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Sacrifices That Walking Dead Actors Had To Make

In a lot of ways, "The Walking Dead" is a hard show to be on. AMC's zombie horror drama is one of the most popular shows of all time, but that doesn't make the job easy. In pursuit of success, sacrifices have to be made. Actors have had to deal with death threats, being away from their families for long periods of time, and overzealous fans chomping down on them. Not to mention the ever-present worry that their character will be killed off and they'll have to find a new job. There's never a lot of job security for an actor, and "The Walking Dead" is one of the least secure jobs on TV.

Needless to say, the show, which is currently in the midst of its eleventh and final season, has put its cast through the wringer. Here are some of the biggest sacrifices "The Walking Dead" actors have had to make for the good of the show.

Filming Glenn and Abraham's death was hard on everybody

The Season 7 premiere of "The Walking Dead" is arguably its most notorious episode. It's the one where Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the leader of the antagonistic group the Saviors, bashes Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham's (Michael Cudlitz) brains out with his barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat, Lucille. He commits this act of savagery in an effort to break the spirits of the victims' loved ones, who are forced to kneel and watch it all happen. It's an unrelentingly bleak hour that's an endurance test for even the show's biggest fans. But as hard as it is to watch, it was even harder to film.

The actors spent a total of six nights kneeling on the ground in the woods, two nights for the Season 6 finale, and four more for the Season 7 premiere. "Just on your knees, on the gravel, pretending and believing that you're about to die," Steven Yeun told GQ about the filming experience. "It was gnarly."

But even though it was Yeun's character who got his eyeball popped out of his skull, he said Andrew Lincoln made the biggest sacrifice, because we saw the events unfold through the eyes of Rick Grimes. And he had to go through it for even longer than the rest of the cast, because much of the episode is just him and Negan. "You're asking Andrew Lincoln to basically spend ten days in a hole of despair and s—," Yeun said. "And he did it."

It was physically and emotionally painful for the rest of the cast, too. Lauren Cohan, who plays Glenn's wife Maggie, recently told Fox TV U.K. that filming the scene was the hardest thing she's ever had to do as an actor.

Michael Cudlitz had to keep up appearances

The challenges didn't stop once the cameras were off, either. For months, the actors had to keep who died a secret from the aggressively inquiring public. And no one was put in a more difficult position than Michael Cudlitz.

Cudlitz's character Abraham got his head turned into mush, which meant Cudlitz was out of work. Then he had to go out and promote the show as if he was still on it. He had to give interviews where he evaded answering questions about Abraham's fate, which he did by basically pretending Abe was still alive. He had to lie on behalf of a show that had written him off.

He admitted to lying. The whole cast lied, he told The Hollywood Reporter, because they said that the death scenes they all filmed were because the person who died hadn't been decided at the end of Season 6 and they needed to have coverage in case people's contracts didn't get renewed, even though they were really done to prevent spoilers from getting out and were used in a dream sequence.

Cudlitz even stayed sporting Abraham's red hair and mustache for months in order to preserve the secret. That was a sacrifice borne mostly by Cudlitz's wife.

Human skin doesn't breathe very well

"The Walking Dead" is filmed outside in the summer in Georgia. It gets unbelievably hot and humid. In the height of summer, it's muggy 90% of the time in Senoia, the show's base of operations, according to Weatherspark. It's the kind of humidity that saps your energy even if you're wearing shorts and a t-shirt. And performers on "The Walking Dead" are wearing heavy cargo pants, flannels, leather, and prosthetic makeup. Steven Yeun "blacked out" during his first day on set because he had to do several takes of sprinting on an empty stomach (via Comicbook).

No actors had it worse than the people who played the skin suit-wearing Whisperers, because they had to wear what were basically rubber ski masks for long periods of time. Samantha Morton, who played Whisperer leader Alpha, said that the heat scrambled her brain and made her forget her lines. "I think it's because sometimes when you're in the mask, your head gets so hot and it's really hard for your concentration," she told Insider. "And anyone who's ever played a walker or anything like that will hopefully know what I'm talking about, but you kind of get a bit of brain fog because you get hot."

