Taking zombies to task


Oh, good — both Tara Smith and Colin Purrington are a bit peeved with the recent episodes of The Walking Dead that have the survivors coming down with a nasty form of the flu, and their resident people sending them scurrying off to pillage local zombie-haunted pharmacies for…antibiotics. For shame.

They don’t mention the other things that bug me about that show, though. If the zombie plague is also viral, why aren’t they all turning into undead voracious brain eating monsters when they get splattered with zombie slime and goo and blood? They’re ripping up zombies right and left and practically bathing in disgusting fluids. Come on, people, hygiene.

Also, how long have they been wandering around Georgia? A year or two? Some of the zombies are portrayed as far advanced in decay, but others seem to be fairly fresh. Shouldn’t the zombie population be dropping off dramatically now? The pool of live humans from which new zombies could emerge is so drastically reduced that they ought to be dealing with little more than piles of ineffective rot and the very rare occasion when one of their own dies of natural causes and goes walking around hungrily.

Finally, Rick is a terrible, incompetent, awful leader. They’ve found one group of thriving humans in a town, led by a psycho tyrant — and there’s Rick’s poor struggling group who have been shredded by internal conflicts and have been succumbing steadily to attrition. The freakish violent Governor did a better job establishing a safe haven than Rick, and they destroyed it! When will the survivors learn that they’re being guided by a dangerous idiot?

Comments

  1. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Another cluster of data that makes me feel comfortable rejecting any opportunity to watch any zombie shows/movies ever.

    Also, my refusal to watch zombie media makes me morally superior. Obviously my pattern of choosing to watch shows involving super heroes and/or sex crimes is the ethically preferable habit.

  2. scottrobson says

    I think zombification only fully takes place once you die. So everyone is now infected, but you only become a zombie after you cease to live. This is why the flu victims become zombies when they have not been attached by a zombie. Because they died. It makes as much sense as most Star Trek episodes. It also explains the mix of fresh and old zombies. If you watched the show, you would know. Hell, I don’t even watch the show and I know.

  3. rory says

    @Scottrobson,

    Your answer appears to be at least partly inadequate, but I think it’s the show’s fault. In season one, one of the survivors (Jim?) was bitten by a zombie, rapidly deteriorated, died, and then arose. So either zombie bites are deadly in and of themselves AND the already-present zombie virus brought Jim back, or the zombie virus itself causes both death and reanimation. If the latter, then exposure to zombie grool ought to be enough to cause infection, especially of survivors with open wounds and exposed mucous membranes. The survivors behave as though this were the case in the season one episode where they cover themselves in zombie guts to escape a zombie horde, but only after putting on protective ponchos. Admittedly, this makes it hard to make sense of the season two reveal that everyone already has the virus, because you’d expect it to kill them just as quickly as it killed Jim.

    The zombie demographics (snicker) are harder to make sense of, because if the zombies are supposed to be decaying over time, you’d expect far fewer of them to still be so intact, especially with the Georgia climate. There would be some new ones, sure, but given that many of those who die now are being torn apart by zombies, you wouldn’t expect a lot of whole corpses around to reanimate.

    I just try to remember the MST3K motto: repeat to yourself, “It’s just a show. I should really just relax.”

  4. bushrat says

    Unfortunately, I find myself addicted to watching this show. I also find myself cheering for the zombies most episodes. Personally, I would have turfed most of these characters out of any survival group I was with, or left the group if there was the critical mass of idiots this group seems to have attracted. Only through the magic of TV would this menagerie of jokers have lasted this long post-apocalypse.

  5. says

    scottrobson @ 2

    So everyone is now infected, but you only become a zombie after you cease to live.

    But they also turn into zombies if bitten, even if it’s survivable. Somehow introducing this infection (which they already carry) a second time, magically turns them into zombies too.

    Agreed on Rick being useless and entirely counterproductive, one of the least believable parts of the show is that none of the other survivors seem to notice how often Rick makes terrible decisions that get people killed. Darryl should have been running the group from the beginning.

  6. The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical says

    A bite from a zombie can hasten death, but any death will result in a zombie. I haven’t watched the show because I got pissed off at the graphic novels long before the show made it on the air, but that’s how it worked in the source material. At one point a teenage girl and her boyfriend made a suicide pact to escape the horrors of the zombie apocalypse and she came back as a zombie within moments, despite never having been bitten.

    I felt much the same way about the graphic novels as I do about a lot of Edgy!Drama!. Eventually, it’s just so much horrible stupid shit that I turn off emotionally and stop caring. You’re all gonna die. Don’t care. Not worth caring about you or what happens to you. Tragedy porn just doesn’t do it for me.

  7. says

    I have not watched this week’s ep yet, but do they actually say the new plague is flu? If so, that’s appallingly stupid. And has it been determined that the zombie plague is viral? Do they know that?

  8. tarasmith98 says

    I did discuss the goo part a bit in the third post of the series: http://scienceblogs.com/aetiology/2013/10/31/the-microbiology-of-zombies-part-iii-were-all-infected/ (tl;dr: if they’re all infected already, splatter probably doesn’t make much of a difference). The rot, yeah, but other people have tackled that as well and at least tried to make a plausible scenario where “dead” zombies last longer than regular corpses (such as Schlotzman’s “Zombie Autopsies”). The politics part though, I totally agree.

  9. brizian says

    The comics have addressed some of these issues with a simple explanation: zombies rot more slowly than regular corpses. There are also lots of pockets of survivors, some small, some quite large, that are still getting occasionally overrun or having zombie outbreaks within them.

    Also, the show has shown (multiple times, even having characters outright say it) that everyone is already infected; everyone becomes a zombie when they die, whether they were bit or not. Bites or scratches from the zombies cause you to die of a secondary infection, likely due to bacteria carried by the undead. If the infected area is amputated quickly enough, the person can be saved.

    The antibiotics thing is absolutely ridiculous and pisses me off to no end, especially since it was two different doctors who said they needed antibiotics to treat a viral infection. Well, one doctor and one veterinarian, but still.

