It could so easily have been otherwise. After all, it’s a zombie show. It could have been silly or gross or camp or heartless. It could have been a hot mess down there in Georgia with the ticks and the humidity and the endless hours and the dirt and the blood. It could have been mediocre, unremarkable, marching unnoticed into the annals of flash-in-the-pan television alongside the vast majority of failed experiments that sounded good in the air-conditioned pitch rooms but died on their feet. (Staying dead, unlike ours.)
Why wasn’t it? Why does it mean so much to each of us, cast and crew, who come to work every day? Why did it become the beating heart of our creative lives, teaching us more, pushing us harder, taking our breath away time after time? Why did so many people want to hear the story of an ad hoc group of unremarkable folks trying not to turn into monsters and — as often as not — failing?
During the second season, I would walk to work from my trailer, forgoing the mile-long van ride to Hershel’s farm. It never failed to move me. The sun coming up over Georgia is a sight to behold. All this beauty… And then the death, the loss, the grief — on screen and off. The Walking Dead has broken more hearts than I’ve ever seen. You give your love to a character, discover the actor is a lifetime gift — Jon Bernthal, Jeff DeMunn, Emma Bell, Andy Rothenberg — and then — poof! — there’s a hole where they used to be and you have to suture that space, forge the family anew.
We ARE the walking dead! became our battle cry somewhere in the middle of season 1 after our original family was first dismembered by loss. We chant it still on days we are too tired, too overwhelmed, too spent to dig deeper alone.
And so when it is your time to join the ranks of the departed, it comes as no surprise — it is as natural as the beauty of Georgia in the morning. You give thanks to have served with such extraordinary men and women of courage, of humility, and of honest creativity who have simply made you into a better person and professional than you were when you arrived.
What is hard to express is how fully my heart is still in Georgia. I still wake up seeing the towering thunderheads of the coming storms moving across the farmland, still close my eyes and send my love to the sweating comrades on either side of the lens, still give thanks for the great honor of saying, Yes, I was there among them. We are the walking dead.