The Walking Dead is one of the highest rated shows on television. There’s a good reason for that. A zombie apocalypse is a fun fantasy to think about. Obviously, we don’t actually want the dead to rise up and take over the world, because society would collapse and there would be danger at every turn and that would be terrifying, but it’s fun to fantasize about. And we love the characters, too. We want to see what Rick and the gang get up to, and what sticky situations they’ll get into each week. Here are 10 things you (probably) didn’t know about The Walking Dead.
10. Robert Kirkman acknowledges the 28 Days Later similarity
Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later a seminal zombie movie that helped to revolutionize the genre for the 21st century with zombies that can run and aren’t necessarily the undead and shaky, handheld camera angles. It opens with Cillian Murphy’s character waking up in a hospital after a routine surgery and finding that the world has become overrun with zombies. This might sound familiar, and that’s because it is exactly how the pilot episode of The Walking Dead begins. It’s also how the first issue of the comic book series begins. Robert Kirkman, the guy responsible for that, acknowledges the similarity and says that it was “a complete coincidence. I saw 28 Days Later shortly before the first issue of Walking Dead was released. That first issue came out in October of 2003 and 28 Days Later was released in the States in June of 2003. So, we were working on our second issue by the time I saw it. It was going to be a matter of somehow trying to restage the entire first issue, because it was a very similar coma opening. I made a decision – which I pretty much regret at this point – I said, ‘You know what? It’s so different [from this point on], I will probably never hear anything about this.’ And I was wrong.”
9. Dale asked to be killed off
The character of Dale, the fishing hat-wearing, RV-driving old dude, was killed off a very long time ago. It’s hard to remember him, since that was all way back in season 2, but he was one of the leading voices of reason on the show back then. He was always a very important part of the plot and his death was so unceremonious and out of the blue. He just went out for a walk in the middle of the night and got devoured by a walker. So undignified. So, why did that happen? Well, the actor who played Dale, Jeffrey DeMunn, was cast in the role by the original showrunner Frank Darabont because the two had worked together a few times before and had become close friends. When Darabont was fired, DeMunn was so furious that he did not want to work on the show without him, so he told the writers to kill off his character. Then, when he realized that he would be out of a job and no longer star on one of the most popular shows on television, he changed his mind and asked them not to kill him off, but by then, they had written his death into the season and budgeted it, so he was gone.
8. Everything is decomposing over time
Since this is a show called The Walking Dead about the dead rising from their graves and walking the Earth, the producers have decide to treat the show itself as if it were a dead body. You may notice that every couple of seasons, the opening title sequence changes. This is mostly because the names of the actors need to be changed, since there’s a ridiculous turnover of characters getting killed in this world full of flesh-hungry living corpses. But they also do it to reanimate the titles in order to look slightly more ‘decomposed.’ As the years have gone by, the title has slowly decayed and rotted to reflect how late into the apocalypse we are. The walkers are also rotting more. The makeup artists make the walkers’ skin paler and grayer and more rotted each season. We’re years into the zombie apocalypse now, so these corpses would be decomposing by now. Props to the makeup department for taking this into consideration. Also, the opening theme music by Bear McCreary is transposed by somewhere between a semi-tone and a full tone as each season passes. It’s only a very slight difference, but if you go back to a season 1 episode’s credits and then watch a season 8 episode’s credits, you’ll notice the difference. And they don’t just do this for the hell of it. They do it to subtly hint that the show is getting darker and darker as it goes on. Awesome stuff.
7. Robert Kirkman explained why The Walking Dead casts so many actors from The Wire
If you have a subscription to HBO and a phenomenal taste in television, then you might recognize Tyreese, Bob, and Gabriel. That’s because they were all played by actors from what is arguably the finest television series ever made, The Wire. Tyreese is played Chad L. Coleman, who also played Cutty the boxing instructor on the HBO series. Lawrence Gilliard, Jr. plays Bob Stookey (“Tainted meat!!”), and also played D’Angelo Barksdale, while Seth Gilliam plays both Gabriel Stokes, aka the priest who no one likes on The Walking Dead, and Ellis Carver on The Wire. Well, that’s no coincidence. Creator Robert Kirkman just happens to be a huge fan of the show. “I love The Wire,” he says. “I think that every actor that’s been on The Wire is absolutely fantastic.” He acknowledges that it’s becoming a running trend, but has decided that if an actor is right for a role in The Walking Dead and also happens to have played a part on The Wire, he won’t hold back. So be it. Now, we’re just waiting for Idris Elba, Dominic West, and Michael K. Williams to show up. Omar would find that his shotgun will come in pretty handy after the walkers have taken over.
6. Originally the show was going to have a much wider scope
Before AMC got their hooks into the show to make it more palatable, Frank Darabont planned to have random episodes outside the usual timeline with one off characters. For example, there was originally going to be an episode explaining just how that dead guy in the tank in the very first episode ended up there. But let’s face it, would we really have been interested in that? We don’t watch the show for the world that it’s set in. We watch it for Rick and the gang! That’s why episodes that take a detour like that trio of episodes in the middle of season 4 that explain what the Governor’s been up to are so off-putting. This isn’t the show we want to watch! Well, if Darabont had gotten his way, every episode would be like that. Whether or not this version of the show would’ve been good as the version of the show that we ended up with is all up to personal opinion. There are probably some people out there who loved those three season 4 episodes about the Governor. Maybe Frank Darabont loved those episodes! But on the whole, you have to admit, the main draw of the show is the characters who we all love and not the fictional setting.