    I’m ok with the “zombie logic”, as it is fairly consistent on the show. The antibiotics plot is unforgivably stupid though. And yeah, the hygiene thing can get a bit ridiculous. Also, wouldn’t a prison be stocked with antibiotics? I seem to remember the prison in the comics was, but they’ve never even mentioned it in the show. Maybe all the med stuff was in the destroyed part of the prison?

    ***MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE COMICS FOLLOW***

    If there’s one thing about the show that really bothers me, it’s that Tyrese isn’t nearly as awesome as he was in the comics. In the comics, it’s regularly acknowledged that Rick can be a terrible leader, and for a not insignificant amount of time, Tyrese took over as leader.

  10. left0ver1under says

    scottrobson (#2) –

    I think zombification only fully takes place once you die.

    Or when the immune system is compromised by a bite.

    So everyone is now infected, but you only become a zombie after you cease to live. This is why the flu victims become zombies when they have not been attached by a zombie.

    Related to this, I wonder if real life science affects the creators’ decisions in the plots regarding pregnancies.

    According to the WHO, pregnant women with HIV/AIDS have about a 15-45% rate of transmission to children, which usual happens during childbirth when the mother’s blood is contacting the child, and not during the pregnancy. But in wealthier countries with access to drugs, the transmission rate is only about 5%. Is the placenta around the foetus protecting babies from HIV during pregnancy?

    http://www.who.int/hiv/topics/mtct/en/

    I wonder if the “Dead” writers are using this, and is why women are giving birth to babies, not zombies (see: the movie “Dawn Of The Dead”).

  11. sowellfan says

    I’m not really bothered by the mechanics of zombification, potential for infection from splatter, etc. The show’s at least been fairly consistent with regards to that stuff, even if it doesn’t really make total sense. The way I figure, the show’s pretty consistently shown the characters being somewhat concerned about splatter reduction, but the primary threat has been bites, in that they cause an infection that’ll kill you in short order.

    I do totally agree with PZ about the group dynamics, though. If you’re living in a zombie apocalypse, then it seems to me that the primary winning strategy is to group together survivors, pick up any new survivors that you can find (so long as they are willing to live in peace with the larger group), close off a protected area, and try to grow some food. The town of Woodbury is pretty much the exact right idea – except it’s run by a homicidal nutjob. Rick’s crew had the beginnings of a strategy that might have worked – they got into a protected area, etc. – but then they make a point of rejecting any stragglers that might actually make their group larger and stronger, more survivable vs. the zombie hordes. And while you’re at it, why not have the prison folks go out to the fence 3-4 times a day and do a little through-the-fence zombie poking? Do enough sorties of that for a month, and the concentration of zombies in the area would get significantly lower…

  12. dianne says

    the survivors coming down with a nasty form of the flu, and their resident people sending them scurrying off to pillage local zombie-haunted pharmacies for…antibiotics.

    Perhaps they’re worried about secondary bacterial infection. That can be nasty you know.

  13. tarasmith98 says

    dianne, yes, but at least for the original cases, they died too quickly for it to be secondary infections–that was primary flu, and thus dumb to go look for antibiotics. The symptoms with the bleeding out also suggest a very rapid, primary influenza death. Colin points out Hershel writes down antivirals, but those are never verbalized at all during the episodes, and last night’s ep specifically said “ends with -cillin” etc.

  14. notsont says

    I have a weakness for zombie stories, good ones bad ones I read or watch them all. I’ve even read the new one by John Ringo even though I cringe every few pages because of the plot holes. Zombie’s do not make any sense so ignoring the fact that they do not rot or freeze in the manner that they should is just a small detail to overlook, I mean their muscles still work even though there is no blood flow, they still manage to hear, smell and see even though these things require a delicate balance that simply can not exist in a dead body.

    The anti-biotic thing is annoying but hershel did at one point say there is no cure for a virus, they just need to get people to be able to survive the symptoms long enough for them to recover. I assumed he was talking about secondary infections caused by the virus but treatable with antibiotics.

    The stupid choices they make constantly in the show are very irritating, but I toss it up to the fact that if they all did the smart thing, there would not be much of a show, I mean slow shambling zombies are not actually much of a threat to people who work together and don;t do stupid things.

  15. says

    So the zombies have a sort of partially functional immune system, in the absence of a physiologically non-functional circulatory system…one that can allow partial decomposition? Pfeh.

    Cells are in that degree of breakdown, yet apoptosis/necrosis on a grand scale isn’t triggered? I know a bit about physiology, too, and how they can contract muscles with enough power and coordination to walk in the absence of oxygen/nutrient delivery to the tissues is a problem.

    Simple solution: zombies are stupid. They can’t work.

  16. zibble says

    I can’t overstate how disappointing that whole show is. Everyone I know recommended it, and we tried giving it a watch – and to its credit, the opening scene, with Rick escaping the hospital, was moody, captivating, and beautiful. And then he opens his stupid mouth, and the show reveals itself as suffering terrible dialogue, characters ranging from bland to offensively stupid cliches (a skateboarding baseball-cap-wearing asian kid? *Really*?) and a brainless, pointless narrative.

    When people mention this pretentious crap in the same breath as Breaking Bad, I want to go Heisenberg on their asses.

  17. says

    @17: Yep, zombies (and while we’re on the subject, Buffy-style vampires) pretty much require vitalism to be true. And thermodynamics to be irrelevant to biology.

    It sometimes bothers me how much sci-fi relies on long-exploded (or never-was) science, and/or pre-scientific metaphysics (dualism is implicit in some franchises).

  18. John Small Berries says

    Haven’t watched the show since the first season (it was like watching a bunch of other people playing Left 4 Dead, while two of them were having a badly concealed affair), but if they haven’t added any survivors with a medical or biological background since then, it’s not necessarily unrealistic that they might try to treat the flu with antibiotics.

    (Now, whether or not such a treatment actually works, that’s a different story.)

