major characters leave the show, the cast gets together for a "death day party". “It gives everyone a chance to get properly sauced and say, ‘We’re going to miss the hell out of you,’” - shared Sarah Wayne Callies, who played Lori Grimes.
Also, the actors get a couple of months’ notice if they are about to be killed off. Ross Marquand, who played Aaron, revealed that it usually happens about two months prior to their on-screen death.
“Production will usually let people know a little bit ahead of time just because you are often moving your family and of all your belongings out from wherever you’re based.”
But sometimes the cast members have to keep their character’s death a secret for months! Like Michael Cudlitz, who had to keep mum on Abraham’s fate from everybody for almost a year in order not to spoil the show.
#3 IT'S TOUGH TO BE MICHONNE
Being physically fit is important in the world of The Walking Dead – so it is for Danai Gurira in real life! Otherwise, she wouldn’t be able to handle Michonne’s trademark solid steel katana – which weighs a good five pounds. Danai Gurira revealed that she kept her practice swords in the trunk of her car, so she could keep in shape whenever and wherever she went.
"I've trained in my garage, my living room, in a pool and even an underground parking garage," she said.
Sometimes she got carried away, and her walls have the dents to prove it! By the way, have you ever wondered why Michonne’s face was kept in the shadow of a dark cape when we first saw her? It’s because she was played by someone else! Danai Gurira was cast later, and the showrunners had to use someone else to stand in for Michonne.
#4 TRAINING WITH SWAT
Filming The Walking Dead isn’t glamorous at all, and the cast has to go through a lot. Ross Marquand, who played Aaron, revealed how hard the job is:
“We’re in crazy weather conditions, it’s really really hot mostly. You’re sweating through several layers of clothing.”
And, of course, all of the main cast has to train a lot. They do actually know how to use all their weapons, not just how to look good holding them! The actors regularly go to shooting ranges and they also practice with SWAT and military experts.
By working with professionals, The Walking Dead cast learn how to handle the guns and other various weapons, and also how to work in a team. But there was a time when the SWAT team was called to the set for a different reason. The SWAT team soon arrived and found it was just the actor Michael Rooker, firing blanks.
#5 NOT-SO-DEADLY WEAPONS
All the weapons on the show are, in fact, real. But real guns are pretty heavy, and the actors have to carry them around all day! So there are plastic versions of all weapons, as they still look cool, but they are much lighter than the real guns. But for the fight sequences, the actors use rubber props - which are definitely much safer.
Also, the tips of the knives are missing – they are added later with the use of CGI. In some cases, like the iconic katana, the weapon gets wrapped in green tape, which makes it easier for the post-production to edit. As you can see in this picture, Cailey Fleming is holding her katana, but it is not a full-sized blade, it's simply topped with green tape.
By the way, Michonne’s katana was designed, in part, by the author of the comics, Robert Kirkman himself! He wanted the hilt of the sword to be white, as opposed to the more practical red the props team had brainstormed.
So they decided to wrap the hilt with an eel skin, because it's super-easy to clean, and it wouldn’t absorb any liquids. And we all know that each episode requires massive amounts of fake blood.
#6 BLOOD AND GORE GALORE
According to Greg Nicotero, they usually use 20 to 30 gallons of the red ooze. It is all made on set by the special effects department, and there are different shades and textures of it, depending on the need. For example, if you have a dark shirt, and you want to see the blood on it, it has to be brighter, otherwise, it would just fade into the shirt.
John Sanders, the property master for the show, explained that choosing which color blood to go with which zombie is a collaborative effort among the production team. Also, there's more than just one type of zombie. There are walkers wandering around in the back of the frame, those in the middle distance, and those up close to the camera.
Zombies in the foreground get the full-on make-up treatment, while those placed in the distance require only a splash of fake blood and some dirty clothes. And did you notice that the word “zombie” is never used in the show?
#7 A TABOO ON THE Z-WORD
Have you ever wondered why the characters spent so much time figuring out what to do with the reanimated corpses in the first season? They should have known how to kill a zombie because we have all watched the same movies! While speaking to Conan O'Brien, Robert Kirkman explained the reason for this.
