SENOIA, Ga. – It takes nearly three hours, but when the special-effects makeup artists’ work is done, Kevin Galbraith has been transformed from a pale, skinny 24-year-old into a frighteningly repulsive zombie.
“I never feel more alive than when I’m playing dead,” says Galbraith, a Georgia State University psychology major who nabbed a job as a zombie “extra.” “Right now, I really want to eat some flesh.”
Galbraith is exactly what fans of AMC’s The Walking Dead are hungering for: a zombie with attitude and an insatiable appetite.
The show’s timing couldn’t be better, hitting a sweet spot of popularity for the flesh-eating undead, alongside vampires, wizards and other paranormal creatures in books, movies, video games and television. (In fact, Kirkman just released his first Walking Dead novel, Rise of The Governor.)
And the show’s writers, actors and producers promise the best is yet to come. “The second season is spectacular,” Kirkman says, “and I’m just absolutely dying to get the show in front of people and see what they think.”
Executive producer Gale Anne Hurd (The Terminator, Aliens) says viewers can expect to have the fear factor ratcheted up.
“We had quite a few appetizers last season, and now we deliver the main course,” Hurd says. (The gross-out quotient rises to a whole new level in Sunday’s premiere.)
Some of the season’s scripts, says Laurie Holden (who plays Andrea, an attorney on a road trip with her sister when the zombie plague hit), have made her burst into tears. “If the scripts have that effect on me, I know it’ll be the same for fans.”
And the fans will be closely watching.
In July, they were as relentless as a horde of hungry “walkers” in expressing outrage when Oscar nominee Frank Darabont (The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption), executive producer in charge of the day-to-day operations, left the show three days after his appearance at Comic-Con to promote the new season.
Darabont has not spoken publicly about his departure, and co-workers say that they’re still trying to figure out what happened.
“Honestly? I couldn’t answer that question even if I had the information,” says Greg Nicotero, co-executive producer and the show’s Emmy-winning makeup effects artist. “All I know was that one day he was there and the next day he wasn’t.”
Network executives declined to comment, though AMC President Charlie Collier told Entertainment Weekly that replacing Darabont “wasn’t budget-related.”
Darabont was involved with developing the story arc for Season 2’s first eight episodes before leaving, and he’s still listed in the credits.
That’s why, in part, the cast and crew are promising the show won’t suffer from Darabont’s absence, or from his being replaced by executive producer/writer Glen Mazzara.
“It’s been a pretty smooth transition,” Kirkman says. “I’m happy to say there won’t be any bumps in the road.” He calls Darabont’s departure “a very behind-the-scenes problem, but it remains behind the scenes. (People will see) there’s really no difference at all from episode to episode.”
Cast and crew, says Sarah Wayne Callies, who plays Lori, the wife of sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes, are fully committed. “Things that happen outside of Atlanta aren’t things we know a whole lot about, but for the group down here in the bubble, we’ve all chosen to redouble our efforts. I’m as proud of this second season as I am of anything I’ve ever done.”
Mazzara admits he has been in the hot seat since taking over but says he’s focused on “really staying true to the rules of the world Robert Kirkman set up in the comic books and Frank Darabont set up in the TV show.”
“I just tried to tune out the chatter and focus on my work, and I’ve been lucky that everyone has rallied around me, because they care about the show so much.”
Perhaps it’s that sense of dedication that helps keeps a shivering cast and crew warm on a damp and chilly October night in a meadow at Raleigh Studios, an hour south of Atlanta, where filming continues past midnight.
The Episode 11 scene involves, in part, the walker played by Galbraith and a realistic-looking disemboweled cow. The prop cow is 100% fake, but the entrails spilling from its belly are the real thing. Buckets of bloody guts add authenticity, as does the “steam” that lifts from them after special-effects guys pour hot cups of coffee on the slimy mess.
Galbraith has been biding his time, wrapped in a thin bathrobe in a heated tent. He’s going to play this scene shirtless, and he’s already cold from nerves and dropping temperatures.
But Nicotero says Galbraith is perfect, that he conforms to the “walker” aesthetic Kirkman and the comic books’ illustrators have established. “It was really important to find people like Kevin, who have great bone structure, who are thin and gaunt-looking,” says Nicotero. “You put those dentures in, put the contacts lenses in, and it just accentuates that.”
What happens in this episode is a game-changer for the show’s cast. But it’s only one in a non-stop series of horrors and conflicts that follow Season 1.
Last season’s recap: Fans were introduced to Kirkman’s zombie-plagued world through the eyes of small-town deputy Rick Grimes, played by British actor Andrew Lincoln. (Fun fact: Lincoln says he never drops his American accent on set, even between takes. “Some of my cast mates have never heard my British accent.”)
Rick woke from a coma in an abandoned hospital (except for the corpses, of course) and made his way home only to find wife Lori and son Carl (Chandler Riggs) missing. He headed to Atlanta in search of them, after he heard that the Centers for Disease Control set up a quarantined safe zone there.
Rick soon discovered Atlanta is swarming with the walking dead but found Lori and Carl living in an isolated camp outside the city with a handful of other survivors. They include Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal), Rick’s best friend and fellow deputy and now, unknown to Rick, current lover of Lori, who assumed Rick was dead.
In the finale of Season 1 (which was a short six episodes), the band of survivors traveled to the CDC in search of safe haven with the hope that a cure for the virus is imminent. At the end of the episode, the CDC exploded. As this season begins, the frustrated, weary travelers led by Grimes are headed to Fort Benning in hopes of finding more survivors. But literal and figurative roadblocks are thrown in their paths not long after they hit the highway.
“We’re on the run and it’s very, very dangerous,” Bernthal says. “This season, as far as the group goes, it’s very much about us trying to find a home. In this world, unfortunately, you might find a world that seems safe but, at the end of the day, safe places are very rare.”
Season of loss
Cast and crew are as tongue-tied as zombies about Season 2, but the actors offer some non-spoiling season hints:
•Lincoln. “The second season moves from the sort of linear narrative seen through Rick’s eyes and those of his family into a real ensemble piece. You really get much more information about the rest of this ragtag band of survivors.”
•Callies. “The dynamic between Rick, Shane and Lori and, in some respects, Carl, is very much in question, very much in flux. What happens to Lori this season is so much worse than the fall of Atlanta and the fall of mankind and the loss of the CDC.”
•Bernthal. “You find Shane at the beginning of the season in a tremendously lonely state. It’s that biting, awful loneliness when you are with the people you love and you can’t be with them the way you want to. That brings out the worst in Shane and will definitely bring out the best in Shane.”
•Holden. “The zombies to me are scarier this year. They seem faster, they seem more feral, there seems to be more. The threat of being attacked is that much more palpable.”
•Norman Reedus (who plays survivalist Daryl Dixon). “You’ll see Daryl kind of come out of his shell a little bit and form alliances with people in the cast that he wouldn’t necessarily form alliances with, and butt heads with people you wouldn’t expect him to.”
As for Daryl’s brother Merle (Michael Rooker), who went missing last season after he cut off his own hand (Rick had handcuffed him to a pipe on an Atlanta rooftop to keep him under control), “you’ll definitely see him,” says Reedus. “When he comes back, there will be some hugs and there will be some fists thrown.”
And fans should be prepared to deal with loss. “The two-cent version of it is that we lose a lot of people this season, just like we did last season,” says Callies, “but this year we lose as many people to the living as we do to the dead. And that, to me, is the primary difference between Season 1 and Season 2. This year, the living are every bit as dangerous to each other.”