In just a few days, AMC is bringing back The Walking Dead for its sixth season, and while fans have had Fear The Walking Dead to tide them over for the past month and a half, nothing beats the original.
From the beginning, the series has broken records and earned a loyal audience courtesy of its take-no-prisoners story and viewer’s love for anything tied to the zombie apocalypse. But while the audience knows the characters and locales, not all realize some of the most interesting behind-the-scenes details that go into one of TV’s most-watched series.
To celebrate the show’s upcoming return here’s 10 Things You Need To Know About The Walking Dead that you may not have been aware of!
AMC wasn’t the original choice
AMC has become the powerhouse it has today because of series like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, but that wasn’t always the case. AMC originally just played classic films before it ventured into original programming, so you can see why producers didn’t initially think to pitch the network.
Prior to AMC, the show was offered to HBO but executives there turned down the drama for a shocking reason. The network behind The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones thought The Walking Dead was too violent for its network. Again, the channel that aired The Sopranos passed on a show because they thought it was too violent. Let that sink in.
HBO, as well as NBC (which was also offered the project), objected to the graphic nature of the comic and asked producers to tone it down, but wanting to stay true to Robert Kirkman’s source material, the showrunners balked at the request.
While The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad were network neighbors, some have even suggested the two took place in the same universe thanks to a series of fun coincidences.
First, remember that red Dodge Challenger from the second episode? The one Glenn (Steven Yeun) steals to get away from Walkers? Look familiar? That’s the same type of car Walter White (Bryan Cranston) bought his son on Breaking Bad.
While that’s not enough to connect the series, think about this fact. In the Season 2 episode Bloodletting, Daryl (Norman Reedus) explains that his brother Merle (Michael Rooker) was a drug dealer prior to the zombie breakout. We then see a bag of drugs that Merle carried around with him and it looks suspiciously like the Blue Sky brand of crystal meth that Heisenberg was known for selling.
Fast forward to a later season and Daryl again mentions his brother’s pusher days, telling Beth (Emily Kinney) that Merle’s dealer was a “janky little white guy,” which fits the description of one Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul).
The “Z” Word
Despite the fact zombies are a big part of The Walking Dead you’ll never hear that word on the show itself. That’s because of a conscious decision made the show’s creator Robert Kirkman to ban the “Z” word.
Kirkman wanted to show a world where zombie films didn’t exist so his characters had no idea what it was they were facing. That’s why, instead of Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and friends calling the undead “zombies,” they’ve used a variety of terms including “Roamers,” “Biters,” “Test Subjects” and most commonly “Walkers.”
That decision has transferred to the show’s spin-off prequel Fear The Walking Dead where that cast refer to the non-living living as “The Infected.” Of course I’m sure given the show is only in its first season we’ll get a few more colorful names as more episodes air.
While The Walking Dead became a breakout hit almost overnight, it had been previously rumored AMC wasn’t sure of its success, and had a backup plan in mind for it to be a mini-series instead.
Remember the big explosion at the CDC at the end of season 1? Some have suggested that was meant as the final act in the Walking Dead story that would have killed all the characters, but when the show got big, those plans changed. Frank Darabont, who shepherded those stellar early episodes, has said multiple times that was just a myth and the plan was always for it to be a long term series.
But one thing that is true from those CDC episodes is that the character of Dr. Edwin Jenner (Noah Emmerich), who meets the cast early on is named after Dr. Edward Jenner, the physician in the late 1700’s who developed a vaccine for small pox.
Longtime fans of the show remember that The Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont was originally the one overseeing the Walking universe. While nobody really knows the full true story, it is true that after the show it hit it big AMC fired the well-respected filmmaker. Supposedly, it was over budget problems and other behind-the-scenes conflicts. Regardless, it had a snowball effect on the series.
As the executive producer Darabont controlled casting, he had enlisted a number of his friends and frequent collaborators including, Melissa McBride, Laurie Holden and Jeffrey DeMunn to round out the cast. Yet when Darabont was let go, the cast was understandably upset including DeMunn who asked to be removed from the series. While he later had a change of heart and cooled down his character’s death was already plotted and producers decided to carry on with it anyway.
The Dixon Duo
It’s hard to imagine The Walking Dead without Daryl and Merle Dixon. Even Merle, who remained a despicable human being for most of his run, became a fan favorite largely because of the actor portraying him. However, many fans are surprised to learn that neither character is actually in the comics.
