Yeah, Rick Grimes is cool. Glenn is adorable. Daryl has nice hair. Michonne wields a samurai sword. And Negan is…. Negan-y. But the real draw of The Walking Dead are all those mindless killing machines just waiting to take a bite out of our favorite survivors. After all, you can’t have a zombie apocalypse without a Walker or two knocking at your door.
Even for those who have read all the comics and watch Talking Dead religiously, there is still a thing or two you might not know about these roaming meat puppets. Whether it’s how much walkers make for a living or why they don’t like to be called zombies, everyone’s favorite slow-moving lamebrains have made a career of catching us by surprise. We’ve already taken a look at the things you didn’t know about The Walking Dead in general, so how about now we zero in on the undead stars of the show.
Here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Walkers.
15. The Guts They Eat Are Made from Pickled Ham
As surprising as it may be, the human flesh walkers eat on the show is not really made from humans. It’s actually something far more disgusting – hams soaked in vinegar. Originally they were covered in barbecue sauce, but when that kept ruining their makeup, so the hams were plunged into a huge vat of vinegar to give it a nice oozy sheen. Understandably, after watching walkers chow down on their friends like a pack of wild hyenas during Christmas, many of the show’s actors have admitted to going off meat altogether.
One exception to the hammed guts main course, was the death of Dale. This was actually one of the more expensive deaths filmed (not counting CGI costs) because they used boneless chicken breasts for his innards. But regardless of what type of marinaded meat the show is serving up that day, if you’re hoping to be an extra on The Walking Dead and are a vegetarian, you might be out of luck.
14. All Blinks Are Edited Out Using CGI
Have you ever noticed that walkers never seem to blink? That is because all the extras playing them are told to keep their eyelids in check. After all, what need does a walking corpse have for moistening their eyeballs? But every once in a while there is no stopping the blinks and so a CGI artists has to edit them out in post-production.
Because you can’t legally remove the eyelids of extras on a television set, this means some poor person has to comb through hours upon hours of footage to catch all those split-second eye flutters that no one noticed in the moment. Which just sounds like one of the most boring jobs you could ever get on The Walking Dead set. But that’s just the kind of attention to detail that makes the show so great. And why walkers are the absolute worst to have a staring contest with.
13. All Walkers Must Attend Zombie School
Having to convincingly eat the intestines of an entire family is a huge responsibility. Which is why the creators of The Walking Dead leave nothing to chance and put all their extras through Zombie School. Which is just like regular school only funner and with less biting.
Each season a new crop of people are auditioned to have the honor of trying to kill the show’s remaining survivors. Of the thousands who turn up, only a lucky few are selected and then promptly put through a rigorous training program to bring out their inner zombie. Afterwards they are graded on two criteria: look and performance. Although size, gender, and age don’t really matter, the show prefers thinner, more gaunt extras with a specific bone structure who won’t appear fluffed up when prosthetic makeup is applied. More discerningly, they require a genuine and authentic delivery. Because no one wants a walker around who’s faking it.
12. It Takes Between One to Two Hours to Turn Into a Zombie
No, we’re not talking about how long it takes to turn after being bitten. This is how long on average an extra sits in the makeup chair before they’re ready for their ugly closeup. Led by special effects guru Greg Nicotero, seven seasons later The Walking Dead has streamlined walker production like a boss. Extras come in get some hand-painted contact lenses, custom dentures, a little rotting around the eyes, and before they know it they are certifiably zombified.
Walkers are classified into four different “waves” with the A group being the ones closest to the camera and receiving the most attention with regards to makeup, usually between one to two hours. Group B takes about a half hour to an hour, and all the way in the back groups C and D take a brisk 10 to 15 minutes since no one can really see them anyway. Sometimes an unlucky extra will sit in the chair for four hours, only to get about 2 seconds of screen time. But then again nobody said being a zombie was easy.
11. A Pro Footballer, Rock Star and Johnny Depp Have All Been Walkers (Kind Of)
Who hasn’t dreamed of getting grossed up and becoming a walker on the show. For most, they have to audition and pass Zombie School to get the chance. But if you’re a celebrity (or the fake head of a celebrity) then you just need to show up.
Pittsburg Steelers’ wide receiver and former Georgia Bulldog, Hines Ward was one of the many walkers killed at Woodbury during Season 3. Guitarist Scott Ian of Anthrax fame got his moment of undead glory in episode 12 from Season 5 when he tries to bite Rick’s leg and Carl sends a pole through his head. And probably the strangest cameo comes in Season 6 when Rick, Jesus, and Andy are trying to decide which of three decapitated heads to use in order gain access to the Savior’s compound. The one on the far right is made from a mold of Johnny Depp. Luckily for Johnny, Rick picks the one in the middle to pummel the crap out of.
