Zombies 101

One of my favorite television shows these days is definitely AMC’s The Walking Dead, and I haven’t generally been a fan of the whole “zombie” genre, although I really liked Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later… and I am Legend. With The Walking Dead, though, I’m not really sure the writers adhere to a certain set of rules regarding how zombies behave. So, I thought I’d write a set of guidelines on the subject. Enjoy!

Things zombies can do:

  1. Zombies can hear
  2. Zombies can smell
  3. Zombies can move… slowly
  4. Zombies can grab things using their hands (if they have hands)
  5. Zombies can bite (if Michonne hasn’t already removed their jaws)
  6. Zombies can growl
  7. Zombies can move their head and limbs normally

Things zombies cannot or do not do:

  1. Zombies don’t circulate blood
  2. Zombies don’t sleep
  3. Zombies don’t run
  4. Zombies don’t jump
  5. Zombies don’t swim
  6. Zombies don’t reason
  7. Zombies don’t get tired or rest
  8. Zombies don’t lay down or sit down
  9. Zombies can’t climb (stairs, slight inclines are okay)
  10. Zombies bodies don’t regenerate on a cellular level
  11. Zombies don’t communicate with each other
  12. Zombies don’t “play dead” or in any way misrepresent anything

Things I’m not sure if they can do or not:

  1. Can zombies see?
  2. Can zombies feel? (touch, not emotions)
  3. Do zombies salivate, chew and/or swallow?

All these observations lead me to these conclusions and questions:

  • There has to be some sort of low-level brain function, otherwise they could not move, smell, hear or know when to grab or bite.
  • If zombies can chew and swallow what they bite, then they must salivate and be able to digest their “food”. And if they’re able to digest food, then they would need to defecate and urinate. And since you don’t see stains on the fronts and backs or their clothes, I’d assume that they cannot salivate, chew, swallow or digest their food.
  • If they cannot do the most basic function of eating, they must simply be biting their victims and tearing their flesh and muscles, and then letting them fall away.
  • If they are able to swallow, but do not digest food, then their stomachs are becoming full. If that’s the case, would they still feed? What would happen if they did?
  • I maintain that the walker that bit Hershel violated rules 14, 15 and 19, so this is a case where the writers screwed up.
  • If their bodies don’t heal (rule 17), then eventually the flesh and muscles will decay, the ligaments holding the bones together will wear down and the body will fall apart. If that’s the case, their numbers will begin to dwindle after a few months (years?)
  • Rule 8 is critical. If zombies don’t circulate blood, how do they infect their victims? Also, when the body falls apart and the skull is simply laying there on the ground, will the brain continue to function, or will it shrivel up and die?
  • If everyone has the virus within them, does that mean that if Rick, say, simply died of non zombie-related causes, would he become a walker anyway? If that’s the case, why did it suddenly start happening now?

Other questions cross my mind when I’m watching The Walking Dead, like:

  • Even though it’s rural Georgia (presumably North of Atlanta), why doesn’t anyone think to go find a Walmart or a Sears somewhere? They’d have guns, ammo, clothes, medicine, tires and other car-repair equipment, building supplies and some non-perishable food.
  • If the group has been living in these conditions for months, wouldn’t the beards be longer? Wouldn’t the arm-pits and leg hair be longer? Wouldn’t they all be stinking? Presumably people’s teeth will be rotting out soon, because no one’s brushing their teeth.
  • What about women’s menstrual cycles? I know women survived for thousands of years without tampons and pads, but how would Maggie and the others deal with the problem?
  • If couples like Glenn and Maggie are having sex, are they considering what they’ll do if the woman becomes pregnant, or are they using condoms?
  • If the zombie apocalypse comes, and public utility workers either flee or turn, will the plumbing still work? I assume the electricity will not, but I’m not so sure about the water.
  • How did the group get inside the prison? Presumably the guards had the building locked down, wouldn’t you think?
  • Why don’t you hear more people praying or talking about God? This is Georgia, after all. Some people would be praying, others would be questioning why God would allow this to happen.
  • Where do people urinate and defecate? Especially inside the cell block? When the prisoners were in the kitchen they did their “business” in the refrigerator, but that may have been because there was no bathroom in the kitchen area. If the plumbing still works, then a bathroom would be preferable, but if it does, wouldn’t it have working sinks at least, allowing everyone to wash themselves?
  • I assume that, given the makeup of the groups, that no obese people, blind people, deaf people, mentally or physically-handicapped people or people with medical conditions that require medications (Type I Diabetes, asthmatics, people needing dialysis, etc.) haven’t survived. Neither have most children and teenagers.
  • Why doesn’t anyone listen to a radio? Surely there’s someone, somewhere, who’s trying to find out if there’s life elsewhere.
  • If you snapped a zombie’s neck, it wouldn’t “die”, but would it be able to walk?
  • Wouldn’t the second floor and above, or an island be the best places to be safe?

Yes, I know The Walking Dead is fictional and I’m supposed to suspend my disbelief, but stories should be cohesive and logical, to the best of their ability. That said, there aren’t a huge number of flaws in the show thus far.

3 Comments for “Zombies 101”

says:

Zombies can’t climb (stairs, slight inclines are okay)

I don’t think this is correct. In season one, episode two, T-Dog chained the door to the roof that they stranded Merle on. He did this to prevent zombies from getting up there. Then in the beginning of episode three, we see that his fears of zombies climbing the stairs to the roof were justified, and Merle cuts his hand off, seemingly fearing that they’ll break through the door.

