Overthinking Zombies

By Shamus Posted Monday Dec 3, 2012

Filed under: Nerd Culture 383 comments

Whatever you think of The Walking Dead and how it handles choice / consequence / and decision-making, I have to give it credit for starting a lot of really interesting conversations.

Sadly, some of these conversations kind of dead-end because zombie lore collapses under analysis. When we discuss the particulars of a common zombie dilemma (Perhaps someone is bitten but still healthy and what do we do with them?) then we’re invariably going to end up trying to map out the variables. If we do that, then sooner or later we’ll end up in the same ditch alongside people who want to know where the energy comes from that enables the X-Men’s superpowers and where the toilets are on the starship Enterprise.

Obviously we’re not supposed to focus on this stuff too much. It’s a bit like Superman’s disguise: It’s just one of the givens that comes with the setting. On the other hand, we’d probably think about it less if stories didn’t always shine a spotlight on them. If we’re not supposed to think about infection vectors, then there shouldn’t be so many plot-points that hinge on the topic. Living dead stories seem driven to draw our attention to the very stuff that we’re not supposed to question. We never see any toilets on Star Trek, but “oh no commander Riker needs to take a piss and the lavatory isn’t available” isn’t a running plot-point, either.

So let’s look at this in detail. How does this zombie stuff work, anyway?

Dawn of the Dead

The “Living” “Dead”

Well, it doesn’t. When you die, the cells in your brain stop getting oxygen and are destroyed. This includes the brain cells you use for moving and eating. Okay, we’ll hand-wave that and say that somehow the brain continues to process input and generate output. This means that a few hours after death you’ll have a violent, ravenously hungry immobile statue due to rigor mortis. We can do another hand-wave and say that something in infected bodies prevent them from stiffening up. Great, but the thing is still immobile because the heart isn’t pushing blood around, which means muscles aren’t getting energy. They can’t move for the same reason a car engine can’t keep running once you cut the fuel line, even if there’s still a driver operating the controls.

Aside: Always with the car analogies. Ever notice that? Want to explain the parts of a computer? Car analogy. DRM? Car analogy. Government, the human body, or network routing? Car analogy. What was the universal car analogy before we had cars, I wonder? Anyway…

This energy problem is pretty hard to hand-wave, because you’re no longer hand-waving medical difficulties but physics ones. Maybe we need to give up on the whole “dead” thing and just say that we’re dealing with human beings who are physically alive but have suffered some sort of extremely specific brain damage that leads to cooperative violence and cannibalism. This is the route taken by 28 Days Later and Left 4 Dead. This lets us have infected that act like zombies without flagrantly breaking the laws of physics.

…at least, until they stop eating. Infected can’t get into cans and other well-preserved food sources. Once they run out of people to eat, they begin starving to death. If we’re talking about a violent, super-strong zed that doesn’t sleep and spends its time shuffling around listening / smelling for victims, then it’s going to starve to death faster than the more energy-efficient survivors who can rest, intuit where to find food, open containers, and sleep. A month into the infection we should have only waves of scrawny, feeble walkers.

If we want to fix this then we need more hand-waving. Perhaps there’s some mechanism that allows the zombies to cannibalize their numbers in a way that keeps most of them fed without simply ending in complete mutual annihilation. We’re going to have to do some really vigorous hand-waving to make this work, but if the infected just happened to be really efficient about when they ate each other and the ones being eaten didn’t try to eat back, then we might be able to come up with some numbers where the zed population would simply decline gradually over time. How long will it take for the entire population to burn itself out? Let’s say: “However long the author says it does“, and hope nobody in the audience decides to run the numbers.

Speaking of ghouls eating each other…

Shaun of The Dead

Why Don’t the Infected Attack Each Other?

Yeah, I have no idea. The “smell” thing never really worked for me, since you’re talking about them detecting the lack of stench, not the presence of one. If I’m standing in a group of docile, putrid zombies, how can they tell I don’t stink? Given their limited mental capacity, that’s some really precise bloodhound work on their part. What about guys like me, who have a reduced sense of smell? If I was zombified would I just nom all my fellow zombies indiscriminately? Would they turn on me, join me, or ignore this team-killing behavior? Or would I always be docile?

You can play around with the parameters all you want: Maybe it’s driven by smell, or movement, or other behavioral factors. But in the end the living should be able to impersonate the dead because they’re a lot smarter. Sooner or later you end up with a boring story about people who put on zombie makeup before they go into the city to forage in complete safety, because this makes the zombies ignore them. That’s no fun.

Speaking of eating people…

28 Days Later

Infection Protection

I’ve always wondered why dry zombie teeth convey deadly infection but wet(?) zombie blood to the mucous membranes doesn’t. This is something 28 Days Later handled really well, and it made the infection crazy scary. Those drops of blood and saliva were infectious, and getting it in your eyes or mouth was a death sentence with a 30-second timer. Yikes.

But there are things that can only be contracted through open wounds and not through mucous membranes, so it’s perfectly reasonable to assume the zombie plague can work the same way.

