Monday, July 29, 2013

The Touring Dead

013As many of you know, we usually try to take short sidetrips on our way back from Florida; one year it was Asheville, NC to see Biltmore House, one year it was Memphis, one year it was Raleigh to visit our friend Sheria. Many of you also know that this year’s sidetrip was Senoia, GA.

Why would we want to visit a small town south of Atlanta? Because they’ve filmed a lot of “The Walking Dead” there, that’s why! Senoia is the town that served as the fictional Woodbury. We stayed in Newnan, and there were a couple of places there that were also used in filming. There were other small towns in the area with buildings and places used in locations.

During the 20 or so miles from Newnan to Senoia, we listened to the Walking Dead soundtrack CD, and it was actually a pretty cool accompaniment to the drive. It was easy to imagine the two-lane road littered with abandoned vehicles, or to picture zombies wandering through the trees and fields. I’ve got a good imagination that way, and that’s part of the fun. Ken put up with me, even when I waved my hands in the air and said, “YAY!” when we saw the “Senoia City Limits” sign. Fangirl was geeking out with no apologies!

As we pulled up into downtown and onto Main Street—which was the Main Street of the town of Woodbury in the show—I was all “Agghhh!” and “Ohmahgah!” and “We’re in Woodbury, honey!” We spent a little time checking out the storefronts and just wandering down Main Street. We stopped in the Georgia Mercantile Co., and checked out what they had to offer. This was serendipitous, because they had a tour going on in about an hour and a half, and Sunday is the only day they do it! We debated whether we wanted to spend the money on this little bus tour or buy a map of locations and try to find them ourselves. We decided to take the tour (AND we bought the map) because they might have access to places we couldn’t get into, as well as maybe some “insider” information. That is exactly how it turned out, so I’m glad we decided to go for it!

025We had a little time to kill before the tour, so we checked out Maguire’s Pub right around the corner. Great beer selection, and we enjoyed the place so much we had lunch there the following day. Good food and good beverages...a nice place to hang out!

Anyway, the tour was well worth it. A couple of the places we got to see are private property, but they got us in there. The main guide, Dan, has been a zombie extra in all three seasons, seventeen times in all. He hasn’t been called yet for Season 4, but hopes he will be. He had lots of interesting information for us, although certainly no spoilers for S4. One of the things he said was that they have increasingly locked down security and potential sources of leaks. The extras used to be able to bring cell phones in, but they have to relinquish them before they get to the set now; they used to be told where the filming was happening and be able to drive themselves there, but now they get an email the night before and meet at a place where they are bused in. All very hush-hush as they try to keep any leaks from happening. Any extra who leaks information and is found out is permanently blacklisted from the show (and probably doesn’t do themselves any favors for any other gigs they might try to get).

As for zombie extras, they’re all required to be quite small. Dan himself was unusually tall for a zombie extra, he said, but he’s also skinny as a rail. I wondered why, and he said, “Because we’re supposed to look dead and emaciated.” Makes sense! But if you want to be a zombie extra, you have a better chance if you’re small and skinny.

034I’m including a few pictures in this entry, but if you want to see all of them, you can check out my Facebook album of Walking Dead Locations. I made it public, so even if we aren’t friends on Facebook, you will be able to see it. Probably one of the coolest locations was the factory (still in operation) that contains the courtyard that served as Woodbury’s “zombie arena.” That was just such an awful scenario, and made even worse when Daryl and Merle were supposed to fight to the death there.

When we were there, I was talking to Dan, and although I can’t recall exactly what my question was, it turned into a little talk about how they film things. I said that I’m almost always able to suspend disbelief, so I still enjoy entertainment. He said that that’s one bad thing about working in it and seeing how it’s filmed: it almost spoils it for you when watching it. To the group, he talked about how so much of it has to do with angles and camera shots, making things look bigger than they really are. When they were clearing the prison, they used the same couple of short hallways and just filmed it from different angles, so it looked like they were rushing through this large maze of prison hallways, but it was just a couple of corners shot from different directions! He said that Chandler Riggs, who plays Carl Grimes, is going through puberty right now, so he’s getting to be a big kid. They keep making Rick’s sheriff hat bigger and bigger, so it still looks small on Carl. (For some reason, that one just made me chuckle.)

A few other tidbits he had for us:
  • Zombie teeth look black and gross due to a mixture of chocolate syrup and mouthwash. You swirl that stuff around in your mouth and spit...instant zombie teeth!
  • The longest day he’s had, no matter what show or movie he was working in, was on “The Walking Dead.” I believe he said it was during the filming of when Hershel’s farm gets overrun and the barn burns down. The temperature was down in the 20s, and he said he worked over 20 hours that day. They were all freezing, and the zombie extras were huddling together for warmth between takes, zipped up in Snuggies. There’s a mental image for you!
  • Speaking of Hershel’s farm, it is a private residence near Atlanta, and fans are constantly trying to jump the fence and get pictures of it. Don’t do that, people. Not only is it rude and creepy, they are prosecuting people to the fullest extent of the law. You will be thrown in jail and prosecuted (same goes for trying to crash the studio set). The owners of the farm are extremely religious and had two rules for the cast and crew there: No cussing, and No zombies can touch the house. If you watch that episode again, you’ll see that the zombies never get into the house, although they apparently overran the house in the graphic novel. It was such a hard and fast rule that the owners’ daughter, who played a zombie, had to get out of makeup and get cleaned up before entering the house at the end of filming.
  • He talked about Merle a bit, and we all kind of mourned Merle. It was a sad ending for him, and somewhat noble. He tried to do the right thing. Dan said that other than Dale, all of the characters who die seem to do something out of character before their demise. I’ll have to ponder that a bit as we watch it again, but that was certainly true with Merle. Milton went against the Governor, and Andrea was trying to bring the Prison Gang and the Woodbury Gang together...something to think about.
  • Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes) and David Morrissey (the Governor) stay in character throughout the entire day of filming. They are both British, and once they get into the Southern accent, they don’t want to get out of it. Although many of the cast has input into their characters and somewhat into the storyline, Andrew Lincoln does a lot to direct some of the where the zombies should approach, how they should die, and so forth.
  • The initial cast signed up for five years. Obviously, not all of them have made it that far, and I suspect there may be a couple of hard deaths in Season 4. One of the first rules of horror films is “anyone can die at anytime,” and “The Walking Dead” has held true to that rule. No one is safe.
  • Even more ominously, during a “death discussion” about the survivors, Dan said, “Oh, they all die. Robert Kirkman [the creator of the comic book] has said exactly that. They all die.”
So there you have it. They’re going to make you love these great characters (even the bad guys are fascinating) and then they’re going to kill them all. Even Daryl Dixon isn’t safe in the Zombie Apocalypse.

I enjoyed this experience completely, and would recommend it to any fan of the show, if you get the opportunity. I can honestly say that I have never been into a show as much as this one...and this is coming from a “Star Trek” fan!

Walking Dead tour group


  1. zombies in snuggies!

    now there's a warm fuzzy to start a tuesday with.


  2. Guess I can never be a zombie in TWD, bummer...

  3. They all die, except Dixon. ;)

    How interesting about the house! Now that you mention it they never did overtake the farm house. I wonder if those folks regret allowing the filming with all of the fan problems.

  4. Surprisingly, i do not like the show. I love scary books but hate scary movies and i am not interested in zombies in the least. Rick, on the other hand, LOVES this is the only show where no one is allowed to talk while it is on. LOL I respect that. He would go apeshit to be able to see where it is filmed so i enjoyed reading all about your adventures there.



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