The untold truth of The Walking Dead

By all measures, The Walking Dead has been a whirlwind success for AMC, and its continued high ratings are proof that the recent zombie pop culture craze was more than some flash-in-the-pan fad. Lucrative as the show is, though, it's not been without its fair share of issues. Here's the history of The Walking Dead you might not know. 

Beam me up, Robby

When comic book writer Robert Kirkman first came up with the concept of The Walking Dead, he didn't want his idea to fester in some pile of generic zombie pitches, so he added a little something extra to the mix: aliens. Kirkman revealed that when he first approached Image Comics about his story ideas, they thought it needed an extra hook, so he threw in an otherworldly element, suggesting that his zombies could have been sent to Earth by aliens. Kirkman never intended to follow through on that plot track, but it got him the green light. Ultimately, Kirkman did circle back on the alien theme in Issue #75, which featured a (non-canonical) bonus ending that served as a sort of homage to that original concept.

Artist bites back

Tony Moore, whose artwork appeared in the first six issues of Kirkman's comic series, filed suit against the author (his childhood friend) after he felt duped into signing over his financial rights to the franchise and was owed a significant slice of the brainy pie once the series hit it big. Kirkman disagreed and filed a counter-suit against Moore, alleging he'd breached their confidentiality agreement with his filing. The two amicably settled their dispute in 2012, but the biggest cost to both was their long-held friendship.

About that gloomy intro music

Bear McCreary is responsible for the spooky intro music that lulls us all into dreadful state of submission on The Walking Dead, and, yes, he intended to be that uniquely dreary from the start. In a 2010 interview with MTV News, he explained that he wanted to capture a sense of "emptiness" with the stringed notes of his opening number, as it was the feeling he got from watching the introductory art he was shown for the show: "I wanted to create something that would get stuck in your head, so that when you hear it, you would think of The Walking Dead." Mission accomplished.

Frank Darabont's unexpected goodbye

At first, AMC's The Walking Dead had Frank Darabont's fingerprints all over it, both stylistically and with his pick of original cast members (Melissa McBride, Laurie Holden, and Jeffrey DuMunn, in particular, had worked with him before). In an surprising network decision, though, Darabont was booted from the second season, despite its early ratings success.

AMC, which was fielding financial issues with the creators on Mad Men and Breaking Bad at the time, decided to slash its production budget on The Walking Dead and oust Darabont over creative and managerial differences. Glen Mazzara, who was Darabont's second in command for the show before being promoted to chief, said the split came from a mix of friction between Darabont and Kirkman, the network's inflexibility over prep time for the second season's premiere, and Darabont's strength as a filmmaker and not a showrunner that led to the split. Darabont is understandably not one of the millions of current viewers, and DeMunn followed him out.

After being let go, Darabont pursued legal action against AMC, testifying in a deposition that the network created "crisis-level problems" by slashing the show's budget in spite of ratings success and accusing executives of essentially inventing reasons to fire him. In late September of 2016, Darabont's lawyers revealed they were seeking more than $280 million in damages, a figure reflecting their case's contention that AMC deprived Darabont of revenue by artificially lowering the show's license fee. According to the judge presiding over the case, it's unlikely to see trial before 2018—leaving plenty of time for further accusations between Darabont and his former bosses.

Pre-Daryl Dixon

Norman Reedus' crossbow-wielding hero Daryl Dixon has emerged as one of the show's fan favorites, but Reedus originally auditioned for the part of Merle Dixon (which was already assigned to Michael Rooker). Showrunners liked him so much they created the part of Daryl (a character who, like Merle, does not appear in the comics) specifically for him. Daryl has been purposefully left "asexual" in order to preserve his mysterious appeal, despite many fan 'ships of him with the various ladies on the show.

Criminal cast activities

Some of The Walking Dead's cast members have found themselves in hot water for their off-camera bad behavior near the show's Georgia set. First, in 2012, actor Scott Wilson was arrested for drunk driving and was said to have been "swaying and asked to do yoga poses instead of a field sobriety test" when he was pulled over by police. (His character Hershel, fans might recall, was a recovering alcoholic on the show.) Then in 2015, Seth Gillam, who plays the Reverend Gabriel Stokes, was also arrested for DUI (as well as reckless driving and marijuana possession), after being stopped for speeding at 107MPH in a 55MPH zone.

The hilarious language barrier

Steven Yeun was born in Seoul, South Korea, so his parents have something of a language barrier when it comes to fully understanding what's happening on the show. Apparently, in a moment of confusion, they told him to make sure and thank co-star McBride for that time she saved him. Even after Yeun tried to explain that everything happening on the show is fictional, his father insisted he share his thanks with her, so he did.

Hero dog

Dooley, the real-life dog who played Daryl and Beth's unnamed, one-eyed canine companion in The Walking Dead's fourth season, was a real-life hero. He lost his right eye while defending his owner from a carjacker. Bravest castmember ever?

Zombie makeup levels

With so many zombified extras at play in any given episode, the makeup department has had to be choosy as to which members of its crowd get the full work-up, so Greg Nicotero and his team have devised three levels of zombie makeup. There's "hero" (meaning they'll be seen up close so they need the full body makeover); "midground" (background players who get some facial touching up); and "deep background" (people only seen far back enough to wear a mask without any effects makeup). No matter the designation, though, they all have to go to "zombie school" to learn how to move like the rest of the biters.

Still time to go green, even in the apocalypse

Walking Dead producer Gale Anne Hurd has led the charge toward reducing the show's carbon footprint. Motivated by her personal interest in being environmentally friendly, Hurd spearheaded efforts to make the show a paper-free set (they use the Doddle app for call sheets on cast and crew devices), use more fuel-efficient vehicles, purchase reusable bottles in lieu of plastic water bottles, and move toward more sustainable materials.

Recommended