The Walking Dead: Pretend scientific reasoning for zombie behavior

the-walking-dead-episode-601-walker /

The Walking Dead zombies have rules. But are there reasons for their behavior?  I’m going to give some ideas based on zero science.

My science doesn’t really matter. I’m using fake science and symbolism to explain fake and symbolic creatures. GASP! Am I saying I don’t think there’s going to be a real zombie apocalypse?  Um, pretty much.

Before you jump all over me, I think I have Michael Cudlitz on my side. When he was at a question and answer session, a fan ask him a question about something he would or wouldn’t do in a real zombie apocalypse. Michael answered, but only after pausing and saying “in a real zombie apocalypse?” in an incredulous and playfully condescending tone.

So, I think that the creators of zombies and zombie lore perhaps used the science they knew from school in ways that made sense to them in the fake and mysterious zombie world.

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Rule. You must kill the brain. That means the brain is somehow the life force. In live humans the brain runs the body, but if other vital organs shut down the entire body follows.

Shane illustrated that point to us when he shot Lou In the chest and she just kept coming, Lungs, heart blown up and she was still undead. But the brain shot, crushed, stabbed or in any way disassembled and the walker is a goner.

Dr. Edwin Jenner, The Walking Dead -AMC
Dr. Edwin Jenner, The Walking Dead -AMC /

The brain. Dr. Jenner showed us that the only thing left is the brain stem. The part that make “you, you” is gone. The brain stem allows the walkers to walk. The brain stem allows for involuntary movement and systems like respiration and circulation.

The zombies don’t have a limbic system or other parts of the brain that control emotions. They don’t have dopamine or serotonin and other mood chemicals and neurotransmitters to be happy or depressed. They don’t have memories.

They don’t have the speech centers of the brain to speak or interpret the sounds they hear.  But the brain stem is there and they have vocal chords and instinct so we are treated to the groaning and growling and attempting to communicate some kind of message.

Burning walkers. The Walking Dead - AMC
Burning walkers. The Walking Dead – AMC /

Rule. The zombies are attracted to noise and light. If the zombies don’t have the full access to the visual and auditory cortexes (I looked it up; cortexes or cortices is acceptable and I didn’t choose to use cortices!), then they can’t really interpret what they see. They don’t recognize their loved ones or what things are. They just respond to stimulus.

The sense of smell becomes more acute because of the loss of the other senses. Usually the sense of smell is not the most necessary for human decision-making. Sight, sound and perhaps touch come first. Smell and taste are important, but we can drive and perform duties at work without them.

The zombies are searching for food and can’t see it well to find it, so they rely on smell, loud noises and flashes of light. Their touch is also heightened in the sense that they are using it differently. They are constantly reaching and grabbing to see if they can catch something in the net of their fingers.

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Rule: Zombies need to eat living things to stay alive. My last and most unscientific theory about the zombies is that because they have lost the part of their brain that makes them who they were, perhaps symbolically they are trying to become human again by eating living things. They are trying to become fully alive again.

Because they are dead, essentially undead, and will never become fully alive again, because the rest of their brain will never light up again no matter how many meals they make of the living, they can never get enough food. They must continue to eat.

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Rick Grimes said, “We are the living dead.” Maybe that doesn’t mean that they are monsters, that they must kill and become emotionless or lifeless. Maybe it means that, like the zombies, they must keep fighting to become alive again. But since they haven’t actually died yet, they can do it!