In any case, if bites are an infection vector, then what kind of idiot would walk around in street clothes? It doesn’t take much to stop teeth. Even allowing for the hand-wave that zombies are some degree stronger than your typical human, our teeth are mostly for tearing and grinding, not for piercing. Football gear, leather jackets, riot gear, hockey gear, hazmat suits – all of this stuff should rebuff all but the most prolonged gnawing. Some of that stuff is a bit exotic, but in a decent-sized group the odds are good that SOMEBODY knows where to find it.

And even if you can’t find that class of gear, there are lots of things you could cobble together when you’re not busy boinking your best friend’s spouse or starting pointless arguments. A simple tarp could be cut up and made into many sets of teeth-proof armor. The floor mats in a typical car survive decades of stomping without falling apart, so I doubt a zombie could chomp through one of those. Heck just CARDBOARD tucked between a couple of layers of clothing should be enough to prevent those pesky mid-battle “gotcha” nibbles. Sure, the compression might mash the hell out of the skin underneath, but that sort of thing can heal as long as you can avoid punctures.

So it’s pretty clear that most bites are preventable, and the only people to get bitten should be people who get pinned by a group long enough for the Zeds to chew through.

The Walking Dead


I am really skeptical of the idea that a zombie plague could get 100% coverage. Given that the typical incubation period is about a day and it only takes hours for the victim to become symptomatic, the spread would be limited to people who got bitten and didn’t seek medical help, even after becoming ill. How could something like that spread into rural areas? Or cross oceans? Or national borders with checkpoints? Or reach people out at sea?

You can contrive a way for one single-minded, obviously sick moron to get on a plane, for nobody to question him, and for him to turn and bite people who in turn don’t seek medical attention, but this infection can’t outpace the 24/7 news cycle. Remember the various illness panics of years gone by? People are actually really fearful of infections and disease, and tend towards caution. Most zombie infections depend on lots of people being very careless for a long time in order to get the critical mass of walkers required. In a zombie plague, the scenario where one sick, pale guy with a bite is ignored is very unlikely. Instead, most people would wear scarves and gloves and fear touching strangers, “just to be safe”.

The United States might be screwed (ignoring, for now, questions about how shuffling dead infect sparsely populated areas) but I’m having a hard time picturing how something like this could engulf Europe. If there’s a high death toll (or worse, if a major city “goes dark”) then all those countries will start closing borders. They don’t have large armies in Europe, but they certainly have enough people to secure the borders in an emergency. Zombies aren’t infiltrators. They will march along easy pathways (roads) and into the machine-gun nests of the military.

And speaking of the military…

Left 4 Dead

Biting People Who Carry Machine Guns

Even if we say that things happen just right and the infection jumps oceans and borders, I just can’t see how the shuffling dead could possibly overwhelm and turn a proper standing army. Their armor is pretty much bite-proof, they have lots of bullets, and military bases are fairly easy to secure. You might lose a few guys to unlucky hand-bites, or you might lose some personnel in the initial surge, but once there’s unrest a base should be able to fortify and hold them off basically forever. Heck, just closing the gate ought to keep the average non-climbing, non-intelligent zombies out.

The only way for the army to lose is if the infection has some sort of incubation period. If exposure takes (say) 3 days to turn a person and they don’t realize what a hazard bites / blood / saliva is, and if the exposed are asymptomatic for the first couple of days, then it might be possible to have a critical threshold of soldiers get infected in the initial days of fighting. A super-fast 28 Days Later plague might also work, since it might spread faster than the military could respond. If most people were unarmed and in light clothing, then I could see the wave engulfing a base before they could fortify. Circumstances would need to be just right, but it’s possible.

But fine. We can say that the military is fortified in their bases and aren’t letting anyone in. Our heroes are still stuck outside and can’t raid the place for food or weapons. Speaking of which…



Pretty much any apocalyptic scenario has to deal with the food problem. Sooner or later the survivors will have scrounged all of the non-perishable food. Maybe that takes weeks or years, depending on some variables the author can change to suit their needs. But it’s got to happen sometime, and when it does it will be time to start farming. Actually, you need to start farming in the spring before the food runs out.

This can go really well or end in disaster, depending on who survives and what information they can find. Modern farming is highly mechanized, and not many people know how to operate those machines. You’ll also need seed. And fuel. And access to the machines in question. If you really want to do things the modern way, you’ll also need pesticides and fertilizer. On the other hand, you can probably make do without that stuff. Sure, yields will be lower, but with modern equipment a single farmer can make enough food for many, many people.

However, if you lack fuel then you might have to fall back on Ye Olde Ways. In the first world, there isn’t much between these two extremes. You’re either driving a $500,000 machine that can do all the work, or you’re not farming. If the machines fail, then you’ll have to fall back to plows pulled by beasts. The overwhelming majority of people don’t know how to do that sort of farming. They’re going to be learning as they go, which might make for some really low yields in the first few years.

Example: You’ve just taken some bags of industrial bulk seed and planted it and raised it to maturation. If you’re going for calories, then it’s probably some sort of grain. Congrats, you will eat this winter. But what part of the plant is the seed, how do you get the seed in bulk, how do you store it for next year, and how do you mill the grain to make it into food? Most modern farms just ship the bulk grain and those steps are done elsewhere on an industrial level. So even if you’ve got common farm machinery and fuel, you still don’t have the knowledge and machinery required to feed yourself.

