The Personal Lives Of The Walking Dead Cast Are Full Of Tragedy

AMC's The Walking Dead has been the chief exporter of zombie-themed small screen drama since 2010. During that time, many characters have risen and fallen in the ruthless post-apocalyptic landscape where the titular walking dead often play second fiddle to humanity's seemingly boundless capacity for inventive cruelty. As such, the popular show has amassed a pretty massive cast over the years, and even the actors whose characters have met a bloody fate aren't necessarily that worse for wear — after all, the series has been a handy springboard for names like Michael Rooker and Jon Bernthal.

Shooting a zombie show can be a muddy, grisly affair, so it's easy to hope that the actors can at least console themselves with the fact that after the camera stops rolling, they can walk away to live their cozy, trauma-free lives. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. In fact, several members of the show's cast have had to endure all sorts of setbacks, drama, and tragedies. Let's take a look at the tragic side of the personal lives of The Walking Dead cast. 

Norman Reedus' face was mangled in a car accident

The Walking Dead is very much an ensemble show, but after Andrew Lincoln's departure, the closest thing the show has to a lead is Norman Reedus. His Daryl Dixon has developed from a surly, renegade redneck sidekick to a full-blooded heroic character and a future star of a spinoff show with Melissa McBride's Carol Peletier.

Reedus' grungy hair and rugged, outdoors-man good looks are integral in the character's appeal, but according to Comic Book, he was once very close to losing his looks in the grisliest possible manner. It was February 2005, and Reedus was leaving an R.E.M. concert in Berlin — in a car singer Michael Stipe lent him, no less — when a 18-wheel truck hit the vehicle, sending Reedus flying through the windshield. 

Thankfully, Reedus survived the incident, but his face was seriously messed up and full of glass. He had to go through surgeries that he says left his face resembling a "hamburger." While anyone who has seen the man can attest that he obviously got better, his visage hides a titanium eye socket and four screws in his nose to this day.

Andrew Lincoln chopped off a part of his finger

Andrew Lincoln's sheriff Rick Grimes was the guiding light of The Walking Dead until the first part of season nine, after which both the actor and the character left for greener pastures — which fans may or may not get to revisit in the Rick Grimes films that might materialize one of these days. 

Lincoln's personal life hasn't been quite as tumultuous as Grimes', but the actor has still managed to sneak in a small amount of gore. In an interview with Metro, he revealed that he once managed to get seriously bloody while onstage with acting legend Bill Nighy. This was by no means the intention. The pair was acting in a play called Blue Orange, and Lincoln was supposed to aggressively remove a ring from his finger. Unfortunately, the costume ring had a pretty sharp edge, and Lincoln managed to cut so deep into his finger that he says he actually chopped off a part of it.

Since the play was underway, Lincoln couldn't stop, so he just kept on acting for the remaining 25 minutes, spurting blood. This caused a very The Walking Dead-like experience for the front row. "At one point, I had to say: 'You!' and gesture, and a spray of blood went from my hand across the front row of the audience," the actor reminisced. "It was horrific. All the ladies had their hands over their mouths like they were going to be sick."

Danai Gurira's racism experiences

As The Walking Dead's awesome Michonne and the Marvel Cinematic Universe's equally amazing Okoye, Danai Gurira is the epitome of a strong woman who can — and absolutely will– stand for herself and others. The fact that she has struggled with racism in her personal life is incredibly depressing. But as the actress has revealed in an interview with writer-producer Scott M. Gimple (Via B-Metro), that's exactly the case. Gurira didn't go into specifics, but she noted that when she discussed some of her experiences with a white boyfriend, he was so shocked that he claimed she was making it up. "When I was in college, I witnessed my then boyfriend who was Caucasian gasp at me and the issues I talked to him about concerning the racism I faced," the actress remembers. "When I would come and talk about those injustices he would be like, 'That wasn't race, it wasn't that bad.' He was constantly denying me the struggles I deal with every day and saying they don't really exist."

Gurira also lamented that while the Black community has made plenty of attempts to improve the situation, she feels that no change has happened when it comes to racial issues. However, she's doing her part in the fight for equality and has demanded that the United States turns anti-racism into an "institutionalized educational structure."    

Jeffrey Dean Morgan was deemed too old to succeed

From Supernatural's John Winchester to the Watchmen movie's The Comedian and, of course, The Walking Dead's complicated villain Negan, Jeffrey Dean Morgan's resume reads like a laundry list of charismatic and strong characters. However, New York Moves tells us that if you ask Morgan's old management, he was too ancient and talentless to be the awesome character actor that he quite obviously is — before he even got his big break.

