The Walking Dead 's new smart zombies go all the way back to season 1

·4 min read

"The end of each story is very important. How do you want yours to end?" asked Seth Gilliam's Father Gabriel at the conclusion of The Walking Dead trailer unveiled at San Diego Comic-Con in July. Only it wasn't the conclusion.

After the screen cut to black, we heard Ross Marquand's Aaron ominously say, "I've heard stories of walkers that can climb walls and open doors. I was never sure if they were just stories." Judging by the footage of a doorknob turning and a walker appearing to climb a fence, it would appear they are not just stories. But what does this mean for the show as it gets ready to launch into its final eight episodes ever, starting Oct. 2 on AMC?

"There's a reason why he's saying those particular words," notes showrunner Angela Kang, who spoke to EW for our Walking Dead Fall TV Preview cover story. "And it will cause some massive problems for our people."

The Walking Dead season 1, episode 2
The Walking Dead season 1, episode 2

AMC Season 1 zombies on 'The Walking Dead'

What's most interesting about these new zombies, however, is not necessarily the problems they will cause, but rather that they are not new at all. "We've seen that on the show before," hints Walking Dead chief content officer Scott M. Gimple of the behavior described by Aaron. "It has escaped discussion on the show. You can see in the trailer, there's some different behavior, but this isn't any sort of reinvention. It's addressing something that is inside the show already. The calls are coming from inside the house."

But the twist is, those calls were placed about 12 years ago. "There was a lot of talk during production about going back in time and watching episodes from season 1," explains executive producer and director Greg Nicotero. "And in season 1, episode 2, when they're in the department store with T-Dog and Andrea, there are walkers up against the wall, and one of them is kind of smashing the window with a rock. That came right out of Night of The Living Dead. That was right out of Barbara in the car with the first-ever zombie, Bill Hinzman, using a rock."

The Walking Dead season 1, episode 2
The Walking Dead season 1, episode 2

AMC Season 1 zombies on 'The Walking Dead'

But wait? We haven't seen zombies picking up objects and using them since then. So what gives? "The truth is we hadn't really figured out yet what the rules for the zombies were," says Nicotero before sighting another example of zombie behavior gone bye-bye. "They were also a bit faster in the first episode when they chased Rick down the street on his horse."

However, speed and rock-smashing were not the only weird retro-abilities producers noticed. "There's another scene where Glenn and Rick are being chased down the alley and they start climbing up a fire escape," recalls Nicotero. "And there are walkers climbing up behind them. We were still figuring it out. But we decided that it was an opportunity."

So how to explain these super-zombie powers appearing when the show first began, disappearing for more than a decade, and then reappearing during the end run? "We sort of played into that as if there might be certain walkers in certain regions that might have different abilities that we really haven't seen before." Nicotero explains. "We're kind of playing into the idea that some of these are out there and they're just encountering them now."

The Walking Dead season 1, episode 2
The Walking Dead season 1, episode 2

AMC Season 1 zombies on 'The Walking Dead'

While these new smart walkers are derived directly from what we saw all the way back in season 1, they do not seem to be connected to the end-credits scene from the Walking Dead: World Beyond finale, in which a scientist in an abandoned French lab was shot after watching video journals from Dr. Edwin Jenner (Noah Emmerich) about tests being done on variant walkers to jump start the circulatory system. "These are very distinct environments and very distinct landscapes," says Gimple.

The chief content officer does note that we will see that French lab scene play out on another upcoming Walking Dead show. "That was out in Europe," Gimple says. "But we know someone who's going to be out there, so he might have his hands full." Paging Daryl Dixon!

Make sure to check out EW's Fall TV Preview cover story — as well as all of our 2022 Fall TV Preview content, releasing over 22 days through Sept. 29.

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