Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon)
Daryl’s alter ego Norman Reedus has always had one foot in the “paranormal monsters and guns” camp. Though he’s beloved by a certain subset of Marvel/Blade fanboys for his role as the constantly baked sidekick-slash(SPOILER ALERT)-traitor Scud in 2002’s Blade II, Reedus’s biggest notable pre-Dead role was as one-half of The Boondock Saints, a 2000 film whose biggest achievement is making the Boston depicted in Black Mass look positively Victorian.
Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes)
By now, it should be no surprise to you that Lincoln’s first major role was in 2003’s perennial Christmastime rom-dram-com Love Actually, perhaps the only film harder to kill than the walking dead themselves.
Melissa McBride (Carol Peletier)
Like a lot of the cast of TWD, McBride bounced around in television for a while before landing her post-apocalyptic role. However, playing Emile Hirsch’s mom in the 2002 sleeper hit The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys was one of her biggest film roles.
Steven Yeun (Glenn Rhee)
Yeun has one of the thinnest pre-TWD CVs of anyone on the show. He appears in a lot of bit roles (once being credited as “Asian guy,” which is just…), but he did notch two roles as a voice actor in the video game series “Crysis.”
Chandler Riggs (Carl Grimes)
Just a teenager, Chandler Riggs counts his biggest pre-Walking Dead role with 2009’s overlooked film Get Low. He shared the screen in the period drama alongside Robert Duvall, Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek.
Lauren Cohan (Maggie Greene)
By the time she appeared on TWD, Lauren Cohen’s steely determination and wonderful face was no surprise to fans of CW’s Supernatural. She was also in the 2006 flick Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj.
Danai Gurira (Michonne)
Though binge-watchers might be more familiar with Guirra from HBO’s Treme, she was actually one-third of the main cast of the Richard Jenkins-starring 2008 film The Visitor, in which she played a Senegalese street vendor. (Her role was largely overshadowed in reviews by praise for Jenkins, though – good luck getting Michonne to take that kind of nonsense.)
Emily Kinney (Beth Greene)
Kinney, like everyone else, booked a role on Law & Order (both SVU and Criminal Intent) by the time her turn on TWD took off, but she was still being cast as “Waitress” in films like It’s Complicated. Fortunately, 2011 saw her pick up recurring roles on both TWD and The Big C with Laura Linney.
Scott Wilson (Hershel Greene)
Wilson has had the longest career of any TWD cast member: He starred opposite Robert Blake in In Cold Blood, the 1967 adaptation of Truman Capote’s iconic account of a series of murders in an isolated Kansas community. It was Wilson’s second film role, playing the chilly, vicious Dick to Blake’s soft-spoken Perry that led to a career playing intense, often dark bit parts. For example, he’s the garage mechanic who (nearly a half-century-old spoiler alert!) shoots Robert Redford’s Gatsby to death in the 1972 film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel.
Sarah Wayne Callies (Lori Grimes)
Callies’ eventual fate on TWD must have seemed sadly ironic to fans who watched her break through on TV in Fox’s drama Prison Break. After all, she’d spent so much time helping Wentworth Miller’s Michael Scofield break out of a prison successfully, only to break back into one on TWD and well, you know.
If you didn’t catch Martin-Green during her short run 2009 on Army Wives, you might’ve seen her on The Good Wife, where she stuck around for slightly more than the three episodes of Army Wives in which she was featured.
Laurie Holden (Andrea Harrison)
Holden’s first TV role was in 1980’s Martian Chronicles mini-series, but she made herself most visible to fans during a six-year-run on The X-Files. She was also featured prominently in Season 7 of The Shield.
Chad L. Coleman (Tyreese Williams)
Cutty! The soldier who walked in and out. Dennis, mentor and boxing coach to West Baltimore’s youth! Ahem. We’ve watched a lot of The Wire, you see, and Coleman — despite his frequently hilarious presence on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as one of Danny DeVito’s “bridge friends” (they hang out under a bridge) — will forever be Dennis “Cutty” Wise to us.
Jon Bernthal (Shane Walsh)
Want to see a long-haired, fresh-faced Bernthal playing severely against type as a goofy mama’s boy? Look no further than the first (and only) season of The Class, a 2006 comedy on CBS. And hey, while you’re there, keep an eye out for future Masters of Sex star Lizzy Caplan and Modern Family‘s Jesse Tyler Ferguson.
David Morrissey (The Governor)
To get a glimpse of pre-TWD Morrissey, you can take your pick of any number of British series, most of which reveal a much lighter side of the Governor. State of Play, Blackpool, Meadowlands — your choice.
Michael Rooker (Merle Dixon)
If you thought Merle was unsettling — and you’re not afraid of finding out just how wrong you actually are — feel free to look up Rooker’s terrifying performance as the titular character in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Or for something a little lighter, please see one of the late-’90s attempts to make Chow Yun-Fat a marketable American movie star, The Replacement Killers, in which a hirsute Rooker plays a mob assassin nicknamed “Zeedo.”