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Life After ‘The Walking Dead’: Actors Explain What It’s Like To Die On The AMC Series

By all indications, season six of AMC’s ratings bonanza The Walking Dead is going to be the bloodiest yet. Andrew Lincoln himself proclaimed that each episode will feel like a season finale, and the addition of one important new character has signs pointing toward all hell breaking loose. If anything, the walkers invading Alexandria will provide us with plenty of creative death scenes that will join an increasingly rich history of characters being shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, and generally mutilated.

But the thing about watching all of these characters, both beloved and loathed, be killed off for the sake of entertainment is that some of them are often forgotten or overshadowed by the deaths of bigger, badder characters. It’s almost as if there should be a Walking Dead Hall of Death Scenes to pay tribute to all of the characters killed off by the show. Years from now we could go there with our kids and even our grandkids and tell them, “That Hershel was one tough old man. Hopefully he was reconnected with his head and leg in Heaven.”

With The Walking Dead‘s new season premiering on Sunday, we asked some actors who have played characters that have died along the way what it’s like to leave this beloved series behind. They’ve laughed, they’ve cried, and one even begged to stick around. But in the end they died, and we loved them for it.

Sarah Wayne Callies, “Lori Grimes”

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“Everyone’s like, ‘How was it, was it cool?’ And I’m like, ‘No, it’s fucking awful. I hate it.’”

In season three’s “Killer Within,” Lori Grimes made the ultimate sacrifice in order to save the life of her baby. With walkers invading the prison, Lori went into labor and was faced with the reality that if she didn’t allow Maggie to perform an emergency C-section, both she and the baby would die. After a touching moment between Carl and his mother, Maggie did what she had to do, and within seconds The Walking Dead said goodbye to Lori Grimes. While many characters have been killed off, few (if any) have had such a powerfully emotional finale as Lori, and that’s why it was important to Sarah Wayne Callies, Greg Nicotero, and director Guy Ferland to create this “gripping spectacle.”

Callies first knew that her time was limited when she spoke with the showrunner after season two about a vision for Lori moving ahead. “I think it was in April, he called me and said, ‘You know what, there’s been a change in direction and this is how you’re going to go out.’ He asked me, ‘Do you have anything that really matters in terms of Lori’s development over the three episodes that she has left?’ I said, ‘I would love to see some sense of redemption between Rick and Lori, some sense that they have achieved a level of respect for one another.’ Andy [Lincoln] and I thought we were going to have at least all season three to reconcile the two of them. We had our own kind of plans and journey with that. They knew that we were a beautiful couple and they really were meant to be together. So we shorthanded that in the episodes that we had and then it was able to be such a powerful thing and motivator for Rick’s emotional state for the third season and going into the fourth season.”

What was also especially gripping about Lori’s choice was the choice that Carl made shortly after saying goodbye. In order to save his mother from being reanimated by walkers, he shot her in the head and continued his warp-speed voyage through childhood. But Lori was actually supposed to return to the series in zombie form, and Callies still experienced the makeup chair for her own transformation.

“Everyone’s like, ‘How was it, was it cool?’ And I’m like, ‘No, it’s fucking awful. I hate it.’ You spend the whole show trying not to be a zombie and then all the sudden there you are in the makeup chair watching your face slowly disintegrate into this monster. It’s quite emotional. They actually shot a scene where Lori was a zombie in one of Rick’s flashbacks and Gale Anne Hurd and I both just felt like there was no place for that in the show. But when it comes to Lori’s death I really think it was handled with real beauty and grace from the top down.”

Because the scene didn’t make any sense to Callies, Lincoln, and everyone else, it was scrapped and saved for the DVD extras. “Maybe that was the plan all along,” she says.

