If you asked the average Walking Dead fan who the stars of the hit series are, they’d likely be able to rattle off at least a few names: Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Steven Yeun, Lauren Cohen, Danai Gurai. The talented ensemble at the center of AMC‘s horror series have helped the show become a breakout success over its last six seasons. They’ve made names for themselves, too, and have become some of the most recognizable faces on television.
But few of us ever think about the other stars of the series — the ones that keep Rick, Daryl, and the rest of them on the run. They’re the walkers; hoards of decrepit zombie creatures that lumber after the series’ characters in almost every single episode.
According to the series’ special effects director, Greg Nicotero, it takes a tremendous amount of effort to bring those zombies to life — er, to undead-life, anyway. And at times, there are more than 60 zombie on set, all working together to create a convincing post-apocalyptic world for The Walking Dead‘s stars to inhabit.
The zombies we see in each episode are actors, too — professional extras that spend days on set, only to mostly hang out in the background. And before they get paid for their work, it turns out they have to go through quite a bit. Just how much do zombies get paid on The Walking Dead? It turns out the answer is a bit complicated.
Getting zombified is actually a lot of work
It probably won’t come as much of a surprise to hear that you can’t just walk onto the set of The Walking Dead and become a zombie. In order to win a role as an extra, actors send headshots — professional entertainment photos — to the series’ casting director and wait to find out if they can audition. Once they pass that first hurdle, they attend what Nicotero calls zombie school. It’s a workshop where actors are taught to hiss, snarl, and stagger around like a real undead person would.
Sounds like fun, right? Most extras say that it is — and if an actor makes the cut, they’ll be cast and called to the series’ set in Atlanta. But there’s still more work to be done before an extra can step in front of The Walking Dead‘s cameras. There’s getting fitted for costumes and sitting for hair and makeup — a process that can take several hours, depending on how severely zombified an actor is supposed to look.
Many extras have reported that the hardest part about their work on The Walking Dead was the long hours under the hot Georgia sun. As a general rule, extras are asked to be on set for at least a full day’s work — eight hours or more in some cases. Though a lucky few are picked to be ‘featured’ extras; that is, they interact with the main characters or do something particularly memorable, in most cases, many of the zombie extras will only get a few seconds of screen time.
All in a day’s work
It’s pretty clear that it takes a lot of time and effort just to get a shot at the guts-and-glory on The Walking Dead. So being a zombie extra might not be for everyone. And for those that are still dedicated to being one of the undead, the pay may not even be that big of a consideration. But for those that are truly curious, some actors that have successfully made it as zombies on The Walking Dead have given some insight into how much their fellow walkers can expect to be paid.
During a 2011 Reddit AMA, one former zombie extra gave an insider’s perspective. She told Walking Dead fans that she was on set for two days and earned about $600, plus a bonus at the end of the year. Another extra told Reddit users in 2014 that the base pay for zombie extras was $64 dollars for eight hours of work, plus more if you were featured or did a stunt. So it goes without saying there’s a bit of a range as far as the going rate for the Walking Dead‘s nameless undead — and taking on an extra role in the hit series probably isn’t going to make you rich. But if you love The Walking Dead and have some extra time on your hands, it might still be worth your time.
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