The Walking Dead: Sacrifices Actors Endured for the Zombie Show

rick grimes in the georgia summer heat the walking dead sacrifices actors had to make

For The Walking Dead, sacrifices are practically the show’s main star. But its co-stars, the show’s talented cast, had to make sacrifices of their own just to film the series.

Since its premiere on Halloween 2010, The Walking Dead has frightened and delighted millions of viewers, going on to become the most-watched show ever on basic cable. But, of course, the show has seen its ups and downs, going from what some viewers would consider appointment-level TV to what others say was jump-the-shark status. Even so, set to end in 2022 with its 11th season, the show is one of the most successful horror series of all time.  

Many of the show stars, including Andrew Lincoln and Steven Yeun, catapulted into stardom, and several cast members have upcoming projects. But throughout making a series with as intense a shooting schedule as The Walking Dead, the actors are bound to have seen some hardships with its zombie attack scenes and emotional character journeys. Let’s take a look at some scary, tricky, and grueling sacrifices actors had to make during the making of The Walking Dead. 

Josh McDermitt Receives Death Threats

josh mcdermitt the walking dead sacrifices actors had to make

In a show like The Walking Dead, sacrifices and all sorts of human drama abound. The zombie apocalypse is just a backdrop to human drama. People split off into factions, they clash over petty differences, and eventually, things turn to bloodshed. Along with this goes betrayal, a dramatic device dating back to before Shakespeare. One major instance of The Walking Dead portraying betrayal was with the character of Eugene Porter, a mulleted science teacher who talks in muddled sentences or overly complex language but who may be the smartest man left in the world. Eugene seemingly betrays the main group of characters in favor of the bat-wielding villain Negan, jumping ship to the Jeffrey Dean Morgan character’s side of a gruesome war.

McDermitt had to go off social media due to death threats in May of 2017 because of his character’s perceived betrayal of the main characters. He announced his departure from all of his platforms–Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram–during a Facebook live where he talked about the threatening messages. “When you start saying you hope I die, I don’t know if you’re talking about Josh or Eugene,” he told his followers. McDermitt had had other run-ins with trolls, coming to the defense of Alanna Masterson, who plays Tara Chambler, who received cruel comments about her weight just after having given birth in real life.

Steven Yeun Suffers an Existential Crisis

steven yeun glenn crouches with a shotgun

Being part of a smash hit like The Walking Dead is a big deal. It’s an actor’s dream for many: the fame, the money, and the opportunity of a lifetime. Yet, what happens when it’s time to leave a show, especially considering that The Walking Dead is the kind of show where characters often meet untimely ends. It’s bound to cause many emotions, and it certainly did for Steven Yeun, who played Glenn Rhee.

Based on the comic book of the same name, The Walking Dead TV series on AMC sometimes follows the established storyline and takes liberties. That said, one of the biggest deaths in the comic book is that of Glenn, who dies at the hand of Negan during the baddie’s first in-the-flesh appearance. During the show’s run, that death loomed large on the horizon. So will or won’t the TV show follow suit? Alas, it did, and Steve Yeun was off the show, having had one of the series’ most honorable deaths.

After leaving the show, Steve Yeun said he suffered an existential crisis. “I left ‘Walking Dead,’ and I had an existential crisis — not because I longed to be back there, but because I was made to feel the loneliness of life, which is that decisions aren’t made for you,” he said. “You get swallowed up by whatever the thing that you’re a part of.” Yeun has also said that he wouldn’t entertain thoughts of returning to the role for a Glenn origin story, saying he felt trapped in his stardom.

Chandler Riggs is Left Holding a Mortgage

chandler riggs carl grimes had bought a home in georgia

The Walking Dead, sacrifices or not, would be a boring show if there weren’t the occasional unexpected occurrences. Not only does this sometimes mean bucking storytelling conventions, but sometimes it means departing from your source material entirely. This was especially true for The Walking Dead when it came to killing off its cast. There was perhaps no more shocking a death than that of Carl Grimes, played by Chandler Riggs in that vein. The death happened during season eight, at the height of the war against the Saviors, when Carl tried to help a survivor stranger. In the comics, Carl was alive and well during that same part of the story, so it came as a bit of a shock even to Riggs himself, who said, “In the comics, Carl lives until the end. So I didn’t think that Carl’s story would end at any point. I found out when we were doing rehearsals for episode 6 of season 8.” 

The story came as a shock to fans and also to the actor playing the newly doomed boy. Riggs hadn’t seen it coming. He decided to settle down in Georgia. Riggs bought a house and even planned on attending the University of Georgia. Then, he got the news. Talking about how he and his family handled the news, Riggs said, “It was devastating for my family and me because the show has been such a huge part of my life for so long. For a few days, we didn’t know what to do; I just bought a house in Senoia [near where the show films in Georgia].”

