Drones?! How 'The Walking Dead' Tries to Prevent Spoilers

"It's a total compliment," co-star Michael Cudlitz says of the efforts some die-hard fans go to in order to get the inside scoop.
AMC

Viewers and die-hard comic book fans are as hungry for spoilers about AMC's The Walking Dead nearly as much as the zombie drama's walkers are for human flesh. That puts additional pressure on TV's No. 1 drama (among adults under 50) to not only deliver compelling stories that pack an emotional punch but to also keep big reveals top secret, which can be a challenge given the show's regular outdoor shoots in rural Georgia.

"We do like preserving the story for the audience," showrunner Scott M. Gimple tells The Hollywood Reporter. "With the advent of drones, it can become such a game of cat and mouse that as far as sneaking a peek at the actors walking to set, we want to just keep our actors safe and the people who might be looking safe — like [when they're] in the street."

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But that also doesn't mean that producers and stars of the series based on the comics created by Robert Kirkman don't have a few tricks up their sleeves to ensure that key plot points remain unspoiled for die-hard spoilerphobes.

"Sometimes people have to be covered — because sometimes you can tell a specific story point based on what someone's wearing or what their makeup looks like — so in that case, we do what we can to cover in order to protect the story," co-star Sonequa Martin-Green (Sasha) says. "Not to vilify anybody who’s trying to find secrets, just so we can make sure the story is intact for the audience."

Star Steven Yeun — who has been with the series from the start — has grown accustomed to spoiler talk as his character, Glenn, is the subject of what feels like annual offseason speculation given the fate of his comic book counterpart.

"I've struggled with this a lot actually; sometimes I do get perturbed by it. It’s not because it's annoying — it’s mostly because I want [fans trying to catch a glimpse near the set] to experience the best version of what we’re doing," he says. "For anyone that might think we live some sort of glamorous situation with what we’re doing everyday, it’s not. That is also what fuels me as an actor of why I love this show. It’s not a beauty show."

Of course, Walking Dead has had its own fair share of spoilers leak that had no thing to do with die-hard fans angling for a peek at Andrew Lincoln (Rick) and company. An ad on AMC's website promoting the season two DVD set prematurely spoiled Shane's (Jon Bernthal) then-unaired death, while more recently Beth's (Emily Kinney) fate was ruined on Facebook with a photo posted on the show's official page before the episode aired on the West Coast.

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"We’ve had some pretty famous leaks where there’s been entire episodes posted online well ahead of the episode air date and what we find is that there’s a very rabid, but small set of fans that seek out any spoilers they can get, but most people want to enjoy in a way that allows them to have a conversation with people who like it," executive producer Dave Alpert says. "Ultimately, we try to prevent leaks because it’s nice for the story to come out when the story should come out, but ultimately it’s like if that’s how you want to enjoy the show then go for it."

Beyond that, producers have also shifted to writing dummy sides for actors to audition with — as many stars told THR as they recalled their audition stories.

"The writers and I have written probably three or four television shows' worth of fake sides," Gimple says. "Stuff that I'm super proud of — that I think is quality writing! It's stuff I love that I’m maybe even like, 'Man I want to see that show!' That [material] will probably never even see the light of day. It’s just to cast actors with."

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While it's impossible to safeguard the show — Martin-Green says many die-hards are on on their own lawns with long-range camera lenses — the cast and producers ultimately see the efforts to gain advance knowledge about the show before it airs as a compliment.

"If we were to say there were 100 people that watched our show, 98 of those people are not on the Internet looking at these clues," Michael Cudlitz (Abraham) says. "It’s great. It gives them things to talk about and speculate about. Almost 100 percent of the time they’re wrong about specifically what’s going on but it keeps it alive. It’s a total compliment."

The Walking Dead returns Oct. 11 on AMC.

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