Let's nitpick THE WALKING DEAD biology

The Walking Dead Season 3Since no matter what this post actually says, someone is going to bitch and say I’m ripping on the show, let me land a few pre-emptive strikes so there can be no confusion about my opinion of THE WALKING DEAD, Season 3.
• The first episode was goddamn awesome
• The second episode was even more goddamn awesome

I thought the show really dragged in Season 2 with the endless whining and ridiculous character decisions of Lori, the endless Days of our Lives drama that made the show THE LET’S TALK ABOUT OUR FEELINGS DEAD, and the concept that people are just going to let their kid “go out and play like kids do” when there’s a freakin’ zombie apocalypse going on. I’m sure there’s more of that to come in Season 3, but so far the first two episodes were off-the-hook good (if I may bust out an 80s phrase, kids).

I’m under deadline (and shouldn’t even be writing this), so I don’t have time to blog-chase the answers. Besides: I’d rather hear what the Junkies think, because you are all rather smart.

Now, with all of that praise out of the way, I have some questions (read also: let’s nitpick the tiniest details). I really only do this with amazing shows that are so close to “perfect” it bugs me they couldn’t find a way to tie up those last few little points.



Bite me, baby1. What’s the deal with biting and scratching?
Can someone help me out with this? I’m lost on the continuity.
• They all have the virus
• If they die, the virus “activates”
• So then why does a bite or a scratch make them zombies again?

2. If a bite or scratch makes you a zombie, why doesn’t fluid contact to eyes, nose, mouth and existing cuts?
These people are the Gallagher of the horror world — you need a raincoat to sit in the front row, for Christ’s sakes. There is so much zombie fluid hitting faces the show might as well star and undead Jenna Jameson. Infected zombie blood hits characters in the eyes, the mouth, goes up their nose and splashes on any cuts they might have (and considering they have a rough-and-tumble life without a lot of Snoopy Band-Aids™, so there should be dozens of abrasions that allow blood-to-blood contact).

Daryl and my other brother Daryl3. Daryl carries contaminated arrows in his freakin’ mouth, for freak’s sake
He does. I’ve seen it. You’ve seen it. An arrow that just went through a zombie brain? He puts it in his mouth to carry it around! If the disease is spread by bite (saliva) or by scratch (no idea, blood?), and he puts those materials into his pie-taster, wouldn’t that be a slam-dunk case of ZTD (zombie transmitted disease)?

4. Your blood circulates really fast — wouldn’t you have to amputate instantly?
My wife is a nurse. One of the things nurses do is inject “contrast” into a patient’s bloodstream so they can see how the heart is pumping. They also admister meds intravenously. She says that when you put something into the bloodstream, it hits the heart almost immediately. So when Hershel’s leg is bitten (awesome FX, by the way), and it takes Rick a good five minutes of screen time to play Whack-a-Mole with his shin, wouldn’t the viral vector (which is carried by blood, isn’t it?) already be well into his bloodstream?

This one is bugging me more than the rest. It takes about one minute for blood to make the round trip from leaving your heart to returning to it. Everyone has the “virus.” If they die, they turn. If they get bit, they turn. That means there’s a hibernating virus (in healthy people) and an active “I-will-fuck-your-mother virus” in the zombies. The active virus spreads via bite or scratch, when that wound draws the victim’s blood. So, how would chopping the leg off stop a virus if that virus was blood-borne?


Fences are your friends5. Fences are your friends. Don’t leave your friends.
In Episode #1, they are standing behind a perfectly good fence. The zombies come to them, and they shove a pipe in their eye (an actual pipe, that wasn’t another Jenna Jameson reference, honest). So, why would they leave the safety of that fence to “take the yard?” All they have to do is stand there, the zombies walk up to the fence, the zombies get stabbed in the face. Do this until there are no more zombies. Did anyone else have a problem with this?

Once they go into the prison to clear the cell block, I get that — fog of war, things are confusing, there’s zombies trying to eat your face.