Ryan Hurst, who played Alpha's hulking second-in-command Beta, had a costume basically designed to make him pass out. He wore a Whisperer mask, his own big beard, a leather trench coat, and two layers under that in the Georgia summer. And he told TV Guide that he kept the mask on between takes to stay in character. Unsurprisingly, he had to be hospitalized for heat exhaustion at one point, according to Entertainment Weekly. He sacrificed his body to better inhabit the character.

It's torture playing Daryl

Like clockwork, every time there's a new enemy on "The Walking Dead," Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) gets captured by them. The worst time the cantankerous tracker ever got held captive, though, was the time Saviors tried to recruit him to their cause by holding him in a jail cell and torturing him.

This was the worst because Norman Reedus was naked while he filmed it. In the early scenes of the episode, Daryl is naked because the Saviors are trying to humiliate him. And Reedus chose to sacrifice his own dignity for the sake of authenticity. "I walked in, and wardrobe was like, 'do you want to wear a sock over your junk?' and I was like, 'nope,'" Reedus told TV Guide. "I just went in, naked. It's funny though, it's kind of like watching a tennis match. I sat down naked in front of the whole camera crew, and everyone's head just moved to the right. It was like they were watching Wimbledon."

Norman Reedus is constantly getting hurt

Reedus doesn't only sacrifice his dignity — he sacrifices his body, too. He's been hurt numerous times over the decade-plus the show has been filming. He once gave himself a black eye with his own crossbow.

In Season 5, he cut his arm open while filming a scene in a barn. "They said they actually saw my arm opening up and blood start coming out of my arm on camera," Reedus told The Wrap. Somehow, though, that shot didn't make the final cut.

During a Season 6 scene, he cut his finger on broken glass in a vending machine he was reaching into, which prompted him to wonder aloud to Entertainment Weekly, "Why am I always getting hurt? I get hurt all the time. I feel like I should have, like, football pads on at all times, even when I'm just walking around."

More recently, while filming Season 11 under COVID protocols, he got stiff-armed by a zombie performer who was trying to keep his surgical mask out of the shot, which hurt a lot, Reedus told Express.

And since Reedus is going to be continuing on as Daryl in a spin-off after "The Walking Dead" ends next year, he will have many more opportunities to be injured.

Andrew Lincoln relocated his family to Georgia

When Andrew Lincoln's career was on the rise, two seemingly unrelated things happened: British actors began to become TV stars in America, and Georgia's tax breaks for large film projects drove many major TV shows and movies to the state.

The Guardian chronicled Andrew Lincoln's rise to stardom in one of its most laudatory profiles ever, noting how difficult it was for him to break into Hollywood. In "The Walking Dead," Andrew Lincoln plays a morally gray character, much like his British contemporaries Idris Elba in "The Wire" and Damien Lewis in "Homeland." It could be argued that American actors prefer to play classic heroes, making such parts unappealing.

AMC's studio bosses were so impressed with the source material of "The Walking Dead" that they ordered the show for an entire series. They estimated that it would take 12 seasons to finish the entire arc. Andrew Lincoln was newly married with a young family and patiently waiting for his big break, when he had to make the decision to uproot their lives — potentially indefinitely — to a foreign country. But passing up that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like that was unthinkable. So he made the sacrifice of relocating his young family to Atlanta, Georgia, where the majority of the show was shot. When his children grew older and returned to London, Lincoln chose to finally leave the show after nine seasons to spend more time with them.

The show affected Chandler Riggs' school life

Just about every cast member of "The Walking Dead" consider the other actors on the show part of their family. And the departure of beloved characters from the series was frequently received with existential dread, with some exits even resulting in emotional breakdowns.

In the instance of Chandler Riggs, though, he came to embrace the news that his character would be written off. Riggs felt that leaving the show opened up other avenues in line with his long-held passions in movies and music, but on the other hand, the timing was frustrating, because now that he was done with school, he could have finally put 100% of his focus on the show.