  19. says

    I don’t watch the show, but my brother’s a fan. I do appreciate the general zombie “atmosphere”: They’re less like a monster and more like an environmental hazard. They’re pretty much built for suspense and character drama because they severely restrict what characters can do and where they can go.

    But there’s always one thing that bugs me about extended zombie hordes: Food. Not the survivors’ food, the zombies. If we’re talking D&D style supernatural undead, magic handwaves it. Not so much the “natural” zombies produced by super-rabies viruses. They could survive by cannibalizing each other, but then you wouldn’t have large hordes. They can eat humans, but that’d cut into their “recruitment” rate. Scavenging human food (possibly just meat)? They might be too easy to distract with bait, and they’d become more animal-like than man-killing monsters.

    Eating non-human animals, well, I’m not really sure. Small animals would probably be better able to avoid them and hide since these zombies tend to be slow and clumsy. Large animals would probably be in the same situation as humans: They can deal with lone zombies but not hordes. But how many large animals are there for the hordes? They also wouldn’t be concentrated in urban areas, where zombies typically cluster.

  20. says

    Zombies as metaphor are really quite rich. They are the Other but also ourselves, and they present a deeply discomfiting mirror Self. They are us, stripped of subjectivity, reduced to the most basic survival impulse. They can also signify unchecked consumption, as in the one movie where survivors congregate in a shopping mall. (Dawn of the Dead?) I always think about how they’re being used figuratively from one text to the next so have never cared about the impossibility of their existence. My frustration with WD has been that they seem inconsistent with their metaphoric content.

  21. notsont says

    Zombie movies and shows are fun even if they aren’t plausible but if you want to see truly scary, watch some of those prepper shows where grown adults who are allowed to own semi automatic weapons are spending millions of dollars on preparations for the zombie apocalypse.

    There was one where these guys were building a zombie proof bunker and they had crates full of live grenades they must have had a few thousand grenades not to mention millions of rounds of ammunition, C-4, and fully automatic weapons, which they were able to obtain because a few of their members were law enforcement. Now that is scary.

  22. dianne says

    last night’s ep specifically said “ends with -cillin” etc.

    The makers of tamiflu refused to pay adequately for product placement?

  23. says

    #24 Bronze Dog, in the first season zombies eat the horse Rick stupidly rides into downtown Atlanta, and someone is shown feeding them rats through the fence this season, but I agree that catching a lot of, say, deer is probably not in the general zombie skill set.

  24. laurie says

    Even if zombies decay at a really slow rate, somehow making bacteria less effective, shouldn’t maggots have taken care of a large portion of them?

  25. says

    Yep, zombies (and while we’re on the subject, Buffy-style vampires) pretty much require vitalism to be true. And thermodynamics to be irrelevant to biology.

    Give Buffy some credit. They never pretended other wise. Vampire is a corpse with a magic bugaboo moving it like a puppet.

  26. moarscienceplz says

    the survivors coming down with a nasty form of the flu, and their resident people sending them scurrying off to pillage local zombie-haunted pharmacies for…antibiotics. For shame.

    But, but, Everybody knows that antibiotics are magic wonder drugs that can cure anything. In fact, they are so super keen that we give ‘em to our livestock even when they’re not sick. And everybody knows that vaccines are fake drugs that can’t cure anything.

  27. says

    @30: Yes, I shouldn’t have dragged that in and confused my point. Buffy is clearly a “supernaturalist” franchcise (though there’s the occasional interface with “naturalistic” science, eg. the Initiative), and dualism can be taken for granted. Once you’ve allowed that into the storyverse, It Happens By Magic works as an explanation.

  28. brett says

    With actually “dead” zombies, you pretty much just have to magic away the issues of why they aren’t decaying, why they aren’t being feasted upon by carrion eaters in the wild (Walking Meat!), and why they haven’t turned into mush with the consistency of bad hamburger after being frozen and unfrozen during winter (unless you assume that they’re actually still generating body heat despite being walking corpses).

    Which is too bad, because those would be interesting ideas. Imagine having to deal with a whole ton of hungry, desperate predator species, whose population absolutely exploded due to the large amounts of easily hunted meat walking around . . . all in a situation where you’re running low on bullets and workable machinery, and most people don’t have the first clue as to things like animal husbandry. That could be tense.

  29. says

    An interesting idea would be to have the human zombies decay away…to be replaced with zombified and infected carrion eaters and predators like bears and coyotes

  30. dianne says

    @35: That would be an interesting scenario: Survivors get all keyed up for the zombie apocalypse, kill all the zombies, then think that everything’s great and they can come out and live “normal” lives now…only to be confronted by large packs of wolves, bears, and panthers. OTOH, the predators, having gotten used to slow moving meat, may not be all that good at actually hunting.

  31. northstar says

    This is how I make zombies “work” for me — ok, so _each cell_ has been taken over by some infectious agent that runs the cell processes — just very poorly. This infectious agent in aggregate also has a sort of emergent consciousness at a very low level: shamble, eat. So the zombie is alive, but only alive as a carrier of the infectious agent — sort of a super-rabies, which also causes a shamble-attack-bite behavior that is actually pretty effective for transmission. Some interesting research has been done on how infectious agents “communicate” once they reach a certain concentration IIRC — coming up with some kind of emergent consciousness is just the next step up.

    It doesn’t explain why the head shot knocks ‘em out, though. That bugs me.

  32. george gonzalez says

    Oh, PZ, you seem to be like me, and nitpick the little details. You probably watched that James Bond movie with the killer satellite and went “wait, how can the bad guy have a camera flying alongside the not very convincing animation of a spacecraft?”. Or when the govt ninjas rapell down the ropes into the secret volcano lair, you scoffed at how the ropes were exactly the right length to just reach the floor. Probably forgot all about Ursala Undress in a fur bikini. ( I may be conflating a few movie genres there ).

    Sometimes it’s better to put the brain in neutral and enjoy the show.

