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The Gnarliest Walkers On The Walking Dead

TV and film are brimming with examples of great practical and visual effects coming together, from the bone chilling Vecna of "Stranger Things" to the White Walkers in "Game of Thrones." But arguably the hardest-working effects team in the business is the group of creative masterminds responsible for bringing "The Walking Dead" universe to life. The SFX team is led by practical effects and prosthetic wizard Greg Nicotero, whose extensive resume includes "Day of the Dead," "Evil Dead II," and "Land of the Dead" as well as dozens of other sci-fi, action, and horror films. In his work on "The Walking Dead" and "Fear the Walking Dead," Nicotero and his team constantly strive to create more memorable zombies while making the most of the practical effects options available. From gooey to grisly to downright grotesque, we're taking a closer look at the gnarliest walkers on "The Walking Dead" and the incredible makeup and prosthetics team that brought them to life.


Arguably the most iconic walker in "The Walking Dead" universe, Summer is the name for the little blonde girl Rick Grimes encounters at a gas station after awakening from the worst nap ever to find the apocalypse in full swing ("Days Gone By"). When Rick first lays eyes on her, he understandably mistakes her for a living child as she's wearing a pair of slippers and holding onto a teddy bear.

Although she's not the first walker Rick crosses paths with, Summer is the first zombie to appear in the episode. From her braces to her sweet bunny slippers and bathrobe, there's something deeply unsettling about the images of childhood interrupted by the horrors of the wildfire virus, making Summer a perfect introduction to the world of "The Walking Dead" and a powerful symbol of innocence lost. While she's not the show's most graphic walker, the bite across Summer's face and mouth gets the point across simply but effectively.

While little was known about Summer when the show first aired, her name would later be revealed with the release of a "Walking Dead"-based Facebook game. Actor Addy Miller later returned to "The Walking Dead" as a grown-up version of Summer– mouth bite and all. The same goes for Joe Giles, who played fan-favorite walker known as Purple Shirt Walker in Episode 1.


Rick Grimes' first moments among the world of the dead introduce him to a whole slate of interesting zombies. One of the most memorable in the lot is the halved walker he encounters while passing through a park ("Days Gone By"). Like fellow walker Summer, Hannah's story is later told in more explicit detail through the webisode series "Torn Apart." Like many of the show's early walkers, Hannah dies on the run during the initial outbreak. Realizing she's doomed after suffering a bite thanks to a vehicular stowaway, Hannah sacrifices herself to save her kids, and gets pulled in half by hungry walkers in the process.

Two months later, a hospital gown-wearing Rick sees what's left of her crawling through the park. Although he initially escapes by taking off on a bike, a choked-up Rick returns the next day to put Hannah out of her misery, apologizing to her as he fires. Also known as Bicycle Girl, Hannah is a favorite among walker fans and even has her own "Magic: the Gathering" card. As Nicotero explained in AMC's behind-the-scenes footage, Hannah's pilot episode scene directly corresponds with a scene from the graphic novel. It took about three hours to apply the custom foam latex prosthetics, dentures, and makeup, with the finished product giving the illusion that actor Melissa Cowan's lips had been "torn away." To make her look half-eaten, Cowan wore blue screen pants, and her legs were erased using VFX for the finished product.

Tight Squeeze Walker

With any mortal sense of self-preservation gone as they wander aimlessly around the apocalypse, the walkers in the "Walking Dead" universe can get into some pretty stress-inducing scenarios. One of the more disturbing depicted in the series takes place in Season 6 as part of the Alexandrians' efforts to move a massive herd of 30,000 walkers away from their community. The plan gets pushed through earlier than expected when a semitruck falls into the quarry, offering the walkers a clear path through to Alexandria ("First Time Again"). When one ambitious Walker finds himself stuck between two semis amid the chaos, he keeps pushing forward through the tight space, sloughing his skin off like sausage casings as he goes. In a show full of nightmarish imagery, it's one of the grislier moments.

To create this memorable Walker, Nicotero created a two-stage prosthetic, adding a silicone prosthetic over the sculpted muscle and tissue beneath it. As the actor passed between the two trucks, his prosthetic caught on a hinge designed to pull the top layer away, creating the gruesome two-face effect that makes Tight Squeeze Walker one of the best zombies in the series.

Tree Intestines Walker

Sometimes, "The Walking Dead" throws us a zombie so bizarre we can't help but wonder what, exactly, happened to it. Few are worthier of a good head scratching than the unfortunate walker whose intestines get tangled up in a tree. As is often the case with walkers, at some point their guts end up hanging out, and ultimately get caught on one of the many trees around. In Tree Intestine Walker's case, that's where he stayed until encountering the Alexandria crew. When the perennially frustrating Carter walks by, the silver-haired stumbler proves he's still got it by chomping into the poor guy's cheek despite his tree-twisted innards ("First Time Again").