"We wanted to kind of give you a sense that The Walking Dead takes place in a universe where zombie fiction doesn't exist."
And although in the comic book Kirkman breaks his own rule occasionally, the show has stuck to calling the dead, dozens of other names to avoid saying the Zed word. So here we have walkers, skin-eaters, deadheads, deadies, rotters, and many many more.
#8 THE SUPPORTING CAST IS MASSIVE
There are many more extras involved than you think. For example, in the first episode of Season 6, there were almost a thousand! But usually, there are around 200 to 300 zombies on set – and it literally takes hours to do proper hair and make-up for all of them.
The make-up director explained that while stuck in traffic, he came up with an idea on how to get the large cast suitably styled on time. So, the make-up artists arrange themselves in an assembly line, and each of them performs a specific task over and over again:
The first one applies shadows around the eyes and cheekbones, the next artist does a lighter color over the highlights to accentuate the bone structure, the next spatters blood, and then the last person puts conditioner in their hair, so it looks flat and nutty. Such an assembly line of four artists can finish 40 to 50 zombies in an hour!
#9 THE SECRET OF THE CGI TIGER
Although the showrunners prefer practical special effects like make-up, prosthetics, and even animatronic puppets, sometimes they have to use some digital magic. We have already told you about the weapons, but there’s more to it! When shooting scenes with herds of walkers, only a couple hundred of those are actual actors.
At the beginning of Season 6, the group encounters the horde of 30,000 walkers. Greg Nicotero shared that there were only 200 extras on the set, interacting around the truck on the foreground, while those in the background were digitalized.
Also, CGI is used to erase the small details, like breath steam from the extras who play the undead. And we can’t help telling you about Shiva The Tiger: although it looks exceptionally realistic (and definitely much better than the infamous deer), it actually isn’t.
The rules and regulations surrounding the safety of both animals and crew necessitated an animated version of the tiger. So a stuntman had to act as the on-set stand-in for Shiva! Yes, every time we see the tiger jump on someone and tear out their jugular, it's actually a man decked out in a blue bodysuit.
#10 CHARACTERS THAT WEREN'T IN THE COMICS
Avid fans are definitely aware of the fact that the show is based on the graphic novels, created by writer Robert Kirkman and artist Tony Moore. But what you might not know is that many characters that appear on TV were never in the original comic book! The fan-fave Daryl Dixon was created specifically for the show, together with his brother Merle.
Sasha, Beth, and T-Dog also never existed in the comics. Moreover, sometimes characters who die in the series are alive in the novels, like Andrea. And characters who die in the comic book don’t necessarily do so in the show – like baby Judith, whom we love so much.
#11 HOW MANY JUDITHDS HAVE YOU NOTICED?
Over the span of 9 seasons of The Walking Dead, there have been a total of 16 (!) actresses who played the role of Judith. Why so many? We mean, there is baby Judith, toddler Judith and, finally, an almost-teen Judith. But, in fact, because of the strict laws involved with having a baby on set, the role was often recast.
Moreover, they often cast twins to play Judith! In season three, the role of baby Judith was played by two pairs of twins! During the next season, the role was played by three (!) sets of twins. In season 5, there were two more sets of twins and just one set in season six.
And here’s one more cool behind-the-scenes fact: remember how Carl ate that huge can of pudding back in season 4? It turns out, that although that episode was one of Chandler Riggs’ favorites, he wouldn’t want to repeat it.
"I luckily didn’t have to eat the whole thing, thank goodness. – recalled the young actor. – "I only ate, like, a quarter of it, but that still was a lot of pudding."
So by the time he had finished shooting, Chandler “absolutely hated pudding”.
#12 THE OPENING CREDITS DECAY EVERY SEASON
The walkers aren’t the only thing that rot over time – so does the opening sequence of the series! With each season it gets darker and grimier, reflecting the world of The Walking Dead, which is gradually falling apart. Executive producer Gale Anne Hurd confirmed it:
“For the observant fan, it’s an Easter egg. The world is more decayed, the walkers are considerably more decayed, so it really is reflective of that.”
But in Season 9 the opening credits were revamped, and the logo got some greenery in it, signaling a sense of rebuilding and the return of nature.