  33. bionicanchovy says

    I love zombies, but they work best when the cause of the plague is left relatively unexplained. Then you can just let suspension of disbelief kick in, like you do in all representational art. When the the cause and ‘operating rules’ of the plague are explained, I find I get bogged down in unnecessary detail and shouting “Oh, bullshit!” at the TV.

    Actually, the Walking Dead video game is amazing. It’s far more well-written than the TV series, which is bonkers. They don’t explain the source of the zombie plague, it just exists and you’re thrust into the middle of it, trying to survive. That game made me cry on several occasions. Brilliant stuff.

    Oh, by the way, long-time lurker, first time poster here! Hi PZ, big fan!

  34. says

    IMO the best explanation for zombies was done in Doctor Who

    Advanced Medical Machinery malfunctioning. Alien tech is trying to “fix” humans without having a good idea of what human anatomy/biology is like

  35. fentex says

    I did some math once in which I concluded on average each person would have ~20 zombies to kill to eliminate the menace (I forget my premises but I felt confident I was maximizing the number of zombies). I did it because I thought it seemed clear there is an unrealistic supply of zombies in the story.

    The danger remains because it’s well established that whatever the turns people to zombies is acting on everyone no matter how they die, but that just means occasional horrors and a tradition of decapitating or burning corpses after seeing off the initial plague.

    I’ve been reading the comics and it’s a strange thing – I am consistently angered by the stupidity of characters but I can’t seem to put the stories down, something about them keeps me engaged.

    Maybe it’s something from my past – I absolutely loved the 1970’s ‘Survivors’ and perhaps the whiff of it in these stories is nostalgia for me.

  36. dianne says

    I favor the “we don’t know how this is possible but don’t have time to work it out now” explanation myself. The characters can be forgiven for not being too interested in working out the cellular mechanics of zombification while being attacked by a hungry horde of zombies. If they do start thinking up explanations, though, they’d better be plausible…

  37. says

    And while you’re at it, why not have the prison folks go out to the fence 3-4 times a day and do a little through-the-fence zombie poking? Do enough sorties of that for a month, and the concentration of zombies in the area would get significantly lower…

    Actually, the prison group has been doing that this season, albeit not 3-4 times a day. More zombies keep showing up. They also seem to be getting “smarter,” massing at single points on the fence.

  38. says

    Actually, the prison group has been doing that this season, albeit not 3-4 times a day. More zombies keep showing up. They also seem to be getting “smarter,” massing at single points on the fence.

    I can’t help but think that a reveal of the origin not being a disease so much as a possession might work very well in light of that. There aren’t zombies, there is one Zombie Hivemind that grows in sophistication with each lump of biomass added. Some sort of Lovecraftian cloud processor meat computer being

  39. says

    Sometimes it’s better to put the brain in neutral and enjoy the show.

    Exactly. Much of this discussion is of the variety that we surgeons like to refer to as mental masturbation.

  40. says

    Bronze Dog

    But there’s always one thing that bugs me about extended zombie hordes: Food. Not the survivors’ food, the zombies.

    Thank you. Even if we were to grant the biological impossibilities that PZ has flagged, the zombies should drop permanently dead (more dead?) very quickly, unless they are extreme omnivores and can eat grains as well as brains. I quote some numbers Rachel Reddick, my wife, worked out:

    If we grant that the zombie is structurally sound and getting enough oxygen that it doesn’t immediately go into an ischemic cascade, there are still problems. Consider energy. If a zombie doesn’t eat, how far can it go?

    There is enough ATP in normal human muscles for a few hundred meters of walking. So clearly the zombies still have ATP synthesis going, or they’d be notably non-threatening. If we assume glycolysis but no way to replenish sugars, after thirty or forty kilometers the zombie will drop – hitting the wall like any endurance athlete. If zombies have massively up-regulated fat metabolism, they can go a couple of hundred kilometers before they run out of body fat to burn into motion.

    So the zombies should have been gone after the first week. I indulge in some self-promotion of the blog Rachel and I use: http://clementsgame.wordpress.com/2012/11/06/scifi-round-eight/

  41. Ichthyic says

    he survivors behave as though this were the case in the season one episode where they cover themselves in zombie guts to escape a zombie horde, but only after putting on protective ponchos. Admittedly, this makes it hard to make sense of the season two reveal that everyone already has the virus, because you’d expect it to kill them just as quickly as it killed Jim.

    it works perfectly if you remember one thing:

    this is based on a comic book.

    oh, sorry, “graphic novel”

    would you expect logical consistency and well thought through backgrounds in “Thor”?

    comic.

    book.

    from what I can see, over half of the current video media production coming out of the US is actually based on nothing more than the imaginings of comic book writers.

    sad.

    so, you either accept the mindless drivel and watch it for what it is: comics.

    …or you don’t.

    but trying to analyze this shit as if it were a proper work of literature?

    laughable.

  42. Ichthyic says

    They also seem to be getting “smarter,” massing at single points on the fence.

    I’m pretty sure they were being trained by the little girl that liked to feed them.

  43. Ichthyic says

    Take your snobbery and shove it, ass

    take your preference for crap and similarly…

    oh wait, uh… put it back there?

  44. mazed says

    Really the zombie outbreak is all masterminded by cephalopods who are getting revenge for all their brethren we have eaten over the years.

  45. rory says

    @48, I think it’s probably a little unreasonable to dismiss an entire literary form as though it’s defined by its lowest common denomiator. ‘Maus’ and ‘Persepolis’ are both “comic books,” and I think many people far more credible than I would have no problem treating them as “proper works of literature.” Your mileage may vary.

  46. says

    It doesn’t explain why the head shot knocks ‘em out, though. That bugs me.

    As they learned at the CDC, whatever the organism is, it invades and reactivates the brain stem. Not sure why a hit to the now useless parts of the brain stop it, but the organism obviously organizes in such a way as to take over certain basic functions like walking and trying to eat. I’ve also wondered why it does such a thing, since it apparently isn’t required to spread itself (everyone is already infected). I came up with a theory involving two symbiotic organisms, one which infects the brain stem, is airborne, and causes the biting behavior, and one which infects the salivary glands, is transferred through bites only, and causes those bites to be lethal. Spatter doesn’t expose you to anything you don’t already have.
    I think too much, though, and Hollywood never listens to me.