Tree I. Walker is played by veteran zombie Stephen Vining, who has donned the dead prosthetics for more than two dozen episodes. In a Twitter chat with Fansided podcast "Undead Walking," Vining cited the tree-hugging walker as one of his more difficult zombie performances, noting that staying "nailed to a tree all day can be taxing." But despite the challenge, the actor rated Tree I. Walker among his top three favorite walkers in Zombie Apocalypse Monthly. Vining said he had a blast performing the role, telling the magazine, "That scene was just so much fun to film and I got to be very physical with the actors, so it just stays with me."

Gas Mask Walkers

Rick and his crew meet the Gas Mask Walkers while clearing the prison in the Season 3 episode "Seed." Exhausted from months on the move and facing the unsavory prospect of the heavily pregnant Lori having to give birth outdoors, Rick sets his sights on taking the prison, but there's a caveat — it's currently overrun with walkers. In the aftermath of whatever went down, prison guards and prisoners are indiscernible except for their clothing. 

As Rick's people set about the difficult task of eliminating the prison's reanimated residents, Rick faces off with a zombie rocking riot gear. For reasons beyond comprehension, he decides to pull off the walker's gas mask, which has become one with its wearer's face. A disgusted Rick quickly turns off its lights, but not until after relieving the zombie of its riot gear and facial skin, which peels off in a single, smooth motion. While it's hardly the goriest walker moment in the series, there's something wonderfully chilling and ironic about gas masks and riot gear that did absolutely nothing to protect their wearers, which highlights how hopeless things have become in the zombie apocalypse.

Light Up Walker

If we've learned anything between "The Walking Dead" and its sister series "Fear the Walking Dead," it's that there are literally hundreds of ways to kill a walker, ranging from the mundane knife-to-the-head to the exotic slicing them with a razor wire garrote strung between two vehicles ("Rock in the Road"). But the hands-down coolest-looking kill in the Deadverse is a flare to the noggin ("The Distance").

The big moment takes place when Rick, Michonne, and pals find their ride won't start just as it's starting to get swarmed by the dead. After spying a flare, they abandon their vehicle only to quickly find themselves surrounded by walkers. When they eventually run out of bullets, Rick uses the only thing at hand to take out one last zombie, shooting a flare gun straight at the walker's head and lighting him up like a Christmas tree. Because he's a walker, the zombie just keeps on trucking, flare shooting sparks out of his right eye socket as the rest of his face glows like a Jack-o'-lantern. As Steven Yeun pointed out in the "Making Of" featurette, while the flare didn't kill instantly, it did swiftly cook the walker's brain.

To pull off this effect, special effects artists created a puppet double for their walker actor, who filmed the scene as if he was hit. After adding a flare to the puppet, the effects were pulled together using VFX, creating the iconic Flare Walker seen in the finished episode.


Easily the most metal zombie in "The Walking Dead," Winslow is the spiky armored zombie star of Season 7's "New Best Friends." Things take a turn for the weird when Rick and his pals cross paths with the Scavengers, a group of survivors living at the Heaps — mountains of literal garbage dump trash arranged into a fortification and living quarters. When their leader, Jadis, shoves Rick into a trash pit gladiator arena, he meets a peculiar-looking fellow — an armored walker named Winslow sporting a helmet with spikes jutting out of it, as well as larger spikes embedded in his flesh, making him a formidable opponent for Rick.

For Jadis, whose relationship with the dump began when she frequented the place pre-apocalypse looking for elements to use in her mixed media art, Winslow is another expression of her artistic mind, if a slightly twisted one. To keep the actor cool for those long hours filming in the sun, Nicotero and his team developed a cooling suit with tubes of cold water running through it. A facial prosthetic, spiky headpiece, and exterior costume layers were added to give Winslow the porcupine diesel-punk nightmare fuel look that makes him one of the more fearsome walkers in "The Walking Dead" universe.

Barnacle Walkers

The apocalypse survivors encounter some pretty interesting zombie variants as the walkers' decomposing human flesh comes into contact with various environments and natural processes. But few are more visually perplexing than the barnacle-encrusted walkers they find lurking around Oceanside. Shown in the Season 7 episode "Something They Need" stumbling mouths agape along the beach, the steady stream of walkers appears to be coming from a washed-up freighter in the distance.

