The Walking Dead brought the undead craze to television in 2010. The story of a post-apocalyptic world where the living have to fight the dead in order to survive hasn’t been without its share of controversy. There was the bat swing heard round the world, an infamous moment where a child looked at the flowers, and a series of episodes that killed off main characters of color that had audiences fuming. All of that happened on screen, but there are just as many events going on behind the scenes that have made plenty of fans raise an eyebrow or two.
If you’ve ever been curious about just what happens on the other side of the camera, we’ve got plenty to share with you in The Walking Dead: 15 Dark Behind The Scenes Secrets, from just how the show was affected by Frank Darabont’s departure to offscreen controversies that have happened during the filming of the show.
15 Jeffrey DeMunn Allegedly Asked To Leave The Show
When the first six episodes of The Walking Dead were produced and the show was heading into its second season, it was Frank Darabont calling the shots. The veteran writer/director/producer had the chance to work with quite a few actors he knew from previous projects, including Jeffrey DeMunn, who played Dale.
When AMC announced that Frank Darabont was leaving the show, it seemed that everyone involved with the series was caught by surprise. According to several gossip sites, and an interview with a young Chandler Riggs, DeMunn even asked to be written out of the show when he learned of Darabont’s ousting, and the powers that be complied by writing a death scene for Dale.
Rumor has it that DeMunn reconsidered after the initial shock wore off, but by then, it was too late, as the writers had already worked the storyline in, and Dale was no more.
14 Frank Darabont Accused AMC Of Keeping Profits From Him
Beginning in December of 2013, Frank Darabont decided to take action against AMC. The former show runner sued the network, alleging that the executives who fired him did so to make sure he couldn’t receive a percentage of the profits.
In the initial deal with AMC, a different studio was supposed to produce the series, which would have allowed profits to be split between the two companies, with Darabont getting a percentage of the profits after the fact. Instead, AMC opted to produce and distribute the series themselves, meaning the profits go back to them two-fold. Darabont wasn’t given an exact estimate on what his percentage of profits would be, because the network wanted to see how the show performed first. He was fired before an official amount was ever agreed upon, and since, he argues that millions of dollars should have gone to him.
The Hollywood Reporter has the full copy of Darabont’s complaint.
13 AMC Pockets Its Georgia Tax Credit
In order to bring Hollywood business to other places in the United States, many states offer a tax credit to studios willing to move their production. Georgia is one of them, which is part of the reason so many shows set in small towns (The Vampire Diaries, Stranger Things, The Walking Dead, to name a few) like to film in the area surrounding Atlanta. The tax credit for The Walking Dead is straight profit for AMC.
Part of Frank Darabont’s lawsuit alleges that AMC initially promised to put the tax credit toward the budget of the series, which would help alleviate some of the expenses for the production team. Instead, the network actually shrunk the budget following season one and pocketed the tax credit, leaving the production team to cut expenses wherever they could.
It’s one of the many financial points that Darabont argues the network has reneged on.
12 Sam Witwer Was Promised A Larger Role
Audiences know Sam Witwer for many roles these days, but when The Walking Dead first premiered, he was best known for his vampiric work on Being Human. Witwer also appeared as an undead soldier in the first season of The Walking Dead.
According to Witwer himself, he was supposed to have a much larger role in the series - not just a one-off appearance as a Walker who tried to eat Rick’s face. Witwer and Darabont had taken a meeting in which Darabont outlined the idea for an episode that would provide the backstory for just how Witwer’s soldier ended up in his position, spotlighting the actor for an entire hour. But when AMC let Darabont go from his position as showrunner, many of his plans, including the one for a Witwer-centric episode, were scrapped.
11 SWAT Was Called On Michael Rooker
Michael Rooker, who played Merle on the series, wasn’t doing anything wrong when Georgia residents became suspicious of him. He was actually just doing his job, but no one knew that!
During the first season of the show, Rooker’s Merle spent a few scenes on rooftops in the city of Atlanta. In some of those scenes, he was handcuffed in place, but in others, he was a sniper, picking off Walkers in the streets below. When he was filming those sniper scenes, though, it was just Rooker on the roof with a very realistic looking prop gun, and residents became concerned that people were actually in danger.
It’s a good thing that SWAT, Rooker, and the production team quickly worked out what was going on, otherwise, there might have been a much more tragic story involved.