Andrew Lincoln Misses His Family

andrew lincoln rick grimes family the walking dead sacrifices actors had to make

Andrew Lincoln left the show in Season 9, devastating fans and departing sharply from the comic book’s storyline. Although not dead and with an ending that left things unresolved, possibly leaving the door open for a return, many fans wonder why Lincoln left the show. A TV series can be a blessing for many actors. It’s the closest thing to a stable job in the acting world. Perfect for balancing life and work, especially because you’ll be in the same location for most of the year with semi-predictable hours, instead of jetting from a movie set to a movie set. Except, this assumes you’ll live near the set location.

For Andrew Lincoln, who starred as Rick Grimes, this wasn’t the case. Lincoln is from the UK originally, and his family stayed there while he was filming. “I have two young children, and I live in a different country, and they become less portable as they get older,” Lincoln said in an interview. “It was that simple. So it was time for me to come home.” Lincoln has also said he has shied away from accepting similar roles ever since because he had to spend eight months away from his family every season, plus he didn’t want to become typecast.

Tom Payne Gets Bored

tom payne jesus the walking dead sacrifices actors had to make

In Season 9 of The Walking Dead, the character of Jesus died at the hands of a zombie bite after being sneak attacked by The Whisperers. While fans lamented his death, the character was arguably short-changed for much of the series. The character of Jesus is a lot more exciting in the comic book version of The Walking Dead than the TV version. In the comics, he’s a standout character with multiple memorable scenes, including some martial arts badassery and incredibly charismatic leadership moments. But some fans would say the show saw him effectively sidelined when it came to exciting moments. This is a sentiment shared by the actor who played Jesus, Tom Payne. 

Since his departure, Payne has said in interviews that he was unhappy with his character’s lack of interesting on-screen action. Especially since he’d read the comics for the role and quite liked the comic book version of his character. For years, he looked forward to either being given more to do or being killed off. Payne was more than okay with the possibility of death for his character. “I had reached a point in the show where I was a little bit in stasis, and like, ‘Well, you know, I have to do more with my character. Otherwise, I’m cool with being killed off.'”

Everyone Suffers from Georgia in the Summer

rick grimes in the georgia summer heat the walking dead sacrifices actors had to make

Since the very beginning, filming on The Walking Dead has often taken place in Georgia, in the summer. Anyone from the south needs no further explanation for the difficulty of that effort. Those unfamiliar need only know that temperatures can reach 110 degrees and 100 percent humidity. As a result, when it’s 100 degrees, it can feel like 120. Georgia has even been called a “temperate rainforest” by the crew. Although perhaps not so temperate. As you see elsewhere in this very same article, multiple actors suffered from heat exhaustion.

The show’s production schedule made it worse to make things worse so that there hardly seemed to be any other seasons in Georgia than sweltering summer. Locals to Senoia, Georgia, where the show is primarily filmed, may be used to the heat. But it affected the cast as well as the crew. Not just on a personal level. It actually affected the technical aspects of their jobs, such as when they could shoot and how things like make-up had to be managed. Toby Sells, special effects/makeup artist, told interviewers, “We’re always on our phones checking the weather.”

Laurie Holden Felt Lied To

laurie holden andrea the walking dead sacrifices actors had to make

Andrea, played by Laurie Holden, died in Season 3 of The Walking Dead TV series. This contrasts with the comic books, where Andrea lives a comparatively long life and becomes one of the core characters for the entire storyline. However, this wasn’t the only departure, as fans had become disappointed with Andrea’s arc on the show. Holden acknowledged this, saying, “I think because it’s been such a character extreme and I think because she was someone we were rooting for at the end of season 2, and having this woman who you believed in that was strong and exhibiting characteristics of heroism for her future and the sociopathic victim, does not rub people the right way.”

At a Walker Stalker Con, Holden spilled the beans on how she felt lied to, and in essence, betrayed by The Walking Dead’s leadership. “Well, I had an eight-year deal. I was supposed to be there until the end. I was supposed to end up with Rick. I was supposed to save Woodbury on a horse, and I was buying a house in Atlanta. Instead, I got the call at 10 o’clock the night before, while I was shooting, from the showrunner who is no longer a part of The Walking Dead, saying that they couldn’t write the episode and that he was killing my character. So we all got the script everybody on the set was sobbing. I felt like I got shot. None of it was supposed to happen the way it did.”

Michael Rooker Hated Wearing His Fake Arm

michael rooker fake arm the walking dead sacrifices actors had to make

Merle Dixon, played by Michael Rooker, cut off his arm in Season 1. He makes one of the quintessential The Walking Dead sacrifices. He makes a choice when handcuffed to a drainpipe, abandoned by the main cast of survivors, a pack of zombies approach to finish him off. “The way they did it was great,” Rooker said in an interview. “Any more would have spoiled it. My idea was to leave my hand with the middle finger up in a pool of blood in rigor mortis defiance. But, unfortunately, they passed on that.”