Merle was created by the producers as a foil for Rick to represent the bad in the world, but when Norman Reedus auditioned for the character, series executives liked him so much they wrote a brand new character just for him. Ultimately Michael Rooker was cast as Merle and the two became scene stealers, yet the two never appeared in the same scene until much later in the show’s run.
While Merle has since been killed off Daryl remains alive and well and fans have even made T-Shirts saying “if Daryl dies, we riot.” In fact it has been rumored that Robert Kirkman may even write Daryl into the comics because of that mass appeal.
Tastes Like Chicken…Literally
The show’s “walkers” are always shown chowing down on human flesh and organs, but have you ever wondered what it is they are actually eating?
In most cases its actually ham soaked in vinegar, but when Jeffery DeMunn’s Dale left the series in season 2 his exit got a little extra budget to film. Instead of ham, the crew used chicken breasts to model his on-display organs.
It’s also been reported that originally instead of vinegar the hams were drenched in BBQ sauce. But this messed up the “walker” make-up, so a change had to be made to protect the hours and hours of prep work that go into creating the characters.
Fans may also remember a particularly chilling scene when the psychopathic Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) feeds a mouse to a walker. Of course the actor wasn’t actually eating a real mouse; instead it was a prop made out of gelatin and stuffed with grape jelly.
Being a “walker” is a lot more than just moaning… Actually, they aren’t even allowed to do that!
The extras that play the walkers go through a zombie training camp. For example, producers tell the actors to move slowly and move like they are coming out of a bar at 2 AM. The walkers are also kept separate from the human cast. The show does this to keep the authenticity going off-camera and not let the cast get overly comfortable with their “undead” co-stars.
As for how to eat like the undead, producers have told extras to not use their hands to rip apart the unlucky souls they are feasting on. They advise the cast to use their mouth like a hyena eating a zebra, which is a violent motion to tug at the body to find more meat.
The other big thing is that walkers are told not to blink if possible. Blinking is a involuntarily reflex which, according to Kirkman, is too lifelike for a walker, so when an extra does it, they have to digitally edit it out in post-production. That’s also around the same time producers add in the moans and groans, as extras are instructed not to talk, growl or make any type of verbal sound.
Location, Location, Location
Locations are a big deal for the series; they often serve as characters in themselves.
The giant sets usually play a big role throughout a season. Take for example Hershel’s Farm, which came more out necessity than plot. Due to the show’s heavy budget, the series needed to keep the cast in one place for season 2, so they brought in the Greene family storyline from the comics.
The following season producers changed it up again and built a prison set which served as the centerpiece for the next batch of episodes. The prison was actually built not far from where the show’s farm episodes were shot and where some of the “Main Street” type action takes place.
All of the scenes are shot in Atlanta, or rather Senoia, a suburb located about an hour away. Yet in what may be the coolest piece of trivia tied to the sets, Season 5 location “Terminus” actually gets its name from the original name given to Atlanta. Terminus, which means “the end of a route,” was the last stop on the Western and Atlantic Railroad, which was fitting, given the storyline.
In the zombie apocalypse you don’t really have a lot of access to grooming materials whether you’re a human or a walker. Yet when characters grow/lose beards fans notice, but as it turns out there is usually a more in-depth reason.
For example for his brief return during a Rick Grimes hallucination in season 3, Jon Bernthal shows up with a beard, but his character Shane was clean-shaven when he was dispatched at the end of season 2. Yet in the time after his departure, Bernthal took advantage of his newfound fame and booked a number of roles. One of which was in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street and he contractually was obligated to keep the beard, which made Walking producers relent on the continuity. Given that it was a hallucination, they were fine with the change.
Meanwhile, in Season 5 when Rick shaves his beard, many saw it as Rick just taking advantage of having running water again. In this case there was a deeper meaning as according to producers it was part of Rick’s transformation. The character was no longer feral so to speak and it was important for him to visually reflect that on screen. It is similar to when Shane shaved his head in season 2 to hide his hand in Otis’ (Pruitt Taylor Vince) demise. His transformation to the dark side occurred not long after.
With the premiere of The Walking Dead Season 6 coming up, we hope you enjoyed these facts! Did we miss any other trivia we missed? Let us know below!
The Walking Dead Season 6 premieres on AMC on October 11, 2015.