I think it’s pretty safe to say that The Walking Dead wouldn’t be The Walking Dead without Greg Nicotero, a guy that was born and bred to bring the zombies from Robert Kirkman’s comic series to life on the small screen. Nicotero began his career as a special makeup effects artist, cutting his proverbial teeth on the sets of films like Day of the Dead and Evil Dead 2, and not only is he in charge of the zombie makeup on The Walking Dead, but he’s also become an executive producer and even occasional director of the show.
Nicotero has been given a lot of freedom when it comes to designing the walkers that Rick and the gang are perpetually on the run from, and he’s had a whole lot of fun with that freedom over the years. It’s not uncommon for him to throw in little Easter eggs for us horror fans, giving us quick glimpses of walkers that will undoubtedly look quite familiar to those who are big time horror fans, particularly of the zombie cinema that inspired guys like Robert Kirkman.
While there’s no room for cameos from recognizable stars on The Walking Dead, it is these blink and you’ll miss ‘em zombie cameos that serve as a fun little ‘Where’s Waldo?’ game for folks like ourselves. Here are six of them, which have appeared on the show throughout the years!
Looking for more fun with The Walking Dead? Check out this zombie prank in NYC and The Walking Dead Survival Kit.
The first of these undead Easter eggs was included in the very first season of the show, with this particularly gruesome Episode 4 zombie. Her lower jaw ripped off and her tongue hanging out, she’s one of the most memorable walkers in the show’s history, and was a direct homage to the very first feature film that Greg Nicotero ever worked on; George Romero’s Day of the Dead. Nicotero was Tom Savini’s assistant on the film, and it was Savini’s Dr. Tongue creation that he paid tribute to with this horrific makeup design. Dr. Tongue is notable for being the first zombie seen in Day of the Dead.
In the fifth episode of the third season of the show, which Nicotero directed, he threw in a nice little reference to one of the most iconic zombies in horror history, from the original Dawn of the Dead. George Romero has stated in the past that the zombified version of Stephen ‘Flyboy’ Andrews is his favorite of any of the zombies he’s ever brought to the screen, and Nicotero included a dead ringer for Flyboy in the scene where Merle is forced to fight for his life in the Governor’s zombie fighting arena.
One of the most chilling moments in Walking Dead history was the first time we got a glimpse of the Governor’s zombie head aquarium, which he sat down and watched as if it were an episode of his favorite reality TV show. This scene also took place in the fifth episode of Season 3, and Nicotero cleverly inserted an exact replica of Ben Gardner’s severed head from Jaws, into one of the tanks. The reveal of Gardner’s head coming out of the hull of a sunken boat is one of the best horror movie jump scare moments of all time, and it clearly had a real impact on Nicotero!
Nicotero again sat in the director’s chair on the 15th episode of Season 3, titled 'This Sorrowful Life.' The episode was indeed a sorrowful one, as it ended with Daryl being forced to kill his zombified brother Merle. Shortly prior, Merle finds himself a car and blasts music inside of it, purposefully attracting a horde of walkers around the vehicle, which he uses to ambush the Governor and his men. One of the zombies that the music attracts is instantly recognizable to Dawn of the Dead fans as being that film’s aptly named ‘Plaid Shirt Zombie,’ who is seen at the deserted airport hangar. Not surprisingly, Nicotero cites both Jaws and Dawn of the Dead as being two horror films that were a huge inspiration on him.
The mid-season finale of The Walking Dead’s fourth season was absolutely jam packed with carnage, including a fatal zombie bite to the neck of young Meghan, who the Governor had come to love as a surrogate daughter of sorts. Though the zombie that delivers the bite in the shocking scene looks a bit like Return of the Living Dead’s Tarman, the scene was no doubt an homage to Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, which saw a dirty, maggot-eyed zombie rising up from the ground in much the same fashion, also to feast on a juicy neck. A moment that made me smile, as a fan of Fulci’s movies, and then of course quickly turned that smile into a horrified expression!
The most recent zombie cameo on the show occurred just last night, in the premiere of the second half of Season 4. If you blinked, you probably missed it, but during the scene where Michonne was walking with a bunch of zombies, one of the zombies was a little bit more decayed than the others, with its skeleton almost fully visible. This unique walker was a nod to An American Werewolf in London, and Jack Goodman’s fully zombified corpse. A nice little tribute to Rick Baker, who’s responsible for the incredible makeup effects in that film.
Have you spotted any other fun zombie cameos like these, on The Walking Dead? Comment below and let us know!