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Why Carol From The Walking Dead Looks So Familiar

Every character from The Walking Dead has a fan following, and Carol is no exception. Watching her arc take her from domestic abuse (and zombie apocalypse) survivor to gun-toting badass has been an incredible journey, driven by some powerful performances from Melissa McBride. Proving she can play everything from battered wife to trembling survivor to someone capable of doing anything that needs to be done, no matter how dark, McBride has become part of the heart and soul of the show. You've seen her before, too—even if, in some of those earlier roles, she looks so different that you might not have recognized her.

Matlock (1993)

Born in Kentucky, McBride headed to Atlanta in the 1980s to start what's been a wildly random career. Throughout the 1990s, she appeared in a slew of commercials that seem to have been lost to the mists of time, but footage of her first major acting credit thankfully remains.

She appeared in a Season 8 episode of Matlock, playing the fidgety Darlene Kellogg in a bizarre episode called "Matlock's Bad, Bad, Bad Dream." The story starts with Matlock meeting some friends in a jazz nightclub and restaurant, and he's introduced to the rather twitchy Darlene, who's raving a cigarette but trying to quit. The rest of the episode is literally right out of Matlock's nightmares, and when his dreams transport him back to a Prohibition-themed restaurant she shows up as a 1930s-era cigarette girl.

Will you recognize her? Probably not—at least, not until she says something. Her long, curly hair was the height of fashion in the 1990s for sure, but it also makes her look completely different. In an epic twist, it's completely possible to imagine Season 1 Carol watching that exact show while doing Ed's ironing.

In the Heat of the Night (1994)

McBride still sported her '90s curls in her next role, a small part in the long-running southern cop drama In the Heat of the Night, starring All In The Family's notorious Archie Bunker, Carroll O'Connor.

Her part, which came during both parts of a two-part episode called "Give Me Your Life," is admittedly brief. The show explored some pretty dark ideas at times, and this was definitely one of those times. When the town of Sparta, Mississippi starts to realize there's something terrible going on behind the doors of the Church of the Celestial Influence, law enforcement is sent to investigate. The people want to know what's going on, and McBride plays the WPMM reporter who's determined to get the whole story. While she's playing a pretty stereotypical plucky news reporter of the time, there are still some hints of the McBride we'd later come to know and love.

American Gothic (1995)

American Gothic only lasted a single season before being canceled, but this supernatural horror mystery had some big names attached, including executive producers Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, producer David Eick, and a cast that included Evan Rachel Wood, Sarah Paulson, Lucas Black, and Gary Cole as the town's evil sheriff.

McBride appears only in a single episode, "Dead to the World," as the sheriff's onetime girlfriend who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Appearing in a flashback scene, Holly Gallagher is an archetype familiar to McBride's fans, the eager-to-please woman who thrives in her caretaker role. She's said herself that it's something she has in common with Carol. "I've gotten myself into some difficult situations because I couldn't say no," McBride told AMC. "Actually I've gotten myself into some difficult places because I thought I could fix somebody."

There's definitely no fixing this sheriff, though, and when we first meet her during a flashback to 1985, we learn that she's figured out his connection to a young boy who's just been tragically orphaned. She's not going to be around long enough to tell anyone, though, and while the supernatural suspense wasn't enough to keep the show on the air, the show attracted a cult following big enough to justify a DVD release in 2005.

Walker, Texas Ranger (1997)

After appearing in a handful of made-for-TV movies with names like A Season in Purgatory, Any Place But Home, and Close to Danger, McBride landed in a two-part episode of Walker, Texas Ranger alongside living internet meme Chuck Norris.

Again in a nurturing role, McBride played Rachel Woods, a pediatric doctor tasked with caring for a young patient (played by Haley Joel Osment) who's been removed from a house during one of the Rangers' drug busts. Almost immediately, the doctor discovers something heartbreaking about the boy's condition: he's HIV-positive, likely because of his mother's drug use. While Walker develops an attachment to the boy who's been forced to live in a closet, McBride's doctor looks on as a sideline caretaker in this look at the collateral damage of drug use.