Knowing her character’s fate as early as she did meant that Callies would be responsible for keeping a lid on the news until “Killer Within” actually aired, and while she admits that she doesn’t actually watch the series, she certainly has plenty of friends who are hooked and curious to know what happens next. “I didn’t tell anyone,” she says. “I’m actually quite proud of this, we managed to keep Lori’s death a secret from April, when it was decided and when I was told, until November when it aired. Which, quite frankly, none of us thought would happen. We thought, it’s going to get out, but it didn’t. I had a lot of friends call me that night sobbing hysterically. ‘I cannot believe you! You did not warn me about this.’ They were sort of uproared, including actors that I’d worked with on the movie I was filming during the third season who I straight up lied to. They’re like, ‘Are you dead on the show?’ And I said, ‘No, no.’ I’m always amazed when people are shocked that actors lie. They’re like, ‘You lied to me!’”

Of course, it’s never easy to kill off a main character, especially when the cast has bonded so well over the first two seasons, and when it came time to film her big scene, Callies was reminded just how close this cast was.

“At one point when we were shooting the scene I was stuck to the ground because there was so much blood that it just kind of congealed and I couldn’t get up,” she recalls. “And Guy just sat down next to me and kind of spooned me, and we sat there talking while they set up the shot. It was really, really lovely. And, of course, the entire cast stayed to watch that day and I didn’t know because I was literally stuck. But I finished the scene and finally came off of the stage, I went to the studio and there was the whole cast. It was beautiful, it was so moving, and such an extraordinary thing for them to do, to take time off on days off.”

It didn’t end there, because when Callies had moved on to her next project, a play in Washington D.C., she went backstage after the performance and was once again greeted by her friends from The Walking Dead. “That’s not something that happens all the time. It was extraordinary, meant the world to me.”

Andrew Rothenberg, “Jim”

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“Everybody was really hot and mildly miserable…”

Poor Jim. While all of the survivors shared the same sense of fear early on, they still had hope. Rick desperately believed that the CDC would come through with a cure and stop the spread of the zombie virus. But until that happened, of course, they had to keep fighting and moving in order to survive, and the fact that Jim had any desire to keep going was miraculous. That’s because all we really knew about him was that he escaped a zombie attack while his wife and children were eaten alive and torn to shreds. That tends to leave some emotional baggage.

Andrew Rothenberg wasn’t familiar with The Walking Dead before he auditioned for the role of Jim, but he knew it was a special opportunity because some of his friends “freaked out” when he asked them about it. In order to understand the story, Rothenberg says he showed up to his audition an hour early, took advantage of the provided reading materials, and “tried to get a feel for what the books are like.” Fortunately, he had a little history with being killed on stage and screen, so portraying Jim’s utter sense of hopelessness and impending doom was almost second nature.

“So much of it for us in the first season was about the fact that it was just really hot out there and everyone on the crew and in the cast, everybody was really hot and mildly miserable,” Rothenberg says. “Not miserable in a negative way but just dealing with the circumstances around us, so we really pulled together to try and accomplish making this show. In a way that’s what the people in the camp had to do, they had to pull together to survive this crazy thing that was happening. So I felt it paralleled, on a smaller scale, what the characters were going through in the story.”

But Jim’s survival hit a bit of a snag when he was scratched by a walker during a battle, and that left the gang at odds over what to do with their depressed companion. Daryl Dixon and others wanted to do the smart thing and immediately put Jim out of his misery, but Rick, ever the optimist, believed that the CDC wouldn’t fail and Jim could be saved. In season one’s “Wildfire,” the group ultimately decided to leave Jim’s fate up to him as a “dying wish,” so he chose to be left by a tree to turn and join the undead, and more specifically his family. It was poetic.

“He was so broken up over the loss of his family that he couldn’t handle being alive and the survivor guilt, which someone will go through in that situation or any situation like that, where it could have been you but instead it was people you love and care about. He just wasn’t equipped emotionally to handle surviving after everything that had happened. So his wish was almost a punishment in a way, to go the route of his family.”

Compared to his other on-screen deaths, Rothenberg got off pretty easy on The Walking Dead. He enjoys that he didn’t have to go through the intense makeup process in becoming a walker, and while it was fun for him to wear splatter packs in his death scene in Mel Gibson’s Payback or be tortured with a belt sander on Weeds, Rothenberg likes how Jim went out. Mainly because it left the door wide open for Jim to one day return, even as he acknowledges that it would be a long shot. “They left a lot of characters open. A lot of them clearly died and you see that. And other people are left to die — I think it’s kind of great that they leave stuff open so you don’t really know exactly what happens.”

