10 Facts About The Walking Dead

Alan Clarke/AMC
Alan Clarke/AMC

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.

Cooper Andrews as Jerry, Khary Payton as Ezekiel, Danai Gurira as Michonne, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa
Gene Page/AMC

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.

Walkers in a scene from 'The Walking Dead'
Gene Page/AMC

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.

Michael Rooker as Merle Dixon in 'The Walking Dead' season 3
Gene Page/AMC

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.

Zombies on 'The Walking Dead' season 5
Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

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.

Hee-Haw: The Wild Ride of "Dominick the Donkey"—the Holiday Earworm You Love to Hate

Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images
Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone loves Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’s got the whole underdog thing going for him, and when the fog is thick on Christmas Eve, he’s definitely the creature you want guiding Santa’s sleigh. But what happens when Saint Nick reaches Italy, and he’s faced with steep hills that no reindeer—magical or otherwise—can climb?

That’s when Santa apparently calls upon Dominick the Donkey, the holiday hero immortalized in the 1960 song of the same name. Recorded by Lou Monte, “Dominick The Donkey” is a novelty song even by Christmas music standards. The opening line finds Monte—or someone else, or heck, maybe a real donkey—singing “hee-haw, hee-haw” as sleigh bells jingle in the background. A mere 12 seconds into the tune, it’s clear you’re in for a wild ride.

 

Over the next two minutes and 30 seconds, Monte shares some fun facts about Dominick: He’s a nice donkey who never kicks but loves to dance. When ol’ Dom starts shaking his tail, the old folks—cummares and cumpares, or godmothers and godfathers—join the fun and "dance a tarentell," an abbreviation of la tarantella, a traditional Italian folk dance. Most importantly, Dominick negotiates Italy’s hills on Christmas Eve, helping Santa distribute presents to boys and girls across the country.

And not just any presents: Dominick delivers shoes and dresses “made in Brook-a-lyn,” which Monte somehow rhymes with “Josephine.” Oh yeah, and while the donkey’s doing all this, he’s wearing the mayor’s derby hat, because you’ve got to look sharp. It’s a silly story made even sillier by that incessant “hee-haw, hee-haw,” which cuts in every 30 seconds like a squeaky door hinge.

There may have actually been some historical basis for “Dominick.”

“Travelling by donkey was universal in southern Italy, as it was in Greece,” Dominic DiFrisco, president emeritus of the joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Monte’s] playing easy with history, but it’s a cute song, and Monte was at that time one of the hottest singers in America.”

Rumored to have been financed by the Gambino crime family, “Dominick the Donkey” somehow failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. But it’s become a cult classic in the nearly 70 years since, especially in Italian American households. In 2014, the song reached #69 on Billboard’s Holiday 100 and #23 on the Holiday Digital Song Sales chart. In 2018, “Dominick” hit #1 on the Comedy Digital Track Sales tally. As of December 2019, the Christmas curio had surpassed 21 million Spotify streams.

“Dominick the Donkey” made international headlines in 2011, when popular BBC DJ Chris Moyles launched a campaign to push the song onto the UK singles chart. “If we leave Britain one thing, it would be that each Christmas kids would listen to 'Dominick the Donkey,’” Moyles said. While his noble efforts didn’t yield a coveted Christmas #1, “Dominick” peaked at a very respectable #3.

 

As with a lot of Christmas songs, there’s a certain kitschy, ironic appeal to “Dominick the Donkey.” Many listeners enjoy the song because, on some level, they’re amazed it exists. But there’s a deeper meaning that becomes apparent the more you know about Lou Monte.

Born Luigi Scaglione in New York City, Monte began his career as a singer and comedian shortly before he served in World War II. Based in New Jersey, Monte subsequently became known as “The Godfather of Italian Humor” and “The King of Italian-American Music.” His specialty was Italian-themed novelty songs like “Pepino the Italian Mouse,” his first and only Top 10 hit. “Pepino” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, the year before The Beatles broke America.