Dawson's Creek (1998)

A number of '90s series developed a cult following that stayed loyal for years after their shows went off the air, and Dawson's Creek is one example. In one episode, Dawson and his friends head to a bar in an attempt to find him a distraction from his broken heart. When he spots her from across the bar, he knows he's found the one.

McBride's Nina chats with Dawson a bit, arguing the merits and (lack of) artistry in Spielberg's movies when one of Dawson's friends feels it necessary to come blundering in. As they leave, it's more than a little weird to see McBride's very grown-up character inviting the heartbroken Dawson back to her car, but she knows exactly what's going on and offers him a place to crash for the night in order to impress his friends. He passes all in the name of the girl that he's still not over yet, but they still share a kiss before saying goodbye, making McBride the focus of all kinds of fangirl jealously long before anyone ever started shipping Carol and Daryl.

The Mist (2007)

In 2000, McBride decided to start focusing on another area of the entertainment industry and spend most of her time concentrating on being a casting director for the Atlanta area. She still took the occasional small part—like her relatively small role in 2002's The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys—but concentrated on booking other actors for mostly commercial and television roles, leading to a lull in her acting career. Strangely, while she was working for Stillwell Casting, she booked fellow future Dead vet IronE Singleton for a Rooms to Go advertisement. In a further bit of irony, Singleton's T-Dog met his end in Season 3, in lieu of the character who was originally supposed to die: McBride's Carol.

McBride's return to acting was extraordinarily lucky, and if it hadn't happened, we might have gotten a very different Walking Dead. When she was approached by the casting agency Finncannon & Associates and asked to audition for the adaptation of Stephen King's The Mist, she initially refused. Her own boss was a huge King fan, though, and encouraged her to give it a shot. She not only got the role described only in the credits as "Woman with Kids at Home," but she made such an impression on producer Frank Darabont that when it came time to start casting for Walking Dead a few years later, he gave her a call.

It's absolutely not surprising, even though she's only in a single, early scene and in the final moments of the movie. The ending to The Mist is one that sticks with those that see it, for better or worse. It makes you confront your own feelings about just what you would have done in that situation, made all the more powerful by a glimpse of McBride's Woman, safe with her children, being escorted out of town by the military that's finally arrived. She doesn't say anything, and she doesn't have to—it's no wonder Darabont kept her number.

Lost Crossing (2007)

While McBride was working as a casting director, she still dabbled in acting in a few select roles and small films, concerned that taking larger parts would interfere with her time at her day job. One such role came in the short film Lost Crossing, in which she played one of only two major characters. When her Sheila meets a 15-year-old runaway named Marie on a bus that broke down in the town of Lost Crossing, the two become friends and bond over the abuse they both have hidden in their past. But when Marie finds a bottle of prescription medication in her bags, she starts to realize that her new friend isn't all she seems.

Deprived of her psychiatric meds, Sheila starts to unravel in a way that's both terrifying and somehow poignant. She starts to confuse Marie with her daughter, Katie, and the audience is left to imagine the tragic backstory that led to this woman being on the bus, alone, with only a photograph of herself and a young child...and her bottle of medication.

It's a character that could have been two-dimensional, but thanks to McBride's performance, it's something much, much more powerful. Lost Crossing ends with a scene that draws on one of her true strengths: conveying overwhelming emotion without saying a single word.

The Reconstruction of William Zero (2014)

Even with Carol's increasing importance in the Walking Dead story, McBride has still found time to do occasional work outside the show. In 2014, The Reconstruction of William Zero debuted at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. Described by Variety as a "suburban mad-scientist tale," the film follows the journey of a geneticist who clones himself to help him recover from his son's accidental death at his hands, and explore just how memories are imprinted into clones.

McBride plays one of the geneticist's colleagues in this mind-bending drama that deals with some pretty heavy material. The moral of the story suggests there's no shortcut around grief, and that the only way to get through it is to deal with it head on... a message Carol would approve of.