I don’t watch much TV, but I somehow became addicted to the popular AMC show The Walking Dead in its third season. So, when I decided to do something creative for my birthday this week, I came up with the brilliant idea of going to Atlanta for two days to visit filming locations for the show. It was the most fun one could have without getting eaten by a zombie—and it was so easy to do.
Spirit Airlines has ridiculously cheap flights from Houston, assuming you don’t care about a reclining seat or complimentary anything, and you can fit all your stuff in a "personal item-sized bag." Once you arrive, there’s guided tours from by such as Atlanta Tours, but I found it much more fun to rent a car and do it on my own. It was like treasure hunting, and it was a blast.
There are lots of film nerds who have made visiting such places a breeze. With a quick Google search, I was able to find a “Zombie TV filming locations” app (I guess they can’t use the name for copyright reasons), as well as detailed Google maps put together by tireless fans who have each episode and every camera angle memorized. All you need is an app and a rental car, and you’re ready for a day of fun and excitement.
Atlanta and its neighboring towns have been used as sets for over 700 films. The interesting thing about the city is that some parts are very sophisticated-looking, while others look like the Deep South. Fried Green Tomatoes and Driving Miss Daisy were a perfect fit for filming rural settings. Anchorman and Constantine used more of the city backdrop. The depressed areas of Atlanta already look like a zombie apocalypse hit the town, with very little CGI or prop-building necessary. That’s where I started my tour.
In the northwest area of town, the Cobb Energy Center for the Performing Arts was used as the Center of Disease Control in the first season. The shiny, modern building makes a great technological contrast with the rest of the ruined city in the show. In one memorable scene, it explodes, removing any hope of solving the undead crisis. In real life, it’s still completely intact and easy to find. Just 10 minutes away is the abandoned mission that was used as the hospital where the main character, Rick, wakes up to find his city completely changed, with hundreds of dead bodies strewn on the pavement. The abandoned building is just as creepy as it was in the show, and I had to think twice before walking up its rusty staircase.
The suburbs have a very old southern look, so several characters' homes from the show were featured there, including Rick’s and Morgan’s. One could spend hours visiting the minor places where a character shot some zombies or picked up some new ammunition, but the big draw is one hour south, in Senoia.
Senoia is a cute little town with lots of historical buildings and a pristine main street that makes you feel like you’re at Disneyland or a movie set, which is why it was chosen for the fictional town of Woodbury. In the show, the town appears to be a perfect haven for those who’ve been fighting the undead. It turns out—as is mostly the case with perfect places—to not be what it seems. The Official Walking Dead store is in the center of town and is great for fans, with its Waking Dead coffee shop, souvenirs, and super-cool one-room museum with props from the show, a jail cell taken right out of the prison set, a hospital door from the first season, and the piece de resistance, Darryl’s motorcycle. There’s lots of other things to see within walking distance of the shop, such as the train tracks heading toward Terminus, Milton’s lab, and some houses that were used in season 4.
A five-minute walk from the center of town takes you to the set of the new season, Alexandria. The location is surrounded by a giant rusty fence and some burned-out facades, surrounded by warning signs and security. It’s clear that the producers don’t want any damage to the set or leaks about upcoming episodes—and exciting to catch a glimpse of what’s happening right now since the season hasn’t completely aired. Just 15 minutes down the road brings you to the next stop on the tour, Haralson, Georgia.
Haralson has an old feed mill with lots of rusted silos and apocalyptic-looking sheds. It was used in the scene where The Governor meets with Rick to decide the fate of the survivors of both camps. It’s a memorable moment with a lot of action, suspense and creepy buildings. Haralson doesn’t have a great economy, so the residents have been cashing in on the movie set by creating “an experience” where one can stand in exact spots as the characters, pretend to shoot guns and learn about the ins and outs of how the scenes were filmed. If you don’t take a tour, you’re not welcome anywhere around the area. There’s No Trespassing signs posted everywhere. No one can really stop you from taking a picture, but you’ll want to sign up for the tour if you’re a hard-core fan.
Fifteen minutes northwest of Haralson is a quick stop in the village of Sharpsburg to see the bar where Herschel falls off the wagon and the pharmacy where Maggie and Glenn consummate their new relationship. There’s not very much to the town except a few buildings and lots of farms. The last stop on this tour is Grantville. Grantville is what Senoia would be if it fell on hard times. The town, with its perfect zombie downtown area, was chosen for the episode “Clear” and also has been trying to make the most of its Walking Dead fame with tours and zombie shops. In an effort to infuse more cash into the city, a large portion of its buildings are being sold on eBay. At the time of this writing, almost the entire downtown area can be purchased for $680,000.
Atlanta is just 40 minutes drive from Grantville on I-85, and a there’s some great photo ops along even along the freeway. Looking for something exciting to do that’s adventurous, challenging, nerdy and great, inexpensive fun? This is it!