The Walking Dead – What Makes A Zombie Tick? I Has Questions.



By | Posted on 24 October 2012

Image courtesy AMC

Before you start reading I need to offer a disclaimer:  While it might seem like one, the following is not a criticism of The Walking Dead.  The ramblings spewed forth below are merely some questions I have regarding zombies and my desire to know more.  I love the show, watch it every week, and never miss an episode.  It’s because of my being a fan that I’ve decided to (de)compose this random grouping of words complete with exciting things like italics and even some exclamation points.  So please, dear reader, know that I ask these questions out of love for the show and not some deep-seated resentment over never getting a response to my audition video I emailed to the producers.  Seventeen times.  In three file formats.

I’m a big fan of AMC’s The Walking Dead, which surprised me because I’ve never really gotten into fantasy or horror.  I’ve always been more of a hard scifi fan.  You know the type; if something unusual happens I demand pseudoscientific babble to explain it.  Damn it, Jim, I’m a nerd not a psychic!  I’m not one to just accept that ghosts or magic exist even if that’s part of the world in which a story takes place.  Hell, the whole time I was watching the Harry Potter films with my kids I was trying to think of ways science could account for the so-called magic.  I’m all about Clarke’s three laws…and bacon.

Image courtesy AMC

You’re such a good doggie!

Before you start cursing my name I’m not accusing The Walking Dead of asking us to believe in magic, the supernatural, or even excellent customer service at WalMart.  The reason I’m invading your face with my wordiness is because even though I love the show I really want some scientific insight into what makes the zombies tick.  I’ve never read the comic book series so the only knowledge I have of this rotting world is from the television show.  Unless I missed something the only explanation we’ve been given is zombies are caused by a virus, everyone has the virus, and after you die you’ll reanimate into a zombie given you’ve suffered no brain trauma.  Fine.  That’s a good start, but like the Coke Zero commercials I have to ask, “And?”

So, zombies are technically dead human beings somehow kept going by this virus.  Well, if you didn’t know it gets pretty hot in Atlanta; like birds bursting into flame mid-flight hot.  Dead things don’t last very long in the heat so if zombies are really rotting flesh they all should’ve quite literally fallen apart by now.  I have to assume the virus is slowing the decomposition of the undead flesh, but it would be nice to get a hint as to how, even if it’s just some of that “Treknobabble” I’m so fond of.

Alright, so maybe the deadish denizens are able to literally hold it together via the nutrition they derive from eating the living.  Perhaps the virus somehow keeps the digestive system functioning so all that vein biting is not in vain.  If that’s actually the case, then with no blood flow how do the contents of the stomach get turned into fuel and carried throughout the walkers’ bodies?

Image courtesy AMC

Billy has the best ribs in town.

I have to cry foul here.  One need only look at Michonne’s armless, jawless pets to see they don’t need to eat to keep from rotting to bits.  They can’t eat, unless maybe they get straw fed some fresh brain puree each night.  This points back to my earlier assumption that the virus is somehow slowing decomposition.  But how?!  From the timeline of the show, Michonne and her putrid pals met Andrea when Lori was very early in her pregnancy.  It’s now several months later and the decaying duo have shown no signs of decay at all.  Sustaining tissue requires energy so how does the virus get the energy to keep the tissue intact enough to not only function, but often not show any signs of decay?

Let’s just accept for a moment that the virus somehow manages to make the digestive system work.  Never mind that it’s designed to work using an oxygenated blood flow throughout the body and these guys have no heartbeat.  If we go with that, and forgive me for being indelicate here, what’s one of the end results of digestion, people?  Everybody does it.  There’s even a children’s book about it.  Yes, if you digest something you eventually gotta potty.  If that’s the case, by now there should be a whole lotta zombies stumbling about with really overloaded Underoos.  Our survivors should easily be able to avoid getting overrun by simply avoiding the smell of poo.

Image courtesy AMC

Someone has a tummy ache.

Now if we take the alternative approach and say the zombies don’t digest what they eat we’ve got a whole other ball of wax, but still a problem of overloading something.  These guys eat a lot, when they can, that is, and a stomach can only hold so much.  This leaves us with what I call the “Mr. Creosote Conclusion.”  If you haven’t seen Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, Mr. Creosote is an impossibly obese man who eats so much that his tummy goes boom.  Before the gastric explosion he also “regurgitates” frequently into a bucket.  If the flesh eaten by the walkers isn’t going anywhere one would think they’d end up like Mr. Creosote and go barf, splat, or both.

Another thing that’s bothering me (In case you hadn’t noticed, almost everything bothers me.) is the living already being infected with zombiefluenza.  No, I’m not bothered that they have the virus as it’s obviously airborne, but more bugged by why it shows no effect on the living in various circumstances.  For instance, I thought maybe if someone was asleep or knocked out cold the virus might take over the more basic regions of the brain and cause them to be “sleep walkers.”  Why does the virus only wait until the body has stopped working to get it started again?  It would seem much more efficient for the virus to start controlling a living body and just keep it running even after it dies than to wait until it goes cold and give it a jump start.  Why steal a car with a dead battery is all I’m saying…

Maybe we’ll get some answers as the show progresses, but I doubt it.  I can live with that, but I’ll always wonder.

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Editor for Three If By Space. Tom first became interested in science fiction & science as a very young child thanks to his parents. His earliest memories of enjoying scifi were sitting with his dad watching first-run episodes of the original Star Trek. Although a rabid fan of nearly all forms of scripted television, some of Tom’s favorite shows are Firefly, Falling Skies, Doctor Who, Red Dwarf, the X-Files and all versions of both Star Trek and Stargate. He also has a particular love for British television and dearly hopes to one day visit the UK.

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