TWD a zombiological study

TWD Center for Zombology

The only place doing any sort of semi-scientific studies of zombie behavior was located in Woodberry. And their grant ran out, so to speak. Thus we, the viewers, are left to wonder about the how zombies would react in certain situations not shown on the show. So here is a list of “rules” we have learned about how zombies behave from watching the show. These may need some amendments, or editing.

Following that are some questions we can shamelessly fan-wank. If we can build our wankery on these rules, all the better.


  1. Zombies shamble, estimated maximum speed ½ human average, around 1.25 mph.
  2. Zombies can negotiate steps or stairs, but not ladders or the like. No climbing natural vertical surfaces (trees, cliffs).
  3. In the absence of prey stimulus, zombies wander at random.
  4. Zombies possess no ability to detect threats to their continued existence. They will walk into deathtraps either pursuing stimulus or randomly.
  5. Zombies can see, hear, and smell and may or may not possess other forms of perception. They respond to living beings when they see them or hear them. They ignore humans cloaked in zombie gore.
  6. Zombies “claw” at seen or sensed prey, but are unable to think of how to get to said prey other than straight line, closest route.
  7. Zombies deprived of sensory input (?) will enter a sort of dormant state. We have seen dormant zombies inside of buildings, but never out in the open.
  8. Zombies deprived of their jaws and arms enter a non-aggressive state and no longer pursue prey.
  9. Single zombies exhibit low physical strength. Glass doors are sufficient to keep a single zombie at bay. Only large groups of zombies push through barriers.
  10. Zombies seem to follow other zombies around when their random paths cross (true or not?). If true is this how hordes form?
  11. Zombies always moan when attacking prey.
  12. Zombies cannot manipulate fasteners of any type, including doorknobs. (Evidence; zombie guards in riot gear at the prison still had helmets on even though that prevented them from eating. And there were zombies trapped in tents in the Atlanta Skybridge when Daryl and Carol tried to get into Grady Hospital.)
  13. Zombies seem to favor the path of least resistance when shambling aimlessly at random. (Evidence; season 1 had a small horde moving along the interstate highway, Daryl drove a car into the leading edge of a horde, again on a road, in season 3-4?)

Questions about the acuity of zombie senses.

  • How far can zombies see? In season 5, while driving the fire engine our heroes see a huge group of zombies in the distance, but the zombies do not respond to the survivors standing on the road looking at them through binoculars.
  • On more than one occasion we have seen survivors lighting a fire as a decoy. Does this mean there is a thermal component to their senses, or does fire just provide two stimuli – movement, and noise (crackling)?
    *Can zombies remember? When Daryl and Aaron are trapped in the car, Daryl suggests placing something over the windows, so that if they can’t be seen maybe they will ignore them.
  • At what distance can a zombie determine if a walking bipedal form is human or zombie?

Questions about response to stimulus.

*Does naturally occurring noise and movement attract zombies? Are there throngs of zombies at the base of waterfalls, or at the beach where waves crash against the shore?

Questions about obstacles.

*Can zombies cross water? I think swimming is right out, it would involve a change to the method of locomotion similar to going from shambling to climbing.

  • If zombies can’t swim, do they recognize water as a barrier, or would they walk straight into a lake?
  • If a zombie walked into a lake, would it continue to walk along the bottom, or float up after reaching a certain water depth? Would they float vertically (like a water treading posture) or horizontally (like a swimming posture)?
    *Data point- The prison had a large creek near it and we never saw zombies walking off into the water. But then again, that probably wouldn’t have made for gripping television viewing, and insurance issues would probably not favor having extras in zombie gear getting into deep water and try not to swim.
  • Since zombies don’t recognize nor try to go around obstacles, they must trip and fall down. Some number of humans tripping and falling down results in head injuries. Are there zombies tripping and falling and bashing their own heads open against rocks?

Other random questions.

  • Zombies resulting from someone dying while lying in bed, apparently don’t get up and start moving about unless stimulated to do so.
  • Weren’t there some corpses in the hallways of the prison that were just corpses, not zombies? If so, why weren’t they zombies?

You haven’t touched on contagion. Do zombies spread zombism via bites? If so, do these zombies have different abilities from revenant zombies? Touching on your point that not all corpses seem to become zombies, do different levels of putrescence affect the strength of revenant zombies? Is there a theoretical limit to how long a corpse can molder and still become a zombie?

If I were researching zombies my first priority would be harvesting their limitless energy to set up a perpetual motion machine. Talk about green energy! Then I’d try to figure out how their cells slow decay and stave off insects and animal attacks. If you could reverse engine that you’d revolutionize agriculture and medicine.