Owing to their extended contact with seawater, the briny monsters' skin has morphed into grayish, slimy matter slowly drooping its way down what remains of their flesh. Embedded in the gooey Shar-Pei folds of their tissue, dozens of barnacles have taken root. To really sell the walkers, it looks like the production team threw in a little kelp and some yellow walker ooze. Since animals don't seem to get infected by the wildfire virus, there's no need to worry about tiny, zombified crustaceans. But for any viewers suffering from trypophobia — a fear of or aversion to patterns of holes — the image of these twice-baked sea dogs is one of the more unnerving in the series.

Moss Walker

In the Season 4 episode "Isolation," Nicotero imagined what would happen if a walker got knocked down permanently, and the ground around it eventually grew over and into the walker's flesh for a year or longer. To create the effect, Nicotero and his crew dug out a hole in the earth to hide the actor's legs before adding the rib cage, chest, and legs. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, the special effects artist said he "wanted it so that the whole rib cage hollowed out as if all the guts basically just poured out of the chest upon impact and just dissolved into the earth."

According to Nicotero, the grounded walker guts would make fantastic fertilizer — perfect for facilitating healthy moss growth, which the production folks were more than eager to pile onto their earthy zombie. Like most of the show's best zombies, Moss Walker is only onscreen for a brief moment, but Nicotero says it's still worth the time and energy invested to create a memorable walker, even if it's just for a flash. As the special effects pro put it, "The imagery has to be arresting enough that it will leave some sort of imprint in the viewer's mind." Daryl Dixon actor Norman Reedus was especially moved by the grassy foe, calling him a "particularly beautiful, gruesome zombie" in a Season 6 EW interview.

The RV Walker

The Season 2 episode "What Lies Ahead" is one of the early seasons' most frightening episodes. While attempting to navigate a fairly impassible highway blockage, the road-tripping survivors' convoy hits crisis mode when the radiator hose in Dale's RV blows as he predicted. As part of the crew works to fix their ride, the others foolishly separate to search the stranded vehicles. When their roadside shenanigans rapidly summon a small herd, they're left shimmying under vehicles as they scramble for cover. But the most menacing walker the group encounters is the one that finds its way into Dale's RV, where Andrea has been cleaning her father's gun.

Andrea cowers in the bathroom as the walker casually explores the RV, but the flimsy bathroom door can't hold up to the flesh-hungry interloper. To up the fear factor, Dale is forced to helplessly watch through the bathroom vent after hiding out on top of the camper. While this walker doesn't have any special embellishments aside from some comfortable menswear, he's a standout in the overall series thanks to the unsettling scene. Speaking to EW, Nicotero recounted the scene as one of his favorites in the series, calling it "a classic horror scene with a classic movie monster and a classic beauty trying to save herself," adding, "It just works on every level."

Napalm Walkers

When it comes to gooey, melted, and generally gloppy walkers, the napalm walkers take the prize as one of the most stomach-turning sights in "The Walking Dead" universe. One of the show's more surprising zombie types, these waxy walkers are first spotted by Rick's crew outside of the memorial hospital in the Season 5 episode "Crossed." Dotted along the pavement outside a string of burnt-out FEMA trailers at an evac site, they spy a smattering of still-animated walkers melted into and seemingly fused with the pavement. Although they're alarming to look at, they can't really go anywhere, making them comparatively benign for anyone with the sense to steer clear of their mouths.

To pull off the effect, the special effects team pulled from their old bag of tricks, hiding the actors' bodies in the ground so they could add melted Walker goo puddles and various body parts using practical effects. In the Season 5 DVD bonus feature "Rotters in the Flesh," Nicotero said they set out to combine the idea of a waterlogged walker like the Well Walker with some of the burned zombies they'd created in the past, creating a "zombie fondue." Praising the "beautiful, horrific makeup" on the featurette, Andrew Lincoln observed, "It was like a horrendous scene from Vietnam."

Burned Walkers

Destroying the brain is the only surefire way to kill a Walker, and until that happens, their lingering flesh is left to wander the Earth slowly falling apart unless something happens to speed the process along. After a group of walkers end up in a forest at some point, this inability to die leads to some overdone undead ("The Grove"). When young sisters Lizzie and Mika Samuels end up running for their lives after running into the crispy creatures in a pecan grove. What follows is a life-and-death pursuit with a handful of still-smoking zombies.

Although this look could easily be created with VFX today, the team's use of practice effects added to the realism of the scene. To bring the frightening chase to life, four actors donned full-body latex makeup suits with Velcro strips. As Nicotero told EW, "We were going for the idea that if you throw a hot dog on the grill for too long, the skin turns black, but then, as soon as the skin starts to split, you actually have that sort of gross pink uncooked meat underneath." After transforming their walkers into overcooked bacon, they used a fireproof barrier to attach smoldering strips to the suits, transforming their crispy walkers into smoking-hot ones.