    I favor the “we don’t know how this is possible but don’t have time to work it out now” explanation myself.

    Why I liked Cloverfield. No official explanation, just some vague speculation during a quiet moment. It’s a giant monster. Run.

    Some sort of Lovecraftian cloud processor meat computer being

    Some emergent behavior going on here. The psuedo-brain formed by the organism is able to store some simple rules, and the flocking behavior is a result.

    Food. Not the survivors’ food, the zombies.

    I’m not convinced they need to eat, or that it does them any good. Are the digestive systems still working? Is the heart still pumping? I think the eating & biting behaviors are caused by the brain invader and help the salivary gland invader spread. It makes use of some basic programming in the brain stem to make the zombies contact with people, and the bite makes more zombies. It could have used any other strong, ancient instinct. I’m not going to look, but somewhere I betting someone has done zombies that try to hump you instead of eat you.
    I have no explanation as yet for why they rot so slowly and survived winters without turning to snot. They seem to be subject to other decomp effects, like bloating when submerged in water. Of course either or both organisms could have been engineered in a lab.
    At least these zombies don’t talk.
    I’ve obviously thought too much about this stuff.
    On the other hand, whatever. I’ve always found zombies hilarious; I loved them before they were cool. Vampires? Bah. Posers. Bring out your dead.

  47. pacal says

    Like Lost it seems like the writers are making it up has they go along with the The Walking Dead. As for the show itself like Lost with the stupid Polar Bear in the first episode, I kind of lost interest when in the first episode of The Walking Dead, Rick gets out the hospital in a pressed fresh uniform and is immaculately clean shaven, looking like he going to pose for a formal photograph.

    What!

  48. Doug Little says

    All the main points here tick me off as well. I’d like to add that the zombie’s skulls seem remarkably weak as well, not that I have tried to penetrate a skull with a sharp implement mind you. If their skulls are that weak how are they walking around supporting their own body weight without breaking their legs.

    Also one other thing is how does zombie digestion work? How does the zombie digestive system protect itself from digesting itself? Do zombie’s cells still divide so that they can rebuild their stomach linings?

  49. godwit says

    Zombie stories should be dispatched as quickly as the protagonists dispatch the zombies. After watching “Shaun,” I realized that the zombies behave quite like tea party types that only want to devour thinking brains.

  50. Doug Little says

    Like Lost it seems like the writers are making it up has they go along with the The Walking Dead.

    I’m almost certain that they are following the main plot lines of the graphic novels pretty religiously. I can’t say for sure not having read the graphic novels.

  51. Doug Little says

    I’ve always found zombies hilarious; I loved them before they were cool. Vampires? Bah. Posers. Bring out your dead.

    +1 for zombies from me. My wife keeps trying to convince me to watch True Blood, bah not interested.

  52. says

    I think I can see one possible solution that explains the “walkers”: runaway self-replicating medical nanobots (a bit like the Doctor Who “Empty Child” storyline referred to up-thread).

    Imagine scientists somewhere try to develop emergency medical nanobots, designed to save soldiers who’ve suffered catastrophic injuries to areas other than their central nervous system. The system was *supposed* to work like this: The soldier is “infected” with the nanobots before battle (or maybe at the beginning of his or her tour of duty). The bots sit dormant in the host’s brain and spinal cord. If the host suffers a catastrophic non-CNS injury, typically a shot that damages or destroys the heart or causes massive exsanguination, the bots anaesthetise the higher parts of the brain, massively self-replicate and start using the body’s nerves to carry nutrients and energy to the organs to keep them as healthy as possible. The bots also take over the brain’s lower functions and cause the body to execute a simple program, say “return to base”. Since the nerves are now serving as a railway network for bots, and since the brain is not running the way it’s supposed to (and without real consciousness), the body shambles like a zombie. The idea is to keep the essential tissues alive long enough for the host to get to a hospital. The bots can perform rudimentary maintenance and repairs to keep the body alive in harsh conditions (e.g. freezing cold) and, if necessary, the bots will break down food in the host’s digestive system, or even non-essential tissues, to keep the system running. Since catastrophic CNS injuries make the exercise pointless – and because the whole system is about turning the host’s nervous system into a temporary makeshift circulatory system, with the brain as the “heart” – the bots are will stop working if the brain is significantly damaged.

    But before the system is in any way finished or perfected, one of two things go wrong. Either some military or terrorist type deliberately turns it into a weapon; or, self-replicating populations being what they are, it mutates “naturally”.

    Now you have nanobots that infect the population, hiding in the central nervous system while the body is alive, perhaps dormant, perhaps kept in check by the host’s immune system, perhaps a bit of both. When the host dies, the bots take over, but the command is not “return to base” but “eat flesh, preferably human” – and that’s how you get a walker. The bots run wild, self-replicating in the walker’s body, particularly in the mouth. A bite from a walker will deliver a truly huge load of the nanobots, triggering a “wake up” response from the ones already in the victim’s system.

  53. ambulocetacean says

    FWIW, in The Walking Dead the zombie hunger for flesh seems to be an instinct/drive unconnected to a need for nutrition/energy.

    Michonne used a couple of zombies as porters. She cut off their lower jaws so they couldn’t bite and she said that that kind of pacified them, as if somehow knowing that they couldn’t eat made them stop trying.

    It might not be plausible, but that’s the way it is in the show. *shrug*

    I figured that the antibiotics were for pneumonia or whatever brought on by the flu. It didn’t bother me.

    Actually, come to think of it, is it possible to get bacterial pneumonia anywhere, any time? Do we carry the bacteria with us at all times, or is it omnipresent in the environment?

  54. says

    I think that if you’re of a certain type, picking apart the story afterwards is a way of enjoying it.

