Lots of people hang out with zombies on the weekends, but most of the time they’re of the drunken variety, shambling from bar to bar on a Friday night. Last month, I spent a hot Sunday with a decidedly different type of zombie when I visited the Atlanta set of “The Walking Dead,” Frank Darabont’s live-action adaptation of the hit comic book series by Robert Kirkman.
There was shambling, there was flesh-munching, and yes, there was even a little post-apocalyptic zombie-killing action on the ravaged streets of downtown Atlanta. And I’m proud to give Splash Page readers the first, exclusive video from the set of AMC’s upcoming “The Walking Dead” television series.
Arriving on AMC this October, “The Walking Dead” follows a small group of survivors making their way in a world overrun by flesh-hungry zombies. And while other zombie stories tend to focus on the undead contingent, Kirkman’s long-running series has been lauded for putting the spotlight on its human characters and the changes that occur when making it through a day without losing your life or that of your loved ones is an accomplishment.
Still, what Darabont and AMC’s “Walking Dead” team were able to achieve on the streets of downtown Atlanta on a summer day was no small accomplishment, either.
“We have blocks of Atlanta shut down here, and there’s a tank behind me if you can’t see it,” Kirkman told MTV News. “Just the scale of everything… Everything is being done exactly the way I would’ve wanted it, and it’s better than I could have ever envisioned it. The whole thing is just amazing.”
On set to check out that day’s scene, Kirkman also serves as the series’ executive producer and will even write a pair of episodes in the initial six-episode arc. According to the “Walking Dead” creator, however, it’s Darabont’s vision for the story that takes it to an entirely new level.
“The cool thing about it is, Frank Darabont, everything that he’s doing is him looking at the book and going, ’I think there’s something here that would make it better,'” said Kirkman. “And I’ll be damned if he’s not right every time.”
In our exclusive video set visit, Darabont is seen giving direction to series lead Andrew Lincoln, who plays Rick Grimes, a police officer who wakes from a coma to find the world overrun by zombies. Rick’s search for his family eventually brings him to Atlanta — and an encounter with a massive horde of zombies.
Even though “Walking Dead” readers will likely recall the scene being filmed in the video, Darabont said there will still be a lot of surprises for fans.
“We’re going to follow the Robert Kirkman narrative pretty closely, but we’re giving ourselves permission to veer off path and find the interesting detours,” he told MTV News. “We’ve got hundreds of zombies, we’ve got a downed helicopter, it just goes on and on. It’s crazy — all on a TV budget.”
And crazy it is, as my visit to the set involved a walk past overturned, scorched cars and buses, streets littered with debris and spent ammunition, and even a few body parts strewn around for effect — all in the middle of downtown Atlanta.
Oh, and did I mention the tank? “Surreal” does not even begin to describe the look of the ravaged city Darabont and his team were able to create.
“I’m just blown away with the talent level of the people who are creating this thing,” said actor Jon Bernthal, who plays Rick’s best friend, Shane. “These zombies will scare you.”
As previous photos from the project can attest, makeup effects veteran Greg Nicotero is in rare form when it comes to the zombies of “Walking Dead,” and he took some time to explain the special sort of person it takes to be a shambling flesh-eater.
“There’s a certain look that we’re going for,” Nicotero told MTV News. “We want real gaunt, real thin features… Tall, so that then we can make it look like they’re malnourished. So far, we’ve had some great performers, and they bring the makeup to life.”
The makeup guru’s praise for his zombie actors certainly seemed well-deserved as the Atlanta horde staggered, clawed, and dragged themselves at Lincoln time after time until Darabont got just the shot he was looking for — no small feat given the 95-degree heat that day.
And Darabont says he’d love to do more of it, too. In fact, the award-winning “Shawshank Redemption” and “The Mist” director said he’d love to spend the next few decades bringing Kirkman’s tale to the small screen in one terrifying episode after another.
“I’d like to do 20 years of zombie TV,” he laughed. “Every day I’m at the monitors and I’m going, ’This is really, really cool.”
“I think the fans of the comic are going to really love the show, and fans of the zombie genre who don’t know anything about the comic are going to be really, really thrilled,” added Kirkman.
“The Walking Dead” premieres on AMC this October. If you’re attending this year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, you can also check out “The Walking Dead” panel on Friday at 11:30 AM in Room 6BCF.
Let us know what you think of the set visit video in the comment section or on Twitter!
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