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This is Part I of AMCtv.com's two-part report from the set of The Walking Dead. Click here to see Part II. New Dispatches From the Set are released every week throughout the production.
On a misty morning 40 miles outside of Atlanta, actor Andrew Lincoln, who plays Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead, stands beneath a tent on set. Behind him lies a Victorian farmhouse that will constitute a major setting within the show's second season, but today the action will be taking place in a valley below, where the show's production designer Greg Melton has built a menacing structure of splintered wood and rusted metal that looks like it's been sitting in that spot for 100 years. (In fact, the barn was constructed for the series out of brand-new material.)
Lincoln and the rest of the cast are psyching themselves up for what's to come: A major action scene that will be the culmination of Season 2's first main story arc. Standing in a distant field, Jon Bernthal, who plays Rick's partner Shane, listens to his iPod, bouncing back and forth on his feet and jabbing his fists in the air, Rocky-style.
Lincoln too is listening to his iPod -- a "Rick Grimes Mix" filled with country artists like Waylan Jennings to whom, he imagines, his character would enjoy listening. He speaks with a Southern drawl even when the cameras aren't rolling, and his voice is hoarse from yesterday's rehearsals, in which both he and Jon Bernthal had to scream at each other again and again. "I told Jon if we haven't lost our voices by the end of the day, we haven't done our jobs," he tells me. "So we're having a contest."
Lincoln looks different from the Rick Grimes we met in Season 1. He's eschewed his sheriff's uniform for a dark green button-up and black jeans (although the utility belt with his now-infamous "Python" revolver remains safely secured around his waist.) His hair is also longer, as is his beard. When I mention the disheveled, bearded Rick from later issues of Robert Kirkman's comic, he nods knowingly. "Growin' my beard, growin' my hair," he says, "depending on how much time passes between seasons, it'll get even longer." He hands me his gun, and I'm surprised at how heavy it is. "That's why Rick always grimaces when he fires it," he jokes.
I walk over to Laurie Holden, who plays Andrea in the show and is being misted with water to simulate sweat. Come the afternoon, when temperatures on the farm will reach 102 degrees, such measures will no longer be necessary. But for now the make-up break gives me an opportunity to ask her about what lies ahead today for Andrea.
"I'm excited. It's time for Andrea to get it together and stop crying over Amy," she tells me, referencing her character's sister -- killed in Season 1. I ask her about a particularly gory walker confrontation she filmed earlier for Season 2, and for a moment she's baffled. "That feels like a totally different life, Andrea's changed so much. She used to be all..." Here Holden raises her arms, rolls her eyes back and screams disorientedly. Now, she says, when she sees a walker, it's just something to kill.
It's 8AM now, and two vans approach the set: the day's scheduled 21 walkers have arrived. They range from background extras -- for whom the make-up is less comprehensive -- to featured zombies whose roles are integral to the plot (Think Season 1's Bicycle Girl or Morgan's wife) to stunt zombies, for whom an arsenal of 150 "squibs" -- miniature explosives designed to mimic a gunshot wound -- are awaiting for the day's festivities.
The zombies - along with The Walking Dead's Special FX Makeup Guru Greg Nicotero and his team from KNB FX -- have been working since 3AM to be ready to shoot at first light. At 5AM, the episode's director Michelle MacLaren enters the makeup trailer to give notes on a featured zombie. "I think it's important her face isn't too horrific-looking," Nicotero tells Andy Schoenberg, one of the makeup artists. MacLaren chimes in that it would be good if her face had some scratches on it, so the CG artists know where to place the gunshot wound.
"How're they gonna make my face explode?" the extra asks. "I never know what's practical make-up and what's digital."
"Sometimes we don't either," Schoenberg replies.
For Season 2, Nicotero has enhanced the zombie make-ups to emphasize the decay the creatures are going through. This means accentuating cheekbones and brow to give the extras sunken eyes and hollow cheeks. The prosthetics that create this effect are called "Lone Rangers" because they're applied as a bandit-like face mask.
"I look like my Aunt Fae who runs the Pentecostal church in Brunswick," Amber, the aforementioned walker, says after her Lone Ranger is in place.
"You look like a cross between Winona Ryder and Uma Thurman," Nicotero corrects as he puts the finishing touches on another zombie.
"You look more dead," he tells this second zombie, whose hair has been given a healthy dose of conditioner to make it look greasy. "You don't look quite as handsome."