Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Geography of THE WALKING DEAD

A few days ago, I put together a post over on the Internet Movie Database about the geography of THE WALKING DEAD. In this week's episode, "Clear," Rick had revisited his hometown, and, consequently, there had been a lot of talk on the TWD board about exactly how far that town was from the prison at which our heroes are currently encamped. My post was an effort to disentangle some of the questions of geography, at least insofar as they could be disentangled. It led to a relatively productive exchange, which is a rare thing, indeed, for the TWD board these days. "Fabiopepper," a non-U.S. viewer of TWD, said it had helped clarify, for him, where the events depicted on the show were happening. That sounds like a more general vacuum that could use some filling, and, having a little time on my hands, I decided to expand on the discussion here. Even created a little map.

The big caveat to everything I'm about to do here is that TWD's creators do not, at times, seem to be using the real geography of the state of Georgia. They use the names of real places, and often seem to be referencing the actual locations, but there are exceptions, and the reader should keep that in mind.

One of those apparent exceptions occurs in the opening moments of the TWD pilot. Lincoln County police are in pursuit of a group of armed no-accounts, and request assistance from King County law enforcement. King County is a wholly fictional place where Rick and Shane live and work as sheriff's deputies. In the pilot, they get the request over the radio and go about setting up a roadblock to apprehend the fleeing felons. Just before the chase-in-progress gets to them, a radio dispatcher identifies its location as "2 miles west of Interstate 85." As you can see from the map, though, the real I-85 runs nowhere near the real Lincoln County, and county cops chasing anyone "2 miles west of I-85" would have been several counties out of their jurisdiction.

UPDATE (12 March, 2013) - IMDb poster "schatten42" points out that it was Linden, not Lincoln County police requesting assistance in this chase, and, upon review, he's correct. In making the map, I relied on captions that incorrectly recorded the dispatcher as saying "Lincoln County."

The incident does place King County as somewhere along I-85. If, that is, TWD's I-85 is meant to be the real I-85. During that message board exchange, "joeydoobs" noted that "Rubixcube10" had just referenced a new interview with Robert Kirkman in which the TWD creator said "I imagine that King County is always north of Atlanta..." So, to the extent that Kirkman can be taken as a reliable reference,[1] it's at least on the Lincoln County side of the state,and, in a non-zombie-infested world, relatively close to Atlanta, as there's only a little over 90 miles of road between there and where I-85 enters the state in the east.

In season 1, our heroes had made their camp at a quarry on the outskirts of Atlanta. In the episode "Wildfire," Rick makes his daily broadcast to Morgan in the morning and identifies their camp as "a few miles northwest" of Atlanta. Later, in that same ep, the characters, having decided to abandon the quarry, debate the merits of traveling to either Ft. Benning or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ft. Benning is initially rejected because it's "a hundred miles in the opposite direction." After the CDC literally blows up in their faces, though, they head to Benning. Somewhere along this trek, heading southwest out of Atlanta, they encountered Hershel's farm. The farm is overrun at the end of season 2, they drive for a while in an unknown direction, and set up a camp for the evening only a sort distance from the prison.

The series jumps 8 months between season 2 and 3, and we're told the characters have been moving around throughout that time, traveling in circles, apparently in a very small geographic area. They end up back at the prison. The prison's precise location isn't known, but season 3 establishes it's a relatively short distance from Woodbury. The real Woodbury, Georgia is in Meriwether County,  southwest of Atlanta. TWD's Woodbury may not be intended as the real one, but the real one is in the right place, and it doesn't seem any sort of leap to assume they're the same. Kirkman, in that interview, placed it "south of Atlanta."

Logic usually doesn't play a very big role in TWD, though. Viewers of this week's episode came away with the impression that Rick's hometown must be pretty close to the prison. They're using logic. The prison is threatened with a military strike from Woodbury, one that could come at any moment. Surely the characters--particularly the leader--wouldn't want to wander too far from it under those circumstances. At the same time, a trip of any real length is extremely dangerous in a world gone dead. Viewers quite reasonably concluded Rick's hometown must be pretty close to the prison, but that doesn't appear to be the case at all.

As Rick, Michonne, and Carl were driving to King County this week, they went past a sign someone had left beside the road informing an "Erin" that a group was trying to get to Stone Mountain. Stone Mtn. is slightly northeast of Atlanta, south of I-85. It isn't clear how much further the characters drove beyond that, but Kirkman says 'you're looking at maybe a maximum four, five hour drive" between the prison and Rick's home.

So with the group facing imminent annihilation, the characters drove that incredible distance through a zombie-infested Georgia. Every town through which they moved would have had gun stores and police stations ripe for looting, yet they ignored them all to try to collect guns from a police station from which Rick, himself, had already removed all of the guns back in the pilot.[2]

Only on TWD.



