For two days last month, an actual walker from The Walking Dead, AMC’s megahit series about a zombie apocalypse, roamed around downtown West Palm Beach.
No bites or scratches were reported. But there was plenty of Walking Dead brain-spilling from a man who has turned into a minor celebrity among diehard fans for his many roles as a “walker,’’ as the show’s ever-increasing ranks of flesh-eating zombies are known.
“I’ve played 27 different walkers and I’ve been killed 13 times,’’ Chris Harrelson says to three women who stopped by his booth in September at Palm Con, the annual comic book and collectibles show at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.
The new season of The Walking Dead premieres on Oct. 23. Never mind that he isn’t even one of the show’s main characters. Harrelson’s appearance last month made him a hot commodity among local zombie fans gearing up for the latest installment of a series that averaged more than 13 million viewers last season.
He’s 35. He wears jeans and flannel. And he looks like a normal dude, smiling and cordial, definitely unlike the zombies he has portrayed, whose menacing images he sells for $20 each or three for $50.
“I love your face in this one,’’ Len Dinkin, 66, of Stuart says as he gestures at one glossy photo of a Harrelson walker in full toothy growl.
Harrelson thanks him and offers a bite of insight: There’s actually a condom hanging from his zombie face.
“One of my first days on the set, I look under the makeup trailer and I see this box of condoms,’’ Harrelson says to Dinkin. “I’m like, ‘What have these Hollywood people brought with them to Georgia?’’’
Turns out the condoms, when filled with water and tied off and covered with makeup, hang from your face like globs of decomposing flesh.
“I was like, ‘OK, now I know what those condoms are for,’’’ he says.
He tells Dinkin about another zombie he played, a memorable one known as the Napalm Walker: The makeup artists lathered him in K-Y Jelly to help achieve the look of a zombie melting from a dose of napalm.
Dinkin is sold. He buys three photos, which Harrelson signs with a silver Sharpie. “Hey, Len. Watch out for walkers,’’ he writes on a photo of the first zombie he played. On another photo that Dinkin gave to his wife: “Hey Marlene! Greetings from your walker pal!”
Dinkin, a retired corporate human resources manager, tells Harrelson how he and his wife have watched every episode since the first season in 2010, how they turn off their phones and lights at 9 p.m. and escape into their favorite show.
“Thank you for being so genuine and talking with me,” Dinkin says.
Harrelson extends his hand and replies. “Well, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.’’
Although we never see Harrelson’s actual face on The Walking Dead, the fact that he is booked twice a month at comic book conventions around the country is a testament to the show’s viral — pun intended — fan base.
No disrespect to Andrew Lincoln, who plays police officer and lead character Rick Grimes, or Norman Reedus, who plays bow-and-arrow hunk Daryl Dixon, but the “walkers’’ are why we watch.
“You have no show without the zombies. The zombies are the real stars,’’ said Alison Berrios of West Palm Beach, who met Harrelson at PalmCon 2015 and again last month.
While posing for a photo with Berrios last year, Harrelson decided to have some fun: He suddenly went zombie on her and moved in for a bite.
“Just the way he was able to move his jaw and contort his face, I could see the walker in him,’’ said Berrios.
“He is such a cool guy. He loves to tell stories about being on the set. His energy is super rad.’’
At PalmCon last month, he hosted a panel discussion called Walking with the Walking Dead, offering horror stories about group zombie auditions and working long hours in the Georgia heat wearing zombie makeup.
Though he found time to walk around CityPlace and Clematis Street, most of the weekend was spent in the convention center at his booth, hawking his walker photos and chatting with fans, many of whom were dressed in Cosplay costumes.
“It’s cool to hang out with people with similar interests,’’ says Harrelson, who debuted as a walker in Season 5 in 2014 after answering a casting call near his home north of Atlanta. “I’m a pretty big nerd myself, so I’m in my element.’’
The three most common questions fans ask: Is it cool to work on the show? (Yes.) How long does the makeup take? (From 15 minutes to several hours). Have you worked with Daryl, Carl or Michonne? (Yes, yes and yes.)
In fact, the first time he was killed was “a tag team kill’’ involving Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Michonne (Danai Gurira). “He swung me around and Michonne stabbed me in the head.’’
Fans also ask how much he gets paid. He won’t say, other than to point out that it’s not enough to support his wife, who works at The Home Depot, and their two kids. (According to internet fodder, walkers might make $200 to $300 a day.)
Harrelson also directs fans to his walker Facebook page, which has more than 4,600 “likes.” One fan even made little skulls of hand soap carved with the faces of his walker characters.
“There are people from Germany, Australia, New Zealand, South America, Mexico, ones I interact with on a daily basis. It’s pretty neat,’’ says Harrelson, who has worked as an extra in other TV shows and movies, including “Rectify,” “The Hunger Games” and “Office Christmas.”
And he is, of course, also asked about the new season, especially the cliff-hanger ending from the final episode of last season when the evil Negan prepares to swing Lucille, a barbed-wire covered baseball bat, against the head of a main character.
It’s unclear whether Harrelson knows who gets the bat, but he wouldn’t offer anything up about Season 7.
“It is under a pretty tight gag order,’’ he tells one woman.
Dinkin said meeting an actual walker from “The Walking Dead” was a bigger thrill for him than the times he met actors Charlton Heston and Chuck Norris.
“He mentioned to me that on his very first day ever being in walker makeup that (producer) Greg Nicotero walked over to him and said, ‘I need you to come over here. We’re gonna kill you,”’ Dinkin said.
“He exposed himself to me as a human being. He told me about his family. The conversation never struck a false note with me.”