‘Walking Dead’ filming, tours give Senoia a new life

“Remember: If you get bit, we can take you down,” quips Julie Brown, owner of the Georgia Mercantile Company in Senoia.

Not the typical warning you receive before embarking on a walking tour of a tiny Southern burg, but this isn’t your typical walking tour.

The once sleepy town of Senoia, approximately a 45-minute drive south of Atlanta, serves as one of the main filming locations for “The Walking Dead,” AMC’s uber-popular zombie TV show. With a reported average of more than 14 million viewers last season, the program has the highest total viewership of any series in the history of cable television. According to Nielsen, 14.6 million viewers tuned in to “The Walking Dead’s” season six premiere on Oct. 11, and a few days of folks catching up later on their DVRs and such added about 5 million to that number.

The show’s success has sunk its teeth into Senoia — pronounced Seh-noy by locals — breathing new life into the area like the resurrected dead. In 2007, the town had only seven businesses on and around its main drag. Today more than 50 operate.

On a Saturday morning in early October, a bustling mix of residents and tourists replaces the zombies seen shuffling along Senoia’s Main Street on the show. That’s where the trek, which Brown dubs “The Touring Dead,” begins.

Brown operates her tours out of the Georgia Mercantile Company shop on Broad Street. She stocks the shelves with a mix of handcrafted items, including soy candles made on site, and a variety of T-shirts. The latter features tops poking fun at the frequent mispronunciation of the town’s name. And of course, a generous helping of items tied to “The Walking Dead,” from action figures to comic books, helps boost inventory.

Although the Georgia Mercantile Company offers its “Senoia on the Big Screen” tour, which spotlights other TV and film productions that have called Senoia home — think “Drop Dead Diva” and “Fried Green Tomatoes”— it’s “The Touring Dead” that scares up the most business. After Senoia doubled as the town of Woodbury in season three, Brown saw a need to dedicate an entire tour to the show. Since 2014, “walker stalkers,” the term for the show’s legion of fans, have been flocking to Senoia from all over the world to experience “The Touring Dead.”

» Read about the Walker Stalker convention, in Atlanta Halloween weekend

Yeah, tours take place all year, but those hoping to get a glimpse of their favorite cast members tend to converge upon Senoia from May through November. That’s when shooting typically takes place.

For this particular tour, a horror flick-loving couple from Florida, a husband-and-wife walker stalker team from Alabama, and a family of five from the Sunshine State — stroller and toddler in tow — embark on a more than two-hour zombie-centric excursion.

Eyes shrouded in dark sunglasses, her head crowned in a straw cowboy hat and a fake blood-stained satchel slung over her shoulder, tour guide Christina Tracy leads the charge.

An approximate 2-mile walk follows, as Tracy dispenses behind-the-scenes factoids and plenty of dead-on one-liners. Inside that crimson streaked bag, she carries a stack of laminated pictures bound together by a pair of metal rings. During the jaunt, she regularly whips out the photos, showing the group what the different locations looked like on “The Walking Dead.” Although Main Street glimmers with cleanliness in the morning sun, one of Tracy’s pics shows it in full-on apocalyptic ruin, the undead captured in mid-stumble.

» Keep up with the latest 'Walking Dead' news and recaps on our TV & Radio blog

Stops along Main Street include a quick visit to the Senoia Coffee & Cafe, which served as the Woodbury Coffee House on the show. The sign used on the show hangs inside on one of the java joint’s brick walls.

Tracy points out the ivy archway, now known as Andrea’s arch, located between a pair of buildings on Main Street. It’s where some pivotal scenes featuring the character Andrea, played by Laurie Holden, took place.

And don’t forget to look up at the second-floor windows of the Southern Living Home Collection building. It was used as the exterior for the Governor’s apartment.

The adjacent Pylant Street lays claim to several abodes christened with new monikers by Brown and her gaggle of guides. Tracy refers to a certain national-style construction, which dates back to 1910, as the “pudding house.” Featured prominently in a season four episode, the house was where Carl (Atlanta-based actor Chandler Riggs) discovered and devoured a heaping helping of chocolate pudding.

Just steps away from Main Street and across the train tracks that lead to the cannibalistic town of Terminus on the show sits a small neighborhood surrounded by a massive metal wall. It’s used as the set for Alexandria, a refuge from the undead. Although it resembles a studio backlot, actual residents live in the homes. When buyers originally snagged houses on that land, they had to agree to a clause that allows filming. Little did they know it would soon become a zombified gated community.

Tracy and her group of walker stalkers wrap up the tour. Soon a whole new set of bodies will arrive to experience the tour themselves.

In the meantime, Brown continues working on plans to expand the tour. She’ll soon offer themed weddings she calls “The Walking Wed.”

Biting, for sure.

Georgia Mercantile Company, 60 Broad St., Senoia. 770-599-0091, georgiamercantile.com.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.