In the mid-2000s, Morgan had the rug swept from under his acting dreams when he received a call from his manager, who told him in no uncertain terms that she was dumping him as a client. She saw Morgan as "expendable" and "too old." As you can probably guess, Morgan did not take the news well, to the point that he has described the phone call as "crushing." However, acting was the only thing he knew, and he was in dire enough straits to live with a roommate at the time, so he felt he had no choice but to persevere.  

To be fair to Morgan's old management, the actor had spent decades just scraping by. To be slightly less fair to them, soon after switching managers, Morgan scored a trio of career-making roles as Denny Duquette on Grey's Anatomy, Judah Botwin on Weeds, and John Winchester in short succession.

Jon Bernthal's daughter fell in a coma

Jon Bernthal's unpredictable Shane Walsh kept his The Walking Dead visit relatively short and its ending suitably bloody, as Andrew Lincoln's Rick Grimes stabbed him in the chest, and Grimes' son, Carl (Chandler Riggs), gunned down his reanimated body. Bernthal, of course, then capitalized his tough-guy image and acting chops by moving on to even bigger things, such as the lead role on Marvel and Netflix's The Punisher

However, some challenges in life affect even the best and toughest stars. In 2018, Bernthal told Men's Health that his hyper-masculine image was of precisely zero help when his daughter, Adeline, had a serious health scare. In November 2017, Bernthal was riding the wave of his The Punisher fame, when the 2-year-old Adeline had an encephalitis-induced seizure and went into a coma. Bernthal was shooting the Ryan Gosling movie First Man at the time but dropped out in a flash and hurried to the hospital. There, he became a self-admitted panicky mess while his wife — a trauma nurse — held everything together. "People talk about bravery like fake macho bravery, but my wife didn't flinch," Bernthal says. "What I saw in my wife was courage and beauty unlike I'd ever seen."

Fortunately, the story ended on a positive note. Adeline woke after three days and made a full recovery. 

Chandler Riggs' riding accident

Chandler Riggs left The Walking Dead rather awkwardly in 2017, when his character, Carl Grimes, was unexpectedly written out of the show and suffered a long, drawn-out demise. Fortunately, Riggs himself hasn't had to deal with anything quite as horrifying, but after he left the role, fate took a dramatic turn for him as well. According to the Independent, on Nov. 23, 2019, Riggs was riding a horse when the steed unexpectedly threw him off, and he suffered a nasty blow to the head despite wearing a helmet. According to the actor's mother, Riggs had "a pretty bad concussion and is in a lot of pain but no broken bones."

Unfortunately, the concussion left Riggs with some lingering issues, and the young actor soon revealed that he was dealing with memory loss. "For hours, I had no idea what year it was, how I got there, what happened, etc., and I kept asking the same questions over and over again just to immediately forget the answer," Riggs described the immediate aftermath of the incident. 

The following day, he had some troubles with remembering things and stated that he was "forgetting a thing or two from time to time." Fortunately, there doesn't appear to be any reports of these memory issues beyond mere days after the incident, so they may have been a short-term issue. 

Josh McDermitt had to deal with death threats because of his character

Portraying a treacherous and weaselly character can work wonders for one's career, but if you ask Josh McDermitt, said wonders aren't always positive. McDermitt plays Eugene Porter, a guy whose survival tactics over the course of The Walking Dead have included things like falsely telling people he's a hugely important scientist and reluctantly siding with Jeffrey Dean Morgan's villainous Negan. 

Per TV Guide, particularly the latter move seems to have prompted some seriously misguided fans' ire, to the point that McDermitt started receiving death threats on social media. Things got so bad that in 2017, McDermitt decided to quit social media altogether. "You can hate Eugene," the actor stated before terminating his accounts. "I don't care. I'll argue that you're wrong, but you can think whatever you want. But when you start saying you hope I die? I don't know if you're talking about Josh or Eugene." He also noted that he lets the police know of each and every death threat that he receives.

In general, McDermitt is not particularly fond of social media trolls. Before he was targeted himself, he'd already defended co-star Alanna Masterson when she was drawing the cyberbullies' ire.   

Steven Yeun's flag controversy

Sometimes, drama comes at you from weird and unexpected directions. Just ask Steven Yeun, who played The Walking Dead's beloved Glenn Rhee until the character's demise in 2016. According to the Korea Herald, it took the actor just one ill-advised social media "like" to draw the ire of a nation. 