After his escape, Merle’s whereabouts went unknown for a season until he reappeared as The Governor’s right-hand-less man in Season 3. He appears with a prosthetic arm but not your average prosthesis. This one is fully weaponized for the zombie apocalypse, and it even sits in the National Museum of American History.

Merle is killed in a skirmish with The Governor, but Rooker took it surprisingly well. It turns out, the fake hand was a chore. Rooker hated wearing his fake knife arm so much that his first thought when he learned he would be killed off was that of relief from knowing his arm-wearing days were over. “About two weeks before the episode, I was quite relieved because I wouldn’t have to wear the arm again,” he recalled in an interview. “Honest to God, that was my first thought. Thank you, thank you! I don’t have to put the goddamn thing on ever again. But then I thought, “Oh s**t, I’m out of a job!'”

Ryan Hurst Suffers Heat Exhaustion

ryan hurst the walking dead sacrifices actors had to make

In Season 10, Ryan Hurst joined the cast as Beta, The Whisperers’ second-in-command. The Whisperers wear a suit of zombie skin and leather to blend in amongst the zombie hordes and survive, as well as sneak up on their human enemies unbeknownst. Just wearing the grotesque mask for The Walking Dead? Sacrifices: made.

However, Georgia’s summer heat takes its toll, especially when wearing a heavy wardrobe. As a result, Hurst was rushed to the hospital due to heat exhaustion. In an interview, he commented, “I’m in a leather trench coat and two layers under that in Georgia in the summer. It’s no joke, man.”

Even so, Hurst surprisingly both blames the costuming and adores the costuming at the same time. “[Greg] Nicotero [the show’s special effects expert] is a master teacher when it comes to zombie stuff, and it’s so comfortable. Even though you’re in Atlanta in 110-degree weather, I love wearing that mask. I do.”

Lauren Cohen Pulled Over by Police

lauren cohen stopped by police while in make-up

You’d think for The Walking Dead, sacrifices would stop when the cameras do. Like most people, when they get off work, the cast and crew deserve to rest when the day is done, and the rush to get home is real. It’s with that mindset that Lauren Cohen one day decided to roll with the day’s make-up and wait until she got home to take a shower. However, a day of filming The Walking Dead often ended with cast members covered in fake blood and guts. Unfortunately, a bloody driver pulls more attention than desired.

As she, admittedly, sped home, she was pulled over by the police. She panicked, wondering what the police officer would think once he caught sight of her grisly appearance, afraid that they’d mistake her for a runaway murderer. However, Cohen thought fast and propped up her script in full view to head off any misconceptions. All ended well, except the police officer asked for a date, which the married Cohen politely declined, later saying she wished she’d just gotten a ticket.

Steven Yeun Gets a Guy On His Guy

steven yeun tick story

The Walking Dead takes place in the woods, and those woods are not just a set. They’re the very real woods of Senoia, Georgia, home to all sorts of critters, including bugs such as the tick. The cast and crew sometimes spent their breaks pulling off ticks. Those that were visible at the time, anyway. That may not sound like the kind of The Walking Dead sacrifices you expected to read about, but just you wait.

After shooting in the woods, Steven Yeun arrived home to find a tick on a compromising body part. “It was really bad, actually. I went home after a day of work, and I was doing the regular tick check. And then I went to go into the shower. And then I pulled my pants down, and I had a guy on my guy.” Reportedly, the tick latched itself on pretty tight, “I was trying to pull it off. And it was on so tight that I could hold the tick, and hold me as well. I could marionette myself. It was horrible.” Yeun said he eventually resulted in killing the tick with a lighter.

Steven Yeun Passes Out On Set

steven yeun season one the walking dead sacrifices actors had to make

Steven Yeun has had multiple mentions in this article. He seems to have been a magnet for horrid experiences. This includes his first day of shooting. Yeun was filming pick-up shots out of order for Episode 4. Pick-up shots are basically shots that the crew missed during the normal course of filming, or they’re extras that directors would like if given the time. It’s a relatively routine thing, except this scene involved Yeun running back and forth to grab a hat. Again and again, for shot after shot, in the summer.

Yeun hadn’t eaten anything and clearly didn’t anticipate the amount of running in store for him on the show. As a result, he passed out on set. To make matters worse, Yeun never heard the end of it. Show creator Robert Kirkman said, “[W]e always used to make fun of him for that, and he was always a good sport about it.”

Conclusion: The Walking Dead: Sacrifices Its Actors Had to Make

For The Walking Dead, sacrifices were common place. Of course, most of that was on-screen. But some of it, unfortunately, bled into real life.

Nothing was so drastic that it could compare to a zombie apocalypse, but still, a TV show like The Walking Dead is not meant to be a sweaty real life bootcamp for its actors. Nevertheless, sacrifices were made.

About the Author

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Jason Boyd is a science fiction author, geek enthusiast, and former cubicle owner. When not working on his MA in Creative Writing, he's trying to figure out how magnets work.
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