6. What am I missing? Why is Rick still pissed at Lori?
Let me break down my logic here. I’ll use my high school friend Scott Christian as an example. I’ve known him for 25 years now, so I’m pretty damn sure we know what kind of guy he is:
– Say there is a freakin’ zombie apocalypse …
– Say Christian thinks I am dead, because like 60% of the world is dead …
– Say he then protects my wife and my only child …
– Also, say my wife thinks I am dead …
– Say Christian and my wife have known each other for 20+ years and are buddies in their own right …
– Say Christian and my wife start bumping uglies …
– Did I mention they both think I’m dead? …
– Say Christian gets my wife in a family way …
– Am I really going to feel all betrayed about that?
– Especially after I killed Christian with a knife, showing the whole world who is boss?
– And there’s a freakin zombie apocalypse going on?
– Pretty sure I’ll live and let live at this point. What am I missing? Does this make sense to any of you, or would also let bygones be bygones
– (Caveat: Lori is the most annoying character in the history of television — she’s a non-funny version of Seinfeld’s Neuman:yes, that annoying).

7. Zombies “playing dead” (added because of a comment by ELCas, I forgot about this one)
The stakes are rather high if you make a mistake, you know that putting a pipe through their freakin’ heads will take them out, but you see a zombie sitting there like a Haight Street pan-handler and you don’t crush that melon? You just walk on by, thinking “hey, he’s not moving, so all good?” The scene where Hershel gets bitten left me shaking my head a little bit. A) Anyone have a theory as to why they ignore zombies that have a whole head? and B) Are some zombies smart enough to use strategy?

Fill a brotha in on what I’m missing here. I’m thoroughly entertained and very happy with the Red Bull version of THE WALKING DEAD. I can’t wait for Episode #3.

About The Author


  1. Rebecca

    Had anyone ever stopped to think about what Jenner said about only the brain stem reactivates?? If that’s true then the zombies either be able to see, or hear, which they can hear because they follow gun shot sounds, they shouldn’t be able to smell (another way the show says they know human pay is close) the brain stem needs to communicate with the lobes of the actual brain and cranial nerves for these senses to work. With only the brain stem active, none of this is possible. That saying, I still LOVE the show, abd will continue with my walking dead addiction.

  2. scottsigler

    Wesley, that’s some of the best apologetics evah! I’d never considered the basic answer that, in effect: “They are like, really-really-really tired and super bummed ’cause all these bitches they love died and stuff, so they rushing into shitty decisions.”

  3. Wesleyan_Hendrix

    In explaining this bite, scratch, fluid, zombie thing; this only goes for this show.  If you are iin a world full of dead bodies walking around i could not even fathom the different types of bad bacterias and microbes that are flying around in the world at large.  That saidd my wife is also a nurse and we have had these conversations at length and have come to the point of if you are bitten or scratched you instently open yourself up to these bateria, or microbes, or even microphages that are swirling around and since your body is probably over taxed with the way you eat and live; it is safe to say your immune system is not quite up to par.  There for, you die from the infection from the wound and then the actual virus reanimates the body with really the sole purpose to spread said virus.  Something a lot of virus actually do.  If they had someone who knew the ins and outs of infections they could probably save someone from dying who had been bitten, but they would need a very steriale inviroment and hard core anti-biotics just to give them a chance.  Also, in regards to your fences are friends comment; you are absolutely corect although after almost a year of malnutrition and constantly on the run it is safe to assume that the human brain is not quit processing these events correctly; not to mention the shear emotional trauma that they have indored.  The grief-resistance or stress scale for most people dicates how much our own bodies and minds are affected by things like grief and stress.  Most people should not make any decisions for 3 months after a loved one has died; that is one of the highest on the scale.  Other things such as moving, changing jobs, and getting married are also major things on this scale.  So, these individuals worlds have been destroyed, the whole world.  i can not even imagine what kind of toll that would have on the human psychy but in fathoming a guess; I would say that their judgement would be permentaly damaged and would never view the dangers, that we all clearly see as well as the appropriate course of action, as accuratly as they appear.

  4. Frauliman

    I wish the show was called ‘The Sprinting, Semi-Intelligent Dead’. I agree with Mr Sigler. The way they have this show ‘imagineered’, I’m pretty sure one man armed with a fence, a pipe, and a little bit of patience could rid the entire world of the zombie apocolypse after a year or so. These super slow, super stupid zombies don’t scare me in the slightest.