“Pepino” was penned by Ray Allen and Wandra Merrell, the duo that teamed up with Sam Saltzberg to write “Dominick the Donkey.” That same trio of songwriters was also responsible for “What Did Washington Say (When He Crossed the Delaware),” the B-side of “Pepino.” In that song, George Washington declares, “Fa un’fridd,” or ‘It’s cold!” while making his famous 1776 boat ride.

With his mix of English and Italian dialect, Monte made inside jokes for Italian Americans while sharing their culture with the rest of the country. His riffs on American history (“What Did Washington Say,” “Paul Revere’s Horse (Ba-cha-ca-loop),” “Please, Mr. Columbus”) gave the nation’s foundational stories a dash of Italian flavor. This was important at a time when Italians were still considered outsiders.

According to the 1993 book Italian Americans and Their Public and Private Life, Monte’s songs appealed to “a broad spectrum ranging from working class to professional middle-class Italian Americans.” Monte sold millions of records, played nightclubs across America, and appeared on TV programs like The Perry Como Show and The Ernie Kovacs Show. He died in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 1989. He was 72.

Monte lives on thanks to Dominick—a character too iconic to die. In 2016, author Shirley Alarie released A New Home for Dominick and A New Family for Dominick, a two-part children’s book series about the beloved jackass. In 2018, Jersey native Joe Baccan dropped “Dominooch,” a sequel to “Dominick.” The song tells the tale of how Dominick’s son takes over for his aging padre. Fittingly, “Dominooch” was written by composer Nancy Triggiani, who worked with Monte’s son, Ray, at her recording studio.

Speaking with NorthJersey.com in 2016, Ray Monte had a simple explanation for why Dominick’s hee-haw has echoed through the generations. “It was a funny novelty song,” he said, noting that his father “had a niche for novelty.”

The 11 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Wilson Webb/Netflix

With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 11 best movies on Netflix right now.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man may be in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town.

2. Hell or High Water (2016)

Taylor Sheridan's Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who take to bank robberies in an effort to save their family ranch from foreclosure; Jeff Bridges is the drawling, laconic lawman on their tail.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro takes on the life of pugilist Jake LaMotta in a landmark and Oscar-winning film from Martin Scorsese that frames LaMotta's violent career in stark black and white. Joe Pesci co-stars.

4. Marriage Story (2019)

Director Noah Bambauch drew raves for this deeply emotional drama about a couple (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) whose uncoupling takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their family.

5. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators.

6. The Lobster (2015)

Colin Farrell stars in this black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks.

7. Flash of Genius (2008)

Greg Kinnear stars in this drama based on a true story about inventor Robert Kearns, who revolutionized automobiles with his intermittent windshield wiper. Instead of getting rich, Kearns is ripped off by the automotive industry and engages in a years-long battle for recognition.

8. Locke (2013)

The camera rarely wavers from Tom Hardy in this existential thriller, which takes place entirely in Hardy's vehicle. A construction foreman trying to make sure an important job is executed well, Hardy's Ivan Locke grapples with some surprising news from a mistress and the demands of his family. It's a one-act, one-man play, with Hardy making the repeated act of conversing on his cell phone as tense and compelling as if he were driving with a bomb in the trunk.

9. Cop Car (2015)

When two kids decide to take a police cruiser for a joyride, the driver (Kevin Bacon) begins a dogged pursuit. No good cop, he's got plenty to hide.

10. Taxi Driver (1976)

Another De Niro and Scorsese collaboration hits the mark, as Taxi Driver is regularly cited as one of the greatest American films ever made. De Niro is a potently single-minded Travis Bickle, a cabbie in a seedy '70s New York who wants to be an avenging angel for victims of crime. The mercurial Bickle, however, is just as unhinged as those he targets.

11. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Jon Bernthal lumbers through this thriller as a former rodeo star whose career has left him physically broken. Now managing a hotel in small-town Alaska, he stumbles onto a plot involving a murderer-for-hire (Christopher Abbott), upending his quiet existence and forcing him to take action.

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