The Well Walker

Regular old walkers can be gruesome enough. But put them in water, and it turns out they get downright disgusting, as Rick and his crew learn when they encounter a walker stuck in a well on Hershel's farm ("Cherokee Rose"). Before the fallen walker can contaminate their drinking water, the Greenes decide to work with Rick's group to remove it from the well. Unfortunately, their plan is fairly ill-advised, things take a turn for the worse almost immediately.

After an indeterminate amount of time in the water, the walker has become horrifically bloated. Although the group rather effectively uses Glenn to lasso the walker, their efforts to pull him out backfire when the cartoonishly inflated corpse splits apart, with its lower half falling into and ultimately contaminating the water. The special effects crew teamed up with KNB EFX Group to create the super-bloated zombie, and after researching cadavers, they wanted to recreate the way liquid soaks into the skin until it swells up so much it splits.

To reproduce the gruesome effect, they sculpted a multi-layered head and body cast using foam and silicone with bladders filled with viscous fluid nestled between them. The finished costume weighed in around a whopping 60 pounds, and a mask from the 2007 film "Grindhouse" was recycled to complete the look. The body was rigged to release plenty of goo at just the right moment, and a second suit was used to create the splitting effect.

Dale's Last Walker

In "The Walking Dead" universe, everyone's days are numbered ... even the hardiest survivors. But some folks fare better than others, and gooey-centered survivors like Dale don't tend to last long. While it's always sad to see a beloved character get the big cut, at least Dale gave us a pretty great zombie moment as he shuffled off the mortal coil. The dramatic walker attack seems to come out of nowhere as Dale moseys across a moonlit field one night. Although he manages to hold off the zombie's slobbery bite, the walker gets his claws into Dale's stomach, spilling his guts wide open. 

The simple moonlit scene is one of the show's more powerful moments thanks in large part to the very believable walker Dale finds himself facing off with. In a series where zombies tend to come in bulk, Nicotero valued the opportunity to focus on a single walker, giving him back and chest prosthetics and focusing on details down to the fingertips. Praising actor Kevin Galbraith's performance, the special effects guru emphasized the importance of solid acting even under all that makeup, telling EW, "It's about how this person brings the makeup to life, and that goes all the way back to Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff and all these great actors that wore makeup." And in a series full of death fake-outs and near-misses, it's nice to get a reminder that walkers don't need their teeth to kill. 

Lucio Fulci's walker

It's always great when a favorite TV series pays homage to its roots, and fans absolutely loved it when "The Walking Dead" tipped its hat to Italian film director Lucio Fulci, known to horror fans for his 1970s cult horror films. In 1978, George Romero followed up his genre-defining "Night of the Living Dead" with "Dawn of the Dead," released in Italy under the name "Zombi." Without permission from Romero or anyone else associated with "Dawn of the Dead," Fulci created his own unlicensed sequel to the series in "Zombi 2," a film so iconic it's considered essential viewing among many fans of the genre. Fulci fans were ecstatic to spy the film's recognizable "worm-eyed zombie" — a centuries-old conquistador named Cris Cobal Alonzo — in a sand pit of bleached and mummified Walkers on "The Walking Dead" episode "Swear" (Season 7, Episode 6).

As a shout-out to the zombies that paved the way for "The Walking Dead," Nicotero sometimes recreates famous undead for the series. Another famous zombie can be seen in the Season 9 finale "The Storm," which features a half-corpse shout-out to the 1984 film "Return of the Living Dead."

The Nudist Walker

Perhaps one of the more surprising aspects of the walkers is that while they happen to be mindless, ambling flesh-eaters, they also somehow manage to generally keep their clothing on no matter how many lengths of wire fence they get tangled on. And very few of the undead seem to succumb to the virus while in the shower. But not every zombie can be well-dressed, as Season 8's nudist Walker can attest to ("The Key").

Although it might be technically NSFW, this flesh-eating flasher is hardly an exhibitionist; it's so badly mangled, the unfortunate walker has been rendered apparently sexless. As Greg Nicotero's followers were quick to point out on the artist's Instagram post, there seem to be some pretty major bite marks in crucial areas of the walker's body, leaving viewers to ponder whether the horrors this poor creature endured happened pre- or post-mortem. The toothy streaker would mark the first fully nude zombie to appear in the series, crossing paths with Negan and Rick in an abandoned warehouse. Thankfully, they didn't meet a similar fate as their uninvited guest.