The Walking Dead has been on the air so long, it’s hard to believe there was ever a time when it wasn’t. When it premiered in 2010, it singlehandedly revived the zombie genre (and AMC, finally giving them the ratings hit that critical darlings like Mad Men and Breaking Bad struggled to provide).
The show, along with Game of Thrones, also ushered in a new era of prestige genre series, where the goofiest sci-fi, fantasy, and horror premises are elevated by feature-quality budgets and large ensembles of Hollywood’s hottest actors.
Since its Frank Darabont-produced beginnings, in fact, The Walking Dead has practically acted as a clearinghouse for new, exciting talent. The show, at least in its prime years, delighted in building up a rotating roster of main characters it could kill off (or otherwise deem AWOL) at will to keep audiences guessing. For some, it was because the writers found the right moment to write them off the show. Others wanted out because they heard Hollywood knocking on their door.
As the show prepares for its eleventh (!) and final season this Sunday (August 22nd), we’re looking back at the Walking Dead cast members for whom the show proved their big break, and the meteoric heights many of them have reached since exiting the show (including Oscar nominations!).
Strap on your crossbow and keep your eyes peeled: We’re going star-hunting.