I recently started watching The Walking Dead,1 and while I generally enjoy the show for its speculations on human nature when civilization is stripped away, there are some plot/world-building issues and inconsistencies that bother me. I get that part of the attraction of the show is the idea that Our Heroes are normal people. Average. Unlike many other post-apocalyptic fictions, there is no doctor or survival expert conveniently among the group. But do these people have to be stupid? Has none of what I’m about to ask ever occurred to them?
Hey — world, tell me if you have answers for any of these questions:
Why on earth does anyone still have long hair? First rule of hand-to-hand combat: Don’t give your opponent anything to grab onto. In a world in which creatures with opposable thumbs flail blindly to grab ahold of you, you’d think by now that everyone would have learned to follow Carol’s example and keep their hair short. Michonne is especially troubling in this regard — she’s clearly a trained combatant, but she’s decided that looking bad-ass trumps staying alive.
Why don’t they disguise themselves more often? In the first season (and reinforced periodically thereafter), we learned that the smell of zombie guts/blood/gore — when properly applied — can camouflage humans from zombies. So, given the abundance of readily-available zombie carcasses, why haven’t Our Heroes stockpiled bags of the stuff to use when out on supply runs? Just put on your “stink clothes” the next time you run into town, Glenn. Easy-peasy.
How can the zombies — which have been proven to shamble when they walk and make a guttural groaning noise — sneak up on people? I just don’t get this. At all. Do it once, twice, three times — I’ll give you dramatic license. But nearly every episode? It beggars belief. How the hell do you not hear them coming?
Brain stems vs. brains: At the CDC in season one, Jenner shows the group an MRI of the zombie “virus” reactivating its host brain stem, with activity only apparent in that specific part of the nervous system. Why, then, does stabbing (or shooting) a zombie anywhere in the brain stop it? If only the brain stem is active, then shouldn’t you need to damage that in order to stop them? Check out a chart of the human brain anatomy — stabbing someone through the eye or shooting them in the forehead doesn’t even touch the brain stem. (This is less a question about the stupidity of the characters and more a logical world-building point for the showrunners.)
Why do they seem so utterly incurious about these creatures? Only Milton seems interested in studying them, but even there, he’s interested mostly in figuring out if they retain their living personalities somehow. Who the hell cares? If my world is overrun by these things, I want practical information. I want to know if they hunt in packs or not (sometimes it seems like it). I want to know if their movements are predictable. In the pilot, Morgan speculates that the cooler night air makes them more active after sunset — was that true over the winter? Or did the cold freeze them up? We know that the sound of a gunshot attracts them, but are there sounds or smells that repel them? In short — when there’s only one or two of them around, why not stand quietly and observe them for a minute?2
Speaking of gunshots… Am I to believe that the state of Georgia is entirely bereft of firecrackers, sparklers, or other such things that could be used to distract/draw away the zombies from a particular area? Am I to believe that a good ol’ boy cop and a redneck hunter have no idea how to make some homemade explosives from a can of WD-40 and a bit of rubber cement to be used as a distraction? The first thing I would do in the zombie apocalypse (well, after not being eaten…) would be to whip up some napalm. I learned how to do this in high school; why didn’t Darryl or Rick?3 Where are the pipe bombs to draw herds away from places? Where are the Molotov cocktails to clear a city street?
If there’s a zombie poison, why don’t they try to slow its progress? Since Rick could save Hershel’s life by cutting off his leg, then this proves beyond a doubt that A) the “zombie plague” is transmitted via some kind of poison or toxin in the zombie, and B) said poison doesn’t move all that quickly. (A couple of minutes passed between Hershel being bitten and Rick cutting off his leg, during which time his accelerated heart rate would have pumped the poison into his system at top speed. And he still had time for Rick to act.) Given that, why haven’t they at least tried treating a bite with alcohol or by burning it or applying bleach or something like that? If it works, great. If it doesn’t, then you’re no worse off than you were before.
Why don’t they ever call them zombies? This is probably the bit that bothers me the most. It smacks of writerly cuteness, and I hate writerly cuteness.4 If you or I woke up tomorrow to a world in which the dead have arisen and walk the earth, hungry for our flesh, we wouldn’t coyly call them “walkers” or “biters.” We’d call them “zombies.” Because that’s what they are.
- I’m late to the game because I generally don’t like zombies, so it took many months of persuasion for me to give the show a try.↩
- Yes, yes, I know — Our Heroes have been on the run. Well, they’ve also been in that damn prison with a slew of zombies surrounding them for what appears to be months now (as it’s getting cold again), so why not observe the behavior going on just outside the fence?↩
- You know Merle and Darryl spent their formative years blowing shit up out in the woods.↩
- Yes, even when it’s my own.↩