They Shoot 'The Walking Dead' In My Town: 6 Weird Realities
If you watch a show like The Walking Dead, you can probably guess that all of those zombie-infested neighborhoods exist in the real world (minus the zombies). After all, no TV show has the budget to build entire towns from scratch. What you probably didn't realize is that inside the homes which line the corpse-strewn streets of the post-apocalypse are people, who live in those homes. They leave for work every day and carefully avoid the fake carnage that has been set in place by the crew, and they have to stay out of the way during filming.
We spoke to a resident of the sleepy town of Senoia, Georgia, which is where The Walking Dead has done much of its filming since the third season. She told us ...
A Distance Of Hundreds Of Miles On TV Is Only A Few Blocks In Real Life
Even if you're a Walking Dead novice, you know the show is about a group of survivors wandering a zombie apocalypse. Specifically, they start in Georgia, where they went to battle with the evil "Governor" of the town of Woodbury, and progressed up the East Coast for hundreds of miles until they arrived in Alexandria, Virginia, which is where the show is currently set as of the writing of this article.
"My home was right in between 'Woodbury' and 'Alexandria,'" Brittany says. Well, that's not saying much, is it? There are a whole lot of points between Georgia and Virginia. But stay with us here: Woodbury, Georgia is a real town, but on the show, Senoia stands in for Woodbury. It also stands in for Alexandria. Confused yet? You're not alone. "Even fans who know that 'Alexandria' is located in Georgia don't realize that it is actually the next street down from Woodbury," Brittany says. Here, this might help:
In reality, "Woodbury" -- a hop and a skip from West Central Prison, where the gang fought off Woodbury invaders -- is about 20 miles further from the prison than it is from "Alexandria." In other words, in one of a long line of moronic decisions made by the characters, they spend two seasons walking in the woods when they could have merely crossed the street. You can literally see the wall of Alexandria from Woodbury:
Just because society has crumbled doesn't mean you can simply ignore a "Do Not Enter" sign.
That's Brittany's view standing at the end of Main Street, the part of town that doubled as Woodbury. It is in fact the town's primary shopping district, which caused some confusion for a while. "When Woodbury was constructed for season three, they didn't move that barrier and the faux stores added to Main Street until filming was done," Brittany says. "That was amusing, because people (tourists and residents alike) tried to walk into the faux buildings to check out the new additions to Senoia." Thankfully, they've spruced it back up since then:
Like a reverse Detroit.
The neighborhood looks rather nice once you hose it down and take the old used tires off its face. By the light of day, with all its buildings restored, it's downright welcoming.
It also helps when you aren't shooting with all the camera's settings set to "Fallout 3."
On the other hand, there are now a few permanent fixtures that Senoia residents are almost positive weren't there before, like the Waking Dead cafe:
"Get a cup of joe while eating Joe."
That's because ...
Suddenly, Everything Is Zombies
While the town's overnight designation as a zombie tourist hot spot has its downsides (and we'll get to those in a moment), it has boosted the hell out of their economy. "The Main Street area had something like five stores before the show came to town, and now it has almost 50," Brittany says. Some of those shops unabashedly target the Deadhead demographic, like The Woodbury Shoppe and the adjoining Waking Dead Cafe and Senoia on the Big Screen Walking Tours. "Last I heard, the woman who runs the tours was opening up a side business designing zombie-themed weddings," Brittany says.
But although The Woodbury Shoppe is the only local retailer licensed to sell official Walking Dead merchandise, even the normal stores are doing their damnedest to cash in on the zombie craze, no matter how little sense it makes. As a result, "according to the labels, I now own 'zombie milk,' 'zombie butter,' and 'zombie eggs.'"
"I don't recommend the zombie jerky," says Brittany.
"There aren't any major retailers in town (Dollar General is pretty much it)," and even that only opened recently and sits on the edge of town, "so the little local shops down Main Street are where residents go when they just need a couple of things," Brittany explains. Your choices are basically to go way out of your way and spend time and gas money you don't have, or to learn to love zombie dark roast. That's not a joke: "Zombie Dark was one of the coffees at the only decent coffee shop within biking distance (the only other option was our gas station coffee, which is awful)," Brittany says. "It was always fresh and in stock because of its demand, so it was what was in the house most often."
"It's pretty good."
