Although The Walking Dead Season 5 has included its fair share of zombie smashing and cannibal killin', there is also another important storyline developing for Rick and the gang.
Back in Season 4, we met Eugene - a mild mannered mullet owner who holds an enigmatic and mysterious secret which could be the key to ending the apocalypse. For several episodes Eugene withheld information on the basis that the rest of the survivors would not understand him, however, in the Season 5 premiere he finally revealed the basics of his plan.
While locked up in Terminus, he explained:
I was part of a 10 person team at the Human Genome Project that weaponized diseases to fight weaponized diseases, pathogenic microorganisms with pathogenic microorganisms. Fire with fire. Interdepartmental drinks were had, relationships made, information shared. I'm keenly aware of all the details behind fail-safe deliver systems to kill every living person on this planet. I believe with a little tweaking on the terminals in DC we can flip the script. Take out every last dead one of them. Fire with fire.
What Did Eugene Actually Mean?
Eugene's little speech is rather ambiguous. When he said he was developing weaponized diseases to fight weaponized diseases, does he mean he was creating some kind of defensive bioweapon to counter an enemy biological weapon? Does he mean to create a virus that only targets Walkers? It's hard to tell, and I think we can all agree Eugene is being deliberately enigmatic.
Rather than curing the infection, Eugene seemed more inclined kill the Walkers with a specifically designed bioweapon. If this is the kind of work Eugene has been up to, then he is indeed a very bad boy. The US (and most other nations) are signatories to the Biological Weapons Convention - an international agreement which bans the development, production and stockpiling of biological weapons. From the sound of things, his kind of work would be contrary to this convention, and indeed it has been claimed biodefense research is simply bioweapons research in disguise.
However, combine Eugene's knowledge of bioweapons with his experience in the Human Genome Project, and it is theoretically possible that he could create a Walker-killing virus.
What is the Human Genome Project?
The Human Genome Project was an international research effort to create a complete mapping of human DNA and the sequencing of the chemical bases which make it up. The project was declared complete in 2003, but it has also attracted some ethical criticism, especially involving concerns the increased knowledge of the human genome could result in discrimination between people.
Considering Eugene said he was working in a 10 person team, it's reasonable to suggest he was working as part of a secret sub-team that wanted to use human gene sequences for use in biological weapons. Ostensibly, the Human Genome Project should have nothing to do with biological weapons, making Eugene's involvement in it (and his admission of his job) even naughtier.
Could Eugene Create a Walker-Killing Bioweapon?
Currently, the concept of a gene or ethnic bioweapon is still theoretical, although several outlets have suggested it is possible. The fundamental concept involves using the gene sequence developed by the Human Genome Project to create a bioweapon which only infects certain genetic makeups, or perhaps even, a specific person or family. Dr. Christopher Davis, a former UK Defense Intelligence staffer told PBS.org:
In this case it means investigating how you can affect the genes of a person by exposing them to a material which may work, over a very long period of time, on its own by attaching itself to the DNA in the cell or it may simply sit there until you expose them to another material at a time that you choose, which locks together with the first material and affects the genome ... we also have the possibility of targeting specific ethnic groups of specific genetic subtypes, if you like, of the population, that you can indiscriminately, in a way, spray something, but it only kills the certain people that this material is designed to find and attack.
While in 2005, the International Committee of the Red Cross claimed:
The potential to target a particular ethnic group with a biological agent is probably not far off. These scenarios are not the product of the ICRC's imagination but have either occurred or been identified by countless independent and governmental experts.
So in theory, if Eugene can identify the altered genetic code of a Walker he could perhaps create a biological weapon which just affects them.
But, and It's a Big But...
This is where Eugene's plan kind of falls apart. How do you actually infect the Walkers and make them transfer the infection between themselves? Most biological agents are living organisms or replicating entities which reproduce within their host victims. That is how they spread, which differentiates them from chemical weapons.
Living organisms need living hosts - which Walkers are not. The cells which contain their genetic code are also, presumably dead. Furthermore, Walkers do not breath, cough, or drink water, meaning infecting them with an air or water borne pathogen would be difficult. They also do not particularly touch each other in a way which would guarantee the spread of infection. The fact bioweapons are so dangerous to humans is precisely because we constantly touch each other, objects and ourselves - all things Walkers do not do consciously.
Insects could potentially be used to transfer the bioweapon - in what is known as entomological warfare - but presumably mosquitoes and fleas also have no interest in biting undead flesh. Plus crates of mosquitoes are probably hard to come by in the apocalypse...
Finally, Walkers do not have the physiology which all known bioweapons are designed to attack. Agents such as anthrax - for example - attack the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems, neither of which Walkers possess.
With this in mind, Eugene would have to create a bioweapon unlike any other in existence - a pretty mean feat.
So What Does This Mean?
Well, this conclusion opens up some interesting possibilities. Of course, it is perfectly possible that The Walking Dead writers are exercising their creative license when it comes to zombies and bioweapons. Perhaps simply spraying the undead with this hitherto unknown bioagent might be enough to save the day?
However, perhaps Eugene's plan is simply critically flawed in a way he hasn't considered, or maybe Eugene is talking absolute bullshit? Perhaps he has another reason for going to Washington D.C.? Personally, I don't know the answer, but from the looks of things (and considering The Walking Dead isn't going to end any time soon) I wouldn't put too much hope in his plan succeeding.
Let me know what you think will happen in the rest of Season 5? Let me know below, but remember NO COMIC BOOK SPOILERS PLEASE!