In 2018, the South Korean-American actor found himself in surprisingly hot water when he casually "liked" a picture posted by director Joe Lynch. The problem was that the image depicted Lynch as a kid, wearing a shirt that looked a whole lot like the traditional Japanese "Rising Sun" flag. The eye-catching flag is something of a pop culture staple, but many Koreans see it as the symbol of the Japanese Empire, and specifically, its past atrocities toward Korea and its people. Predictably, controversy ensued.

While Yeun did apologize the very next day, some Koreans took offense to the way he shaped his message differently on the Korean and the English versions of his social media. While his Korean apology did fully admit the mistake, the English version left more to interpretation. According to one critic, the English message could be read as a considerably less apologetic "people are judged by a solitary mistake on the internet," as opposed to genuine remorse. 

Seth Gilliam's drunk driving incident

Seth Gilliam has portrayed Father Gabriel Stokes on The Walking Dead since 2014, but according to CBS News, the actor's personal life hasn't always been all that saintly. In 2015, Gilliam landed in legal trouble when the police stopped him on Georgia Highway 74. He had been driving 107 mph on a stretch with a 55 mph speed limit, but that was just the start of his troubles. Gilliam told the officer stopping him that he'd had a shot of liquor and three beers, and after noticing a strong smell of marijuana, the officer also found a joint. Per CNN, all of this combined to charges of drunken driving, speeding, and drug possession. TMZ reports Gilliam was released after he posted a bond of $9,818.

Incidentally, Gilliam isn't the first The Walking Dead star who has been caught driving drunk in the same Peachtree City area. In 2012, a 911 call about an "erratic" driver led to the DUI arrest of actor Scott Wilson, who played Hershel Greene. 

Alanna Masterson's complicated family ties

Alanna Masterson portrayed Tara Chambler on The Walking Dead from 2013 to 2019, which is when the character's dramatic life ended at the hands of the Whisperer leader Alpha (Samantha Morton). The actress' offscreen life isn't exactly devoid of drama, either, thanks to her tumultuous family relationships. 

Masterson is a scientologist, and as Vanity Fair reported in 2015, she's completely estranged from her father, Joe Reaiche. Reaiche is a former member of Scientology clergy himself but says that he started falling out of love with the organization and eventually cut ties altogether in 2005. According to Reaiche, Scientology deemed him a "suppressive person," and leaving the organization came at a cost of his four children, including Masterson. Reaiche has stated that he still loves his children but considers them "brainwashed."   

There's also the matter of Masterson's famous actor brother, Danny. As Variety reminds us, the former That '70s Show star is currently in court, facing accusations of assaulting three women between 2001 and 2003 — and could be facing 45 years to life, if convicted.

Tragedy hit Lennie James early

Lennie James' Morgan Jones is one of the more major players in the Walking Dead franchise, having appeared on six different seasons of The Walking Dead, and on its sister show Fear the Walking Dead from season four onward. The character has suffered intensely personal losses yet emerged from his troubles as an ultimately pretty wise man. 

It would appear that Morgan's character is pretty much tailor-made for James, who also has plenty of experience on the loss and wisdom fronts. The British actor told the Evening Express that he was only 10 years old when his mother died, and he and his brother ended up in a children's home. He spent the next eight years in the children's care system, but as a minor silver lining, he says that he has a "broadly good experience of council care." 

Incidentally, this brings us to the wisdom part. James is acutely aware that not every orphan is as lucky and that less than pleasant stories about children's homes are all too commonplace. As such, he has become extremely involved in the United Kingdom's care charities and is acting as an ambassador for Barnardo's children's charity, aiding them in their efforts to raise millions for the good cause, as well as build "gap homes" that help young people to learn essential life skills before heading out on their own.

A stuntman died on the set of The Walking Dead

The production of a massive show like The Walking Dead requires tons of staff both behind the scenes and in front of the camera, and sometimes, the most tragic things happen to the people who aren't the stars. Per CNN, such was the case in 2017, when a stuntman working on the set of The Walking Dead died after a bad fall. The entire production came to a temporary halt as the experienced stuntman, whose name was John Bernecker, fell over 20 feet after a stunt went wrong and died at a hospital. 

The incident left a lingering shadow over the production, as everyone tried to grieve and cope. "We are deeply saddened by this loss and our hearts and prayers are with John's family, friends and colleagues during this extremely difficult time," AMC said in a statement. Showrunner Scott Gimple and the actors also expressed their sorrow and gave their deepest condolences to the stuntman's family and friends.