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Why Dante From The Walking Dead Looks So Familiar

In a post-apocalyptic world like The Walking Dead, survival depends on a combination of skill, luck, and the right people. Some, like Rick (Andrew Lincoln), bring leadership to the table. Others, like Daryl (Norman Reedus), are good in a fight. Still others, like Glenn (Steven Yeun), are resourceful and loyal. Many of these qualities were dormant until the apocalypse forced people to change, yet there are those who were accomplished even pre-apocalypse — people like Dante.

Played by Juan Javier Cardenas, Dante was an army medic before the world turned upside down. Doctors aren't so easy to come by anymore, so his medical knowledge proves as invaluable as ever to the folks of Alexandria. Unfortunately, his presence turns out to be too good to be true: Siddiq (Avi Nash) discovers too late that Dante is one of the Whisperers, a group that cleverly disguises themselves as walkers. Nothing good comes out of the revelation, the once-helpful doctor now nothing more than an enemy.

Friend or foe, Cardenas has enough screen time to make you wonder whether you've seen him before. Here's why he looks so familiar.

Cardenas fought to reclaim his home on Snowfall

In 1983, Los Angeles was on the brink of something that would change the city — and the country — forever: the rise of widespread crack cocaine use. It affected social policy, crime rates, law enforcement, and even daily life for people who didn't come anywhere near the drug. Snowfall sets out to depict the crack epidemic through the lens of several major characters, including CIA operative Teddy McDonald (Carter Hudson), who works together with Cardenas' character, Alejandro Usteves, to empower the Contras.

A Contra soldier himself, Usteves agrees to work with McDonald in order to take back his home of Nicaragua from the Sandinistas. They both know the fight they're staging could mire them in an inescapable bind, but they're willing to do whatever it takes — even if that means smuggling cocaine to raise funds. Their working relationship is the key to ensuring success, and between McDonald's CIA training and Usteves' piloting skills, it works for a while ... but only for a while. Cardenas suits the many ins and outs of the role perfectly, expertly playing off of Hudson.

Cardenas lived a dangerous life in a Depression-era drama

Centered around two estranged brothers — Seth Davenport (Killian Scott), disguised as a preacher to cover his radical tracks, and Creely Turner (Logan Marshall-Green), a Pinkerton detective — Damnation is a period drama dedicated to telling stories about the Great Depression. These stories expose the corruption and immorality from a time when the world was at its lowest point. 

Juan Javier Cardenas plays Lew Nez. He was a childhood friend of the brothers, but the Depression is a different time, and he's an outlaw now. 

Seth is something of a rebel himself, however, and accepts Lew with open arms. Together, Seth and Lew do what they can to help those in need, whether that means interrogating a banker fixing food prices for the locals, or robbing a bank to temporarily support ailing farmers. Creely isn't a fan of their activities, but flashbacks reveal that the three men were once very close, working side by side as hired guns. It makes the hostile interactions between them all the harder to watch, and Cardenas does a bang-up job at selling the spoken and unspoken history between him and each of the brothers.

Cardenas is a police procedural veteran

Since appearing as Jorge Vargas on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in 2010, Cardenas has racked up a number of credits in other police procedurals and similar shows. None of the roles are particularly major, but embodying a character and completing an arc in the course of a single episode is a talent in and of itself. In that vein, Cardenas played a fake detective on Blue Bloods, Ricardo Pena on NCIS: Los Angeles, and serial killer Simon Alonso on Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders. It wouldn't be surprising to see him in more police procedurals to come, with all the experience he has.

Cardenas' most recent project as of December 2020, Vallero!, is a voice acting job. He plays Fernando Valle, an outlaw looking to get the old gang back together in the unaired pilot. Though some storyboarded animatics are available on YouTube, there's no telling whether the series will move forward. Regardless, Cardenas is sure to shine no matter what he works on next.