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Zombies, mostly referred to in-universe as walkers, roamers, geeks, lurkers, biters and infected, are an antagonistic force that serve as the primary catalyst for the events within The Walking Dead universe. They serve as universal antagonists.
Etymology & Definition
The English word "zombie" is first recorded in 1819, in a history of Brazil by the poet Robert Southey, in the form of "zombi." The Oxford English Dictionary gives the origin of the word as West African, and compares it to the Kongo words "nzambi" (god) and "zumbi" (fetish).
For more details, read Zombie on Wikipedia.
Zombie: The reanimated corpse of a human being that has regained limited function and mobility, as well as developed an insatiable hunger for flesh.
Reanimated human beings, while not immortal, will not "die" under typical conditions that would ordinarily cause the death of a living person. They do not appear to feel or respond to pain, can survive even the most brutal injuries, and despite their bottomless appetite for flesh, they do not need food, water, or sleep to survive.
They show no other bodily function that relates to a human, showing no signs of self-healing or response to extreme temperatures. The brain maintains limited abilities of the body, allowing for movement of the limbs (provided that they are not decomposed to the point where the bones are not strong enough to bend without breaking), jaws, neck, and even the use of its sensory systems. While the walkers are notoriously weaker than humans, the only way to kill one is to destroy the brain. Despite severely weakened frames, they will continue to hunt for living animals to consume. Even when decapitated, the head will remain active, even though it would be practically harmless at such point.
While the term "zombie" does exist within The Walking Dead universe, it is seldom used. In the Comic Series, when Rick Grimes's group discover the prison, both Rick and Tyreese discuss how it still sounds funny to use the word "zombie." Likewise, in the Telltale video game, the term is used very rarely.
"Zombie" has not been used in the TV series; when interviewed, Lauren Cohan stated that Romero movie zombies never existed in the popular fiction of the TV Walking Dead universe. The characters within The Walking Dead TV series and comic books come up with their own monikers and categorizations for the undead.
The term "zombie" originated with the Haitian practice of voodoo and refers to a person who is reanimated as a slave in the thrall of another person. Those zombies are still clinically alive and can be restored, where the "walkers" of The Walking Dead are in fact dead, presumably not under any control, and cannot be restored.
The Zombies of "The Walking Dead"
- "Just to get this on record once and for all... and it is complicated, I know... here's how zombification works. Whatever makes people come back as zombies after they die--it's inside them. It's inside everyone. No matter how anybody dies, as long as the brain is intact... they turn into a zombie. Well... bites, and direct to blood contact with zombie gunk, [...] causes death. It's a strong infection that leads to fever that kills someone. Then the "virus" or whatever is already in them... turns them into a zombie."
- —Robert Kirkman[src]
Zombies are relatively weak and unintelligent as individuals, but are dangerous in large numbers and in tight spaces. They are the main antagonists within the post-apocalyptic world of The Walking Dead. The vast majority of the human population (6.9 billion people as of 2010) has been wiped out by zombies, which at their peak, outnumbered humans 5,000 to 1.
As a species, Kirkman's zombies do not evolve and are permanently doomed to just deteriorate until there's nothing left but the skeleton.
Everyone in The Walking Dead universe somehow contracted the zombie pathogen that, for reasons and through means unknown, brings the recently deceased back to "life." It is unknown where the disease originated from nor is it known whether if it's a natural or a manmade disease. The exact taxonomy of the pathogen is also unknown. Curiously, the pathogen itself does not kill its hosts. Instead it remains dormant, likely within in neural cells in the brain, leaving its host visibly and physically healthy. Only when the host dies, does the pathogen become active, infecting and reviving neural structures in the brain stem and certain parts of the cerebellum, turning a human into a zombie. A zombie is thus a condition a recently deceased host enters when the pathogen is in its active stage.
The zombie pathogen seems to possess two separate, but parallel modes of infection: latent and fluid contact/bites/scratches.
- Latent: In The Walking Dead universe, most, if not every, human being on the planet is believed to be infected by the zombie pathogen. It is currently unknown how one contracts the dormant stage of the pathogen, though its apparent total infection rate worldwide suggests it is either air-borne, water-borne, or both. Once infected, the virus spreads thoughout the body, likely concentrating in the central nervous system. However, so long as the host remains alive, the pathogen remains latent or dormant within them and is asymptomatic to the host.