"Around town, you can also get zombie soap, zombie cookies, cake pops that look like zombie eyeballs, a 'zombie white mocha,' beverages made to look like blood, and TWD chocolate pudding (Carl, a kid in the show, goes on a chocolate pudding binge, and that became a silly little joke that fans took to)," Brittany says. "I've never purchased the chocolate pudding, but I had a friend look in my refrigerator at my boring generic pudding and ask if it was TWD merchandise. Easily mistaken."
So it's all good clean fun and fanboy money, right? Yeah, not so much ...
You Can Be Trapped In Your Own Home
One of the drawbacks of filming in a real town is that real people really live there. The Alexandria Safe-Zone, which brings a whole new meaning to the term "gated community," is a real subdivision called the Gin Property, whose residents have had to live with certain new conditions. "They had to agree to things like specific exit/entry times at their own homes to work around filming, and allowing bright lights and loud noises at three in the morning," Brittany says. "I believe they are legally obligated to wait until the crew okays their leaving so that they don't mess up a scene."
That's right: When filming is in progress, there might as well be real zombies outside, because you're not leaving your house. God forbid you get stuck in traffic or have to work overtime and get home after filming has started -- you're camping out. This is the entrance to Alexandria in real life:
Feel free to sleep in your car, but try not to flip out if this is standing outside the window at 2 a.m.
"Notice the security booth that is manned 24/7," Brittany says. "Nobody gets in or out without stating their business. Tourists not welcome. The road sign reads, 'Road closed to thru traffic. No pedestrians allowed.' The yellow sign is a note from the show, with information like the crew will not stop in the road for pictures and autographs. You would never know by the show how nice the road leading up to the gate of Alexandra is."
The only spoilers most of the people here care about is what this will do to the housing market.
Of course, the residents of the Gin Property did agree to those conditions, and if you have enough money to live in these sprawling estates, you probably have enough money to say "Fuck your zombie show, I'm out." (Which, according to Brittany, some of the residents did, although probably not in those words.) But even people who don't live in that subdivision and didn't agree to those terms are still affected:
"At one point during filming, I was actually told by a cop directing traffic that I wasn't allowed to be out on my own lawn," Brittany says. "When they were filming at the wall of Alexandria, we were really close to where they were shooting. Security had to make sure that nobody walked past the blocked portions of the road, so when we walked out into the yard to see what was up, a security officer told us we couldn't be out there unless we were trying to leave."
"At least, I think he was a security guard ..."
There are also so many government types prowling around watching you that you'd think some kind of world-ending crisis really was going down. "There is pretty much 24/7 police presence here," Brittany says. "They're on the lookout for anyone trying to mess with the Alexandria wall / leftover props, or anyone who is going to disturb residents living in the homes that appear in the show, so they watch us closely when we're walking our dogs down the street or pulling into our own driveways."
If you know anything about Southern culture, you can probably guess that this didn't exactly sit well with them. "You have old men who are very big on their rights and control over what is theirs and aren't going to let anyone take that away," Brittany says. "A couple of my neighbors got really mad ... They complained, but I don't think anything was ever done." There are real people getting mad at the fake people spouting lines about protecting their community from invaders, for invading their community. And since they think like actual people, Rick Grimes has no chance of charming them. Especially since ...
Filming The Show Means Trashing The Town
Imagine dropping several hundred G's on a lavish home in a gorgeous, quiet suburb. You, sir or madame, have officially Made It. Then one day, you look out the window of your McMansion and you see this rusty piece of shit:
The Walking Dead only spans 18 months; that's how much rust fucking loves zombie goo-kkake all over the place.
Neighborly warfare has been waged over less. The wall of Alexandria is a goddamn religious pilgrimage for tourists, but to the residents, it's nothing but an annoying eyesore.
"If you don't know what it is, you'd think that we didn't take pride in our town or something," Brittany says. "A lot of residents are upset about it, especially the ones who have been in town a while. They don't really care about the show, so to them it's just a big eyesore and flocking spot for tourists." Aside from fighting your way through the hordes of dead-eyed, slack-jawed zombie nuts, it creates some real inconveniences. "Morgan Street (which connects to my road and leads into Alexandria) has been closed a number of times, and was closed during construction of the wall, so that was annoying," she says.