In season 1 zombies used a rock to break a window and they climbed fences. I’m assuming this is being written off as early installment weirdness.

I thought zombies detect the blood and guts through smell, but how about the zombies without noses? What if someone lived with anosmia?

Well in the later series, I believe there’s a marked deterioration in the physical state of the zombies. If my belief is correct, then the zombies are “aging” or decaying at some level. That aging process could include their mental acuity :- recently deceased/turned zombies may have had just enough intellect left to use a rock.

You should add to the rules that:

  1. Zombies can be killed [?double-killed] only by high impact to the cranium, either penetrative or compacting. If this occurs prior to death, then it stops the zombification process.

  2. Partial or chopped up zombies with intact crania still behave as per the basic rules as best they can, eg drag along the ground, give you a nasty gumming etc. Disconnected body bits have no anima [I think - maybe reflex actions].

Zombies do walk across creeks [series 2? - Carl incident] but clomping about would make them vulnerable to slipping or being knocked over in even light current, and then they’d float downstream, end up tangled up with branches and junk on a sand bar for eternity or the next bushfire.

On tripping, if they did a face plant, that might occasionally be violent enough to cause skull impact. However, [and maybe this should be up in the rules] zombies are extremely dessicated, and don’t seem to replace their precious bodily fluids, which would make them about 40% the weight of a normal human. If so, falls would not have as much force there would be correspondingly fewer impact fractures. But then they should not be able to stand up except with a lot of flailing about.

I have no memory of that. Time to start re-watching from the beginning.

14 and 15 added.

Question about the incident with Carl; was that visibly a creek or a swampy area that looked mostly like solid ground? While I remember the incident, I can’t remember the setting well enough.

Excellent point about weighing less.

If they do wander across larger bodies of water, rivers for instance, then your example of washing away in the current may mean the zombies will take care of themselves. Washing out to sea like litter. Then they will only be a problem if a sea-going vessel happens to encounter a floating mass of zombie in the Pacific the size of the state of Texas!!!

There have been 6 water zombies:

The Well Zombie which was just floating merrily in Herschel’s well. I think I recall it having gills but that was Season 1 and the zombies stopped going down that rabbit hole (Z-Nation has all kinds of weird reacting to their environment zombies).

The Creek Zombies who got stuck in mud.

The Zombie Aquarium Heads which show they don’t need air or bodies to keep on keeping on.

The Dock Zombies that The Governor stood and stared down at. I recall at least one but there could have been more. It/they was/were floating just under the surface due to a cinder block/concrete block and chain holding it/them underwater.

There was the River Zombie that waded until swept away from the “safe” spot that The Governor had left his girlfriend and her daughter just before he attacked the prison for the third time. At some point the river could get shallow and that zombie could walk out onto the opposite side bank. Or it could end back up on the same side.

And the last incident I can think of is the Flooded Basement Zombie that ended up biting Bob. It had been laying trapped underwater for some time. Bargain Basement Meat!

As poor as zombie eyesight is already, and considering that human eyes can’t focus underwater very well, and since they can’t smell underwater. I would bet submerged zombies are pretty much useless.
Amyway, I guess we need to add rule 16.
16. Zombies do not breathe / require air to survive.

I still wonder if hordes of zombies are standing on beaches worldwide, drawn by the sight and sound of waves crashing against the shore. The zombies wade into the surf pursuing phantom prey and are battered about by the waves, some pulled out by rip tides. The clumsy zombies lose their footing in the surf and wash down the beach like driftwood. Some unfortunate zombies don’t escape Neptune’s embrace until they are bashed to smithereens against rock jetties. Our mother, the sea, becomes the most potent zombie fighter on the planet.

Zombism is not spread by bites. Whatever is causing it, EVERYONE is now infected. EVERYONE “turns” after death unless their brain is destroyed.

Zombie bites kill, but that’s because their mouths are festering holes of rotting meat. If they bite and break the skin they inject all sorts of nasty pathogens into your skin, muscles, and bloodstream, which means you die of overwhelming infection some time later (zombie bites always take days to kill, they aren’t instantly fatal). A few people have survived being bitten on an extremity by amputating said bitten extremity, which is pretty extreme first aid but apparently the only thing with a hope of working.

Zombies do seem to be “aging” as the story goes on. I suppose eventually to oldest will simply rot and fall apart, presumably dying for good at that point. However, it’s been a couple of years and they still have a crapton of dead people stumbling about so even if that will happen it will take a long time. Meanwhile, fresh zombies are still being made.

Note that people who died before the Zombie Apocalypse stayed dead - whatever is causing this, it’s not making the graveyards empty out.

