Marvel Studio's Black Panther will have a sadly poignant connection to AMC's The Walking Dead with a tribute to John Bernecker, a stuntman who died tragically during the filming of the series' eighth season. The 33-year-old had just completed stunt work on the upcoming film before heading to Senoia, Georgia, for filming on The Walking Dead's current season. During an advanced screening of the film, it was revealed that director Ryan Coogler has given the late stunt man his own "face time" during the film.
Keeping this as spoiler-free vague as possible, Bernecker can be seen during a casino sequence towards the beginning of the film. During one scene, he stands out in the center of the frame while wearing a black suit among gamblers, Wakandans and deadly double-crossers.
And this may not be Bernecker's final screen appearance: he also completed stunt work on the upcoming Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Jeffrey Dean Morgan action film Rampage, releasing later in 2018.
"There are no words to describe the loss of my son, John, who was a highly professional, veteran stuntman with a remarkable passion for life. He was very respected and loved in the film industry. This tragedy has changed our family forever and has left us with many questions that deserve answers." – Susan Bernecker
In July 2017, Bernecker was filming a stunt for The Walking Dead's eighth season that required him to fall approximately 22 feet off of a balcony and onto a safety cushion that was set below. Assistant director Matthew Goodwin stated that Bernecker did not achieve "good separation" from the balcony, resulting in severe injuries that the Coweta County Sheriff's Office reports were caused by the stuntman landing on his head and neck on the concrete next to the safety cushion. Immediate aid was rendered, and Bernecker was airlifted to an Atlanta medical center where he was place on a ventilator. His family asked that the ventilator be turned off the following day.
Production on The Walking Dead was suspended briefly, and a number of cast and crew took to social media to express their heartbreak and condolences. Showrunner Scott M. Gimple and executive producers Gale Anne Hurd, Robert Kirkman, Dave Alpert, and Greg Nicotero cancelled their panel at the Television Critics Association (TCA) press event to attend Bernecker's funeral.
The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) hit Stalwart Films with the maximum fine allowable by law under the citation issued. In OSHA's official statement regarding the fine that was released, Stalwart Films was called out for "failing to protect employees from fall hazards while filming the television show, The Walking Dead."
"OSHA issued a serious citation and proposed penalties totaling the maximum allowable fine of $12,675, for the company's failure to provide adequate protection from fall hazards. OSHA investigated Stalwart's filming location in Senoia after a stuntman was fatally injured after falling more than 20 feet."
Susan Bernecker — John's mother — and his estate have filed a civil suit through Georgia state court seeking a variety of unspecified damages. The suit not only names AMC but also actor Austin Amelio (Dwight) and a number of production companies associated with the series.