Note: The video and story below show images and reference all seasons of The Walking Dead, so here’s a spoiler warning.
For a small town located about an hour outside of Atlanta, Senoia, Georgia, has a disproportionately large film and television history. Down Main Street in downtown are commemorative metal plates embedded in the sidewalk bearing the titles of productions that filmed in Senoia: Driving Miss Daisy, Fried Green Tomatoes, the Footloose remake, and a few most people would struggle to remember. (The Fighting Temptations?) All of them brought Hollywood money into town—most of them thanks to Raleigh Studios, located not far from downtown—but none has attracted more attention than the latest production to call Senoia home, The Walking Dead.
That’s because none has come close to matching the popularity of the AMC series about life after the zombie apocalypse. Each season finds the series setting a new ratings record, where a show on basic cable is able to take down stalwarts of network television. It’s so popular, in fact, that the chat show about what just happened on the show, The Talking Dead, at one point beat everything NBC aired that week. The Walking Dead is insanely popular—and unlike some other locations that have been home to pop-culture phenomena, Senoia embraces it.
Downtown, on the stretch of Main that serves as the primary shooting location for the Walking Dead community of Woodbury, there’s The Woodbury Shoppe, which sells an array of officially licensed merchandise from the show, from Michonne’s katana sword to leather-ear key chains resembling the necklace of ears Daryl wore around his neck in season two. (There’s also a bust of the Bicycle Girl zombie.) About a block down the road is the Senoia Coffee & Café—a.k.a. the Woodbury Coffee House—that’s a favorite stop in the morning of cast and crew, and which sells a “Zombie Dark” roast “for our friends in The Walking Dead.” When production shuts down that stretch of street, some shops have actually seen an increase in business.
Senoia has been ground zero for The Walking Dead since before the show introduced Woodbury in season three. The farm from season two is not far outside of town, and the show has shot numerous scenes in the nearby area. The non-location stuff is shot at Raleigh Studios, the exterior of which has been altered to include a prison set. (Although there’s been chatter online about the location of the prison, it’s always been this set in Senoia.)
Much of what’s been shot on location has used private property that’s closed to the public (don’t bother trying to get close to Raleigh Studios), but a cottage industry has sprung up around The Walking Dead: In neighboring Haralson, Walkin Dead tours takes visitors to numerous filming locations, including some of the private ones like the Esco Feed mill from the opening credits, the place where Merle tried to ambush the Governor, and more. In Atlanta, where The Walking Dead was based during season one, Atlanta Movie Tours covers all the relevant spots in Atlanta and Senoia with its Big Zombie tours, which is led by some people who have appeared as walkers on the show.
Speaking of Atlanta, that’s the hometown of the guys who suggested The Walking Dead for Pop Pilgrims, Josh and Jacob Fu. As we’ve mentioned before, this season we’ve taken location suggestions from Fiesta Movement agents, who get cars from Ford to take on various missions for a year. This is the third and final Pop Pilgrims episode with the agents, and we started in the Fus’ hometown.
The Walking Dead hasn’t shot in Atlanta since season one, but some of the show’s most memorable scenes—particularly from the pilot—were filmed there. The hospital Rick stumbles out of is owned by an organization that helps the homeless, the Walking Dead CDC isn’t the actual CDC—which has only given permission to be filmed once, for Contagion, and even then just exteriors—but the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, a much cooler-looking event hall. The street scenes, department store, and some other buildings that appear in the background of the pilot were all shot in or near downtown. One of our guests for the episode, Atlanta Movie Tours’ Carrie Sagel Burns, used to take visiting friends to various locations until she realized she could make a business out of doing that.
She’s not the only one. The Walking Dead has brought a lot of business and visitors to Atlanta and Senoia in particular. While we were there in early August, we saw several people taking photos downtown of Walking Dead spots. The show had finished shooting some exterior scenes there a couple weeks prior, and the crew had just taken down the Woodbury Town Hall set about the week before we arrived. In its place were signs with bold red letters bluntly reminding people the empty lot left behind is private property.
Just south of Main Street is another lot flanked by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. Inside it are various props from the show, including the Governor’s vehicles and some of the tire walls Woodbury residents use to keep walkers out. The show was in production while we were in Senoia, but shooting at Raleigh Studios. Because AMC is fanatically secretive about The Walking Dead, the network wouldn’t let us see the studio or set. Network reps barely acknowledged that the show was even in production. In our spoiler-obsessed culture, apparently even knowing a show is filming could upset sensitive viewers.
That doesn’t stop thousands of them from visiting Senoia every year. They definitely aren’t coming to see where some of the forgotten Aston Kutcher/Katherine Heigl movie Killers was filmed. While they’re in town, they can stop by Redneck Gourmet, where Robert Duvall’s actual surfboard from Apocalypse Now is displayed in a glass case. (The founder of Raleigh Studios worked on the film.) Senoia has a deep, surprising history with Hollywood. The Walking Dead is just the latest—but it’s definitely the biggest.