MOLINE — Sometime between 2011 and 2012, Alyssa Mullan developed an intense desire to walk with the dead.
The Sterling native, now 30 and living in Moline, has traveled to Georgia several times to sit in a makeup chair for an hour and half, transforming into one of "The Walking Dead's" walkers.
"It's kind of amazing what you can push yourself to do if you get that mindset," the mother of three said. "I've never went on my own out of state, let alone on a production that big, so, it was all a lot of first for me as a young adult."
Her urge to join the ranks of the popular TV show's undead began to intensify during the show's second season in 2012, 5 years after she graduated from Sterling High School.
Instead of telling herself it was a pipe dream, Mullan started to blast emails to everyone she could think of, trying to get a spot on the show.
No one responded.
In a last-ditch effort to find out who she needed to speak to get a part, she left a comment on an official Walking Dead social media site. A production assistant responded, pointing Mullan to the show's casting and extras agency.
"They wanted local people," said Mullan, who was more than willing to drive the 800 miles. "I told him I’m willing to travel. I don’t care. I’ll do it."
She contacted the casting agency, forgetting to mention that she was living in Moline, and got an email 2 days later asking her to submit a video of her zombie walk.
"I got decked out. I did my own zombie makeup. Then I went into my backyard, which was overgrown at the time, and I just did it."
The next day, she got the invite to attend Zombie School in Senoia, Georgia. She had 3 days to make it to the set.
"I just dropped everything and drove 14 hours to Zombie School," Mullan said.
What she thought was training to be a walker turned out to be an audition, a fact she said she's glad she didn't know at the time. Once it was over, she was taken outside to see the Season 3 set.
"We walked out there, and it was the prison set," her favorite part of the comic, she said.
Her dead-eyed determination paid off – Mullan now has appeared on at least nine episodes, and she's no longer a little speck in the background.
During Season 5, she admitted to a makeup artist she travels from Moline, then immediately regretted the confession.
"Instead, he was blown away that I came all this way," Mullan said.
He made sure sure got a good role, and that's when she began getting parts working with the stars, one-on-one.
"I was taken out by the main character [Rick Grimes], which is cool," Mullan said.
It's not all guts and glory, though. The days are long, and Georgia is humid.
Mullan sometimes arrives on set around 5 a.m. to get her costume done, then sits around 8 to 12 hours waiting to take the walk.
The worst part of the wait is watching her fellow walkers eat. Those with prosthetics have to be very careful not to mess up their makeup.
"They would just be maneuvering things into their mouth gently. It's the funniest and creepiest thing to watch," she said. "It's really gross."
But watching creepy zombie feasts, the long drive and the sultry Georgia weather aren't enough to dissuade Mullan from following her passion.
She's come a long way since her teen years, when she battled stage fright auditioning for plays as a teenager while dreaming of an acting career.
"It's kind of cool to discover these new things about yourself and think 'Oh my gosh,I've been telling myself lies all these years that I can't do this, and look what I did with a simple change in my thought process.'"
Now she's also worked on the spinoff "Fear the Walking Dead" in Austin, Texas, and even has done some stunt work. And while she isn't opposed to work on the show as a living actor, she appreciates the opportunities TWD has brought her, and she's grateful for how it challenged her and changed her outlook.
"I never really believed in myself too much. That's another thing 'The Walking Dead' helped me with. I got to quash that part of me."
Alyssa Mullan has appeared in "The Walking Dead" in:
Season 3, episodes 1, 2, 4, 7 and 14
Season 5, episodes 1 and 2
Season 8, episodes 1 and 2
She's also landed walker roles on the show's spinoff. "Fear the Walking Dead".
To learn more about Mullan and her work, find Alyssa Mullan TWD walker on Facebook or follow her on Instagram at Alyssalm88.