Greg Nicotero's Top 10 Walking Dead Zombies Ever
The first 99 episodes of The Walking Dead have featured an incalculable number of zombies. Executive producer Greg Nicotero and his team — including Jake Garber, Gino Crognale, Kerrin Jackson, Kevin Wasner, and Carey Jones — have created some of the most terrifying flesh-eaters ever. We asked Nicotero (who has also made cameos as many zombies himself) to pick out his 10 favorite walkers ever and share the stories behind the screams. Read on as we count down Nicotero’s list from 10 to 1, complete with inside intel and commentary.
10. RV Walker (season 2, episode 1)
“This was one of the opportunities when story-wise we really got an opportunity to show how menacing and terrifying and threatening our walkers can be. I shot most of that sequence with the RV walker because we went in for a second unit and we wanted to really just play up the idea that while Andrea is trapped in this RV, this walker is relentless. Season 2 was a lot less zombie-heavy in the first several episodes. We didn’t have a ton of zombies, so we knew that the opportunities that we did have we really wanted to make sure that those characters were memorable.”
“I really love the sequence. It’s scary, it’s suspenseful, and filled with tension. Everything that we want for The Walking Dead was embodied in that sequence. I think it’s one of the best scenes that we’ve ever shot in the show because it really is terrifying, and having Dale helplessly watching and Andrea trying to keep the walker from getting into the bathroom — there’s so much great stuff. It’s a classic horror scene with a classic movie monster and a classic beauty trying to save herself. It just worked on every single level.”
9. Well Walker (season 2, episode 5)
“We probably had the most time to create that walker than we ever had because we knew about it way in advance. So we did a lot of concept sketches, and then we did the full body sculpture, and then we made a full dummy that we rigged with special effects so that it could be torn in half on cue, and then we had bags of various-colored viscous liquid that we squibbed once we tore it apart. I think the entrails were added digitally later.
“But the rest of it was all practical. That was probably one of the hottest days on set that I can remember, and the performer who wore that suit, his name’s Brian Hillard, we had to use one of those racecar cool suits because it was about 110 in the middle of July in a field with no shade. We had a dummy head that we filled with a bunch of gore so when they smashed it with the pipe it just exploded and I remember IronE Singleton almost vomiting. He was just so revolted by it.”
8. Burned Walkers (season 4, episode 14)
“The first time we had ever done anything with burned walkers was in season 3 at the end when the walkers are all burned up in the pit by Milton. And when we shot that sequence, we had a whole bunch of burned body skeletons and we ended up putting four people in full body latex suits that simulated charred flesh and we put them inside the pit along with a bunch of dummies and a bunch of smoke. We were going for the idea that if you throw a hot dog on the grill for too long the skin turns black, but then as soon as the skin starts to split, you actually have that sort of gross pink uncooked meat underneath.
“So all of the burned walkers in the show all follow that sort of visual style, which is the skin is black on the outside, but when it’s popped open, there’s this sort of uncooked dead flesh underneath. So when we shot that scene in season 3, I just remember feeling that it was a really powerful image to see all those bodies sort of melted together but that we didn’t really have a great opportunity to showcase them because they were pretty obscured. So when ‘The Grove’ came up, I thought it was a great opportunity to showcase these walkers because they would be obviously mobile and they wouldn’t be in one just big pile of melted flesh.”
7. Napalm Walkers (season 5, episode 7)
“I remember being on the phone with [showrunner] Scott Gimple and talking about the gag where Norman sticks his fingers into the eyes and pulls the skull and the spine out. That was a little nod to Predator in terms of keeping the spinal cord attached to the skull and it was just a fun gag. You remember the werewolf transformation from American Werewolf in London and you remember the head exploding from Dawn of the Dead — those effects had such a profound effect on you as a viewer that there are a lot of instances where we will try to pay tribute to some of those moments in past movies by doing gags that are reminiscent of them.
“The Napalm walkers, we ended up sculpting little puddles of melted flesh and it was challenging because we had to hide a lot of the performer’s body underneath parts of this location so that we could augment with skeletal limbs and torn and melted flesh all around them. I think there were like nine of them. So it was an instance where we were raising the bar by giving us a visual walker that we had never seen before, but then also amping it up by having multiples of them.”
6. Walker that Killed Dale (season 2, episode 11)
“That was the first episode that I ever directed, and when I was given that opportunity by Frank Darabont, the first thing he had said to me was, ‘Do you want a walker heavy episode or a walker light episode?’ And I thought, I’ve had a lot of experience directing zombie stuff and I think I’d rather have something that’s got a lot of character-driven stuff in it. So I was given that episode to direct and it had one zombie in it, and I thought, Well, if I’ve only got one zombie, he’d better be great!
“I just loved the fact that that particular zombie had a lot of screen time. One of the things that is a challenge on the show is the amount of time we have to do the zombies. If we have a minimum number of zombies we can do more elaborate make-ups. In the case of this particular zombie, since he was the only one in the episode, we were able to do a full chest prosthetic, a full back prosthetic. I think he had fingertips and things like that, stuff that we definitely couldn’t do if we had 40 or 50 or 60 zombies in each scene.
“Kevin Galbraith played that particular walker and really showed how it’s not just about the makeup, but it’s also about the performer. It’s about how this person brings the makeup to life and that goes all the way back to Lon Cheney and Boris Karloff and all these great actors that wore makeup. We go through a lot of performers and we ultimately end up finding ones that we really, really like and we use them over and over again because they’re so good. I just thought the performance was fantastic. We had a zombie that not only was terrifying to Carl but then did some significant damage to Dale and we really got a chance to study him.”