Riggs had been on "The Walking Dead" since he was 10 years old. Riggs had to reconcile a full-time acting job with his education, because the show was often filmed throughout the school year. Even though Riggs believed his performances suffered as a result, audiences couldn't disagree more. During his time on the show, Riggs became a fan favorite, received awards, and even became the topic of an eclectic meme. Being a student and an actor at the same time couldn't have been easy for him, and when he finally graduated, co-stars like Jon Bernthal were among the first to recognize his sacrifice, promptly congratulating him.

Danai Gurira underwent extreme training to master the art of wielding a katana

Danai Gurira played Michonne in "The Walking Dead," a character who was consistently illustrated with an iconic katana in the comics. As in the comics, Michonne joins the core party later in their journey, making Gurira a mainstay in the ensemble from season 3 onwards. That's when she learned the physical training she needed for the job was more extensive than she had originally thought.

Coincidentally, Gurira had already had martial arts training as part of her MFA program at NYU. Nevertheless, she admits that training for "The Walking Dead" was a different ballgame. It wasn't only about getting in shape, but also about learning how to wield a katana. "You do your little dumbbells and you're getting somewhere but the katana just totally will break you," she explained to the Chicago Tribune, "And I love it for that. But it was a lot of work."

She later mentioned that during the duration of the show, she had a real katana, a wooden one, and a plastic one to facilitate her training at home. Gurira, who is known to fully immerse herself in roles, even shaving her head for "Black Panther", added that because the katana was so important to Michonne, knowing how to handle it ultimately helped her understand her character. Her commitment and dedication to her role certainly paid off for the show.

Lauren Cohan sacrificed her starring role in the search for pay parity

Lauren Cohan's fight for pay parity became the talk of Hollywood when she made it clear to her bosses at AMC that she was prepared to sacrifice her role on "The Walking Dead" if her pay wasn't increased. Cohan joined the show in the second season of "The Walking Dead" as Maggie, a member of the Greene clan known for their strict adherence to Christianity. The family owned the ranch that the main cast used for refuge.

For six seasons, Maggie Greene underwent a transformative journey from a naive country girl to one of the most formidable leaders within the main group of "The Walking Dead." Throughout this period, Cohan's popularity among fans increased proportionally with the development of her character, rightfully earning her praise as the show's standout performance. However, as her contractual obligations as a series regular reached their conclusion, conflict emerged. With her growing significance on the show, Cohan believed her compensation should align more closely with that of her male co-leads, a view not shared by AMC executives. As a result, Cohan began strategizing her departure from the series.

Cohan still managed to find her way back to "The Walking Dead" for its final season. Regardless, it is certain that her willingness to walk away from one of the most popular shows on television had lasting effects, particularly considering the multiple spin-offs that have emerged from "The Walking Dead."

Sonequa Martin-Green almost missed out on starring in Star Trek: Discovery to continue her role in The Walking Dead

Nobody showed more displays of dedication for the show than Sonequa Martin-Green: Her commitment to "The Walking Dead" almost made her miss out on a lead role in "Star Trek: Discovery." Any fan will attest that the most captivating aspect of "The Walking Dead" has always been its unpredictability: Any character can die at any given moment. It's the thrill of not knowing who will be next that keep fans tuning in. However, when Martin-Green's death finally arrived, it was somewhat expected.

The show's loyal fanbase was not surprised at her exit because, at the time, it was understood that Martin-Green was leaving the show to take a role on "Star Trek: Discovery," but the sequence of events was not quite accurate. Martin-Green had actually only booked the role because she already knew of her character's fate on "The Walking Dead." She revealed in an interview with Digital Spy that she almost lost her role in the Star Trek universe because the producers were getting impatient waiting for her to finish shooting her final "The Walking Dead" episode. Luckily for her, the Star Trek producers decided instead to delay the show's production. That seems to have been the right move, because the show eventually premiered to critical praise.

Josh McDermitt had to embrace Eugene's signature mullet hairstyle

Josh McDermitt's character, Eugene Porter, is by far the most grating member of the main group on "The Walking Dead." Eugene initially joins the gang with a lie, claiming to know the cure for the walker infestation. However, even after being exposed as just another grifter, he gradually builds rapport with the group and proves to be useful. One of the creators' most ingenious ways of instantly making the character unlikeable is through his abysmal fashion sense. Eugene is always seen wearing hiking boots, cargo shorts, and committing perhaps the most cardinal fashion sin of all: Sporting a mullet in the 21st century.

