Frank Anderson and collaborator Max Wolter (this article) write for The Renaissance Fan.
I’ve been pretty hooked on The Walking Dead since the first season. It’s a very well made show that creates some of the most powerful, gut-wrenching moments on television. But to steal one of our favorite phrases at The Renaissance Fan: “you’re watching it wrong” if you think this show is about zombies. It’s about people finding out the depths and true nature of their own character when faced with unthinkable circumstances. I love The Walking Dead, I love how the people are used in The Walking Dead. But when it comes to the zombies I have a couple Walking Dead complaints, and not the usual complaints either.
Now before I go any further, yes, I realize it’s just a show. And yes, I realize poking holes in sci-fi is a pointless exercise (hence the title of this article) that can border on infuriating. So I’ll try to keep this entertaining and brief. I just need to get these two little Walking Dead complaints off my chest so I can go on fully enjoying this excellent show.
Forget Biology, These Zombies Defy Physics
To its credit, The Walking Dead actually spent about half of one episode back in season one trying to provide an explanation for how the zombie apocalypse happened from the perspective of a CDC scientist. The root cause is explained as a virus that takes over the brain-stem once a victim dies. At that point the virus is calling the shots and that creates the flesh craving zombies. Maybe a parasitologist or a neurobiologist could refute that explanation, but I’m cool with it. In fact, I give the show props for trying to come up with a plausible explanation. The Walking Dead has always tried to adhere to a tight sense of reality and plausibility that make it easier for the viewer to insert themselves into the show. That’s what makes it tough to ignore areas of the show that stray from plausibility. The first of my Walking Dead complaints is not with the biology of how people become zombies in The Walking Dead universe, but with the physics of how those zombies have persisted for so long.
The First Law of Thermodynamics states pretty simply that “energy can neither be created nor destroyed”. That would become a super important fact of “life” for a Walking Dead zombie as time stretches on. All that shuffling about, teeth gnashing, and fence shaking requires energy which has to come from somewhere. If you're a zombie you can't walk around for months on end for free. Even in an altered physiological state of zombidom, muscles don't contract without the necessary raw energy materials, they just can't. You would presume that the zombie's energy source would be human flesh because it seems unlikely that a walker would be catching rabbits or deer (that’s Daryl’s thing). But, the show has insinuated, and its creators have essentially stated, that the zombies don’t need to eat to survive. In fact, it’s believed that they don’t even really have a functional digestive system to convert all that tasty human flesh into energy.
What?! So what powers all this locomotion. Where does the energy come from? Are we to believe that the zombies are photosynthetic?
"...whatever is making them walk around is also keeping them from rotting to bones in a matter of weeks." Robert Kirkman
That kind of sounds like magic. And this is a problem for me. If the zombies want to terrorize our world they at least need to abide by our laws of physics. Shufflin’ ain’t free. That energy needs to come from somewhere. You might say, “Well, it hasn’t been that long so they are still living off their energy reserves from when they were alive”. By best estimates it’s been 547 days since the apocalypse in The Walking Dead. You try walking around for a year and half with nothing to eat. Even with some kind of zombie virus physiology advantage I don’t like your chances.
*Note: the original comics actually do a slightly better job of addressing this whole issue by describing a second type of more sedentary zombie called a “lurker” that may be the result of not eating enough.
Price of Admission to Zombie Life Seems Steep
Alright, the second of my Walking Dead complaints relates more directly to “the herd” of zombies. Big roving packs of zombies have been the norm since the second half of the second season. While not really a conscious strategy, they can use their numbers to knock down fences, overwhelm gunfire, and generally make escape almost impossible. But here’s the problem, every time someone gets caught by a herd or even a medium sized group of zombies this happens:
They get torn completely to shreds. So if new people get torn to shreds how does the zombie herd every grow any new members? Yes, I know that when people die of natural causes they become zombies. But how often do we expect someone to die of the flu in Walking Dead World? Dying of starvation seems a little more likely, but that would put you on the fast track to a short zombie life under the premise of my first issue. On top of all that, in the rare cases when someone does die of natural causes, the rest of the humans have now learned to “take care of it” (sorry Lori). So the scenario where new, functional zombies are created becomes very specific. You need to get bit, but not torn asunder. Or, you need to die without someone making sure you don’t come back. The difficulty in creating new zombies coupled with the efficiency of Rick’s crew at offing them, might actually indicate that the humans could win against the zombies and essentially rid the world of them. Just sayin’.
Again, I realize how dumb it is to complain about sci-fi shows and put the logic of TV shows under a microscope. Thank you for allowing me to air my stupid little Walking Dead complaints. I feel better though, and now I can enjoy the show!
Wait, I hope this stuff doesn’t start bugging you now… funny how ideas can be kind of like a virus.