    For myself, I can watch a show that has engaging characters and script and shelve continuity and technical accuracy questions for later, when the episode is over. If I was still watching this show, I’d roll my eyes over the antibiotic thing, chalk it up to dumb scriptwriters, then ask myself if the plot still works with some other tech explanation, like antivirals, which it sounds like it would. It’s an annoying error, but it wouldn’t by itself kill the show for me (I stopped watching after missing a couple of episodes early on, and didn’t feel strongly motivated to pick it up again).

    Similarly, trying to work out how the zombies work is fun for some of us. In one column, you write down the known facts, in the other you write down the possible explanations. Flag up stuff in the first column that seems contradictory, and stuff in the second that contradicts what you think you know about the world. Bonus points to the scriptwriters when they explain a seeming contradiction; bonus points to me if I can come up with a model that predicts a future plot point. Triple bonus points if it inspires me to pick up this zombie story I didn’t finish writing last year.

  55. says

    start using the body’s nerves to carry nutrients and energy to the organs to keep them as healthy as possible.

    Now you see, that’s the kind of thing that takes me right out of granting your explanation any plausibility. That would not work. Nerves are packed full of proteins as cytoskeletal elements; if you’re going to propose axon transport for delivery of nutrients, at the rate of 200 mm/day, I’m going to laugh.

  56. says

    Yeah, PZ, I wasn’t going for full realism. Just increased plausibility. Could it work with the bots simply running along the outside of the nerves, or between the nerves and the coating *the fatty stuff, whatever it’s called), or is my little back-of-an-envelope idea totally busted. I’d like to think it was a nice try…

  57. sowellfan says

    @Drshell (#26) – Zombies don’t always have to be metaphorical placeholders. They work just as well, imho, as an existential threat that drives a plot.

  58. says

    Way to overanalyse a perfectly good TV show! Oh, and if you think Rick is an idiot, what to make of his psychopath son, or the extremely annoying lady with the short hair whatshername, who has taken to purging the infected with fire recently?

    If anything ever happens to the samurai ninja kickass chick, I’m going to stop watching.

  59. brucegorton says

    @Icthyic

    Actually, I would expect Thor to operate in a logical and internally consistent manner, as would most geeks. Comic book settings have to obey the same basic rules of story telling as any other fictional work – we can suspend disbelief provided the universe follows its own rules.

    Whether fiction is based on correct facts comes second to whether it operates logically within the facts it establishes. When it fails to do the latter, it fails to work entirely. That is why cutscenes often end up breaking suspension of disbelief in video games (Hey, my character did something awesome! Why can’t I do that at any other point in the game?) and why most Superman movies suck.

    The same thing goes for mythology – the myths and fairy tales that endure aren’t particularly illogical, but they have to operate within the facts set out by them.

  60. vaiyt says

    I’m not a fan of most modern zombie stories. As pointed out earlier in the thread, most of them are, under the guise of a grisly apocalypse, power/glory fantasies. It’s all about audience stand-ins becoming Heroes through fighting an inhuman Other, and taking Hard Decisions that mostly entail killing people while shedding Manly Tears to reassure everyone it was Necessary.
    They draw most of their appeal from the same source of racial panic (those diffrunt people will overrun the mighty whitey!), arrogant intellectualism (the sheeple will overrun the thinking people!) and libertarianism (if only I was free to shoot anybody in the face!). All these have one thing in common – you’re not supposed to put yourself in the other side. The zombies provide you with an Other that’s fundamentally and irredeemably Other, therefore justifying the use of the same tropes.
    I just don’t see myself in the survivors, therefore the appeal is lost on me.

  61. morsgotha says

    I thought the antibiotics were for the secondary infections such as bacterial pneumonias. Hershel, when telling them where to go to get antibiotics, says something along the lines of ‘The disease isn’t what is killing them its the secondary infections’.

  62. robinjohnson says

    vaiyt, #71:

    They draw most of their appeal from the same source of racial panic (those diffrunt people will overrun the mighty whitey!), arrogant intellectualism (the sheeple will overrun the thinking people!) and libertarianism (if only I was free to shoot anybody in the face!).

    Oh, this. I’ve been saying this to anyone who will listen. Also, they’ve toned it down a little for the last season or so, but notice how the men are all about going out shooting people in the face while ‘their’ women stay back and wash their underwear? And whenever any female charafcter takes it on herself to try and do something heroic, there are dire consequences. One of the women even called out one of the other women for trying to learn to shoot zombies, because it left the rest of the women with a bigger share of men’s underwear to wash. I’m convinced it’s written by, and for, rightwing wackjobs.

  63. says

    but notice how the men are all about going out shooting people in the face while ‘their’ women stay back and wash their underwear?

    No, not really. Not Maggie the sharpshooter, not Michonne the ninja, not Carol, not Andrea, and not Lori. I think you made that up. If the show can not be blamed for something, I think it’s gender stereotyping.

  64. robinjohnson says

    rorschach: I did say they’d toned it down in the last season or so, and they have, but watch any episode from Season 1 or 2 and you’ll see what I mean.

    And not Lori? Seriously? Did she have any function except to be a mom and a wife and a third of a boring love triangle?

  65. says

    Ichthyic,

    Stop being a snob. It’s pretty obvious from your comments that you haven’t read a comic book in ages, so I don’t really think you are in any position to judge an entire artform in the way you are doing. Seriously, not cool.

    rorschach,

    but notice how the men are all about going out shooting people in the face while ‘their’ women stay back and wash their undrwear?

    No, not really.

    Actually, numerous feminists have critisized the show for exactly the reason mentioned. I don’t watch it, so I can’t say anything about it, but at this point it seems unlikely to me robinjohnson is making this up.

  66. says

    sowellfan, you’re right. They are always an embodiment of our mortality, refusing to stay repressed, and sometimes that exposed dread is all the plot needs. They’re the Airborne Toxic Event.

    And vaiyt, you are also totally right. I made those exact arguments in my chapter, comparing zombies in the Old West narrative of TWD to “savages” from old Western narratives. Ultimately, they both provide dehumanized–and thus guilt free–targets for human/white protagonists.