10. They Get the CGI Treatment More Than You Think
The Walking Dead is known for its impressive makeup work. However as seasons have progressed, so too has the need to step up the scaring game, which is why the show’s creators are relying on digitally retouching individual walkers more than ever before. Of course the increasing popularity of the show has provided a bigger budget to allow for more realistic herds from time to time, such as the show’s biggest to date, during Season 6– when those trapped in the quarry get free and start making their way towards Alexandria. These scenes involved well over 1,000 drooling non-digitized extras.
Herds like those are more the exception than the rule. Around 200 extras were used to interact directly with the large truck that trapped those walkers in the quarry, while all the rest were generated by computers. While digital additions like these may be obvious, far harder to spot are the times the show relies on a computer to ratchet up the intensity of a scene. Aside from just moving a nose or shrinking a rib cage, they can speckle an entire walker or two that you would never know wasn’t real, as shown by visual FX supervisor Victor Scalise. As far as effects go the most impressive to come out of Season 7 will most likely be Ezekiel’s pet tiger, but Shiva’s not dead, so moving on…
9. They Are Imitating Drunk People
There are few tips any wannabe walker would be wise to follow if they truly want to excel at being undead. Don’t blink. Don’t act like Frankenstein. Stay away from Rick Grimes. And, most importantly, act like you’re drunk. The Walking Dead‘s Executive Producer Greg Nicotero says that he tells any new roaming recruit that if they truly want to capture the essence of a shambling zombie to just act like they’re coming out of a bar at two in the morning. Because who can’t relate to that?
The show’s creators view walkers as slow and methodical, like lions stalking an animal– except when there’s a delicious human nearby, which will get them all riled up. But even then there should be a huge disconnect between their undead brains and the rest of their bodies, as if all their reactions are dulled. So Nicotero recommends that anyone playing a Creeper act as relaxed as if they’d just tossed back a quart of Johnny Walker. Then, like any properly sloshed drunkie worth their weight in schnapps, start walking crookedly while believing they’re perfectly toeing a straight line. So basically the entire zombie apocalypse is just one big hangover after a really great night.
8. They Don’t Make a Lot of Money
As one might imagine, walkers don’t have a huge need to carry around a lot of cash. Which is fantastic news because extras don’t get paid a lot anyway. In 2011 it was revealed during a Reddit AMA with a former walker that, for two days of work, she earned around $600 and then received an unexpected bonus check at the end of the year. Not bad for laying around in the Atlanta heat all day. Another extra in 2014 said his base pay for zombie-ing was $64 dollars for eight hours, with a bonus for being featured in a stunt. Suffice it to say there’s a bit of a gap there and not all walkers are created equal, but let’s be real: no one’s making a career out of eating Dale.
Though, as an extra for any movie can tell you, these are pretty standard rates for the industry, and in some cases even better. But at the end of the night does it really even matter? Because getting paid any amount to sloppily walk around and look at Norman Reedus is well worth it.
7. Off-Set They Eat Apart from Human Actors
Segregation is a horrible thing– that is unless the guy eating lunch next to you has half his head chopped off. While eating meals in between shooting, all the extras playing walkers dine together in a separate area, away from the human survivors and rest of the crew. This is mostly to create a sense of distinction between the two sides that will overflow on set, but it also makes meals a little more enjoyable for the likes of Andrew Lincoln and Steven Yeun when they don’t have to see the soda traveling down someone’s throat.
And what exactly does a zombie eat for lunch off-camera? According to several background extras, walkers get served spaghetti and salad. On the flip side, the human crew has an amazing buffet including seafood, chicken, fruits and desserts. It feels like there’s a civil rights lawsuit in there somewhere, if only zombies had rights, and were civil.
6. They Are Getting Dumber, Or At Least That is What We’re Told
Fans that have obsessively watched the show from the beginning might notice walkers from later seasons appear stupider than they did early on, particularly during season 1. Remember seeing one use a rock to smash windows or Morgan’s wife trying to turn a knob or Bunny Slipper Girl pick up her stuffed bear? It was definitely odd behavior for monsters that are supposed to be nothing more than mindless chomping machines.
The reason given by the show’s creators, specifically Robert Kirkman during his Reddit AMA, is that “fresher zombies, which there were more of in Season 1, are able to do more than older, more rotted zombies.” Obviously that doesn’t make much sense, which is why its basically a cover up of the real reason. This inconsistency was created after original showrunner Frank Darabont was fired midway through the show’s second season. Darabont liked the idea of smarter zombies, and so started having them perform semi-intelligent things, like use makeshift tools to get at their victims. Kirkman was not a fan of this view, nor were others behind the cameras, and so the walkers were sufficiently dumbed down after Darabont’s departure.