  5. stormwalker4

    I agree with you on every point except number 6. I don’t think Rick is mad at Lori for her relationship with Dhane. They dealt with that last season. He didn’t blame either of them for that. (although, his best buddy Shane did lock leave him in a hospital unprotected and unconscious with a building full of walkers and tell Lori that he was dead. Not that he left him in a room to die, but that’s beside the point.) I believe he is upset with Lori for trying to turn him against Shane at every turn last season. Always pointing out how Shane was trying to snake him. Then when the deed was done after it all came to a head, she turns on him as if he had did something wrong. She was then completely unsupportive and acted as if it was something that Rick had been trying to do all along and that she had no part in it. As if it wasn’t for the protection of the group. Recall how she responded at the end of the final episode last season. She pulled away from him. It seems that through the winter, Rick has gained some perspective and is rightfully upset with Lori for her part in what he considers to be the most difficult and distasteful thing he has had to do for this group and how none of them including Lori seemed to understand. I also think he is projecting a bit of his own self hatred for killing his friend but he can’t kill himself or even really self destruct because the group will suffer in his absence. He resents them all a bit for that because he would much rather have had his friend by his side than be the sole leader of this group with all of the responsibility that comes with the role. In all of this time though, I think Lori has realized just how ridiculous her actions were and wants to make amends but Rick wants no part of it.

  6. rloyear

    I had to stop watching in season one because the writers had such major inconsistencies in their zombie behavior.  First they are slow… no.. now they are FAST!  First they can’t open a door…  Wait… now they are USING TOOLS to break a store window.  First they can’t climb fences – then they can – then they can’t!!!

    But… recent mind change – I may give it another chance.  Friend of mine pointed out that zombies are people.  Dead people, sure… but people…  so, you are liable to have variations… smart / dumb zombies…  slow / fast zombies…  some zombies that get picked first in gym class to be on the dodge ball team and some that are relegated to the sad contest of “who wants this slow-ass zombie on our zombie dodge ball team because you know they are getting knocked right the hell out…”

    So there’s that.

  7. Granby

    Don’t know a lot about The Walking Dead, but I am interested in zombies. For the spread thing; it could involve a kind of viral agent and there might be people who have a specific physical trait or mutation that grants them an immunity. So maybe the infected fluids not only have to come into contact with the bloodstream and with someone who is not immune to the virus, could also explain why some characters get infected over time; the stress of living in zombie world breaks down their immune system making them much more suseptable to the virus? 

    Maybe the zombies that lay in wait for their prey have learned the behaviours through conditioning. Say that one zombie for whatever reason was just laying there, maybe it was missing its legs or something and not moving, if a person walked by the zombie and it was able to attack them it might learn through conditioning that laying still and looking dead might be a way to get food with out having to chase food. Other zombies might learn that laying still means easier access to food by seeing how the smart faking death zombies do it. I know it seems like a lot for zombies to learn, since they’re rotting corpses; but a lot of conditioning experiments have been done on things like flatworms; so could be possible that a really fresh zombie could figure this out with enough repititions. 

  8. exotiKali

    P.S. I got pissed in the first 5 seconds of the show with Cowboy Carl taking point. Really? An adult zombie could take him out by tripping & falling on him.

    P.S.S. If it is virus, there would have to be some people who are immune. Hershel appeared to have died & come back normal … It makes more sense to attribute that to immunity than Rick’s hatchet job.

  9. Rain_Nite

    I have been thinking on the “scratches”.  In the walking dead show, has anyone actually
    died from a scratch?  I don’t think
    anyone has. The scratch idea is more of a fear that has become truth to them.

    As for bites, I agree with the idea of a kind of venom or bacteria
    that is instantly created when a body turns.  Alive humans are highly allergic to it and
    will die from expositor. Kind of like a peanut allergy.

  10. bluebrain1001

    I assumed the walk in freezer was the latrine.  I suppose they could get a bit more water if they recycled the urine in some way.