“I like telling people that we didn’t actually see him die. For all we know he got better and maybe he’s got the cure in his blood and he’s going to show up later. That’s what I’m hoping.”

Michael Zegen, “Randall”

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“We did 40 takes of him slapping me in the head.”

In addition to in-fighting and that whole trying not to be eaten by the undead thing, The Walking Dead’s protagonists often find themselves dealing with other gangs that might not be as… hospitable. For instance, in season two’s “Nebraska,” Rick had a run-in with Dave and Tony, two survivors with a very keen interest in getting to Hershel’s farm. However, that plan was foiled by a bullet from Rick’s gun finding a home in Dave’s head. But it wasn’t until later that we learned just how terrible Dave’s gang was, as Randall eventually revealed (through torture) that his fellow survivors had done some pretty heinous things.

Already a fan of the series when he took the role, Michael Zegen didn’t consider Randall to be a bad guy. “Everybody’s trying to survive and it’s every man for himself,” he explains. But he was certainly treated like the enemy after that shootout at the bar, and unlike his cohorts, Randall got to hang around for multiple episodes so he could be tortured for information before meeting his demise. That meant that Zegen got to sit through a number of unpleasant scenes, including the one that introduced him to us in “Triggerfinger” – when he fell on an iron fence and had a spike lodged through his leg.

“It wasn’t the most comfortable position to be in in the first place,” he remembers. “It was cold, it was raining and it was all night long, and they kind of screwed my leg into that fence. It was trick photography, sort of. It wasn’t that comfortable. I’m yelling, and I think I was also sick. I just wanted to get out of there, so I guess that was really my mentality.” As for his instructions from the director, it turns out that playing a man impaled on a fence is pretty simple. “Scream as loud as you can [laughs]. Look as scared as you can look. You’re in this fence and there’s zombies coming from each end and people are shooting guns around you. It was really just play time, it was so much fun more than anything.”

From there, Randall became a punching bag for the group, tied up and shoved around in situations that Zegen admits were less than ideal. Shane probably slapped him around more than anyone, which eventually left Zegen feeling dizzy, much to the amusement of Jon Bernthal. “We did 40 takes of him slapping me in the head,” Zegen says. “Sometimes it was the right hand and other times he would surprise me with the left hand, and then sometimes it was both hands. But he didn’t go crazy or anything. There were a couple times I saw stars, but they wanted to make it look as real as possible so I don’t necessarily blame them. He is a boxer, so he might be used to that and I wasn’t necessarily used to that.

“It’s funny because I mentioned to someone that I was feeling dizzy afterwards and then they called the doctor to the set even though I adamantly refused to see a doctor. I was like no, please, please, this is going to make me look like a pussy. I didn’t mention it to a producer or anything, I think I mentioned it to another actor when we were eating lunch. I mean, look, you get hit in the head 40 times you’re going to feel something. I guess they just wanted to cover their bases and they got a doctor to come and I was fine. Bernthal found out and [laughs] he teased me for the rest of the shoot.”

And it wasn’t just Bernthal that had fun picking on Zegen. Norman Reedus also roughed him up during their torture scene in the barn. “I was getting hurt [laughs]. He was literally kicking the shit out of me. He takes it seriously. I don’t blame him but I feel like when the camera’s not on him he should have taken it a little easier on me.”

Unlike some of the many other characters killed off, Zegen was killed twice, once in human form and then again as a walker. While his human death took place off-screen with a snap of his neck in “Better Angels,” Randall’s undead demise was front and center. That also wasn’t as fun as it looked. “That’s probably my least-favorite part of the whole experience. I mean, it was amazing and I got to play a zombie, but it was the contact lenses. My eyes were just burning and I couldn’t even keep them open.” The solution was an hour-long shower, and he still woke the next morning with his eyes “glued shut.”