- Fluid Contact/Bites/Scratches: Though physical contact with a zombie's saliva or blood will not cause an individual fatal infection, any fluid contact with open wounds will lead to irreversible contamination of the individual. However, zombie bites are not necessarily fatal because of the zombie pathogen. One possible explanation is that, through bites, the active pathogen within zombies induces a fatal and irreversible cytokine storm, further exacerbated by infection by bacteria that reside in a zombie's mouth. Scratches could cause similar infections for similar reasons, however, no one in the comic or TV-show has ever gotten the fever as a result of a scratch. While zombie scratches and clawing rarely cause fatal infections, the deep gouges generally left by zombie bites are almost always fatal; death can be potentially be avoided if the bite is on an appendage, which then must be immediately amputated. However, this does not always work, and bites on the torso, or on veins or arteries are universally fatal. Even if an amputation proves successful at removing the infection, blood loss and subsequent infection is also extremely dangerous due to the generally unprofessional execution of the procedure.
In the comic series, getting zombie bodily fluid (blood, bile, saliva, etc.) or any part of the body directly into the blood stream causes infection, fever, and death, as evidenced by Negan's successful tactic to cover weapons in zombie flesh and guts for one-hit kills.
It is unclear in the TV-series whether or not the rule of infection above from the comic series is applicable. Sasha accidently cut Abraham's arm with her zombie-blood soaked knife, yet he survived, indicating that the rules in the television series are different. This was referenced earlier in the Season 2 episode "18 Miles Out", where Shane cuts his own hand with a knife that was previously used to kill a walker, and later wipes his cut hand on a place which a walker has licked.
Symptoms of Infections
The zombie pathogen seems to possess two stages: a dormant stage and an active stage.
As mentioned previously, during the dormant stage, the pathogen is asymptomatic. The host will thus remain healthy despite being technically 'infected' and will contain to remain so as long they are alive. As soon as the host dies, the dormant pathogen enters the active stage and will begin the process of reanimating the body through the infection and reactivation of neural structures in the brain. No matter how an individual dies, unless their brain was severely damaged or destroyed, they will reanimate into a zombie following death.
The pathogen enters the active stage when an individual dies and is responsible for the host's reanimation as a zombie. When an inidividual is bitten by a zombie, the active pathogen is transmitted into them as well as a plethora of bacteria and other infectious agents that reside in a zombie's mouth. In the event that amputation fails or is not possible, it is believed that the active pathogen then induces a fatal and irreversible cytokine storm, causing a high fever, aches, extreme fatigue, and nausea. As the infection progresses, the active pathogen invades and spreads through the brain like meningitis, infecting synapses and other neural structures that are concentrated in the brain stem and parts of the cerebellum. At the climax of the infection, the adrenal glands hemmorhage and the brain completely shuts down. All brain activity would cease, followed by the major organs and the body would be clinically dead: no measurable brain activity, no refexes, and no respiration or pulse. The time between the onset of the symptoms and death, followed by reanimation is very dependent on the severity, location, and quantity of the bite wound(s) of individuals who cannot be saved.
Those bitten expereince the following symptoms:
- Weakness and fatigue
- Pale skin
- Diluted pupils
- Fluid discharge
- Spontaneous aggression or anger
- Hair loss and missing scalp pieces
- Coughing up Blood
- Pale yellow sclera (video game only)
- Delirium (video game only)
- Internal hemmoraging
- Organ failure
- "The rule is WHATEVER it is that causes the zombies, is something everyone already has. If you stub your toe, get an infection and die, you turn into a zombie, UNLESS your brain is damaged. If someone shoots you in the head and you die, you're dead. A zombie bite kills you because of infection, or blood loss, not because of the zombie "virus.""
- —Robert Kirkman[src]
- "A dead body wouldn't become a walker until its body temperature had lowered enough that another walker wouldn't be tempted to bite it. It reaches a very dead corpse state before reanimation occurs."
- —Robert Kirkman[src]
The dead corpse of anyone that dies for any reason will reanimate as a zombie, unless the brain of the individual is badly damaged or destroyed or the person was dead prior to the outbreak. As seen on the MRI of Candace Jenner, when a person dies, the active pathogen they carry reactivates critical areas of the brain that it infected, specifically the brain stem and some parts of the cerebrum and cerebellum, that support necessary vital systems such as movement, resulting in reanimation after a variable amount of time. Since the active pathogen only reactivates the brain stem and not parts of the brain such as the frontal lobe and neocortex that are responsible for higher-order brain functions, the reanimated person retains only a physical resemblance to their former self.
