Monday, July 28, 2014

Walkers, Walls, and Wayward Cats

I've never lived anywhere before that people go out of their way to visit. Sure, I grew up in Chicago where millions of tourists flock yearly to look out over the city from atop the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower and eat what is unquestionably the world's finest pizza. But they never visited my neighborhood way out on the Southwest Side, so there weren't people wandering down my street with expensive cameras dangling off their necks.

But now, suddenly, I find myself in a tourist destination. Senoia, Georgia looks like that idyllic old-fashioned small town that only exists in your grandmother's imperfect memory. And apparently the film industry agrees.

Senoia was used as the backdrop for the formerly zombie-free town of Woodbury in The Walking Dead Season 3. It's been used as a setting for lots of other TWD episodes, too, including Season 4's infamous Pudding House and the never ending railroad tracks that everyone finds themselves walking along. And now they're prepping for at least two more years of TWD filming in my backyard.

On July 7, the Senoia City Council agreed to let Raleigh Studios build a 15-foot corrugated steel wall around an entire neighborhood near the downtown area. The buildings in that neighborhood were originally constructed as a "living backlot" with unique homes that are not only private residences, but also offer filming locations with a particular look.

Speculation is rampant about exactly what's going to happen within the wall. The word is that what's inside will not only be a filming location, but also the wall itself will be a prominent feature in upcoming episodes. An advantage of this wall is that it will have guarded gates that keep out "Walker Stalkers" (fans who want to watch filming and hopefully snag an autograph from one of the show's stars) and those who want to post online spoilers about upcoming plots.

Filming for Season 5's episodes inside the wall is scheduled for September through November, 2014. Then last week, the studio went back to the Senoia City Council and requested permission to extend the length of time the wall can be up. They asked for 2019, but had to settle for 2016 because this city council can't approve a project that will extend beyond its time in office.

What did TWD's huge fan base do upon hearing this exciting news? They descended upon Senoia in even greater numbers than before. It's a blast to walk down the street here and see smiling tourists taking pictures of each other with the town of "Woodbury" over their shoulders. They're carrying bags of souvenirs from The Walking Dead Store. They're visiting restaurants in hopes of a celebrity sighting. They're taking Georgia Mercantile's tours of TWD filming locations. Whenever a motorcycle drives past, everyone cranes their necks to see if Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon's alterego) is on it.

And if zombies and tourists aren't enough to keep the folks of Senoia entertained, there have been articles in the local newspapers that a number of people have spotted a large black or brown panther-like cat prowling the countryside. It allegedly ate some woman's little dog. It leered at another woman and her pet cat from a tree. It jumped in front of someone's car. Witnesses claim the feline is about 5-6 feet long, including the tail. No one knows whether black panthers are making a reappearance in the State of Georgia or if maybe this was someone's pet that either escaped or was released because the owner sobered up and realized he was keeping a freaking panther in his house. There are still some people who say it's not a big cat, but a coyote.

I want to be the first to put forward another explanation entirely: The panther is a Walking Dead fan that's just here trying to get Daryl's autograph like everyone else. And he'd also like to know what's going on behind that big wall.

Stay tuned for updates about filming, felines, and fans.

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