After our wonderful experience at the Whistle Stop Cafe, we were really looking forward to seeing the small town and surrounding area of Senoia, GA where The Walking Dead is filmed. We didn’t do much research prior to arriving in the town, because we thought our experience would be similar to other towns that were famous because movies and television were shot there. Unfortunately, that was not the case in Senoia. It is a cool little town with the added benefit of looking exactly like Woodbury on the TV show. This is a little confusing because there is an actual Woodbury close by, but the filming was done in Senoia. It does have one Walking Dead Souvenir Shop ,. The souvenir shop is called the Woodbury Shop (again confusing because it is in Senoia) and is open daily from 11am-5pm. It has an extensive collection (prices were very high), a very cool free museum in the basement, and a cafe. Unfortunately the cafe we had heard so much about was closed. Also unfortunately they had next to no information on how to see the local filming sites. There was one book with sightseeing location information, which looked very well done, but was priced at $30. Now we love The Walking Dead , but $30 was just too steep for us. Plus, we knew the information was available online if we were willing to do some research. Let me say right off that you can avoid all of this nonsense if you take one of the tours that is offered, and after our experience I kind of wished we had taken this route because they have access to some “closed-door” areas that were film locations, including Morgan’s room where Rick initially found him.
The lady who ran the gift shop was not extremely friendly but did ultimately point us to the “Alexandria” community. It is within easy walking distance, not even 100 yards, and we totally missed it on the way into town. To find it, walk straight downhill from the gift shop to the gazebo and look to your right. There you will see an ugly metal wall surrounding an upscale historic home area of town. What Lee learned from the security guard was that the owner of the Stalwart Films production company that makes the Walking Dead lives in the tiny neighborhood that the wall surrounds, and he convinced his neighbors as well as the Senoia City Council to allow him to build the wall and shoot the show there. There is Walking Dead security there 24/7/365. And the City Council has approved leaving the wall in place through 2019, so that backs up the internet rumors that the show will be in “Alexandria” for quite a while. Having a production this large and intense around for that long is a lot to ask, but I am sure the folks are getting compensated. If nothing else, the show is bringing huge economic benefits to a town of only 4,000 residents. The view of the wall and area was really thrilling, but what was not so fun was the aggressive signs everywhere and the attitudes of the folks who live there. Look, I get it. You live in a sleepy little town and when shooting is happening there are thousands of people who show up to get a glimpse of a favorite star or zombie, but being rude to people is not the answer. All those visitors have to eat somewhere and sleep somewhere and there are dying small towns all across this country that would kill for a similar opportunity. Personally, I would like to visit in a few years after the money stops rolling in and see how they feel then, but I don’t think I would ever go back. I am glad I went once, but the whole experience put a bad taste in my mouth and unfortunately has made me less of a fan of the show.
For me the breaking point came when I walked over excitedly to take a picture of the burned out building and before I even came close to the curb the security guard got out of his car and told me I need to go back across the street. I in no way came close to crossing the line and although normally I am non-confrontational in these situation I just had to say something. I walked across the street, sort of reflexively and then walked back to the security guard and asked him if this was a public street I was standing on. He had me repeat the question, which I did, politely,and when he said yes it was, I stated, then I can stand in the street and take this picture. He begrudgingly agreed, but then said “Is the picture so important to you?” “Yes”, I replied, “We drove a long way to see this and I want to capture it.” I then walked down the street, being careful to stay off the private property while my husband stayed and chatted with the security guard. Again, I get it, he had a job to do, but the job wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the fans and I don’t appreciate at all being talked to like that.
Not that anyone from Raleigh Studio will ever read this, but I would like to make a suggestion. If you want to solve this problem and make the fans happy, take the piece of gravel driveway outside your gate that you aren’t using, and turn it into a Walking Dead Tour area. Charge a little money, give the fans something to be happy about, and sell the heck out of merchandise at a gift store. It’s a win-win and would channel the fans energy into something that could help everyone.
Anyway, I was done with Senoia, but not ready to completely give up on The Walking Dead, so we looked at some blogs and found a Google Maps Walking Dead Locations. It wasn’t the easiest map to use in the world and the descriptions were not that great, but it did get us to some sites. Most of them though were on private property and we saw lots of the ubiquitous No Trespassing signs. The problem is if you don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of the show it is hard to put the place with the episode. It’s even harder because all of the spaces they used are dressed to look post apocalyptic so you need to sort of envision them dirty and vandalized as well. Lots of the scenes are shot in forest or on railroad tracks and we could have passed right by numerous locations and not really known it. We did find the location of the final shot in the opening credits with the lone walker though and that was really cool. One of my favorite moments of the day, although unfortunately we couldn’t really stop and get a picture of it because it’s on a busy road.
Finally though the map led us to the little town of Haralson, GA and things got much better. Numerous scenes involving the governor were shot here and unlike Senoia, folks seemed happy to have the tourism, probably because now that those seasons are in the past, fewer people come here, since Alexandria is the current location. There was a great shop called Walkin Dead Haralson, where we met Marlene who not only gave Walking Dead tours but also wrote the book we had seen earlier. Turns out there is an online version available (for only $15!!) and Marlene updates it weekly when the show is in production. She also let us know she doesn’t set the book prices at the store and was very sorry for our experience. She owns some of the property they filmed earlier seasons at and offers her own interactive tour where you can dress in costume and act out scenes in the buildings. The tour is $25 per person and although we didn’t take it since it was getting so late, Marlene was kind enough to give us a paper slip with some nearby locations and allowed us to take outside pictures of the buildings. Our experience with her was what the entire experience should have been frankly and it was very nice of her to spend so much time talking to us. She is a true fan and a smart enough business woman to capitalize on the opportunity, so good for her!
So our experience ended well despite a rocky start. I really wish I would have had the online version of Locations Locations of T.W.D. before setting out and I wish I would have met Marlene first. I would still recommend going to Senoia if you are a fan, just know what you are getting into first and set your expectations accordingly. Still the day did end on a positive note when we drove into mid-town Atlanta and had dinner with an old high school friend of ours. Brian got Lee his first production job many, many years ago and their careers have run somewhat in parallel since then. It was wonderful seeing him and catching up, plus he is one of the few people we know who loves movies and TV like we do. He was very interested in our Walking Dead experience and I could see his wheels turning on how he could do it better. I have no doubt he can and look forward to hearing about it!
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