In the TV Series, it was stated that a corpse can reanimate between three minutes and eight hours after death, though the video game suggests that it could happen in seconds.
In the comic book, the group commonly encounters two zombie types: wandering, noise attracted "roamers," and lethargic "lurkers." In the first volume, a lurker is seen eating a deer. It ignores Rick and Shane. In Volume 5, a lurker bites Allen as he carelessly passes it by.
In Volume 10, Eugene studies a lurker that is too weak to move, suggesting that after time and lack of food, roamers become lurkers that become less alert and active as time passes.
In a recent letter column, Kirkman promises more hints of zombie physiology, and in a recent column he confirmed that "...whatever is making them walk around is also keeping them from rotting to bones in a matter of weeks."
A zombie "lifetime" varies, though it is known that a human will likely outlive a zombie through the course of many years/decades.
The body of the corpses, very likely through the zombie pathogen, manages to avoid immediate decomposition like regular human corpses, being able to halt or at least slow down, decomposition for years, if not decades at a time.
In the show, it has been demonstrated that zombies don't require sustenance by eating, but have a strong desire to do so. This is despite the fact that they have no digestive or circulatory activity which makes them unable to digest whatever flesh they consume. Zombies do not need to breathe, evidenced by Pete Dolgen still trying to reach for humans while underwater.
Zombies may very rarely "dodge" melee attacks by leaning out of the way slightly, and some have been observed holding up their arms to likewise block attacks.
Milton Mamet once stated that zombies do starve, but "slower" than humans.
Zombies have the ability to detect scents and can differentiate between the living and the dead; they prefer to feed on living flesh. Covering one's self in the scent of decay can act as a camouflage. They can also use sight to distinguish the living from the dead, although they seem to have poor eyesight as their irises fade and decay over time. They make up for this with heightened senses of hearing and smell. Darkness seems to have little effect on zombies' senses at close range, and in areas devoid of light they can still find their way around as they would in the day.
Individual zombie strength depends on the physical makeup of the individual and on how long they have been reanimated. When attacking, zombies often become more lively, exhibiting full-body effort, and can produce enough force to quickly overwhelm an adult human. Zombies have been shown to be able to rip open human and animal victims with ease, and they can even rip off human limbs with enough force. As zombies decay, however, their muscles, and consequently, their entire body, becomes slowly, but surely, weaker.
Zombies feel no pain. Although slow and seemingly unintelligent when not active, they can react quickly to sufficient stimulation, and can rapidly overpower a victim they have taken by surprise. Though their bodies are no more or less durable than a non-decomposed human body, they can absorb all manner of physical damage, even when badly decomposed. Anything other than a head attack, spinal cord severing, or dismemberment leaves them seemingly unfazed. As long as their brain remains intact, everything that is attached to the brain can continue to function as normal, even if only the skull remains and is severed from the body.
Other than a mostly intact brain, zombies don't appear to require any vital systems or organ functions to survive, although their ambulatory functions do decrease as their level of decomposition increases. Sufficient physical damage can slow them down, or render them incapacitated.
Compared to humans, zombies have rather limited mobility. Unstimulated, zombies stand still, or shuffle around slowly. When in this state they are sometimes referred to as "lurkers," as they can quickly activate, attack and kill. Zombies can also be found lying on the ground or in piles of other bodies, and can appear to be dead until stimulated. If they are pursuing a possible victim, zombies can move somewhat more quickly, roughly equivalent to a very light jogging pace. They can also lunge very short distances to grab close prey. They are difficult to shake off if they do manage to grab their victims, often allowing their arm to be ripped off before they will begin to let go.
- "Attracted to sound and movement. Compulsion to eat never subsides. Susceptible to group behavior that makes movement easy to predict and control. They're simple creatures. Easy to figure out."
- —Eugene, regarding zombie behavior.[src]
A reanimated body responds to stimuli such as light, scent, and loud noises. Oddly, even if the head is separated from the body, as long as the brain is intact, the head will still attempt to eat anything within reach. The body of a zombie does appear to be truly dead, which means that it does not feel pain, has no reflexes, and wounds to it will not heal; its rate of decomposition slows drastically but does continue.
