The Walking Dead

‘The Walking Dead’: 8 Actors Who Auditioned For Different Roles (And One Who Didn’t Audition At All)

Some 'Sliding Doors' moments for TWD's lead actors.

AMC’s The Walking Dead has always been home to lovable — and sometimes not-so-lovable — characters, and it’s all thanks to the phenomenal actors who portray them. Imagine how different the show might be if Khary Payton got a much smaller role. Or if Sonequa Martin-Green beat out Danai Gurira for the part of Michonne. Or if Andrew Lincoln never got the role at all.

As it turns out, this topsy-turvy alternate reality version of the show came closer to being real than you might think. Some of your favorite The Walking Dead actors auditioned for other characters before landing their own, while one actor didn’t need to audition for their character at all.

Jon Bernthal Auditioned For Rick

While Jon Bernthal perfected the role of cop-turned-villain Shane Walsh — a character he did indeed audition for — he also auditioned for the lead role of fan-favorite Rick Grimes.

During a 2020 The Walking Dead Season 1 marathon on AMC, the network also aired the audition tapes of Bernthal and Andrew Lincoln. The two even auditioned side-by-side, but it was Lincoln who was ultimately awarded the role of Rick while Bernthal scored the role of Shane.

Sonequa Martin-Green Auditioned For Michonne

It’s hard to imagine the fast and fierce Michonne being played by anyone but Danai Gurira, but it was almost the case when Sasha’s future portrayer Sonequa Martin-Green put her hat in the ring.

It was revealed by the show’s casting directors that they created the character of Sasha Williams — a character that does not appear in the comics — specifically for the actress after falling in love with her during her audition for Michonne.

Khary Payton Auditioned For A Smaller Role

Khary Payton made his The Walking Dead debut in 2016 as King Ezekiel, seated on a throne next to a CGI tiger. Yet, Payton’s TWD journey could have gone very differently if he landed the role he first auditioned for.

Years before securing the role of King Ezekiel, Payton auditioned for a no-name character who was said to be from Woodbury, GA, the forgotten town from Season 3 that was home to 73 survivors and led by the infamous Governor.

Norman Reedus Auditioned For Merle

It’s safe to say The Walking Dead is what it is thanks to the likes of Norman Reedus, among others. Badass Daryl Dixon made his debut in the third episode of the series, but he almost didn’t exist at all.

Reedus wanted so badly to be a part of the show that the showrunners allowed him to read for the part of Merle Dixon, despite already casting Michael Rooker. This audition was what led TWD heads to create a brand-new character specifically for Reedus, thus introducing Daryl Dixon to the scene.

Alexandra Breckenridge Auditioned For A Pretend Character

Alexandria Breckenridge played the part of Jessie Anderson from Season 5 to Season 6, but the actress had no idea what character she was even auditioning for. In fact, Breckenridge didn’t find out her character’s name until she got to the set.

Breckenridge told Hollywood Reporter of her audition process, “The character I was reading for was trying to sell the coffee shop she owned, and she just found out she had cancer. The whole point was trying to find someone vulnerable and strong at the same time.”

Laurie Holden Auditioned For Lori

Andrea was an original character from The Walking Dead who lasted all the way until the Season 3 finale when a walker bite leads to her death. The actress originally auditioned for a character that would have left her with a shorter stint.

Laurie Holden was first asked by then-executive producer Frank Darabont to audition for the role of Lori Grimes, wife of Rick and mother to Carl and Judith, but was later offered the part of Andrea.

Ethan Embry Auditioned For Rick And Shane

Ethan Embry appeared on The Walking Dead in the Season 6 premiere as Alexandria member Carter, who didn’t make it past that one episode without being eaten by walkers. As such, it may be a surprise to read that he almost ended up with a much larger role on the show.

Embry, a huge fan of the show, originally read for the pilot episode, auditioning for both Shane Walsh and Rick Grimes. He went on to audition for several parts throughout the series before landing his appearance as Carter.

Ted Huckabee Auditioned Merle

TWD fans may remember Ted Huckabee as Bruce, who appeared in 11 episodes over four seasons until he was injured by a Savior’s walker-tainted weapon, left to experience a slow turn until he decided he must receive a mercy-kill.

Huckabee originally went for a more prominent role on the show, auditioning for the part of Merle Dixon. Though the character he scored didn’t remain on the show long, Huckabee does have the honor of being one of six TV show supporting characters to outlive their comic book character.

Melissa McBride Didn’t Audition At All

Melissa McBride’s Carol has become a staple of The Walking Dead, and it’s her undeniable talent that has kept Carol on the show until its final season, unlike her comic book counterpart. But TWD fans may know that unlike most of her castmates, McBride didn’t even need to audition for the show.

McBride credits her small but prominent role in Frank Darabont’s The Mist for her 11-season career as Carol Peletier, revealing she knew nothing about the comics when she was offered the role in the six-episode pilot season.

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