If they are able to swallow, but do not digest food, then their stomachs are becoming full. If that’s the case, would they still feed? What would happen if they did?

They do swallow. In season two, a zombie’s stomach was cut open to see what it had eaten. It’s possible that they don’t digest, but just regurgitate their food. But there’s nothing to suggest that they don’t just defecate in transit.

If their bodies don’t heal (rule 17), then eventually the flesh and muscles will decay, the ligaments holding the bones together will wear down and the body will fall apart. If that’s the case, their numbers will begin to dwindle after a few months (years?)

Yes. Rendering them immobile. Which won’t kill them immediately, as they will eventually starve to death (revealed in season three), just very, very slowly.

Why doesn’t anyone listen to a radio? Surely there’s someone, somewhere, who’s trying to find out if there’s life elsewhere.

Only the very lucky and the very ruthless survived past that first winter. At a certain point, the odds that the person you’d contact over the radio is lucky rather than just really ruthless get very low. If you’ve read The Road you’ll be familiar with this predicament, where all other people are feared, because if they’re still alive, they’re almost certainly killing other people for ammo, food, and supplies.

If everyone has the virus within them, does that mean that if Rick, say, simply died of non zombie-related causes, would he become a walker anyway? If that’s the case, why did it suddenly start happening now?

Yes (to the Q about Rick). Obviously it wasn’t always the case that everyone had the virus. There must have been an event. And then it spread. When people died, they turned. Getting biten seems to trigger a severe immune reaction that kills the bite victim, at which point they turn like any other infected person who dies. So the bite isn’t dangerous in that it infects you — it just seems to trigger a reaction that kills you.

If zombies don’t circulate blood, how do they infect their victims?

Saliva, maybe?

Why don’t you hear more people praying or talking about God? This is Georgia, after all. Some people would be praying, others would be questioning why God would allow this to happen.

Rick talks to God in season two, when they’re looking for Sophie. And Hershel seems to be religious. Perhaps anyone else religious has given up on God — understandable, given the near total elimination of the human race.

why doesn’t anyone think to go find a Walmart or a Sears somewhere? They’d have guns, ammo, clothes, medicine, tires and other car-repair equipment, building supplies and some non-perishable food.

Those only exist in sufficiently populated areas. So the person-to-Walmart ratio is probably higher than the person-to-Mom-n-Pop-store ratio. You saw what a clusterf*@k Atlanta was. Maybe rural pockets, overlooked by the masses, are the only thing left?

If couples like Glenn and Maggie are having sex, are they considering what they’ll do if the woman becomes pregnant, or are they using condoms?

Glenn was shown grabbing condoms at one point. I sure hope they’ve been using them since. Wouldn’t be too hard to grab some on one of their runs. Doubt it was something that people would have cleaned stores out of.

How did the group get inside the prison? Presumably the guards had the building locked down, wouldn’t you think?

Given that the outer yard was full of zombies, I’m guessing doors were left open. And then at some point they got a pair of keys.

Where do people urinate and defecate? Especially inside the cell block?

Maybe in buckets that they empty outside?

If the zombie apocalypse comes, and public utility workers either flee or turn, will the plumbing still work? I assume the electricity will not, but I’m not so sure about the water.

Plumbing won’t work for long without power, no. It takes energy to pump water.

If you snapped a zombie’s neck, it wouldn’t “die”, but would it be able to walk?

No. Just like severed limbs don’t appear to continue to be animated. There is some level of brain stem activity.

says:

Here are the things that bother me:

— Very shallow (like, two inch) knife stabs to places like the forehead and the eye socket are shown to almost immediately immobilize zombies. That doesn’t seem right. They seem to have only very basic functions. Why would a stab to the outer layer of the neocortex do any damage? They’re not using it.
— No one seems to be worried about getting zombie blood on them. Do they know for a fact that it’s just via saliva that they can get severely infected (as everyone is already infected at a low level)? I would think that they’d be more careful. Heck, even saliva could get in their eye with some of the gruesome up-close kills they do. No one seems interested in protecting their mucous glands from zombie fluids of any kind.
— Spears. Easily crafted from other sharp weapons. Allow for zombie kills at a distance with low risk, and without annoyance of arrow retrieval. Requires little skill. Why is no one using them?
— Zombie power. Zombies seem so be insanely energetically efficient. Walking for months without food or water. They also have very simple motivations: feed on living flesh. So why didn’t Woodbury use their zombie traps to set up zombie power mills? We’ve used animals as power sources for things like water pumps for hundreds of years. Why not hitch zombies up to a spoke system, with some fresh meat in front of each? Use that to generate electricity.
— ATP. Regarding the previous point, the energetic longevity of zombies seems implausible. As in, it doesn’t seem chemically possible. 28 Days Later seemed to have a more realistic take on this — zombies lasted for about 8 weeks before becoming too weak to walk.

says:

All very, very good points, Mark, except that I did suggest zombies could climb stairs. Maybe I should rewrite that to make it clearer?

What I meant was they can’t climb fences, stacks of pallets, etc. Near vertical inclines. Even Morgan devised a trap for zombies, should they be smart enough to climb the stairs to his hideout.

Oh, and I’d forgotten to include the point I’d wanted to make at the very beginning, that just as science fiction books and movies in the 1950s were metaphors for Communism, I believe the public’s fascination with zombies may have a bit of connection with today’s “doomsday preppers”, fearing the destruction of civilization after the economy breaks down.

…Just a theory.

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