    At first, I was going to have a problem with the amount of water available in the canned foods but I have rethought that.  Assume a prison population of around 1500 and about 5 days supply of food for the prison.  That’s 7,500 man-days of food.  We had 5 prisoners sharing that food so we are back to a supply that would last them for 1,500 days.  Of course, the majority would be dehydrated.  Maybe 25%-40% would be canned with a liquid that would be good as a water substitute ( not too salty).  They should still have a ton of dry goods that they will never be able to use.

  11. scottsigler

    I added the bit about Hershel getting bit in the leg to the main blog article, thanks (I forgot about that little point).

  12. ChrisToohey

    One of the things that I like about The Walking Dead is that you’re not following the scientists and others in-the-know with regard to the cause and science behind the zombie apocalypse. Instead, you’re following a melting pot of survivors that are just trying to make it to another day.
    Rick says at the end of Season 2 that he didn’t believe Jenner outright, and didn’t know until he saw the non-bitten, non-scratched zombified guards. This speaks to their “we’re learning as we go” methodology.
    And I do believe that The Walking Dead takes place in a world that didn’t know of the Romero films/zombie genre. Of course WE know the rules of the genre, but these poor bastards are picking up intel as they go.
    As for Lori, I suspect that Rick is more upset that he allowed himself to be manipulated by Lori vs. anything else. The pending arrival of the baby is a constant reminder of the absence of Shane, and that he was manipulated into killing his best friend by the love of his life. You can see how this has affected Rick in how he dealt with Tomas. Would Season 1 Rick have done that? Hell, Season 2 Rick wouldn’t have done that (and only shot-up the bar when directly threatened). It’s the post-Death of Shane-Rick that’s understanding how to survive this new world and his role within it: I have the mantle of leadership thrust upon me, lives of those I love in my hands, and it is up to me to ensure that every decision and every action positively affects those around me… and nothing – especially my own morals – can stand in the way.
    You can see the last of that morality slipping away with his attempt to communicate his reluctance to kill the living with Lori. Lori tells him that he can do it with a clear conscience, knowing that it’s the best for the group. I also suspect that his reaction to closing the yard door (trying to be as spoiler-free here as possible) was more of his “… what am I doing?!” All of this combined, you can completely understand his detachment from Lori. Hell, I’m certain he blames her more for what he’s becoming than the Shane/baby thing. And while I don’t totally agree with that logic, it’s logic coming from a character… Remember, in his mind, that whole mess ended during the fight with Shane at the municipal building… until Shane freed the prisoner. So while I’m certain there’s lingering pain and frustration, the Rick character seems more at a loss for the man that he was (husband, father, and man of the law and morality). I’m certain that if you dropped Season 3 Rick into the “Vatos” situation, things would have ended much differently… and there’s something to be said for that all things considered. We saw Shane slip further and further into the character that he became, and I’m certain that Rick is more than aware of his similar slide into the gray.
    OK, enough babbling from me…

  13. scottsigler

    I think @bluebrain1001 means they couldn’t hydrate the dehydrated food. Did they have a source of water? Of course, most canned goods are full of water, they could just mix in the dried stuff with that. I doubt anyone is going to bitch that their rice is a little chewy.

  14. ElCas

    I agree with tlegower about why they act the way they do regarding the biting/scratches. Their Flaw logic is the one driving this action.

    Regarding Point No. 5. Fences indeed are your friends but a some point they will need “bait” to lure them to the fence. So it made sense to go in and take them out but I would have delay the entry time till the Walkers stopped walking towards the fence.
    The other thing that gets me is that we have seen time and time again that some zombie “play dead”. So if I was in their place, when entering the prison to clear out the cell block I would have hacked/slashed the head of any corpse who did not show any signs that their brains had been caressed by the gentle touch of steel. This would have prevent the bite that Hershel got trying to find Maggie.
  15. bluebrain1001

    292 days locked in the cafeteria, dehydrated food, etc.  No running water.  Nobody sees a problem with this?

  16. MuchAdo

    1) I’ve asked the same question.  There are apparently multiple things going on here. Perhaps there is another substance, venom if you will, that is transferred with the bite and activates the virus.  This makes sense but why then do they become a zombie when they die and aren’t bit, i.e. the man who hung himself??