5. All the other actors are scared of Jeffrey Dean Morgan
We know that Jeffrey Dean Morgan is fearsome and ominous in the role of Negan, but he’s a lovely guy in person. At Walker Stalker Con New Jersey, he explained, “When I’m on set, I’m like what you see on stage right now, or in the autograph line. I try to be as nice as I can to our crew and the rest of our cast. Our show is so hard to do physically, and mentally sometimes as well, that if I’m in character, oh f**k. I mean, people already have taken issue with Negan, you know? The fact that I’m playing him, there are still some of the cast that haven’t figured out that I’m not Negan all of the time. ‘Cause I haven’t worked with everybody on the cast, so people are like scared of me.” He doesn’t seem to mind this, however. In fact, it seems to entertain him. “They see me come out of my trailer and I see people ducking away. And I’m like, ‘I’m not going to kill you right now! There’s not a camera on us, is there?’ So, I’m not very method.” He may not be method, but when he gets into character, he’s fantastic.
4. There are a ton of Breaking Bad Easter eggs
Crossover episodes between two different TV shows very rarely work out. That can’t be stressed enough. There have been some truly horrible and misguided TV crossover episodes. But an Easter egg that references another show and hints that they might be set in the same shared fictional universe? That’s an entirely different story. That’s awesome! They’ve done it a bunch of times on The Walking Dead to suggest that maybe it’s set in the same universe as fellow AMC drama Breaking Bad. For starters, when Daryl tells everyone that before the zombie apocalypse, Merle was a drug dealer, he holds up a big bag of drugs that once belonged to Merle, and what color is the meth? Blue! The signature color of Walter “Heisenberg” White’s product. Plus, Glenn drives the same Dodge Challenger that Walt bought – and the car salesman who Walt spoke to also happened to be called Glenn. A more obvious reference to a shared fictional universe came when Daryl told Beth about a “janky little white guy” he used to know, a drug dealer who had an affinity for the word “bitch.” Sound familiar? And if that wasn’t enough, the song “Negro y Azul: The Ballad of Heisenberg” from Breaking Bad plays on the radio during a scene in Fear the Walking Dead.
3. Daryl was created specifically for the show
This has actually become a pretty widely known piece of trivia in the years since the show originally premiered, but it is nonetheless a very interesting little behind the scenes nugget about the show. It’s so funny, because Daryl Dixon is now the popular character on the show by a mile and he’s the reason why a lot of people are even still watching the show. They have t-shirts that say, “If Daryl dies, we riot” on them. But in the original comic book series, Daryl doesn’t exist. Merle isn’t in the comics either, but he was always written into the TV adaptation, and he didn’t initially have a sweeter, kinder, more accepting, more lovable younger brother. He was intended to be a lone wolf. Norman Reedus initially auditioned for this role with a kind of Daryl persona and it wasn’t what the producers were looking for with Merle, but they saw the potential for an even greater character, so they gave Reedus his own character to play. And now, obviously, that decision has paid off handsomely, because he’s become one of the most beloved characters on television. It’s funny how things work out like that sometimes. It’s just the magic of Hollywood and gut feelings. If you just have a little faith in someone, it can do wonders.
2. Jeffrey Dean Morgan accepted the role of Negan immediately
According to the casting team for The Walking Dead, the role of Negan was the toughest one to cast. Of all the villains that they’ve had to cast over the years, Negan was the hardest one to find the right actor for. There was apparently an Irish actor who came really close and Henry Rollins, who the character’s appearance in the comics was originally based on, auditioned for the part. But in the end, they found that the great Jeffrey Dean Morgan was perfect for the role – and they were right! He’s phenomenal as Negan. He explains, “My agent and manager called and they said, ‘You’ve been offered this thing on The Walking Dead. It’s to play like a big bad.’ At that time, they didn’t know the character’s name, because I think it was supposed to be a secret.” The casting call named the character is Orin in order to keep his introduction in the TV series a secret, but Morgan knew exactly who it was immediately, because he’s a fan of the comics and he’s awesome. He said, “And I’m like, ‘Is it f**king Negan?’ And they’re like, ‘I don’t know, we’re going to have to call you back. Hold on a second.’ And I’m like, ‘No, it’s f**king Negan. And I’m f**king doing it.’” And that was that!
1. Norman Reedus owns Andrew Lincoln’s beard trimmings
When the shooting was underway for season 5 of The Walking Dead and Andrew Lincoln, the actor behind the iconic and mentally imbalances Rick Grimes character, was spotted by fans with a clean-shaven face, there were rampant fears that his character was going to be killed off. It was terrifying! Why else would he have shaved that beautiful beard off? He’s supposed to be stranded in a zombie wasteland! But no one saw the actual reason coming, that the group had been picked up and recruited to come and live in Alexandria, a gated community, the safe haven they had been searching for ever since the walker apocalypse began. They have running water and toiletries in Alexandria, so Rick was able to shave off that beard. That meant that Andrew Lincoln could shave off his beard. And who owns the beard trimmings from that shave? Norman Reedus. Because apparently, it’s normal to ask a work colleague for a bag of their hair. Reedus didn’t explain why he wanted them, and Lincoln says that no one besides Reedus himself knows exactly why he wanted the hair, but he gave it to him and now he’s the proud owner of Andrew Lincoln’s glorious beard.