Before the seventh season of The Walking Dead rolled around, AMC wasn’t exactly known for paying its biggest stars handsomely. At the time, The Walking Dead was the biggest show in all of television, and yet a list of the highest-paid actors on TV contained zero members from The Walking Dead cast. In fact, until they renewed their contracts in the seventh season, Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus — the biggest stars on the show at the time — were earning only $90,000 and $80,000 per episode, respectively, compared to a former The Walking Dead star, Sarah Wayne Callies, who was earning $150,000 an episode for the short-lived Prison Break reboot.
There is a big reason for why The Walking Dead cast members were paid less than their counterparts on other shows at the time, besides the fact that AMC were tough negotiators (see Mad Men negotiations, or Lauren Cohan’s contract negotiations). It’s because The Walking Dead has a large ensemble, and the show has never been shy about killing off characters, which in some ways took leverage away from the cast members. If they demanded too much, the show could simply kill them off.
However, with the exits of Andrew Lincoln, Lauren Cohan (at least temporarily), Chandler Riggs, Alanna Masterson and Tom Payne in the last year, plus Danai Gurira’s impending exit in season 10, for certain cast members, the leverage pendulum has swung back in their favor. We saw that with substantial new deals for Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride ahead of season nine, in which Reedus was reportedly paid about $50-$90 million over the next three seasons, while McBride would earn around $20 million. Those two are obviously the show’s anchors now, and AMC cannot risk losing them.