Interestingly, Randall was originally supposed to take a beloved character out with him. Zegen recalls that Randall was supposed to choke Hershel to death with his chains, but they decided not to kill the old man. At least not yet. Instead, Randall took that final walk into the woods with Shane and the rest was history. Zegen continued to watch the series after his character’s death because he loves the show and thinks that showrunner Scott Gimple “is just fantastic.”

As for his favorite character death from the first five seasons, Zegen says: “There are so many of them. I remember screaming at the TV when they killed T-Dog. He had such a gruesome death and he was such a nice guy. So at least he died in a heroic way. I think he got his jaw ripped off, it was quite unpleasant.”

Keedar Whittle, “Sean”

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Here’s how I know it was a pretty good death scene — afterward everybody was quiet on set. It was like, shit, somebody just died.

Randall was lucky enough to earn Rick’s sympathy after his injury, but Sean got a pretty raw deal in “Triggerfinger.” That’s bound to happen, though, when you’re trying to kill the guys who just killed your friends. Having the upper hand outside the bar in which Rick had just killed Dave and Glenn, Sean thought that he and Randall could pick off their “enemies” with ease and then still make their way to the farm, despite their ride hauling off into the night like a coward. Few plans on The Walking Dead have backfired so gloriously, as Sean was eaten alive by the walkers after Hershel deposited a slug in his gut.

Does he hold a grudge toward Hershel for that fateful moment? “No, Hershel’s cool,” Whittle laughs. “I like Hershel, the character, the actor is by far — he’s a phenomenal, wonderful man. But I knew [Sean] wasn’t going to be on long, I knew he wasn’t going to survive. It’s kind of crazy how, maybe some people don’t know, but on set I would listen and you kind of knew he had a deal. I didn’t know exactly what was coming. I’m nobody but I had a feeling.”

Whittle had never heard of The Walking Dead, television series or comic books, before he auditioned for Sean, but he knew that it was a show about zombies and that he’d get to die. In fact, when he went in for the role, the actor had to show off his ability to “die a violent death.” When it came to prepare for his big moment, Whittle explains, “I just worked on it with a couple actor friends and was open to whatever changes the director wanted to make, but I mean, basically they’re hiring you to do exactly what you did in the audition room. So from that perspective it was like, okay, this is the direction they think they want to go in. I’ll keep working towards this and continue to discover and see if there are any other truths within the scene. If not, then die violently.”

And violently Sean did die. First, he took a bullet during his sneak attack, and then as he laid there howling in pain, he attracted the flesh-hungry walkers who were more than eager to chew on his face. It was a graphic scene, one that the actor proudly boasts on his website, because it certainly is a badge of honor to wear that kind of gory face makeup.

“I was in the makeup chair for like, two, two-and-a-half hours,” he recalls. “It was a long time. I mean they’re so great at what they do that they’re used to it. My makeup job that took two hours, I’m sure for this Emmy-winning makeup artist, at some point, it took six hours to do. But they were really, really great.”

Whittle sold his final moment well, even if it was sort of funny, too. “Here’s how I know it was a pretty good death scene — afterward everybody was quiet on set. It was like, shit, somebody just died [laughs]. It was nighttime, it was quiet, and then one of the EP’s came up to me and was like, ‘That was one of the best death scenes so far.’ If you gotta die, you might as well do it like he did it.”

While he stopped watching the series after the third season, Whittle at least took a little knowledge away from The Walking Dead, an experience that he described as “like being in a haunted house the entire shoot.” Should the real zombie apocalypse ever take place, he offers this bit of advice for all of us who want to survive and not, you know, have our faces chewed off by a gang of walkers: “I mean look, there ain’t no surviving. There are way too many zombies. Your best bet is don’t have a smell [laughs], and hide. You’ll wither away from not eating but at least you won’t be eaten by a zombie.”

Theodus Crane, “Big Tiny”

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“They were spraying fake blood. On every hit there was a spray of fake blood and it was just amusing to me because the dude wouldn’t let up.”