There is anecdotal evidence that some retain vestigial elements of memory and personality and this is shown some repeating behavior such as clinging to possessions, attempting to open doors, and even using large rocks to break through windows and doors. Zombies though, are incredibly unintelligent and generally unable to use tools or understand the need for them. It has been hinted at that newly reanimated corpses retain some basic sense of intellect and perhaps memory, and can perform very basic tasks such as opening doors. They have no sense of self-preservation other than eating, and will not react at all to the deaths of other zombies or to potentially lethal dangers to themselves.
Zombies instinctively bite whatever prey they come in contact with, but have also been observed clawing at, tearing, and even punching humans and animals in order to topple them.
- "These things only go down with a head shot."
- —Daryl Dixon describing how to kill zombies.[src]
They are only truly killed by destroying the brain, a common theme in many zombie variations. A severed head will remain animated and aggressive until the brain is destroyed or eventually disintegrates from decomposition. Fire has little effect on zombies, other than possibly angering them further, and normally lethal things such as acid or electricity also do little to impede them. They can be paralyzed if their spinal cords are severed, though this does not kill them, even if their heads are severed from the bodies.
- "Just a shell driven by mindless instinct."
- —Dr. Edwin Jenner describing the intelligence of zombies.[src]
Mostly, zombies are void of any emotional expression and thought. When stimulated, whether by noise, sight of prey, or simply encountering a problem they cannot solve, such as being unable to open a locked door, they quickly descend into a state of murderous aggression. If they spot prey when stimulated, they can pursue them ceaselessly, showing ravenous hunger.
They are not hunters, however, and take no concern in alerting their victims or trying to hunt them with intelligence, always seeming to roar, grunt, and growl whenever they are stimulated. Zombies seem to be drawn to noise (such as that of a gunshot), presumably because they attribute the source of the noise to be caused by potential victims. They have however occasionally been shown to be able to catch their victims by surprise, notably the walker who fatally wounded Dale Horvath which approached him silently and before pouncing him was only stimulated when Dale turned to see it.
Zombies also tend to form groups and stick together, and mimic the actions of other zombies, giving them a mob mentality. This can lead to zombies forming "herds," large hordes of zombies are far more dangerous and aggressive than smaller groups. In "Guts," zombies retain a further animalistic trait within their "herds," appearing to "sniff out" or examine new-coming zombies before leaving them be, as they do to Rick and Glenn, which may indicate that zombies seem to be able to familiarize themselves with their own kind and be cautious of ones they do not recognize.
Newer zombies may rarely use primitive tools, such as using a heavy brick to smash a window, but none have any high-level abilities to use items in their environment.
They lack any remaining speech capabilities, and can only moan, grunt, or wheeze, as well as roar and scream when alerted. Zombies are not shown to be able to "communicate" with other zombies by any means, though they will frequently copy the actions they witness other zombies perform, such as bashing on a door or moving in a group, eventually forming a herd.
Robert Kirkman wrote on Reddit:
...In the beginning of the show we saw walkers do things like using a rock to help bash the doors in or turning a door knob, is there a reason we've stopped seeing them do that?
"Older zombies are less together and capable or doing things like that. Fresher zombies, which there were more of in season one, are able to do more than older, more rotted zombies.
Zombies prefer to eat living flesh: animals and people. Zombies do not digest food. When their bodies are "full," the undigested meat will be forced out through the anus. As zombies are dead, their bodies will continue to rot even if they are well-fed.
Zombies are never shown in any media to exhibit cannibalistic tendencies, even after going through long periods without food, and only show interest in animals and living humans.
If the zombie loses the ability to feed, they evidently lose the desire to do so—a behavior observed in Michonne's pet Walkers. With their loss of desire for eating also comes with a loss of aggression and activity; unless present around other zombies, those who have lost the will to eat will remain quiet and lethargic, mindlessly walking in any given direction and paying no mind to humans.
The presence of many zombies being partially consumed or missing limbs also indicates that zombies, though they seem perpetually hungry, do not always devour prey fully, meaning that, at least for a short period of time, can feel "full" and not want to eat.
In the TV series, the Walker that consumed Lori Grimes' body was lethargic, sated and full, and did not attack Rick when he arrived on the scene. Still, they can be driven to attack and consume live prey due to the sheer aggressiveness the reanimative contagion seems to have given them.
