How ‘The Walking Dead’ Pulled Off Daryl Dixon’s Eye-Popping Fight Scene
Spoilers for “The Walking Dead” episode “Crossed” follow!
Easily the biggest, most shocking scene in “Crossed,” this week’s (November 23) gangbusters episode of AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” was the terrifying fight between Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) and Officer Licari (Christopher Matthew Cook).
In the scene, after tracking Licari through a field of burnt and melted former FEMA workers embedded in the asphalt, Dixon is ambushed and pushed the ground. The walkers are snapping at Daryl’s face and Licari is choking the life out of him, so Daryl uses the only weapon at his disposal.
He sticks his fingers in a walker’s eye-sockets, rips the head clean (well, not clean) off, and smacks Licari in the face.
It’s an insane fight scene on a show that doesn’t shy away from insane fight scenes — but how the heck did they pull all that off?
“It starts out how it always does, on the written page,” Monty Simons, stunt coordinator for the show told MTV News over the phone. “And then we all look up at each other and wonder what the heck we’re going to do!”
Simons credits the whole team for figuring out how to get the fight scene from page to reality –- and the first step was realizing how best to get the right look for the asphalt walkers.
“What we did was cut a bunch of holes in the asphalt out there,” Simons explained, “And line those holes, made it comfortable for them to lay their bodies inside those holes so just the upper part of their body was sticking out of the ground.”
Then it was up to the effects team to dress the walkers — and the ground — to make it looks like the walkers had actually melted into the street. The actors playing the undead death machines were then able to move their arms, and snap at anyone passing by with their mouths; but their legs were quite literally underground.
And though that created the right look for the scene, it created other challenges, specifically for Simons.
“Because we had all these holes, I had to create a fight scene that took place amongst all these people,” Simons continued, “But they couldn’t save themselves if something got carried away.”
Simons clarified the holes themselves were pretty shallow, about four or five feet long, and about a foot deep. So if Reedus or Cook happened to fall into a walker-hole they wouldn’t have plummeted to their deaths… But there was still the real possibility of something going wrong with the scene.
“We laid it all out, we looked at the script, stood in the space,” Simons recalled, “We actually walked it and placed where the trailer would be, the one that Norman walks up to… We walked the fight scene, and then placed the walkers to that fight scene.”
This way, Simons and company were able to film the scene so that it looked like the walkers were closer than they really were, while still being about to reach Reedus for the necessary shots.
And though the fight looks like a backyard grapple on screen, the two actors (and their respective stunt doubles) were very heavily choreographed. The look of the fight, Simons said, was very much on purpose and in line with what he always tries to do with “The Walking Dead.”
“We don’t want elegant, ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ fight scenes, that’s not what we are,” Simons said. “Two guys in a bar going at it, there’s usually one or two punches thrown and then they’re on the ground rolling around. Very seldom do they stay on their feet and beat each other for ten minutes at a time.”
Once Reedus was on the ground, with Cook on top of him, the rest was very much up to the actors playing the walkers.
“At that point it’s not a big wide shot, so Norman isn’t slamming around,” Simons said on the shots of Reedus accidentally sticking his fingers in a walker’s mouth. Because of the close angles, Reedus, the actor playing the walker and the director were all able to coordinate on making the shot look spontaneous, when — sorry to break your illusions — it really wasn’t.
Which is fine and good, but how about that walker Reedus pulls the flippin’ head off of? The shot did actually start with a live person playing a walker in the spot, and then for the immediate close-up the team replaced the walker — and their head, of course — with a styrofoam-like substance Simons likened to a Nerf football.
And then Reedus actually hit Cook in the head with the walker’s head. Seriously.
“He actually bonked him!” Simons said. “When we were developing this thing, I saw several versions of the skull, and I would hit myself with it. I’m not going to put anyone in the position I wouldn’t put myself in. I actually test a lot of things that we do out here like that.”
Simons would take the mock-up versions, hit himself as hard as he felt comfortable, and then ask the team whether that was hard enough for camera. Once the softness of the material and the hardness of the hit matched up, they were good to go with the stunt.
“It’s an ever-growing process that usually magically comes together on the day of, when we go shoot it!” Simons added.
And lest you think this is as crazy as the show will go, when asked whether next week’s winter finale will top things, Simons said, “Let me just say, they don’t let up at all. We don’t take a break. There is more of that to come!”
We’ll start wearing a helmet in anticipation.