    As for the women, I’m going to have to agree that they are not written well overall. Maggie seemed strong for awhile but then had to be contextualized by a sexual assault threat from the governor, which Glen completely acted the ass about. Michonne is great but very Othered, though that seems better this season. We’ll see what happens with Carol…she has filled a lot of very stereotypical roles so far, abused wife, bereft mother, etc. Andrea was SUPER frustrating for me because every time it seemed she was about to be awesome the text cut her off at the knees, going way back. I mean, after complaining about the women not getting to protect the farm, they write her shooting Daryl in the head? Really?

  67. robinjohnson says

    Sophia McDougall puts it better than I can: I Hate Strong Female Characters. From the tagline: “Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong.”

    None of the female characters in TWD go beyond ‘strong’, and most of them don’t even get that far.
    (Admittedly, few of the male characters have a lot of complexity either, but Dale, Herschel, and even Rick, with his new sense of self-doubt, have a bit of depth to them that it’s hard to imagine the women getting anywhere near.)

  68. says

    Here’s a potential story seed. Typical walker story except told from a walker POV. After weeks of being a shambling mob of reanimated flesh, the walkers start to wake up. Whatever animated them in the first place is an ongoing process and higher functions are starting to return. Now they face the problem that they’re out stranded with no idea where they are, society is broken down, and they are feared and hunted by uninfected

  69. erichoug says

    Ah crap! I missed all the fun yesterday. CURSE MY GAINFUL EMPLOYMENT!!!!!

    Rick is only suited to leading the latrine detail.

    What I want to see is a zombie apocalypse that occurs around an engineering college. Seriously, are these people not the dumbest schmucks on the planet?

    JUST WELD A SNOW PLOW TO THE FRONT OF THE TRUCK! MORONS!

    How about just running the zombies over with a tank or a Combine harvester? oh, how about an industrial grinder? If they are attracted by noise just have someone sit on top of it and fire shot every now and then. Seriously, “here’s a video of an industrial grinder chewing up a VW. The governor and his people even have a trap that captures zombies! Put one of those grinders in the pit and you just come by once a week and muck out the grease traps. Few months of that and you can sleep soundly at night.

    Oh, and speaking of sleeping? THEY LIVE IN A PRISON. why don’t they..oh, I don’t know…LOCK THE CELL DOORS AT NIGHT? Seriously, you have just sent two years running from people who might bite you. Are you seriously going to leave that solid iron door OPEN while you sleep? Not bloody likely.

    And why the FUCK are they not out every free minute killing zombies? I mean in the last episode, they could have sat up on that awning and speared all 1000 of those zombies. HEY, Free college!

  70. robinjohnson says

    Indigo: I actually thought that was what was happening in the first (I think) episode of the new season, when Rick meets a mud-covered shambling woman in the forest and she starts saying “Please help me!” For a second I was really happy that the interesting twist the story needed was coming. Alas, no, she turned out just to be a mud-covered crazy woman, and the rest of the episode was more zombie fights.

  71. robinjohnson says

    Which, in a TV show about zombies, must have come as a real shock to you.

    It didn’t in the least, which is kind of my point. I’m happy to admit there were better things I could have been doing with my time. But really, after three seasons, it’s not terrible to expect something new to happen, or at least to think it’d be nice if it did.

  72. says

    Look, Im suffering from “new TV series are better than any Hollywood movie” disillusionment syndrome just as hard as you. And TWD has taken a particular nose dive in that regard, worse then “Revolution”. But you can’t really blame the show for doing what it’s name and marketing stands for, i.e., zombies doing zombie things.

  73. says

    @Rorschach

    True to a degree, but I think any work of art has to establish itself in some way from it’s spiritual predecessors or else it can get the deserved criticism of ‘derivative’.

    my opinion of Walking Dead (both versions) is that it is fairly standard zombie stuff. There’s not much to find that hasn’t come before it and it’s fairly happy to be basically “Zombie Movie: the Series”. Which is fine if people like that but a lack of innovation or inspiration makes some people lose interest. Which is why I think the game version works a bit better (goes from watching people to stupid things to you trying not to do stupid things while people yell at you for not doing what stupid thing they wanted).

    Walking Dead is very comfortable following the well worn path forged by those who came before

  74. robinjohnson says

    But you can’t really blame the show for doing what it’s name and marketing stands for, i.e., zombies doing zombie things.

    I’m not. I’m blaming it for doing nothing else.

  75. says

    Some people ask for is “More” and some people ask for “eeh surprise me”

    Hell the big problem with say SW or Crystal Skull I think is that it didn’t feel like “more”

  76. says

    If you want a variant take on the zombie idea and have a …strong stomach (serious serious trigger warning) there is the comic series “Crossed”

    Basic premise is a zombie like infection, only you don’t die and don’t get stupid you just become a violent sociopath.

  77. Banecroft says

    If anyone cares about watching The Walking Dead but isn’t up to date this post may contain spoilers. You have been warned!

    Sorry if this has been discussed, I have not read all replies.

    The reason the zombie bite ends up killing you is because you were bitten by a rotting and dead thing. The zombie isn’t transferring a virus to you when you are bitten, you’re just being flooded with horrible and nasty bacteria (think of a Komodo dragon’s saliva) which causes you to get sick and to die. Everyone is already infected with the “zombie virus” which only kicks in when the host dies, it, in and of itself, is non lethal.

    Oh, and to be fair… Rick didn’t destroy the Governors town! The Governor took a group of his people to attack the prison, they met resistance and the Governor’s group fled. The Governor stopped the fleeing convoy and ordered his people back to the fight. When they refused, he killed them all, leaving only his two lieutenants alive. Essentially, the Governor destroyed his own town.

    But, yes, Rick does have some mental issues that really affect his ability to lead… Which is why he stepped down as the leader and a council now decides things instead of Rick. I have a feeling that is soon to change, though.

