The Walking Dead is a rare cultural phenomenon. Over the course of the last seven years, it went from being a big gamble for AMC to something that we can’t stop talking about. And it’s become so well-known that it’s not uncommon for other series to name-drop it from time to time.
Despite being such a dominant part of the TV landscape, TWD is also prone to hiding pop culture references or fun Easter eggs within its episodes. In some cases, they’re pretty easy to spot, but other times they’ve managed to fly under the radar. Here are 10 Walking Dead connections you may have missed.
1. Whistling a familiar tune
It’s no secret that The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman and Scott Gimple are big fans of HBO’s critically-acclaimed drama, The Wire. After all, they’ve brought in three of the series’ prominent alums to play some pretty high-profile characters — Chad L. Coleman (Tyreese), Seth Gilliam (Father Gabriel), and Lawrence Gilliard (Bob).
But in Season 7, TWD took its obsession to the next level in “Sing Me a Song.” The episode opened with Michonne strolling down an empty road, whistling “The Farmer in the Dell” loudly to try to draw walkers’ attention. Fans of The Wire recognized the song instantly, because it’s the one that Omar whistled when he was out on his patrols. While the TWD crew never officially confirmed that they were deliberately calling back to one of their favorite shows, it’s hard to believe the homage was a coincidence.
2. Morley cigarettes
Sometimes, in order to bypass paying hefty licensing fees — or to avoid appearing as though they’re offering an endorsement — a TV show or film will create off-brand versions of recognizable items. That’s certainly the case with Morley, a fictional cigarette brand that’s been used on-screen dozens of times over the years. Their packaging bears a striking resemblance to Marlboros, and they’ve been enjoyed by characters in Psycho, The Twilight Zone, Seinfeld, and even the Smoking Man himself in The X-Files.
Since Season 2, Morleys have also made an appearance on The Walking Dead. We’ve seen Dale, Carol, and Merle all pick up the brand at least once. And Daryl found an entire carton in the Season 4 episode “Consumed.” Of course, tobacco use on TV is generally frowned upon these days, but apparently they make exceptions for shows set in a zombie apocalypse.
3. Blue meth
The Walking Dead is one of AMC’s most successful series — but before it came on the air in 2010, there was the groundbreaking, gritty drama, Breaking Bad. And on more than one occasion, fans of both series have noticed connections between Walter White’s dangerous meth empire and the zombie apocalypse that Rick Grimes and his friends are trying to survive.
In Season 2 of The Walking Dead, we got our clearest clue yet that these two series might exist in the same universe. When trying to find some medication for T-Dog, Daryl reluctantly turned over a baggie of pill bottles and something that looked suspiciously like Heisenberg’s Blue Sky methamphetamine. While his fellow survivors didn’t seem particularly impressed by the stash, Breaking Bad fans instantly recognized Walt’s formula.
4. Zombies played by famous people
Being a zombie in real life would probably get old pretty quickly — but it sure might be fun to play one on TV. Since The Walking Dead became a bonafide hit series, it’s gained its share of uber-famous fans that have expressed an interest in doing just that. And a few have even been given the chance to go full walker.
Former NFL wide receiver Hines Ward played a zombie in the Season 3 episode “The Suicide King.” Though he was only on the screen for a few seconds, he did have the honor of being taken out by Maggie. And Anthrax’s Scott Ian also made an uncredited appearance as a walker in a 2011 Walking Dead webisode, “Everything Dies.”
5. Zombies that look like famous people
The Walking Dead‘s makeup and special effects team is one of the best in the business. Season after season, they turn out gory, bloody, and super realistic looking zombies that can make your skin crawl.
For the Season 6 episode “Not Tomorrow Yet,” they had a bit of fun when tasked with creating some gnarly decapitated zombie heads — and made one that bore a strong resemblance to Johnny Depp. Executive producer and special effects guru Greg Nicotero confirmed that the head was, in fact, modeled after Jack Sparrow himself. Sure, it’s not a cameo in the strictest sense of the word, since Depp himself never set foot on set. But it’s a fun wink-and-nod to fans that watch closely. Maybe we’ll see some other famous faces crop up soon.
