Inside the Walking Dead – Walker University

Doesn't Michonne (Danai Gurira) look smart with her studded belt and sword accessories on The Walking Dead?
The Walking Dead (Photo: Frank Ockenfels / AMC)

While we wait for Season 5 of The Walking Dead, AMC is kind enough to air making-of specials to tide us over. This week: Walker University!

Turns out there is a process called “zombie school” where they select and train potential walkers to be on the show. As you can imagine, some people get really into it. Special effects makeup artist Greg Nicotero reigns supreme over the zombie school and is essentially a god of zombie creation. He takes this ragtag bunch of misfits and turns them into a legitimate herd of walkers.

What Makes a Good Walker?

Physically: slim build; weird facial features; ability to take a hit without reacting as a living human would; living in Georgia (local zombies are easier to reschedule as needed).

Mentally: strong desire to be a walker (“This is American Idol for zombies!” Nicotero says); ability to portray a character, or several characters (some zombie actors are used many times); ability to take direction.


No Frankenstein arms! Must be dazed and confused, but not outlandishly so. It’s like in that episode of Smash where they had to teach Karen Cartwright how to blend in as part of the ensemble. Honestly, Karen Cartwright would make the perfect zombie.

Commit to the character. The zombie actors are taught the basics but can add their own spin to it, as long as it’s natural.

Movement must be staggered (“drunk-like”), slow, and inhuman. Remember that a zombie’s motivation is to eat, so when you get close to a lead actor you must go straight for their flesh, not just stand around waiting for your cue.

The Zombie Look

The closer a walker is to the camera, the more intense the makeup. Walkers that are featured heavily and killed by main cast members are “hero walkers,” and their makeup takes about 90 minutes to do. Every detail is thought out – they use vanilla-flavored mouth rinse to dye a zombie’s teeth and tongue black. Sounds delicious! Background walkers can get away with just wearing masks.

To make prosthetic parts, first they create a very detailed zombie bust; then they make casts from that bust out of metal; then they pour out melted foam into the casts and cook it overnight to create various parts of the head and face. When they are finished, they can be used multiple times on various zombie actors – they are glued to the person’s face. Yikes.

Costumes are critical – the costume designer basically creates a back story with the wardrobe and what has happened to it.

They use barbecue for all the zombie’s eating scenes. Vegans need not apply.

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    About Clare Snyder 144 Articles
    After writing for a few publications in college, Clare took an extended break to become a certified personal trainer, get huge blisters during marathons, and find a suitable triathlete/engineer to marry. In her spare time she partakes in many nerd hobbies including replaying Final Fantasy hundreds of times, cheering for the Green Bay Packers, and live-tweeting "Whodunnit?" One time Clare was given 43 hot sauce packets in a Taco Bell driveway. There is a strategy to it. E-mail:
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