Not everyone in the groups that would oppose Rick along the way has necessarily been a bad guy. Sure, Big Tiny was in prison at the time of the outbreak and he was hanging out with that no-good Tomas, but he seemed like a pretty sweet guy. At the very least, his initial reaction to the world-crushing news of a zombie-freaking-apocalypse, in season three’s “Sick,” was heavy with concern for his mom. He was also the voice of reason between Tomas and Rick when the latter offered to clear out a new cell block in exchange for half of the remaining prison food supplies, which is probably why Tomas had no problem crushing his skull when he was scraped by a walker during an intense closed-quarters fight.

What’s most interesting about Rick’s initial encounter with Tomas’ crew is that these prisoners really had no clue what was happening outside. They knew that something happened, but they were fortunate enough to be confined to the cafeteria. Nine months later, here is a group of strangers ready to flip their world on its head. And that started with watching as Hershel’s leg was amputated, which Theodus Crane admits came with surprisingly simple instructions.

“It was pretty straightforward,” he says. “’You’ve never seen anyone get their leg cut off before so we need you to be really shocked’ [laughs]. That was pretty easy to do. I worked in that world — the bloody, gory, horror field scene — so you have an idea of what they’re looking for once you do it once or twice.”

From there, we watched the tension unfold between Tomas and Rick, but we also understood the confusion that Tiny and his fellow inmates were experiencing as they had to take a crash course in killing the undead. “I just played it the way it was written,” Crane explains. “You read all these variables that factor in that set the tone for you. They give you a baseline for who this guy is, so it made it pretty easy to settle into it. I just went with what was going on at the time as far as what they gave me. I was in prison and people started eating each other and I freaked out [laughs]. I let that be that main motivating factor.”

Of particular concern for both characters and actors is how to handle their weapons and deal with limited fighting ability in such closed quarters. Tomas tried to use that to his advantage, pretending that he “accidentally” almost hurt Rick. Tiny, on the other hand, was the biggest of the group and that’s probably why he ended up being the easiest target. Under such conditions, it’s easy to wonder if it was difficult for the actors to avoid actual injuries when attacking each other. “It was very coordinated,” Crane says. “The set coordinator was very good about who does what when and where and everything was blocked out very particularly. It was a lot easier than you would think. But yeah, just remembering who does what when and keeping everything together, it was a lot of fun. A ton of fun.”

In the end, all it took was the scrape of a walker’s broken bones and the big man found himself in a situation similar to Jim, except that Tiny had a much harder time coming to terms with the fact that he needed to be killed. That’s why Tomas made the tough decision for everyone and ended Tiny’s run on the series with one shot to the head, followed by a barrage of shots to the face.

“I stood to the side,” Crane says of his big scene, filmed over the course of an afternoon. “I was actually laughing the whole time. They were spraying fake blood. On every hit there was a spray of fake blood and it was just amusing to me because the dude wouldn’t let up.”

Fortunately for Tiny, revenge came swift and sweet later in the same episode when Rick finally had enough of Tomas’ sneakiness and split his head in two with a machete. Was that moment fun for Crane to watch in terms of vengeance and satisfaction? “I mean, a little bit,” he laughs. “I’m not going to lie, it was like, oh man, this dude killed me and he gets killed later, I don’t feel so bad now.”

Nick Gomez, “Tomas”

“Andrew Lincoln came up to us and said, ‘Guys, would you like us to do the scene off-camera for you so you have something to really react to?’ We were all blown away because that just really never happens.”

When Nick Gomez auditioned for the role of Tomas, he was given dummy scenes to film because the show’s producers are justifiably protective of their secrets. But he at least had an idea of what his character was like when he went into filming, and he loves this type of character — the guy who thinks that he’s really clever, but in reality is just a coward trying to act tough. That’s what made Tomas so much fun for his short time on the series. While he was “accidentally” trying to kill Rick in the prison, viewers could see his death coming a mile away.