Has the show specifically addressed this? Zombies can’t even kick through a glass door if there is only one of them (that rock incident not withstanding), so anyone already buried, even if they did come back, would never be seen on the sunny side of the grass again unless they were exhumed.

I know lots of people die every day, but we get them in the ground pretty fast. So there would only be a couple days supply of work-in-progress corpses that could have the opportunity to shamble around.

This is a good point, but I don’t think the sea is the most potent. It only works directly on the coast and is ineffective for the majority of inland areas out of earshot of the waves.

The most potent zombie killer is a noisemaker hung out on a pole over a roof ledge. For example, a simple wind chime or bells. We know zombies stair-climbed all the way to the rooftop of skyscrapers in Atlanta, so they would self-terminate en masse by stepping over the ledge in pursuit of just out-of-reach chimes.

But even if it were a shorter drop from a regular building, it would still be effective as any that survived the first fall would repeat the attempt.

I can imagine this emptying out a large city of zombies if using amplification such as a loudspeaker or bull horn. But if powered by simple wind, it would work continuously and would empty out a surrounding area over time and also kill any that wanders by.

This was implemented by Milton Mamet (I am guessing, since he was the one who had the Brains of that set-up) in the form of noise chimes drawing zombies to a pit. Not to kill them, though so the pits weren’t very deep.

Before that Rick used the squealing of piglets hamstrung or at least sliced to draw zombie away from the fence at the prison.

Glen used a molotov cocktail to be able to escape with Tara from the prison after the Governor stopped by the last time.

There are many more instances of making noise over there --> so that we can run ^^.

I’m wondering at what season we should stop our speculation at… not sure if anybody is still behind the last 1/2 season or… should anything discussed stay a full season back.

Unfortunately, by sticking to just the TWD Universe, it does leave out a ton of other interesting zombie universes. Where the author might give an almost believable canon explanation for many of the “Hmmms” that show up in anyone with a braaaaaaain.

Those of us who depend on Netflix for our TWD fix are always a year behind the rest of you. Just sayin’. Of course, I realize I risk spoilers whenever I enter a TWD thread.

I’m in the same position. I guess that means we really have something to look forward to when the next season becomes available!

One of the show’s (TWD) biggest strengths is the audience discovering things through Rick’s eyes. I know we all want answers, and rules and behind the scenes world building knowledge. But Rick and company are just trying to survive, so “shoot 'em in the head”, “cut off where you get bit”, and “if he dies he turns” are just about all the rules they really need to know.

That’s why this is so much fun. Maybe one day, they will get some answers for us, the audience. But even if not, I’m still a fan.

Just looked up the statistic that 39% of the US population lives in a coastal county (44% within a mile worldwide). So if we say that 25% of those might immediately become intrigued and destroyed by the sea, that’s nearly 10% of the US zombies being taken care of by good old mother nature right there. Then there would be some additional wandering into the oceans and rivers.

Sure gonna put the kibosh on beach vacations for a long time if the survivors manage to rebuild the world though. And it will make for some bizarre beach combing…

“Look, Mom, I found ANOTHER human skull.”
“Careful, Timmy, sometimes those still bite.”

Have we discussed the ramifications of freezing? Is there a Rule here? After all, human flesh will freeze solid at a certain exposure level without internal or external heat. Zombies have neither, so I’d expect them to freeze solid. Even Georgia has nights with a ‘hard freeze’, enough to solidify a bucket full of water. That should be sufficient to immobilize any zombie.

And so locations closer to the poles, and mid-latitudes during local winter, should be safe® than other places. If I were a survivor, I’d be planning to make new friends in northern Canada. And I’d be making the trip ASAP. Alexandria, walls or no walls, can’t be as safe as, say, Nunavut.

By normal laws of physics, a freeze-thaw cycle or two should pretty well scramble whatever a zombie is using for brain tissue. We know their brain tissue is sensitive to physical trauma, shouldn’t it be sensitive to micro-trauma from formation of ice crystals? But if that was the case, then even places like GA or VA would be rapidly depleted of much of their zombie population after a single winter.

Since this doesn’t serve continuing horrific danger in the story line, there must be some zombie special case making them immune to destruction by freezing. But do they also contain antifreeze, and thus remain mobile while everything around them stiffens into immobility? Me, I’d plan my supply runs to coincide with cold fronts. Stiff zombies, even if they would revive when thawed, have to be safer to deal with than regular zombies.

Oh, good observation, CannyDan. I’d love to see the show do a winter episode. It could be kind of like a Christmas special!!!

Sort of a corollary to the ocean destroying zombies; would a burning building be irresistible to zombies?

We’ve seen the characters use small fires to attract the attention of zombies. So without any impulse for self preservation, would a burning building just turn into a walker wok?