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- "You all know how this shit works. You get a bite, you get any kind of wound from these things, something from them gets in you...and you fucking die."
- —Negan to The Saviors about the zombies.[src]
Zombies, mostly referred to in-universe as walkers, roamers, lurkers, or biters, are an antagonistic force that serve as the primary catalyst for the events within The Walking Dead universe.
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: A deceased human body that has somehow become reanimated and autonomous, yet no longer has sufficient brain or vital functions to be considered alive or capable of thought.
While the term "zombie" does exist within The Walking Dead universe, it is seldom used. In the comic book, when Rick'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 been used once 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, not under any control, and cannot be restored.
The Zombies of "The Walking Dead"
Zombies within The Walking Dead universe are Robert Kirkman's version of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead zombies. Robert Kirkman wrote that "Romero's evolving zombies are his spin. Mine just keep rotting."
These zombies are relatively weak and unintelligent as individuals, but are dangerous in large numbers. They are the main antagonists within the post-apocalyptic world of The Walking Dead.
Most, if not everyone, on the planet within The Walking Dead universe somehow contracted the pathogen that, for reasons and through means unknown, brings the dead back to "life." It is unknown how the disease is spread, though its almost-total infection rate worldwide suggests it is either water-borne or air-borne. The exact taxonomy of the pathogen is unknown.
- "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]
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. When a person dies, the infection they carry reactivates critical areas of the brain that support necessary vital systems, resulting in reanimation. Because only a portion of the brain is reactivated, 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.
The first cases of infection progressed through a state of fever, aches, and internal bleeding, and this illness ultimately was fatal. As seen on the MRI of Candace Jenner, the virus apparently spreads into the brain like meningitis. It apparently infects synapses, mostly concentrating on those in the brain stem. It eventually causes the adrenal glands to hemorrhage and the brain to shutdown, all brain activity would cease, followed by the major organs and the body would be clinically dead: no measurable brain activity, no reflexes, and no respiration or pulse. A variable time later, the pathogen, through some means, would revive synapses it infected and reactivate the brainstem of the dead body, but only the brainstem and not the cerebrum or cerebellum.
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."
In the show, It has been demonstrated that zombies don't require sustenance by eating, but have a strong desire to do so (despite the fact that they have no digestive or circulatory activity, making them unable to digest whatever flesh they consume).
In both universes, zombies have the ability to detect scents and differentiate between the living and the dead, and 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 living from the dead, although they seem to have poor eyesight as their irises fade and decay, but they make up for it in very heightened senses of strong hearing and smell.
They can also determine a human presence by noting certain cues such as the breathing movements or a heart that is beating at an irregular pace from a scared human. 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. As zombies decay, however, their muscles, and consequently their entire body, becomes slowly, but surely, weaker.
Zombies feel no pain, and though their bodies are no stronger or weaker than a non-decomposed human body, they can absorb all manner of physical damage, even when badly decomposed, and anything other than a head attack, spinal cord severing, or dismemberment leaves them seemingly unphased. As long as their brain remains intact, they can continue functioning as normal.
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.
In Walk With Me, it is revealed that zombies starve, but at a significantly slower rate than humans. When a living person starves from lack of nourishment, their body begins breaking down fat tissue, followed by muscle tissue, and converts the tissue into energy. Eventually, the body will begin breaking down the tissue of vital organs and the person eventually dies when those organs cease to function. In theory, it is possible that the zombie pathogen could cause a breakdown of body tissue, converting it into energy and delivering it around the body (although this is impossible since a reanimated body has no circulatory activity), until they basically wither away to nothing.
As with all myths, the precise details can vary by author. This information pertains specifically to The Walking Dead television series.
Compared to humans, zombies have rather limited mobility. Unstimulated, zombies stand still or shuffle around rather slowly. When in this state they are referred to as "lurkers," as they can quickly activate and attack and kill. Some "living" zombies can also be found lying on the ground or in piles of other bodies, often appearing dead until stimulated. However, if they are pursuing a possible victim, zombies can move somewhat more quickly, roughly equivalent to a very light jogging pace. They can lunge very short distances to grab close prey.
A reanimated body responds to stimuli such as light, scent, and loud noises. Oddly, even if the head was separated from the body, as long as the brain was intact, the head would still attempt to eat anything within reach. If the body was truly dead, which meant that it did not feel pain, had no reflexes, and wounds to it (apart from those directly inflicted to the brain) it would not heal; its rate of decomposition slows somewhat while reanimated, but the breakdown process continues. There is anecdotal evidence that some retain vestigial elements of memory and personality such as clinging to possessions. Zombies can use tools to help them, as seen in "Guts," when one of the zombies at the department store doors uses a brick to break the glass.
In response to:
- "Negan recently has his guys dirty up weapons in zombie gore for infection attacks. I'm curious if this works due to "Phillip" kissing a zombie and Tyreese and other characters getting bloody all over their face, but nobody changing. This also made me question Dale's "tainted meat" logic back during the Fear the Hunters arc."
Are you explaining that stuff soon or is Negan unaware of that method probably doing no harm? In other words, can zombie blood or spit change you after apparently having no effect on characters previously?
- "The weapons would create an open wound, and getting that material in an open wound and have contact in that way would be bad news. Kissing a zombie, getting stuff on you... not so much. It's more like direct contact with the blood stream. Make sense?"