Characters That Turned
The following is a list of characters from The Walking Dead that have all died and reanimated as a zombie. The video game section shows all characters that can potentially turn undead, regardless of player choice.
Fear The Walking Dead
The most notable characters killed by zombies are listed below.
- In the TV Series, walkers are shown mainly in "Guts" and "Bloodletting" to run at a very light jogger's pace, despite the fact that Kirkman has stated in the past that all zombies run at the same pace as those seen in the Romero films.
- It is possible that the blood of a zombie being consumed directly or indirectly does not affect a human in any way. This is shown several times throughout the series.
- In the season 5 finale of the show, Rick has to push his hands through a walker's throat, causing it to bleed out all over Rick's face. If one looks closely, one can see Rick appearing to swallow/consume the blood.
- Another instance is in season 6, episode 3, when Rick comes across two walkers, one of which has a knife stuck in the shoulder. He takes that same knife and accidentally cuts himself with it with the walker's blood visible on it. To this day, Rick hasn't shown any signs of an infection.
- More evidence comes from Fear The Walking Dead. During the midseason premiere of season 2, Nick watches from an abandoned bus as two dogs that recently attacked him get devoured by a swarm of walkers. After the herd slowly moves on, a very hungry and thirsty Nick crawls up to the dogs' mangled corpses and takes a chunk of the meat and proceeds to bite it. He never actually swallows it but the fact that the walkers were chewing on the flesh of the dogs and Nick not getting infected may indicate that consumption has no effect.
- In season 1 of the TV series, the walkers' eyes were generally gray or yellow with a red limbal ring, but in the season 2 webisodes, "Cold Storage" and the later episodes of the TV Series, their eyes are generally gold. Older and more decayed walkers, however, have mostly or completely faded irises, leaving only dark pupils.
- According to Robert Kirkman in episode 2 of Talking Dead, in the world of The Walking Dead, the works of George A. Romero were never made, and thus zombies do not appear in fiction.
- In the Webisodes, it is rumored that terrorists caused the "infection." This is most likely not true, as Kirkman himself never intended to explain the source of the outbreak and thus is just what is a rumor.
- In the FtWD podcast Fear the Walking Dead: Radio Waves a conspiracy theorist claims to have found proof that the infection was caused by the government as a means of population control. How reliable this is is unknown,
- Walkers are some of the many amputees in The Walking Dead. For other victims, see Amputated Victims.
- Scott Gimple believes the walkers' decaying vision attracts them to fire. Fire represents two of the only things walker can still see: light and movement.
- In "Guts," a walker is seen displaying intelligence by using a rock to break the glass of a department store in which a group is hiding. Zombies are also seen climbing fences. The writers of the AMC series say that they agreed on making the zombies of the first season "smart," but for every season since, it has been accepted that zombies are unintelligent beings.
- ↑ Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo 2012, interview panel with Lauren Cohan and Steven Yeun
- ↑ For the concept of a "zombie herd" being carried to the horrifying extremes, see David Moody's Autumn series.
- ↑ The Walking Dead episode Indifference (season 4 episode 4). 14minutes 5seconds in version that includes "previously on The Walking Dead". Ana said: "We were there about a day and the skin-eaters showed up."
- ↑ Image Comics; The Walking Dead, Issue 10
- ↑ Issue 47, page 27, "Letter Hacks".
- ↑ ,Comic book series, Issue 15
- ↑ Revealed gradually in the TV Series episodes TS-19, Better Angels, Beside the Dying Fire and confirmed separately by the Governor in Walk With Me.
- ↑ Issue 121: Letter Hacks.
- ↑ Issue 7 - Letter Hacks
- ↑ Issue 9 - Letter Hacks
- ↑ Season 1 Ep 2, Guts
- ↑ Issue 111: Page 26; Letter Hacks.
- ↑ Talking Dead, Inside the Dead, Season 4, Episode 14. "The Grove"
- Every "Walking Dead" zombie kill in graphic form, Tulsa World, (December 10, 2012).
|Abstract||Betrayal • Cliffhangers • Denial • Depression • Distrust • Discrimination • Envy • Fear • Foreshadowing • Forgiveness • Humanity • Humor • Hope • Pride • Regret • Religion • Revenge • Sacrifice • Sanity • Secrecy • Teamwork|
|Realistic||Amputations • Cannibalism • Heroism • Leadership • Nicknames • Punishment|