10 Showrunner Glen Mazzara Was Allegedly Forced Out
Less than two years after AMC let Frank Darabont go, the network also fired his replacement Glen Mazzara. Just after it happened, The Hollywood Reporter went to their sources to find out just what went down.
According to the trade, Mazzara was forced out of the show by Robert Kirkman, along with higher ups at the network. Kirkman not only wrote the source material that the show bases its script on, but also serves as executive producer for the series. He reportedly clashed with Mazzara behind the scenes, as Mazzara’s vision for the show was very different from his own.
Kurt Sutter, showrunner for Sons of Anarchy, and Shawn Ryan, who was the showrunner for The Last Resort, both spoke out about AMC, which has become notorious for tightly controlling their shows. The cable network’s executives have had spats with writers on several of their original series at this point, but it’s The Walking Dead that’s been getting the most publicity the last few years.
9 The Cast Holds Death Day Parties
With such a tight-knit group of actors on the show, and a script that regularly kills off characters, the cast has developed a tradition when they have to say goodbye. Instead of sticking with a single wrap speech on set, the cast holds “Death Day” parties to celebrate those leaving the show.
In keeping with how secretive the production is, and in an effort to not spoil things for fans who keep a close eye on filming, the cast has tried to disguise these parties as birthday celebrations, even going as far as buying birthday cakes, complete with writing in icing, from local bakeries.
Of course, that shouldn’t come as any surprise, considering this is the same cast that kept secret the fact that they had actually filmed Negan’s bat swinging murders of two characters for several months, continually saying in interviews that they wouldn’t film the scene until season seven began.
8 A Negan T-Shirt Was Pulled From Shelves Due To Controversy
Plenty of The Walking Dead merchandise has caught the eyes of fans over the years, but one particular piece found itself at the center of controversy, and ultimately, pulled from store shelves.
Primark, a retail store based in the U.K., featured a shirt with Negan’s trusty bat Lucille and the phrase, “Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe” on it, the same words the character used to select his target in the comic book and television show. While neither the comic nor the show used the racially charged ending of the phrase, “catch a n****r by his toe,” one customer was offended that the shirt would even be sold.
After customer complaints, Primark pulled the shirt from the shelves and issued a statement apologizing for the offense caused, explaining that the phrase and imagery were taken directly from the show. Other retail chains still sell similar merchandise.
7 Scott Wilson Was Arrested In Season Three
The actors for The Walking Dead film in and around the Atlanta area in Georgia, sometimes in some pretty secluded areas, but Georgia back roads aren’t immune to police presence or behavior that you might be used to seeing on the Hollywood streets instead.
Scott Wilson, who starred in the series as Hershel Greene, found himself arrested and booked on driving under the influence charges during the midst of filming season three. In August of 2012, Wilson was pulled over around 2:00AM according to the local paper, The Atlantic Journal-Constitution, for driving over 70 miles per hour and swerving across the road.
When he was pulled over, Wilson admitted to having scotch and wine at a local restaurant, but before taking a breathalyzer, he also complained about the street being “slanted” and told the arresting officer that he just wanted to do yoga. Wilson ended up blowing a 0.143 at the arresting scene, and then a 0.151 when he was booked at Fayette County Jail, both well above the 0.08 legal limit.
6 Seth Gilliam Was Arrested In Season Six
Wilson hasn’t been the only actor on the show to have a run-in with police on the road, however. Seth Gilliam, who stars on the series as Father Gabriel, was also pulled over for speeding, and then booked on additional charges.
In May of 2015, Gilliam was pulled over in Peachtree City, Georgia for going 107 miles per hour. Once pulled over, though, the police officer smelled alcohol, and Gilliam readily told the officer that he'd a few beers and a shot before driving. The officer also found a joint in the car, leading to Gilliam being arrested for DUI and possession. Gilliam blew a 0.107 blood alcohol level (again, above the legal limit), and was booked, then released on bond, before heading back to work.
Both of The Walking Dead actors were lucky to not face repercussions on the job front. In the past, DUIs have been cause enough for producers to have characters written out of their shows.
5 One Actress Is Serving 18 years In Prison
Because of the large number of people employed to play Walkers and other background roles on the show, there might be a lot of names that viewers won't immediately recognize. But The Walking Dead fans won’t soon forget Shannon Richardson.