5. They Don’t Make Their Own Sounds
Anyone who’s ever been trapped in a car while a herd of walkers clamor to eat their brains can attest to the fact that walkers are an incredibly noisy bunch. All that moaning, grunting, hissing, and whatever other foul-sounding racket comes of their decayed mouths makes for one terrifying impression and is enough to haunt anyone’s dreams. But it turns out they aren’t as loud as we thought. In fact they don’t make any noise at all.
All the sounds we hear from walkers are added in post-production. Which means when all those horrifying scenes are actually being shot, the extras playing the walkers are told to be as silent as inhumanly possible. So next time you wake up in a cold sweat from a Walker hissing in your ear, just imagine a bunch of people in zombie make-up stumbling around like drunkards trying being as quiet as can be. Not so scary anymore, unless you really hate mimes. But let’s be honest, who doesn’t?
4. They’re From an Alternate Universe Where Zombies Don’t Exist
One thing you’ll almost never hear amidst all the flesh eating and mindless moaning taking place on The Walking Dead is the word “zombie.” According to comic creator Robert Kirkman, in the world of TWD, the works of George A. Romero were never made and the term “zombies” don’t exist in fiction. This makes the sudden appearance of all these monsters all the more shocking to the characters, who have zero concept of what they are. Meaning The Walking Dead takes place in an alternate universe to our own where no one ever had to endure the ridiculous ending of I Am Legend.
From biters to rotters, lurkers to roamers, the undead have been called a lot of names on the show. Other than Glenn referring to the video game Portal (which is part of the Half-Life world containing headcrab zombies) in season 2, there never been any allusions to the Z-Word in the TV series. Guess Kirkman wasn’t around those days. Then again, he has used the word twice in the comics, here and here. But maybe he was just referring to all modern uses of the term being nonexistent, since the concept dates back to West African folklore where a “zombie” was a dead body reanimated by magic. Or maybe we’re just nit-picking like the geeks we are.
3. They Are Increasingly Decaying Over Time
Ever get the feeling the walkers are grosser this season than last? No, you are not growing more squeamish in your old age. It turns out Rick’s morality isn’t the only thing that is slowly deteriorating from one season to the next. Since the start of the show, the walkers’ makeup has become increasingly grayer, mushier, morbid, and all around decomposed. This effect not only helps depict the passage of time but it gives the makeup artists a good excuse to create some truly disgusting looks.
So just like the show’s opening logo, the walkers are in a perpetual state of decay. This technique was inspired by the comics, where artist Charlie Adlard would draw the undead progressively more rotted from one book to the next. Which makes us wonder: if the survivors can keep from killing one another long enough, will the zombie apocalypse pathetically end in a pile of undead compost?
2. They Started Off as Part of an Alien Invasion
In order for Robert Kirkman to sell comic publisher Image on his idea for a book featuring zombies, he told them they were part of something much bigger – namely, an alien plot to take over the planet. Back in 2003 when Kirkman began The Walking Dead, there had yet to be a successful comic series based on zombies and Image balked at the idea of trying to put another zombie related story out into the world. But aliens, they could work with.
Kirkman has claimed that he knows how the series will end. One thing it will definitely not involve is aliens. Reflecting on his earlier pitch to Image, the writer has said he never had any intention of using an alien plot, other than as a means to sell his project. Everyone who signed off on the deal at the naively thought the zombies were just paving the way for an outer space invasion that Kirkman would drop hints about along the way. When editors said they were having a hard time finding these alien easter eggs, Kirkman let the dead cat out of the bag and told them there were never any, and they’d just have to settle for millions of dollars in revenue and a hit TV show. You see kids, lying does pay.
1. Walkers Outnumber Humans 5,000 to 1
One thing that probably keeps you up at night is wondering how many people are still alive in the world of The Walking Dead. In issue #10 of the comic, writer Robert Kirkman reveals walkers outnumber humans 5,000 to 1. Which if you do the math, means that roughly only 0.02% of the entire population remains. And yet somehow the survivors still managed to find a guy with a mullet.
To put this another way, if there were a classroom of 30 living students, surrounding them would be 150,000 hungry dead people. There have been a few attempts to expand upon these fun theoreticals with one Reddit user concluding at the time of Rick’s awakening there were 6.99 billion walkers roaming about. Taking this one step further SourceFed released a video updating the numbers, showing that as of the last season there are only 382,885 people left alive on Earth. So basically, everyone’s screwed.
Are there any other walker facts roaming around out there that we missed? Tell us in the comments.
The Walking Dead continues next Sunday with ‘The Well‘ at 9pm on AMC.