'Walking Dead' tours: Zombie sites in Atlanta and rural Georgia

Marnie Hunter, CNNUpdated 23rd April 2017
Editor's Note — This story, and several others on Atlanta, complement the CNNGo TV series. This month's show highlights Atlanta's local charm, outdoorsy atmosphere, culinary excellence and great music. See more of the show here: www.cnn.com/gotravel
Atlanta (CNN) — Even a zombie apocalypse has a silver lining. At least in Georgia.
Fans of the wildly popular AMC series "The Walking Dead" are making their way to Atlanta and surrounding small-town Georgia to sniff out traces of Rick Grimes' crew of survivors and the voracious zombies on their trail.
On one recent Sunday, two "Big Zombie" bus tours drew mostly out-of-state visitors with fans from Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Washington and places across the Southeast, plus a fan from Brazil on a monthlong American odyssey.
Many planned their trips especially to see "The Walking Dead" locations up close. Mary Kolodziej and her husband, Eric, flew into Atlanta from Indianapolis for a zombie-centered getaway.
The couple have been fans of the show, now in its fifth season, since Day One and have attended Comic Con in Chicago more than once to meet the cast.
"Everybody's always like, 'What if, what if something happens? I don't know what I would do.' Well, the show kind of shows you what people would do," said Kolodziej, 48, while waiting to start her second zombie tour of the weekend. "Everybody can relate to somebody on this show."
Map: 'Walking Dead' locations
Map: 'Walking Dead' locations
Google Maps
Identifying with the lurching, rasping "walkers" is a taller order, but guides on the "Big Zombie" tours help. They've worked as zombie extras on the show.
Tour guide Patrick Williams, 42, has appeared as both zombie and human since he attended "Zombie School" (auditions) right before season two, but he's still waiting for a shot at prosthetic facial gashes and deformities and the painful, vision-obscuring contact lenses worn by "featured hero zombies."
"'Featured zombie' is the term they use for the zombies that have all the prosthetics and the camera is right up on them, and they usually have some interaction with the cast or they're gnawing on somebody," Williams said.

Big business

Flesh-eating walkers are far from the only Hollywood types roaming Georgia.
A 2008 tax credit of up to 30% for productions of $500,000 or more has spawned hordes of film crews. "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" and the franchise's third installment, the two-part "Mockingjay" sequel, were all filmed in and around Atlanta.
More than 150 film and TV productions were shot in Georgia in fiscal year 2014 alone, according to the Georgia film office. Last year, the state launched ComeTourGeorgia.com, aimed at entertainment fans.
Since 2010, about a dozen film and television studios have announced plans to locate or expand in Georgia. UK-based Pinewood Studios recently opened a new facility, where Marvel's "Ant-Man" has started filming, and Atlanta mogul Tyler Perry is hoping to develop studio space at the shuttered Army base Fort McPherson.
The rush of movie and TV projects builds on a longstanding state interest in the benefits of film production, a focus sparked by the 1972 film "Deliverance."
But fans of present-day hits are more likely to recognize the wilds of post-apocalyptic Atlanta and "The Walking Dead's" fictional Woodbury than the whitewater rapids of northeast Georgia.
The "Big Zombie" tours ($65) are operated by Atlanta Movie Tours, which launched in 2012 with a single "Walking Dead"-themed tour. The company now hosts two zombie tours and two other film-related tours and recently welcomed guest No. 10,000.
So far, almost all of the company's business is zombie-related, according to co-owner Patti Davis. TV and movie clips are played on the tour bus for film-to-real-life comparisons. The company is headquartered in a historic and recently revitalized downtown warehouse district called Castleberry Hill.

Season One locations in Atlanta

The neighborhood is an easy walk from Centennial Olympic Park and within blocks of much of the Atlanta-based action in season one of "The Walking Dead."
Just down the street from the tour office is the Nelson Street Bridge, where Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) rode on horseback over a tangle of railroad tracks to seek refuge in Atlanta in the first season.
Directly across the bridge is the unoccupied Norfolk Southern Building, which was the scene of much rooftop debate and some hand-wrenching decision-making after Rick arrived on the scene. The famous tank scene was filmed a few blocks north, near the corner of Forsyth and Walton streets.
Season one's downtown scenery is easily walkable for visitors just looking for a taste, but a bus tour is a convenient option when fans start looking to sites south, west and north of downtown.
By bus, visitors can see the recent Terminus location (near the corner of Windsor and Doane streets), the hospital where Rick wakes up to the apocalypse (Atlanta Mission offices on Bolton Road) and the CDC stand-in (Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre).
For do-it-yourselfers, your own wheels, a GPS and a good combing of the Internet for location addresses are essential.

Points south and star sightings

"The Walking Dead" action moved out of Atlanta to rural settings in season two. The second installment of the "Big Zombie" tours starts about 35 miles south of Atlanta in Senoia, the show's fictional Woodbury.
The quaint little town is doing big zombie business.
Check-in for tours is centered at the Woodbury Shoppe, a recently relocated and expanded "Walking Dead" emporium packed with T-shirts, messenger bags, calendars, belts and more.
Flattened penny souvenirs saying "I (heart) Daryl" sell for four quarters (plus the penny). Location guides for seasons one through four are available for $25, or visitors can book more pinpointed Coweta Film Tours at the shop for about $15.
The Waking Dead Cafe just opened on the lower level adjacent to a display of prison cells and other props from the show.
The second "Big Zombie" tour takes visitors to a handful of Coweta County locations, including the Zombie Arena (Caldwell Tanks facility in Newnan), the sleepy town of Grantville, where season three's "Clear" episode was shot, and to the barn and abandoned feed mill in Haralson, where Rick meets the Governor for the first time and later, where Merle and the Governor face off.
Sadly for fans, the farmhouse that stars in season two is off-limits. Its occupants apparently regret their house's role in the show and do not welcome visitors.
The prison is also missing from the tour, as it was built at Raleigh Studios and has since been dismantled. Still, lucky fans might see more than "Walking Dead" sets.
Before the recent tour, some fans spotted Maggie (Lauren Cohan) at the new coffee shop in the Woodbury Shoppe. Filming is scheduled to go on right outside Senoia's town center until mid-November.
And back in Atlanta, there's at least one classic institution that boasts more than its fair share of celebrity sightings. Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Morgan Freeman, Robert De Niro, Bill Murray, Jack Black and Jon Hamm have all been spotted at the gritty yet beloved Clermont Lounge.
"The Walking Dead" character Glenn, played by Steven Yeun, recommended the Clermont to Conan O'Brien during a 2013 appearance on his show, describing it as a "really fun, divey place" with "an open stripping area" with "mostly older, beautiful ladies."
While you're in town, live a little.
This story was last updated in March 2015.