6. The Governor, a pirate?
When The Governor showed up again in Season 4 of The Walking Dead, bearded, broken-down, and seemingly bereft of hope, we ended up with one of the most somber and joyless episodes of the series — “Live Bait.”
There was one small moment that may have brought a smile to some fans’ faces, though. As Phillip slept on a couch, we got an overhead glimpse of him — and saw that, for just a second, he looked a heck of a lot like a pirate. That’s because he was resting on a pillow adorned with a parrot, that was positioned just right, and looked like it was resting on his shoulder. Coupled with his eye-patch, he might as well have just yelled “Arrr” when he awoke.
7. The Challenger
Daryl’s blue meth wasn’t the only connection we’ve seen between The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad. The series’ characters also share a pretty sweet ride. In The Walking Dead first season episode, “Guts,” Glenn escapes Atlanta by hot-wiring a Dodge Challenger and high-tailing it on the highway. And it just happened to be the very same make, model, and color as the car that Walter White bought himself as a “congratulations on becoming a drug lord” gift in Breaking Bad.
Of course, you could argue that their similar choices for transportation were a simple coincidence. But given how hard TWD has worked to build in connections to Breaking Bad and other series, that’s probably not the case.
8. Conspiracy theories
There have been many fan theories about what exactly caused the outbreak in The Walking Dead. And while there’s a good chance we’ll never know the full extent of its origins, that doesn’t stop anyone from hypothesizing. The closing moments of the Season 5 finale, “Conquer,” gave fans yet another idea as to how the dead came to walk the earth.
When Michonne stood in her home and stared at her mantle, a wheel-like piece of art was visible behind her. Some fans noticed that the wheel bore a striking resemblance to the logo for Resident Evil‘s Umbrella Corporation. Others thought it looked quite a lot like the symbol for Lost‘s Dharma Initiative. Fans of both the video game/film franchise and the cult TV show know that neither of these organizations are known for their goodwill toward men. So maybe the wheel is a sign to fans that when it comes to the undead on TWD, there was some deeper corporate malfeasance afoot.
9. King (of horror) County
When we first met Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead, he was a sheriff’s deputy in King County, Georgia. And throughout much of the series, his signature hat has had a prominent place on-screen; first on his head, then on his son Carl’s. So in some way, he’s carried his roots with him and by proxy, there’s also been an ever-present allusion to another horror behemoth following him this entire time.
Rick’s hometown is a direct reference to the master himself, Stephen King — a frequent collaborator of The Walking Dead‘s first showrunner, Frank Darabont. At one point, before Darabont left the series, the author was even in talks to write an episode for The Walking Dead. Though that never panned out, he’ll always have a whole fictional county named after him as a consolation prize.
10. Rick’s real voice
After seven seasons of watching him fight his way out of one sticky situation after another, Rick Grimes’ Southern drawl is as recognizable to fans as The Walking Dead‘s eerie opening title music. In fact, we’re so used to hearing the actor who plays him, Andrew Lincoln, in Rick-mode that many of us didn’t realize we can hear him in non-Rick mode on-screen, too.
In the Season 5 episode, “What Happened and What’s Going On,” a hallucinating Tyreese hears a news report about cannibals on the car radio. The man delivering the sobering message has a distinctive British accent, and if his voice sounded familiar it’s because it was Lincoln.
Greg Nicotero confirmed the fact on an episode of The Talking Dead. Narratively, the fact that it’s Rick-but-not-really-Rick works since Tyreese is more or less losing his mind. For fans, it’s yet another fun layer to look out for, and a reminder of just how different Lincoln sounds when he’s not battling zombies.
Follow Katherine Webb on Twitter @prufrox
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