“Tomas is the kind of guy that grew up in an environment where the thing that he was scared of the most was other people thinking he was scared,” Gomez explains. “He grew up in a situation where whatever neighborhood he grew up in, the thing that he just couldn’t let show was how scared he was. That’s what terrified him. And to put him in a situation like this where there are zombies and it’s the end of the world and he’s losing control and he’s just absolutely terrified really about what’s going on. He doesn’t know what’s happening. So his instincts are to just be a bully and put on this giant fake bravado that he knows what he’s doing, he’s got it under control and he doesn’t give a shit and fuck you and don’t tell him, he’ll do whatever he wants.”

It was clear that Tomas considered himself the leader of this fortunate trio of prisoners that survived in the cafeteria on the prison’s food supply while using the freezer as a toilet. Still, even as brave as he pretended to be when confronted by Rick and company, Tomas was as stunned to find out about the zombie apocalypse as he was to watch Hershel lose a leg. That’s a pretty intense scene that required not only a very specific reaction from the inmates, but also multiple takes to really capture the essence of Hershel’s dire situation. But as Gomez points out, they were dealing with a pretty serious cast of actors.

“What was really great about it, and I’ll never forget this, it was our first day on set and they had done the scene where they bust through the door and then they cut off Hershel’s leg, and it’s a very physically and emotionally demanding scene. And they did this scene probably 10 or 15 times. Different camera angles. Then it was time for the camera to turn around on us and all we had to do was just look at them with a look of ‘Holy shit!’ on our face. Andrew Lincoln came up to us and said, ‘Guys, would you like us to do the scene off-camera for you so you have something to really react to?’ We were all blown away because that just really never happens.”

As Crane explained, the close-quarters fighting was very coordinated, but accidents are bound to happen when inexperienced “survivors” are fighting off the “undead” with blunt weapons. Gomez recalls one specific instance that was a little too close for comfort.

“One of the zombies [laughs] drove through the door, and Kesan, he was the one with the bat, and this stunt guy comes through with all of his latex, he can barely see through all of his makeup. And it’s foamish but it’s still sturdy, and Kesan just smacked this dude in the face so incredibly hard. I’m like, oh my God, he’s really going to kill one of these people. The art department did such a great job on that prison because they built that entire thing. And it was so real, it was dark, it was dusty, and honestly it was a bit scary.”

When it came time for Tomas to kill a newly-infected Big Tiny, Gomez knew before Crane and offered an apology to his friend, whom he’d known before either of them had landed these roles. Not like it mattered, of course, because once Tomas clubbed Tiny over the head and then pounded his face until blood sprayed everywhere, the prison “leader” would be next to go. After all, if you’re going to try to kill Rick Grimes, you’d better do it the first time, because eventually he will come at you, and that machete won’t miss. And in Tomas’ case, it was 100 percent exactly in between his eyes, which of course also had to be accurate when they filmed it.

“They took measurements and they fit this sort of fake machete to my head and it had a tube of blood running down one side so they could squirt blood out of it. That took a little bit of time and I was really trusting of Andrew Lincoln because we did it in two takes. In the first take he has a real machete in his hand and he brings down the machete to the side of my head — and he brings that down with force — really close to my ear and we did that about five times. I’m looking at this dude that I just met and I’m like, I am trusting you with my life right now, please do a good job.”

As for the possibility of Tomas somehow defying the odds and returning as a zombie, there was definitely a conversation… it was just mostly one-sided.

“All the characters who die have this bargaining phase with the producers about, ‘Maybe the machete didn’t go into my brain so much and I come back as a zombie, maybe with a vengeance and I’m looking for Rick and I’m like, ‘Riiiiick,’ and I come back.’ And they’re like, ‘No Nick, no, it went through your brain.’ I went, ‘Okay well how about a dream sequence where he’s constantly seeing me in his dreams and I’m chasing him?’ And they’re like, ‘No Nick, we’re probably not going to do that.’ And I’m like, ‘Okay, how about a twin brother? My twin brother who’s a priest and a really good guy comes and they find him.’ And they’re like, ‘No Nick, you have to go. It’s time to get off the show.’ Oh man, it was so much fun. But apparently everybody tries to bargain their way back in. I’m still waiting on a dream sequence though. That’d be awesome.”

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