Most fans didn't actually expect the mullet to be real, but Josh McDermitt confirmed that he actually sacrificed a decent haircut for Eugene's signature style. In real life, he's a natural blonde, so he also had to dye his hair for the role. He hated the haircut, but as a stand-up comedian, he found a way to maintain a sense of humor about the whole situation. McDermitt revealed that later on he actually enjoyed looking ridiculous on TV. Perhaps the mullet helped him better get into character.

He added that another aspect of having his haircut like that at all times is the fact that he's always recognizable on the street, unlike other characters who can easily look completely different from their appearances in "The Walking Dead."

Alanna Masterson had grueling 18-hour days on set when she was pregnant

Alanna Masterson grew up in and around the industry, while her two elder brothers were on "That '70s Show" and "Malcolm in the Middle." And although she may have gotten her start as an actor because of her family connections, she quickly proved herself as a consummate professional portraying Tara Chambler on "The Walking Dead." Masterson was so dedicated to the role that she powered through exhaustion, filming up to 18-hour days even while she was pregnant.

The cast members of "The Walking Dead" never fail to mention just how close-knit they are as a group. Masterson experienced this firsthand on her very first day. She was cast for the show on her 25th birthday, but to her disappointment, she didn't have any scenes with the main cast. Instead, she found herself on the side of The Governor. This initially worried her, because she thought fans might not like her character due to her association with the villain. However, she was immediately consoled by Steven Yeun and Andrew Lincoln, who went out of their way to warmly welcome her to the cast.

It was her loyalty to the rest of the cast that inspired her to push herself through long and grueling days. She believed that if nobody else was complaining, she shouldn't either. And if that isn't the biggest sacrifice made for the show, then we don't know what is.

Michael Rooker's prosthetic hand caused him nerve damage

Michael Rooker's character, Merle Dixon, undergoes one of the most satisfying redemption arcs in "The Walking Dead." However, as is often the case in the world of the walkers, no good deed goes unpunished. He eventually gets turned into a walker by The Governor and has to be killed by his brother. When asked in an interview with TV Guide about his reaction to the news that his character would be killed off, Rooker replied, "I found out about two weeks before the episode. I was actually quite relieved because I wouldn't have to wear the arm again. Honestly, that was my first thought. Thank you, thank you! I don't have to put that goddamn thing on ever again. But then I realized, 'Oh s***, I'm out of a job.'"

The prosthetic hand he had to wear in the show actually caused him nerve damage, and he constantly had to push through the pain during shooting. Perhaps that's the reason why his grumpy scenes always looked so convincing. Despite the obvious pain, Rooker has never been one to complain too much. He later mentioned that, although it wasn't the most pleasant experience, he still loved the prosthetic hand.

Rooker even went so far as to say that the two-hour makeup sessions he had to endure for his zombie scenes weren't all that difficult, considering he had experienced much longer sessions for movies like "Slither."

Jeffrey Dean Morgan has talked about how emotionally draining it was to portray Negan

Negan is the ultimate antagonist of the entire show. As the comic book was slightly ahead of the television series, hardcore fans were already eagerly anticipating the introduction of Negan long before he appeared on the screen. Negan is known for his ruthlessness, which led to big names like Jon Hamm being considered for the role. Eventually, Jeffrey Dean Morgan landed the part, and it's now impossible to imagine anyone else as Negan.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan proved to be more than capable of the task, but that doesn't mean his job was easy. The aforementioned cruelty of Negan took a toll on him, to the point where he even contemplated quitting. The emotionally draining scenes affected both him and Andrew Lincoln. However, they persevered and filmed the infamous scene at the beginning of Season 7 for 10 consecutive days. Although the result is difficult to watch, the quality of their work is undeniable.

Morgan shared that he found a way to make peace with playing such a vile character like Negan by attempting to empathize with him, even going so far as to find him somewhat endearing. Well, clearly that worked because Morgan didn't mind sacrificing some mental tranquility again: He returns as Negan in the new spin-off series, "The Walking Dead: Dead City."