[1] And that's quite questionable--Kirkman is the co-creator and owner of the TWD comic and, on paper, an executive producer on the series, but though he describes himself as intimately involved in the series' production, he's racked up quite a history of wildly inaccurate public comments about it that suggest he's not terribly involved and is only minimally aware of what's even happening with it.

[2] A few louder-than-observant posters have challenged the idea that Rick removed all of those guns. The pilot didn't offer an overview of the full contents of the police station's army cage, but we see that it's small, we see weapons have been stripped from it, Rick, upon evaluating it, says "a lot of it's gone missing," then later, in the third ep of season 1, tells everyone "I cleaned out the cage back at the station before I left."

Some have asserted this could just be hyperbole, that he may really only have meant he took all he could carry, seemingly forgetting that he had a police cruiser at the time, and could have filled it. Poster "Angel Angelus" points out the only way Rick's comment about cleaning out the cage wouldn't be a direct lie: "Maybe he means he swept and mopped it?"

To accept the premise of this weeks' ep--that there were still guns there--requires believing that Rick overstated things when he noted the cage had been picked over, and that he recognized the value of the guns (one of the most precious commodities in a zombie apocalypse) but is a cretinous imbecile who, with the ability to effortlessly transport everything, chose to leave a big cache of them behind for no reason at all, and that he intentionally lied to the others, without any conceivable motive for doing so.

It's too silly to take seriously anyone who would even suggest it.

The real reason--and the sole reason--Rick made that long, stupid trip to his hometown this week is because the writers wanted to engineer a reunion with Morgan. That's all.


  1. Kirkman has stated in a recent interview that king county is about 5 hours from the prison. Seeing as Kirkman is from central KY I think it is safe to assume that is about where the location of King County is!

  2. This is almost as bad as breaking bad where Albuquerque is a short distance away from the Mexican border. Way to nitpick though

  3. So, I made my own map. One thing you forgot is that Rick is definitely from Georgia, it is one thing that we know. Bearing that in mind- if we stick with the fact that it is near I-85, in Georgia and North of Atlanta, then the absolute furthest possible place it can be is Lavonia (which I have shown on the map). Based on where the prison is likely to be, that is a 2 and a half hour drive, pre-zombie apocalypse. And that is if it even is as far as Lavonia. So, it's not ridiculously implausible to say that you would drive 2 and a half hours to somewhere that you knew really well if you thought there might be guns there if you weren't having any luck where you were, were unsure what the zombie/hostile people situation was in other places within, say, an hour's drive.
    My map :)

  4. Also, from my research for the map it seems likely that the prison would be West Central Prison in Zebulon and if that is the case then it is about 20 miles from Woodbury (around half an hour's drive and over 6 hour's walk). Just thought I would throw that out there!

  5. @Glasgow Girl, keep in mind that, when driving back to "King County," wherever it may be, you'd have to detour around Atlanta. I think it's reasonable to assume, as you have, that King is a pretty good distance from Atlanta (the fact that Rick ran out of gas just before he got to Atlanta suggests it's a bit of a jaunt).

    Any long drive is extremely dangerous in a zombie apocalypse, and this is one that took Rick away from the prison at a time when it was under imminent attack. He was going for guns he knew weren't there, and driving past dozens of localities that would have plentiful guns to get there. This is just some of TWD's usual bad writing.

    I don't think the prison corresponds to the real West Central Prison. Michonne was pursued by Merle and co. and she ended up at the prison, while Andrea walked from Woodbury to the prison in another ep. 20 miles is an incredible hike on foot, especially through what was described as a heavily zombie-infested area. The prison may just be a fictional locale.

    Of course, everything else may be intended as fictional, too, a caveat that could knock everything both of us have done on this into a cocked hat!

  6. @cinemaarchaeologist I would like to point out before I go further into this discussion that I do believe that in real life you would probably not go back and that it was merely an excuse to see Duane's father again (his name has temporarily slipped my mind!).

    But, I do think it is possible that you would, and I think the thought would definitely cross your mind. My point was that Lavonia is the furthest it could possibly be from where they are and assuming that they are where we think they are (tongue twister!) it is not, relatively, all that far. If you look at a map with other towns listed, feel free to use mine, you will notice that they are sort of in the middle of nowhere.

    Now, we know that they have had no luck in finding any weapons nearby. So, in the situation where you don't know the surrounding area well, don't have the internet to google reasonable nearby places, know you have to steer clear of the bigger towns and cities, then it is reasonable to assume you would drive a few hours to get to somewhere you do know.

    Rick contradicted himself tonight with the whole weapons hold thing so it's hard to know, in the show's world, what was actually going on there. Maybe it is supposed to be that he genuinely thought some were left (he has been going mad after all) or maybe it is just that he thought there may be some more but didn't actually know for sure.

    Either way, I still think it makes sense that you would risk it. I have gone on google maps again for some travelling distances and you could do it ''in current traffic'' in 2 hours 44 minutes from Woodbury to Lavonia, bypassing Atlanta. I think it is safe to assume that it would not be current traffic. Also, like I said, Lavonia is the furthest possible place.

