Why ‘The Walking Dead’ Composer Chose Banjos And Bluegrass For Zombie Score

Hooray for “The Walking Dead” getting a much-deserved second season! While I couldn’t be more delighted for the cast and crew, as the resident movie and television score nerd at Splash Page HQ, I’m most excited about the fact that Bear McCreary will continue composing his nuanced notes for the series’ eerily perfect score.

Speaking of which, in addition to “The Walking Dead” theme being backed with heavy emphasis on string instruments, we have some info for anyone wondering about the creepy mix of sounds behind the walkers in Episode Two (“Guts”) (specifically, the scene in which Rick and Glenn are posing as smelly walkers themselves amid a mess of undead). McCreary told MTV News it’s all about the banjo — the electric banjo, that is.

“One of the things you can listen for is that I tend to use the strings with the humans and the bluegrass instruments with the zombies,” said McCreary. “One of my favorite sounds we’ve discovered is the electric banjo.”

“We were trying to figure out ’What does this sound like?'” he continued. “Of course, when you think of a banjo, you don’t think scary in the traditional sense, you think scary in the comedic sense — but I knew there was a way to make this work.”

And what it came down to was a matter of tuning, according to McCreary. The composer said that what finally clicked and made the music work was asking composing partner Steve Bartek to imagine himself as a banjo-playing bluegrass musician who gets bitten in a zombie apocalypse.

“You’re not sentient anymore, but your muscles still remember those banjo licks, what would that sound like?” McCreary asked his partner. “Steve thought about it for a minute and he starts playing this thing on the banjo that was the scariest thing I’d ever heard. I thought, ’That’s it! That’s the ’Walking Dead’ zombie banjo sound!'”

“You’ll hear it in the show,” he said. “It stands out prominently as a spooky sound, [and] if you didn’t know what it was you might not guess it as a banjo, but that’s what it is.”

“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 10 PM Eastern on AMC.

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