The Walking Dead won’t die. The AMC series about survivors of a zombie apocalypse—many of whom eventually stop surviving—has marched on even with its splintered tibia sticking out of its shin. Its ninth season is back in session, boldly pressing forward without intrepid leader Rick Grimes. The series based on Robert Kirkman’s comic book saga is attempting to prove that it can thrive and evolve beyond its biggest star (even as they prep three spin-off films with Andrew Lincoln back in the saddle as Grimes).
The series is a genuine phenomenon. It carved out a space on television by redefining prestige to include fat zombies ripping in half when they get pulled out of a well, bat-wielding nihilists, and eye-popping action sequences. The Walking Dead has beguiled and irritated fans, but it’s been willing to outlast the competition by killing off favorite characters and ensuring that no one is safe.
1. The cast gets together for a last supper when a character dies.
As the rare show that kills its main characters with fierce regularity, The Walking Dead started its own tradition of holding Death Dinners for those about to bite the dust. “It gives everyone a chance to get properly sauced and say, ‘We’re going to miss the hell out of you,’” Sarah Wayne Callies (who played Rick's wife, Lori Grimes) told The Huffington Post in 2012. As the show grew in popularity, they began pretending that these get-togethers are cast birthday parties (so waitstaff won’t get wise and spoil who’s getting bit next).
2. Rick Grimes has been wearing the same underwear the entire time.
Supply runs are mostly limited to medicine, food, and survival necessities, which means characters have to make do with what they have. The show takes that limitation seriously, which is why the good Sheriff is still rocking the same black Levi's, regardless of wear and tear. But it turns out that Rick is also holding on to what’s underneath. The blue boxer shorts he had on in the hospital in the first episode? He’s still got ‘em. Don’t get too grossed out, though. It’s been nearly a decade for us, but only about two years in-show time since the zombies erupted.
3. Zombie actors have to attend zombie school.
Before trying to eat Michonne or Daryl, aspiring "walkers" have to attend a seminar where they get tips on the specific style of the show’s undead, followed by auditions where executive producer and horror effects legend Greg Nicotero chooses the best stumblers. Some keys to success include staying loose and avoiding sticking your arms straight out like Frankenstein’s monster.
4. Even the opening credits are deteriorating.
Everything falls apart. That includes the lettering and logo for the show’s opening credits, which have been yellowing and crumbling for the past eight seasons. The ninth season logo features greenery—signaling a change in the story’s direction, a sense of rebuilding, and the return of nature.
5. They use CGI to erase zombie breath.
The actors playing the zombies are amazing, but they can’t hide their breath when it’s cold outside. To add to the otherworldly nature of the monsters (and to be biologically accurate), the producers have to remove breath steam from the undead figures who wouldn’t be breathing. The show uses a ton of CGI. A lot of it is what you might expect, but there are also little details like that making the show even better.
6. A fan bit Norman Reedus.
Five years into playing a character who could potentially outlast all 7 billion zombies, Reedus was unable to thwart an attack in real life when an overzealous fan bit him on the chest at New Jersey’s Walker Stalker Con. The actor took it in stride and didn’t press charges, but the fan was banned from the convention for life. No matter how much you love a show, please don’t bite people.
7. It takes place in the same universe as Breaking Bad.
Fact: Merle (Michael Rooker) has blue meth in season one. Another fact: His brother confirms that his dealer was a scrawny white boy who said, “I’m going to kill you, bitch.” These two elements point to Breaking Bad's Jesse Pinkman being Merle’s dealer, which ties the two AMC universes together. (The network even weighed in on it.) Glenn (Steven Yeun) also drives the same Dodge Challenger with racing stripes that Walter White bought his son (and later had to return to “Glenn’s Car Lot”). Those are solid homages to a pioneering show, but the theory that Walter White’s blue meth caused the zombie outbreak is still way, way out there.
8. The show doesn’t use the word “zombie.”
The Walking Dead’s low-key slogan is, “Don’t say the Zed word.” That’s a reference that no one in The Walking Dead universe would get because Shaun of the Dead (as well as other zombie-based entertainment) doesn’t exist there. Robert Kirkman breaks his own rule in the comic book occasionally, but the show has stuck to calling them walkers, skin-eaters, deadheads, wasteds, deadies, rotters, and dozens of other names to avoid saying what we all know they are.
9. The zombies are eating ham.
Instead of chowing down on long pig, the actors playing walkers wrap their lips around juicy bits of ham. They used to get barbecue sauce to help it go down, but the vinegar messed up their make-up, so now it’s just ham with fake blood all over it. Actor Vincent Martella said it was a challenge to eat a person on the show, not because of the ham, but because of the mindlessness. “When you eat someone you have to look like an animal devouring prey,” he told Today. “You can’t look like you have any specific motive or where you’re going to take a bite."
10. The little girl zombie from the pilot episode came back in season 8.
The first episode established the show’s tone by having Rick Grimes shoot a teddy-bear-holding little girl named Summer. She was going to eat his face off, but the action still stole away a portion of Grimes’s humanity and pointed to the bleachers on The Walking Dead being nasty, brutish, and not short. For its 100th episode, the series brought back Addy Miller to play a zombie very similar to the iconic one she played when she was 10 years old.