    If we go for Commerce (still close to the I-85, in Georgia and 70 miles from Atlanta) then it is just over 2 hours, bypassing big cities. It is entirely possible that you would go for it, rather than spending even more time driving around aimlessly, hoping to find a town that hadn't been ransacked/infested etc.

  7. Also, to be fair, he did run out of gas but for all we know he could have been 10 miles outside of Atlanta and just had hardly any gas when he started out. He had only just woken up to the world of biters so wouldn't have been as prepared as he now would be.

  8. You wouldn't need Google to find weapons nearby--just a phone book for the locality and a roadmap would offer plenty of chances for finding weapons.

    Though TWD does nothing to establish it, I could buy that they hadn't had any luck finding weapons in the immediate area, or had decided they'd cleaned out what was available, because they said zombies had kept them running in circles for over 8 months in the same relatively small geographic area, but that fact only underscores the insanity in making such a long trip. They had, in fact, always been discouraged from that sort of long stretch on the road--they vetoed going to Benning in season 1 because of the distance (which was probably comparable to the trip from the prison to Rick's hometown), and that was with the entire group traveling. Here, they're under threat of imminent attack, and their leader and one of their best fighters suddenly decides to take another of their best fighters on such a potentially dangerous trip.

    It's just nonsense, and it's done solely because the writers wanted to bring Morgan back into the picture. The writers didn't care that it contradicted what the series had previously established with regard to the weapons at Rick's station; they were counting on their audience not being sharp enough to remember (and, for the most part, seem to have been right).

    I don't think it's remotely reasonable to think Rick started only 10 miles outside Atlanta on fumes. That would be incredibly stupid. His running out of gas clearly implies a longer trip.

    1. Why is it incredibly stupid to leave if there's little gas in the tank? You take what you can get, you go to familiar places, and you bring Michonne with you on your trip because you don't know her and you don't want to leave her in your home without your supervision. I saw that weapons locker...there were way more guns than what fit in the bag he left with. You take the bag because you don't know that you won't find some sort of civilization soon...did Rick really know that he should fill the cruiser? NOW HE KNOWS...he didn't know then. You're being hypercritical here but that just goes to show that you really have no clue about surviving in chaos. Survive for now make a plan later.

    2. Why is it incredibly stupid to leave if there's little gas in the tank? You take what you can get, you go to familiar places, and you bring Michonne with you on your trip because you don't know her and you don't want to leave her in your home without your supervision. I saw that weapons locker...there were way more guns than what fit in the bag he left with. You take the bag because you don't know that you won't find some sort of civilization soon...did Rick really know that he should fill the cruiser? NOW HE KNOWS...he didn't know then. You're being hypercritical here but that just goes to show that you really have no clue about surviving in chaos. Survive for now make a plan later.

  9. Woodbury (fictional) is the main street of Senoia,GA

    Real Woodbury just south of it.

    Some debate on the location of the prison. Some say its on Chestlehurst Rd, Sanoia but this is Riverwood Studios , and IMDB states it's West Central Prison, or West Central Integrated Treatment Facility by it's newer name.
    1070 County Farm Rd, Zebulon GA. (next to baseball fields) on google maps/earth

  10. according to wiki "■Linden County, Georgia is fictitious. It is said to neighbor the fictitious King County, which lies roughly where Fayette and Coweta Counties are in reality to the southwest of Atlanta." if this is accurate then no long journey was made as coweta cty lies directly above meriwether cty and fayette cty to the east of linten county.

  11. sorry correction fayette county is east of coweta county not the misspelled linden.

  12. I live in GA, while this is old I figured I'd add some comments being very familiar with the metro area.

    It took me 2.5-3hrs to get from Carrollton (extreme west GA, few miles from Alabama due West of Atlanta) to Athens during afternoon traffic (Atlanta Traffic is one spot down from LA in lists of worst traffic).

    Given the path of the group going from the town, to the CDC (which for the record is on a large fully enclosed campus just outside the city. It is NOT right next to some gates a few hundred feet from the road. It's a veritable fortress, a nicely landscaped and terraced fortress, but definitely not some office building in the city like they portray.) Then south trying to get to Ft. Benning I could buy the North Eastern location of Rick's home town.

    In a world devoid of traffic, that is NOT a bad drive. Just like in other episodes, driving on the empty other side of the high way to avoid the abandoned traffic jam (also known to those familiar with Atlanta as Tuesday afternoon) it'd be only a 3-4hr round trip max.

    As an aside, the Rock Quarry they camped at is the Westside Reservoir Park, former Bellwood Quarry at 33°46′51″N 84°26′10″W

    It's in the city limits of Atlanta, far North West side with some major thoroughfares very close to all the major highways (I75 and I285). Which makes sense for their trips to the city, though that doesn't mean they used it's real world location in the show.