Last August, I had the opportunity to visit the set of The Walking Dead. For fear of AMC sending a herd of walkers my way, I wasn't able to talk about my time on the set at that time. However, now that Episode 312 has aired, I want to share my experience visiting the Town of Woodbury, being inside the walls of the prison, and meeting a special guest. *Spoiler Warning: This article contains spoilers from episode 312.
A handful of journalists were invited, and we were a bit worried about the status of the visit due to weather. At that time, we had no idea what we were invited down for, but it turned out that we'd be seeing one of the bigger surprises of the season. The bad weather was actually on our side, because we were seeing a different episode than originally planned and would be watching the filming of a major character introduction in episode 312.
Our visit started first in the Town of Woodbury, which is Senoia, Georgia for the residents that live there. Rather than building a fake town from scratch, The Walking Dead cast and crew film in Senoia, and have modified many of the storefronts to fit their needs. It's business as usual for Senoia residents for the most part, but the town can be quickly converted when a new episode is ready to film. Filming was not taking place in Woodbury at the time, but we did have a chance to stop and see The Governor's residence and the various Woodbury-marked signs.
The big part of the set visit was watching the filming of an upcoming episode. Because episode 312's story takes place away from Woodbury and the prison, a new location was set up for filming. We had to pass a security check to even get into the surrounding area, and I had no idea what we were going to see. The outside area contained various homemade traps and spray painted warnings. Was this a new survivor that was joining the group?
As we started walking upstairs, I caught all of the writing on the wall and began putting things together. All I needed to see was Duane's name on the wall to confirm that we were about to see the return of Morgan, played by Lennie James.
Many of our readers will probably be surprised to know that a five minute dialogue segment in one episode could take multiple hours to film. I was told a story about how Laurie Holden had to eat scrambled eggs for hours in the episode where Andrea and Michonne first arrive in Woodbury. Something similar was taking place in the segment of the episode we were watching. We came in after Morgan had been knocked unconscious and Rick, Michonne, and Carl were discussing options.
Carl would ask Rick about leaving to find a crib, while Michonne offered to help. The scene would be shot over and over again, while everyone repeated their lines and Danai Gurira had to keep eating that granola bar. Everyone takes their job seriously on set, so it's not like there was a huge change in everyone's attitude between filming. With that being said, we did see Andrew Lincoln have some fun with the cast & crew.
Andrew Lincoln was in the middle of asking Carl if he wanted to come to see the house. Right in the middle of the filming, you could hear a loud train passing by, but everyone continued with the scene. Andrew Lincoln stayed in character and it didn't seem like he was going to let the train alter his lines until... "Is that why you wanted to come Carl? To see the house... to hear the train??" Everyone started laughing and they took a quick break.
Even though everyone had a busy schedule, Chandler Riggs, Glen Mazzara, and Danai Gurira still took time between shooting to discuss their work on Season 3. In retrospect, Chandler did a fantastic job of not letting us know that Carl killed Lori. We asked him enough questions related to Carl growing up this season, and he gave no indication that he killed his own mother eight episodes earlier.
While there are only four actors taking part in that scene, there were easily 30 people in the building who were involved on the show. Glen Mazzara was on hand for this particular episode, as well as Scott M. Gimple, who wrote Clear and is the showrunner of The Walking Dead's fourth season.
As a fan of the comic book series, I was surprised that Morgan was being introduced in this way. After all, Morgan pops up in the series after the prison story arc. Glen took some time to discuss the reason for bringing him in at this time and how it helped Rick's story:
"Reintroducing Morgan at this time has to do with Rick's journey. He's under such duress as a leader and it's taken him away from the rest of the group. He sees Morgan, who's become the Omega Man in a way, and he's like the Ghost of Christmas Future to Rick. If Rick doesn't reconnect to his group, his family, and everyone around him, he can go too far down the road. He'll become a lost soul like Morgan..."
After a brief lunch break, we were off to prison. It would be easy for the average viewer to believe that an actual abandoned prison was used for filming. However, the set was created from scratch and is conveniently attached to The Walking Dead production offices. The amount of detail work that went into creating the prison is incredible, especially when you realize that they had to age everything inside and outside of the prison to make it look like time had passed since the zombie outbreak. If you look closely during the show, you can even spot fake moss attached to the side of a wall where water was dripping and some of the toilets that have been covered in fecal matter.
We wrapped up our visit by talking with Greg Nicotero and Norman Reedus about their Season 3 work, and even caught up with Scott Wilson quickly before heading off. Before the start of Season 3, we ran our set visit interviews and I've included links to them below, along with official behind-the-scenes photos from AMC.
I've been on a number of sets in the past, but the work ethic and excitement that this cast and crew had was something special. You could tell that everyone knew they were working together on something that would be seen by millions of people around the world, and wanted to give it their all. For fans of the comic book series, the prison and Woodbury are major parts of the story, and I'm glad that I had the opportunity to see those pages come to life.
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