Richardson, an aspiring actress who has done background work on several projects that filmed in the Atlanta area, became a featured Walker for The Walking Dead in multiple episodes, and one of her Walkers was even used in promotional materials for the show. That’s not why Richardson is memorable, though.
Richardson was arrested and ultimately sentenced to 18 years in prison for sending ricin-laced mail to politicians, including then President Barack Obama. Included in the ricin-laced envelopes was a threat that said, “What’s in this letter is nothing compared to what I’ve got planned for you.”
The maximum sentence for this particular crime is life in prison, but Richardson pled guilty under a deal that she wouldn’t serve more than 18 years.
4 A Man Shot His Girlfriend Over An Episode
There’s no denying that The Walking Dead has an extremely passionate fan base, but one man went a little too far back in 2012.
In December of that year, Long Island resident Jared Gurman and his girlfriend of over three years spent their evening arguing about events on the show. Gurman was, according to reports out of New York news outlets, very “passionate” about the idea of a military mishap causing a viral outbreak, which his girlfriend found ridiculous. The argument escalated to the point that she decided to drop him off at home and go their separate ways for the night.
After Gurman spent the rest of the evening arguing with her further via text message, his girlfriend decided it was better to check on him, and try to calm him down in person. However, when she arrived at his home, he was ready with a rifle. He shot her in the back, causing a shattered rib and punctured lung, and he was charged with attempted murder while she recovered from her injuries.
3 Frank Darabont’s Emails About The Show Are Full Of Death Threats
As part of the ongoing legal proceedings between AMC and Frank Darabont, the network released tons of emails from the former Walking Dead showrunner that don’t exactly paint him in a great light.
The emails detail his “boiling rage” while working on the show, and his frustration is explained in the series of letters by him telling people he will “start killing people and throwing bodies out the door.” His anger at writers not meeting his standards is met with the idea that he should have “killed them with a brick and burned down their homes.”
Specific writers and directors are called out in his rage when their work didn’t live up to his expectations, and Darabont has since explained that he stands by the hyperbole in his emails, as they’re a representation of the “crisis” he was experiencing on the show at the time. Some showrunners have defended Darabont as being allowed to express his anger, while others in the industry have wondered just how that kind of rage would have been conducive to a healthy working environment.
Variety has the full extent of the expletive-laden rants in their ongoing coverage of the lawsuit.
2 Xander Berkeley’s Creepy and Explicit Twitter Messages
Xander Berkeley plays Gregory in the latest seasons of The Walking Dead, the questionable leader of the Hilltop community. When he was first introduced, he was hoping to get a relationship with Maggie out of a trade deal. That hasn’t endeared Gregory to viewers, and now, they might not be so fond of the actor either.
One fan frequently asked Berkeley to follow her on Twitter in late 2016 (along with a group of her friends), and when he complied, he promptly began direct messaging her, asking her not to tell anyone that he decided to follow her. Initially, their chats were innocent enough, but eventually, he began asking for photos of her and telling her about how “cold” his wife was. The creep factor continued to rise after that, leading the fan to share the private conversations, which included Berkeley telling her that she needed "a proper spanking" and that his favorite age is 15-29, which is gross no matter how you slice it (but it doesn't help that the actor is in his sixties).
Berkeley has since made his Twitter account private. If you want the entire thrilling twitter saga, The Blemish has you covered.
1 John Bernecker Died After Injuries Suffered On Set
Less a secret, but definitely a dark time for those involved in the production of The Walking Dead, stunt actor John Bernecker suffered a horrible fall while filming season eight of the show.
Bernecker, a veteran stunt performer who also appeared in Logan on the big screen and worked on several projects that have yet to be released, was filming a sequence with Austin Amelio, who plays Dwight. The scene involved Bernecker falling from a building onto a safety cushion below, but he missed the cushion by inches and suffered a head injury, which he later died from.
After the incident, his girlfriend, who is also a stunt performer, voiced her opinion to TMZ that stunt performers shouldn’t work with inexperienced actors to do scenes, making some concerned that the conditions on set might have been less than ideal, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
The Walking Dead cast honored Bernecker at their recent Comic Con appearance, and his mother set up a page for donations to be made after she received condolences from several fans.
Did we surprise you with any of the behind the scenes events for The Walking Dead? Or do you know some secrets that would blow our minds? Let us know in the comments!
The Walking Dead returns to AMC with new episodes in October.