Contemporary collecting: Creepy costumes and props from "The Walking Dead" join our collection
When my daughter, Katelyn, told me I would like a new TV show that had aired on Halloween night in 2010, I was skeptical. I'm not a big fan of scary shows but she doesn't like them either so I gave it a try. She was right, of course. But this wasn't your ordinary, run of the mill scary show.
Based on the comic books by Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead deals with a post-apocalyptic society that is overrun with "walkers" as they are affectionately known by our main cast of characters. These walkers were once ordinary people but due to a disease that has infected everyone and an outbreak of epic proportions, people who died later awoke as hunger-crazed undead who only craved living beings.
The show follows Rick Grimes, a sheriff who awakes from a coma to find only a handful of people alive and lots of gross looking, decaying undead who want to eat him. Played by Andrew Lincoln, Rick eventually finds his wife and son living with a group of survivors near Atlanta, Georgia, and it is here that their adventure begins. The group must survive in a fallen society with no phones, electricity, food, or creature comforts—or any comforts for that matter—among the undead and roving bands of survivors who prove to be more dangerous than the famished walkers.
On the air for eight seasons, the series is winding down, so the museum has secured several iconic objects from the show for the national collections, courtesy of AMC. Once filming wraps on a movie or show, it's often very difficult to track down costumes, props, and other examples of meaningful material culture. We often begin our collecting process before filming is complete so that, in this case, we can identify and collect objects that we predict will one day help us tell the story of American television in the 2010s. According to my colleague Curator Eric Jentsch, the museum wanted to collect from the show not only because it is a commercial and critical success that represents the art of television but also because "it can help us to better understand the American experience." Exploring themes such as the dehumanization of modern life, terrorism, climate change, disease, and violence, the show provokes thoughtful and emotional considerations of difficult topics and themes.
If you don't mind spoilers and a little gore, I'll take you on a walking tour of the objects that we've collected from the show. Keep in mind that these won't be on display right away. We're currently developing our culture exhibition and some may make an appearance there. (Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to hear about opening dates for our culture exhibition.)
The costume worn by Summer, the young walker, played by Addy Miller, who carries a Teddy Bear who appears in the first scene of the series, will be joining the museum's collection. Although it would be difficult to collect an actual walker because a walker is usually an actor wearing extensive make-up, the "bicycle girl," prop is a good representation which will help us explore the story of the walkers. Bicycle girl is played by Melissa Cowan. This head and upper torso of the first walker that Rick encounters and eventually kills is made of latex. It is the creation of Greg Nicotero, an executive producer, director, and special effects make up designer. Nicotero also created the head of Hershel Greene, one of the good guys whose head gets hacked off by the Governor, one of those power grabbing survivors that the group wished it had never encountered.
Costumes worn by Carl and Glenn from Season 1 are also included in the donation.
Carl, played by Chandler Riggs, is Rick's 10-year-old son who is challenged with growing up in this horrific new reality. Carl has been through a lot in the series—he gets shot and almost dies twice, has to shoot his dad's best friend, shoots his mom after she dies in childbirth so she won't turn into a walker, gains a baby sister, and loses an eye after being shot by a envious friend—but he perseveres and becomes a calming influence for the group.
Glenn Rhee, played by Steven Yeun, began the series as a pizza delivery guy who was good at stealth operations. He developed into a strong leader. And (spoiler alert), his death in Season 7 was devastating to many fans.
Two of the most iconic objects from the show are also joining the museum collections—Daryl's cross bow and Michonne's Katana sword. Daryl Dixon, played by Norman Reedus, is a self-proclaimed redneck and survivalist, who shoots walkers with abandon. Daryl has grown into a fan favorite and Rick's right hand man. Despite his bad boy demeanor, he is just a softy. He was the first one to hold and feed baby Judith after her mother died in childbirth (and had to be shot in the head by Carl so she wouldn't turn into a walker).
Michonne, played by Danai Gurira, showed up in Season 3 as a mysterious loner who carried a cool sword and led two walkers around on a chain as camouflage. Michonne is a true warrior and can slice and dice walkers with the best of them. She also develops into one of the main characters on the show, leading the group with Rick and bringing a voice of reason into the chaotic environment they are forced to navigate.
Another cool object joining our collection is the hand rig Merle Dixon fashioned after he was left on a rooftop, handcuffed to a pipe. He was forced to cut off his own hand to escape certain death at the mouths of the walkers. Merle, played by Michael Rooker, is Daryl's older brother but with a more abrasive personality. After being separated in Season 1, we find him teamed up with the Governor in Season 3 and, only when faced with the loss of his brother, does he try to make amends for his prior bad acts.
I hope you've enjoyed this quick, somewhat gruesome tour of what we've collected so far. And yes, even serious curators can geek out over collections that have nothing to do with their area of expertise. I'm usually writing about the sports collections but, because the entertainment collections are a part of my Division and I am a huge fan of the show, I was able share this tour with you with a bit of fan insight. At least I didn't show up to the donation ceremony dressed as a walker!
Jane Rogers is an associate curator in the Division of Culture and the Arts.