  78. Colin Purrington says

    Yes, treating viral infections with antibacterials certainly OK if stated goal is to treat an actual secondary (bacterial) infection. The antibacterials will not kill or slow the growth of the virus of course, which is probably what is killing them since they die so quickly (Tara gives good explanation for this, by the way). But the issue is that Hershel actually wrote out a list of the drugs he wanted them to get at the vet college: the list was entirely composed of antivirals. Which makes sense since on several occasions characters agreed the infections were viral. But it’s of course puzzling that several characters then mentioned the need to get “antibiotics”, and that was followed by the “ends with cin” comment at the school itself. Which all suggests that Hershel is a complete idiot, and doesn’t know that antivirals are not antibacterials. Alternatively, it could suggest that the writers are brilliant, and in the future episodes there will be heated discussions at the prison about antibacterials versus antivirals. (And probably gratuitous jokes about veterinarians or at least science literacy in post-apocalyptic Georgia.) More likely is that the writers, like 60% of adults (in some polls), believe that antibiotics (a misnomer: far better to say “antibacterials”) can kill both bacteria AND viruses…which explains why we have rampant evolution of antibacterial-resistant bacteria in the actual world.

  79. says

    The movie Warm Bodies is mostly from the POV of a zombie, and his thoughts form a sort of narration. The contrast between his shambling, barely-cabaple-of-mumbling reality and his articulate, self-aware thoughts is part of the fun.

    And no, Zombie physiology doesn’t make sense. But neither do musicals.

    I mean, do you jump up and yell at the screen every time the actors burst into song, extras start doing choeographed dancing behind them, and an invisible orchestra plays? No, because we all accept that Sweet, the song-and-dance demon, has moved to town.

  80. L E says

    pacal@57

    I’m not going to defend the plotting of Walking Dead, but it’s not completely continuity stupid. Rick spends most of the first episode looking rough and wandering around in a hospital gown, then in clothes presumably borrowed from Morgan. It’s not until they raid the police station for weapons and hot showers that he shaves and puts his uniform on – probably because he had a spare uniform in his locker at work and preferred his own clothes to borrowed ones.

  81. A Masked Avenger says

    drshell, #26:

    Zombies as metaphor are really quite rich. They are the Other but also ourselves, and they present a deeply discomfiting mirror Self…

    What you said! I was talking to a psychologist, who suggested that most of these “monster” genres are a positive reflection on humanity in a way. It speaks to the fact that on some level we realize that humans are not really monomaniacal, unreasoning, implacable enemy fit only for destruction, and also that we’re not wired up to kill our enemies the way fictional heroes kill zombies without seriously traumatizing ourselves.

    (A sci-fi counterpoint is the theme that killing sufficiently humanoid non-humans is actually as traumatic as killing humans, even if they’re not sentient at all. That’s one of the themes I find in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” for example.)

  82. says

    I rather enjoyed Feed by Mira Grant, which is a political thriller set a generation _after_ the zombie outbreak. The setting’s not fully biological accurate by any means, but the author clearly researched the topic and tried to keep it comparatively plausible. (After a zombie encounter, hazmat suits and bleach showers are the order of the day.)

  83. says

    rorschach,

    I don’t watch it, so I can’t say anything about it

    And yet here you are doing exactly that :D

    No, I’m not. I’m saying something about a comment about a show I don’t watch. All I meant to say (and I should have been clearer earlier, I grant you), that dismissing someone’s complaints about potentially rather fucked up gender roles in a television show as ‘making stuff up’, given that A) most television shows have problems to some extent when it comes to gender equality and B) various feminist authors have voiced pretty much the same criticisms regarding this particular shows as robinjohnson did, seems… well… You telling robinjohnson that they are ‘making it up’ just didn’t sit well with me, that’s all.

  84. michaellatiolais says

    Actually, we were brainstorming about this one night, and the only solution that we saw was that the agent in question was a fungus which basically co-opted the body to spread spores. And it had several stages. First, it just influenced you to do stupid things, by giving you an intense feeling of panic. Then, it replaces your muscles and nervous system as a walking, biting mushroom. And, finally, once you were sufficiently broken down, it would grow a big stalk and start spewing less infectious but tougher spores which would continue the plague.
    I thought it was a cool, original concept. Then, one day, my kids tell me about this game called “The Last of Us” which uses most of this premise. Alas…

  85. tussock says

    Ah, the issue of making zombies work biologically.

    So, they’re not “dead”, as such. Everyone is infected long before the first outbreak, they couldn’t keep the cities safe because the zombies were already inside, ticking time bombs. But they are cold and without pulse, so there’s a virus that’s engineered the cells to survive being frozen, survive a lack of nutrients, lack of oxygen, abundance of CO2 and NH3, and so on.

    The cells are also massively toxic to common carrion species and the virus strongly tends to infect and disable any bacteria that consume it, dramatically slowing their reproduction. They still smell bad because the virus doesn’t work on some suddenly irrelevant layers of certain organs, so there’s still partial rotting and decay.

    There’s no pulse, but that’s fine, because they gather O2 by osmosis, when “resting”, which they do almost all the time. Muscles have grown superior sprung locking features to support them standing without using energy.

    Nervous tissue survives, but what it can’t do is start up higher brain functions, there’s simply too much energy required and all too delicate in the presence of waste products, so the only thing left is a desire for closeness with people-shapes, and a desire to eat anything that doesn’t smell like death. Zombies.

    Why do we die when bitten? The virus has our immune system on edge, and kicks off an immune storm in response to certain kinds of infection, like the modified form of itself from the salivary glands of active zombies. The blood thickens, headaches, joints stiffen, heart failure, cooling, … more zombies!

    Is Rick a bad leader? Is his response to everything insanely destructive? According to the author, that’s the point of the stories. It’s an examination of how peoples fear about external stressors leads to violent and destructive petty tyrants taking over and fucking everything up. There’s tyrants everywhere, and they’re what’s killing almost all of the survivors, but people follow them because of fear of the zombies.

    First published late 2003, Operation Iraqi Liberation (O.I.L.), etc.