I’m Still Thinking About Tyler James Williams’ Answer to His ‘Walking Dead’ Experience
[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for The Walking Dead, Season 5, Episode 14, “Spend.”]
A brief peak behind the curtain: When I interviewed Tyler James Williams for his upcoming film The Argument, I thought it might be fun, and even “silly,” to ask him briefly what it was like to get eaten by zombies on The Walking Dead. Instead, his answer — thorough, self-reflective, and emotionally complicated — cracked my dang head open like the walkers did to his character. I’m still thinking about his response, and before we post his full Argument interview, I thought I’d share this on its own.
A bit of context: Williams joined The Walking Dead, the staggering AMC hit about the zombie apocalypse and its survivors, in Season 5. He played Noah, a survivor found by Beth (Emily Kinney) who becomes a vital friend and supply runner to many in Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) group. But then, as many of the show’s characters do, he had to die. And die he did, getting split apart and devoured by zombies in Season 5 Episode 14, “Spend,” as Glenn (Steven Yeun) did his best to save him.
And now, Williams’ uninterrupted answer to the question: “What’s it like to get eaten by zombies?”
“That took me a while to really process… There’s two ways to break that down, right? There’s the technical version of it. Getting eaten by a zombie technically? Very difficult. Very, very difficult. There’s squibs everywhere that needs to pop at certain times. You’re getting bitten, but you don’t feel it. You kind of have to, out of the corner of your eye, be able to see when the bite happens so you can react to it in real time, but you don’t feel it. You don’t really feel anything. And that’s what’s technically difficult about it. And then also looking at an actual bust of yourself is weird. I’ve really kind of struggled with that briefly in the van ride on the way over, because you only see a mirror image of yourself, ever. And I’m looking at directly me, and that was strange. And a screaming position is very, very strange.
But on an acting, emotional level, I’ve never really had an experience like that. And it’s one that kind of bonded Steven Yeun and I for, I think, life — in the sense of, I’ve never been able to kill a character and let them die and experience that with them in a very traumatic way. And one of the things that happened afterwards… We do the scene, and we have to do the moment where I get slammed against the glass. And that has to play all the way out because we would talk and I was like, ‘There’s no way I can jump and cut into just [a] scream. This is somebody’s last guttural death. We have to play this whole beat out.’ And we played the whole beat out. They called cut. And then I just kind of collapsed and sobbed for two minutes on set.
And Steven just kind of had to sit there, and he put a hand on my back and he just started kind of whispering in my ear, ‘You’re letting him go. It’s a beautiful thing. You really gave him a death.’ And it was a mourning process that came immediately after we [called cut]. Because there’s only one take at that. You only get one. Because once I’m covered in blood and all of that, the fake stuff is different, then we have to throw in a double. You get one shot at it. And since then, I’ve died in several things. They love killing me. They love killing me in things. And each time it’s different. But that one was the first one, and it was unique and it was beautiful. And it was one of the most edifying moments in my career. And it bonded me with everybody in that room at the time.
And also, everyone showed up, which was really interesting. Alanna Masterson, Lauren Cohan, Christian Serratos, they all showed up for the death. Almost as if it was a funeral… And that’s what actually pulled me to Whiskey [Cavalier], and I’ve told my managers, agents this, and honestly, any producers should hear it, probably, if they want to get me to do their project, get me one of those people who was in that room. I will for sure do this. Without question. Without question, I’ll do whatever your project is. Because they were part of that. So emotionally and mentally, it was otherworldly. Technically, very difficult. But emotionally and mentally, otherworldly.”
I’ll be thinking about Williams’ otherworldly response, and the power of celebrating life and death through stories, for some time to come.
Check out my full interview with Williams soon. For more on The Argument, here’s my interview with co-star Danny Pudi and an interview with Maggie Q. The Argument is now available in virtual theaters and via VOD.
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