5. Moss Walker (season 4, episode 3)
“This was something that we felt would benefit from the idea of a tree falling on top of it and not allowing that zombie to ever get up. It’s sat on the ground and it sat there for a year. So we dug a hole in a ground and hid the performer’s legs in the ground and then we sculpted the lower legs and the chest and the rib cage and we wanted it so that the whole rib cage hollowed out as if all the guts basically just poured out of the chest upon impact and just dissolved into the earth. Once they did, it created some fertilizer around the zombie so we were able to utilize that to manufacture moss that just covered that walker from head to toe.
“He wasn’t on screen very long. I think he’s only on screen for three shots in the whole episode. One thing about the show, these characters aren’t on screen for long times so they have to be visually striking. The imagery has to be arresting enough that it will leave some sort of imprint in the viewer’s mind.”
4. Winslow (season 7, episode 10)
“We talked about it being an art installation — taking our standard undead character and having him modified by people. So the first thing that popped into my head were the scarecrows from the original Planet of the Apes. I wanted something that was striking and was iconic and memorable looking just in terms of the way that the spikes were. So the first couple concepts that we put forth, it was more like a scarecrow kind of situation. And then as the story evolved and the script evolved we realized that it had to be mobile and it had to move around.
“So then it was okay, well these people would have taken whatever was available to them and used it in a very artistic way. So the helmet is a motorcycle gas tank and a lot of the spikes that were coming out of it were rebar and circular saw blades, scissors and nails and all kinds of different things, but they all had to be applied in a way that had purpose to it.
“Gino Crognale, who’s one of my permanent makeup effects artists on my team, played that zombie. That was probably one of the most grueling applications that we ever had done, because it was an entire day of shooting in August in the summer heat and he was completely covered. We had to put a race car cool suit underneath to keep him from overheating because we were genuinely concerned that all the foam latex would hold in so much body heat that he would get overheated.”
3. Carter Bite Walker (season 6, episode 1)
“I loved that zombie because the idea was that his entrails got tangled into the tree and he never got loose. He had been in that one place for probably a year and a half, so we really wanted this zombie to look a little different. We started going for this kind of brown, leathery body with like white hair. Playing with the colors of the zombies is one thing that can always tip off aspects of the world around you — whether it’s waterlogged zombie or whether it’s moldy or whether it’s burned — all those aspects help tell a story and the story being what this walker went through as it was plodding along the Earth. And that guy, I really just thought that the face was terrifying and he was really scary looking.
“That’s the other aspect of the show that’s important is that these zombies can look unique but they also have to be threatening. The one thing that I feel like I’m constantly pushing on the show is to make sure that the zombies don’t just look like they’re wandering aimlessly, but that they are ticking time bombs and if you get too close to them, they will do some damage.
“Because a lot of times the walkers are easily dispatched, every once in a while we need to remind the audience how dangerous these creatures are and in that episode, the walker that bites Carter, I thought they really did a great job of kind of conveying that. Of course the funny thing was when we did do it, we had a blood tube in Ethan Embry’s cheek and at one point when the walker bit into his cheek, there was a little bit of a fire extinguisher effect with the guys that were pumping the blood and it just coated the guy’s face for about 20 seconds. Straight fire hose. It was very Evil Dead 2.”
2. Torn Open Truck Walker (season 6, episode 1)
“601 was one of our biggest episodes in terms of number of walkers when they get to the quarry. When we started shooting in Alexandria, we talked about, ‘Why are there no walkers around? Everywhere else, every other location we’ve been to there’s been a lot of zombies around and now all of a sudden there aren’t.’ And as a result of a lot of those conversations, this idea came up of the walkers would be attracted to the sound of the other zombies and fall and tumble into this quarry and then they couldn’t get out.
“So the 601 premiere opened with this zombie squeezing itself between these barricaded trucks and it’s one of the first images that we see in this season so it was really important that we had an opportunity to see his face tear open, and his chest tear open in a way that we had never seen before — which was that just the pressure behind it and the fact that the zombie is squeezing through these two trucks. We had multiple layered prosthetics. We had the muscle layer and the bone layer, and then on top of it was a silicone chest piece and a silicone face piece and also some entrails that we had on trip wires. So as the zombie walked forward the trip wire would pull the entrails out and dislocate the rib cage. So there’s a lot going on in that particular shot. It was just taking what we do to the next level.”
1. Bicycle Girl (season 1, episode 1)
“That was really the first image that was ever released for the show. This was really the opportunity to let the audience know, Okay this is what you have in store for you. One of the things that made me the most proud is that people were trying to figure out how we did it. Some people thought it was a puppet. Some people thought that we had buried her body. Some people thought that it was CG. That was, to me, a great compliment to have something that they get so immersed in it and then they start scratching their heads trying to figure out how we did it. That one always stands out as the zombie that put us on the map.
“Episode 1 and Bicycle Girl was really a great opportunity in a world that very often is dominated by computer-generated effects, to say ‘Hey, guys, look what these sculptors can do. Look what these painters can do. Look what these technicians can do with practical makeup.’ I think when The Walking Dead ever ends, that’s the legacy that I’m very proud of is that these great artists are celebrated.”