That's not the only way Senoia got the opposite of a facelift (a face-drop?). Wherever the crew destroyed the landscape, people gathered to gawk like there was a self-destructing pop star. "There's a burn spot left on Main Street from a fire pit in the show, and people love that," Brittany says. "[My] house is steps away from a lot that they used to store some props (aka trash -- tires, wire, car parts) when filming was wrapping up, and people thought that was fascinating." This is essentially what that lot looked like, "except the one next to mine was fenced in. The same sign was displayed."
When shooting wrapped for the day, the props -- again, mainly trash -- remained in place. Beautiful!
"Any chance you guys could go back to that farm for a few seasons?"
"As you can see, we still had access to our stores, but we couldn't drive down Main Street," Brittany says. "And we had to try not to disturb the props." Yes, heaven forbid any old newspapers are rustled slightly. This is a show that prides itself on its flawless continuity, lady.
As if that weren't bad enough ...
Fans Destroy Everything
Audiences have a weird relationship with the stuff they see on a screen. It's a sense of unreality and ownership -- when fans see a star in public, they want to touch them, or hug them, or otherwise violate their personal boundaries. They don't think of them as people; it's more like they're big action figures that have come to life. Well, fans treat the Walking Dead town the same way. No matter how much you try to explain that it's a real community with real humans living in it, they still think it exists purely for their entertainment.
"The guided tours are mainly annoying just because of how they disrupt the flow of traffic and stand around near homes," says Brittany, but "the self-guided tours are terrible, because there is nobody to tell them what not to touch, where not to park, and where not to walk." This has resulted in residents getting blocked in at their own homes, hellish traffic jams when people stop in the middle of the road to gawk, and even several near-casualties due to pedestrians blindly running into the road. Maybe someone should tell them that when you die in real life, you don't come back.
"Dude, don't move; we called an ambulance. Your leg looks like the real version of us."
It's even worse when filming is in progress. That's the reason for that sign at the entrance to Alexandria. Remember, this is a group of fans who can be so obsessed that at least one of them thought it would be cute to bite a star. "Just imagine video clips you've seen of how crazy people get when a star is around in public," Brittany says. "People lose awareness of their surroundings and become so set on getting as close as possible and getting autographs. They push past everyone, they stand on things to try to get pictures, they stand in the street without any thought of traffic, and when there's not enough room, they stand in people's yards. Our neighbor down the road (closer to Morgan Street) had some trash cans at the curb that people were trying to stand on to see the cast. They ended up completely messing it up. It looked like an animal had gotten into everything."
"You're doing the exact opposite of what the door says, assholes."
It's not that Brittany begrudges anyone a star sighting. She's had her share of thrills -- chief among them spotting Norman Reedus at the local Barnes & Noble. We managed to refrain from asking what he smelled like. But when you're a fan ...
It Takes A Lot Of The Fun Out Of Watching The Show
"I am a fan of the show, but not as big a fan as I think I would be had I lived outside of town," Brittany says. For one thing, "I think I watch the show differently because I lived in town during its filming ... I'm always paying attention to the landscape, trying to figure out where exactly things are." It's hard to focus on the turmoil of the character who has to spare a loved one a terrible fate by stabbing them in the head when all you can think is "Hey, that's my dentist's office!"
"... And look, I think that's Mr. Peterson's tank!"
But the bigger problem is that avoiding spoilers is damn near impossible, even if you keep your eyes dangerously averted while driving around town. "Keeping nosy people from spreading spoilers is a concern," she says, "particularly while filming around Main Street, because of all of the buildings and high windows." You simply can't get an NDA from every window-washer, and the diehard fans who visit the town don't give any part of a fuck about loudly discussing their findings in public. "You can find plenty of spoilers from the comics online if you look for them, but that's your choice," Brittany says. "I don't really get a choice, because tourists are constantly out and about talking about what they saw or heard."
"According to the comics, this next episode should have zombies coming from out of the woods!"
"Here's one example: I'm not a comic person, so I didn't know what was up with the big wall they were constructing," she says. "That one was spoiled for me, though, by a guy sitting across from me at a restaurant here. 'That's the Alexandria Safe-Zone that they'll end up at because they find out there's nothing in Washington!' Thanks, guy." Forget about shotguns -- to survive the real zombie apocalypse, pack earplugs.
Manna endured a Walking Dead marathon for this article, and lived to tell the tale on Twitter.
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