Zombie bites are not necessarily fatal because of the zombie pathogen, but rather the unsanitary nature of their mouths due to diet and decomposition. Scratches cause similar infections for similar reasons.
It should be noted that zombie saliva and scratches are not guaranteed to kill, as both Tyreese and the Governor have come into contact with both and were unaffected.
Symptoms of infection
The first form of the infection was the transmission of the pathogen from an undead host to a living body via bites and scratches. The second form is already contained within all living people, and merely requires the death of the host to activate the zombie condition. The pathogen causing reanimation is not independently fatal and lies dormant within a host until the host dies of another cause. In the case of Walker attacks, the cause of death is generally infection by necrotic biological debris and other infectious agents contained in that debris (for example, saliva from a bite).
Symptoms of this massive and multiple infection include:
- Pale skin.
- Dilated pupils.
- Fluid discharge.
- Loss of hair and missing scalp pieces.
- Coughing up blood.
- Pale yellow sclera (Shown in the Video Game only) 
Because of antibiotic resistance or inefficacy, and extremely fast growth rate of said bacteria, immediate amputation of the wounded limb is usually the most effective method of preventing systemic infection that eventually leads to death. Bites to the neck, head, or trunk are invariably fatal and cannot be treated.
If the wound is not properly cauterized, cleaned, and/or wrapped, however, amputation may not be enough to stop the lethal infection without medicine, and even then, survival rates are not easily estimated, as only few individuals have survived the procedure in each medium.
Because a zombie is derived from a human form, it is limited physically by many of the same constraints that a human has. But because a zombie is, by definition, dead, it slowly rots and decays like other dead organisms. Over time, flesh and muscles deteriorate, and it becomes less and less formidable. It is assumed that a Walker will eventually decompose on its own until only its skeleton remains.
They are only truly killed by damaging 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.
Though zombies retain a physical resemblance to the living, cognitive similarities are almost non-existent beyond low-level functions, though there are examples of behavior that suggest zombies may retain small fragments of memory of their past lives. Zombies have enough intelligence to walk upright, to use their bodies to break objects, and to climb around or over somewhat small obstacles such as chain-link fences.
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 potential prey. Zombies seem to be drawn to noise, presumably because they attribute the source of the noise to be caused by possible prey. 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 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.
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, it is assumed that their bodies will continue to rot even if they are well-fed. Zombies can survive for perhaps years without any nourishment. Walking Dead 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. 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.
- Shawn Greene
- Rachel Greene
- Susie Greene
- Penny Blake
- Scott Moon
- Christina Meredith Haben
- Caesar Ramon Martinez
- Gus Strunk
- Duane Jones
- Jessie Anderson
- Jenny Jones
- Leon Basset
- Wayne Dunlap
- Candace Jenner
- Numerous patients and hospital staff
- Louise Bush
- Mrs. Fischer
- Annette Greene
- Mr. Fischer
- Shawn Greene
- Arnold Greene
- Sophia Peletier
- Shane Walsh
- Greene Barn Inhabitants
- Penny Blake
- Michael Coleman
- Duane Jones
- Merle Dixon
- Milton Mamet
- Many Woodbury soldiers
- Big Tony
- Mr. Jacobson
- Caleb Subramanian
- Noris' Son
- Crying Mom
- Bill Jenkins
- David Chambler
- Pete Dolgen
- Hershel Greene
- Joe Sr.
- Christopher's Father
- Achey Woman
- Sick Teenager
- Many prison residents
- Many unnamed Woodbury refugees
- Atlanta Police Officer
- Chet (Determinant)
- B. Everett
- Jenny Pitcher (Confirmed Fate)
- David Parker (Determinant)
- Travis (Determinant)
- Brenda St. John
- Kenny Jr. (Determinant)
- Crawford Oberson
- Stranger (Determinant)
- Lee Everett (Determinant)
- Bobby Marsh
- Penny Blake
- David Chalmers
- Brenda Stookey
- Scott Moon
- Megan Lafferty
- Christina Meredith Haben
- Caesar Ramon Martinez
- 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 than those seen in the Romero films.
- It is speculated that the more violent the trauma of a victim (of either a walker or living killer), the quicker they re-animate. This is backed up by Shane rising just minutes after being stabbed in the chest by Rick in "Better Angels," but Amy taking several hours to do so from a bite to the arm and to the neck.
- A similar thing occurs in TV Series where there are two eye types. Newly-reanimated and zombies that have not decayed much appear to have golden\yellow-green eyes with a dark black ring around it. Older and severely decayed zombies appear to have no irises at all. Instead only a pupil remains.
- 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.
- 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.
- ↑ 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.
- ↑ Issue 47, page 27, "Letter Hacks".
- ↑ Issue 121: Letter Hacks.
- ↑ Robert Kirkman Q&A on Reddit
- ↑ Jim in the TV Series episode, "Wildfire"
- ↑ Lee in the Video Game while he was bitten
- ↑ Duck after being bitten, and Jim on the TV Series
- ↑ Duck a while after being bitten on the Video Game
- ↑ Lee Everett (Video Game Series) nearing the end of his life, and Peter Joseph Randall (Video Game Series nearing the end of his life.
- ↑ 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 • Camouflage • Cannibalism • Decapitations • Heroism • Leadership • Nicknames • Punishment • Suicide • Teamwork|