    2)3) Perhaps the venom is in the saliva and thus simply coming in contact with the blood doesn’t matter, that doesn’t explain the scratches though.
    4) Exactly what I  was shouting at the TV when it happened.  Blood travels very fast and that wouldn’t help.  Poetic license to make the show work. 😉
    5) Exactly the same thing I thought.  Dude, I’m going to stand at the fence and make them come to me.  Same thing at the jail.  Bang on the bars and make them come to you.  I suppose one consequence is that if it’s a small area the dead may start to pile up inhibiting the zombies in the back from moving forward.
    6) Two things, we don’t know what has occurred between them in the last 6 months, the time between season 2 and season 3.  At the end of season 2 Rick took out Shane to a) protect himself and the rest of the group and b) because Lori basically asked him too.  Then when he did what she asked, she turned on him and walked away.  I think he doesn’t know what she’s going to do or say.  Remember, they were having problems before the apocalypse ever started.  Season 1, episode 1. There is likely more history than we know. I also think Rick is struggling with the necessity of killing people.  It’s something he knows he needs to do but something that morally he’s struggling with. To me it seems Rick is drawing away from everyone.  I do like that the dynamics have clearly changed within the group over the missing months.  Eager to see where it goes.
    Yes, Lori is annoying and that Damn Carl can’t mind.  They both get people needlessly killed.
    Lastly one word – Michonne!!!!!!!!!
  17. Toothless

    I like that answer.  Some kind of weaponized lupus living in the brain that gets triggered by traumatic injury.  That would explain why simple fluid exposure isn’t enough to turn someone.  

  18. chichiusa

    I agree, bad logic, I think the walkers are a result of an encephalitis infection of the brain and a bite from one cause the dormant virus to activate in a “healthy” individual because of an autoimmune response. Rick had maybe a minute for Hirschel’s leg, but just getting the fluid in you when killing wouldn’t necessarily trigger a huge immune system response, a bite or gouge causes shock and a larger autoimmune response. That’s why they don’t turn when they cut themselves shaving….oops! No one has shaved for a bit on this show, I bet they don’t smell too good either.

  19. d2ward

    Let’s not forget that Lori began doing the horizontal hula with Shane approximately, ohhhhh, like, 7 minutes after she couldn’t locate Rick. She then re-focused her exhaustive search efforts to locate Shane’s lil’ trouser zombie — a much more successful outing for her. Slut.

  20. j7million

    If the last eposide of season 2 didn’t end like it did, I probably wouldn’t have continued watching because of all of the unnecessary Lori drama and she still won’t watch her damn kid!

  21. scottsigler

    Now you’re just being silly! I totally let this go. They are fucking decomposing. One week if the immune system is still partially functional, two at the most, and there won’t be any muscle left to move the bodies (forgetting about all the other biological processes involved). This is the McGuffin I give the show — I don’t think about it.

  22. Toothless

    How long can these zombies live without new victims?  Scores of zombies have been wandering around inside the prison with nothing to eat for ten months.  That would seem to stretch the limits of zombie endurance I would think.

  23. exotiKali

    I was also wondering about the zombie goo, because somebody bathes in it every week. There’s no way that infected blood isn’t getting inside the eyes or into a small cut. I didn’t even think about the conundrum that Rick is saying that they’re all infected now but if a zombie bites you, you “turn,” and now that’s going to bug the crap out of me. Also, yes, Rick would have had about a second or two to cut off that leg to save Hershel. And finally, Rick is pissed at Lori because she egged him on to get rid of Shane, and then when he was forced to kill him, SHE FREAKING TURNED HER BACK ON HIM!

  24. tlegower

    My thought is this: They have absolutely no idea. They just THINK a bite is all it takes and they’re really just needless killing people because they are uninformed.

    A Bite causes Death. Death results in Walker. Therefore, a Bite results in a Walker.
    So my hypothesis is they are just uniformed and using bad logic.
  25. scottsigler

    A Komodo dragon bite works because of a bacteria, not a virus. Bacteria take awhile to work, and can be killed by antibiotics. So, is the virus “that’s in everyone” actually a bacteria? Because at various times they’ve had enough medicine to beat off a bacterial infection, yet people still zombify.