I’ve read that it takes about four acres to support a family with pre-industrial farming, which is about the limit of what one family can manage. Remember that for thousands of years, 9/10 of all people were farmers. Nine people had to farm so that one person could do something besides farming. Those are bleak numbers, and that was with people who were experts at doing that sort of farming. Your average former venture capitalist / meter reader / electrician / sales associate / building contractor is going to have even less success due to their inexperience.

Even more dire than the food situation is the fact that this leads to non-zombie stories. There’s no reason to mess around with a zombie plague if you just want to tell a story about a small community of post-technology survivors learning to farm. In the United States (where most zombie stories seem to take place) it’s perfectly feasible to head out to the midwest where it’s nothing but farms. Neighbors have miles of space between them. Assuming zombies don’t migrate (which would raise more questions than it answers) then you ought to be able to find a house that’s perfectly safe because there aren’t any zombies around to threaten the survivors.

Again, the author might as well drop the whole zombie concept and write a story about a regular plague with a 99.99% fatality rate, since that’s where this sort of story will end up in a year or so. The zeds will be starved, shot, trapped, or far, far away from our survivors. It won’t be a zombie story anymore and we won’t be dealing with zombie themes. It’ll just be a regular apocalyptic scenario with some odd starting parameters that don’t hold up under scrutiny.

In the end, I think zombie stories are doomed to be about small groups of survivors in the first year after infection, because with larger groups and longer timelines the zombies can’t be a credible threat. Or at least, they’re less of a threat than starvation, and the zombies must then take a backseat to the story of “human beings learn farming all over again”.

And this is why you shouldn’t overthink zombies.


From The Archives:

383 thoughts on “Overthinking Zombies

  1. Varre says:

    Also, biting doesn’t seem like that great a method to spread infection. Smallpox was so virulent because it could be transmitted through the air. After an outbreak in Germany, they tested smallpox’s spread using a smoke machine; it pretty much infiltrated the entire hospital. If what you said about starving zombies is true, than they’d run out of zombies quicker than they could turn new ones, especially in rural areas.

    1. AyeGill says:

      Yes, exactly. Not only biting, but biting from a human! A human who is limited to a fraction of their normal speed, easily distinguishable from non-infected humans, and completely incapable of anything but the most rudimentary reasoning, if that. In short, a human, but stripped of pretty much every advantage, making one of the most useless organisms in evolutionary history.

      That is probably the worst infection vector imaginable.

      1. anaphysik says:

        Zombie dodos, maybe?

        1. Alex says:

          Maybe the zombie plague spreads by infecting delicious animals?

          1. anaphysik says:

            Zombie Galà¡pagos tortoises? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsHg3wsqTzI ;D

      2. LunaticFringe says:

        Let’s also note the fact that in a lot of zombie media they aren’t just biting victims, but actively eating them. So in order to get a possible infected back into the general population they have to actually escape the zombies in the first place.

      3. Incunabulum says:

        From what I’ve seen of it, “The Walking Dead” covers this very point.

        See, in that show the zombies hordes are ninja stealthy until they’re juuust outside camera view. Then they politely moan/groan to give you a sporting chance before attacking.

        Also the survivors tend to react verrrry slowly to being grabbed, even when they’re already in combat (ie not a surprise).

        And apparently the black chick with dreads is superhuman – I’ve seen her decapitate a man with a sword held in one hand and completely shrug off a gunshot wound received only hours previously.

        1. Varre says:

          Ninja zombies, and the fact that everyone who dies, regardless of cause, with an intact brain comes back as a zombie. That’s the best way to explain why we have hordes that I can think of.

          1. newdarkcloud says:

            Indeed. People tend to die at a very high rate. That’s a lot of zombies.

          2. Jace911 says:

            Honestly outside of 28 Days Later and Left 4 Dead runners I just assume this is true regardless of whatever series I’m presented with because it’s the only remotely plausible way to handwave how the world gets overrun so fast. It’s even more plausible if the dead carry some sort of super-plague with them that actually does the killing and speeds things along.

            1. Fleaman says:

              I think zombies just practice frightfully poor hygiene. It’s like being bitten by a Komodo dragon: It’s a messy wound, and each square centimeter of it is infected with something different.

              1. Ravens Cry says:

                Actually, there’s evidence that the Komodo dragon
                actually has poison glands.

    2. rayen says:

      I always figured Zombie infection was akin to AIDS. Biting transmits it, but also other things. The Most dangerous being that wonderful spurt of blood after the kill getting on an open Non-Zombie bite wound. Just a blood disease that is really virulent.
      Going back to The Walking Dead (not game, the show) at one point a guy is bitten on the leg, they tourniquet it and sever the leg, and he isn’t infected. That’s a blood disease. Also as we’ve seen with AIDS, if it gets in your mouth then the digestive system pretty much kills it.

      1. Ravens Cry says:

        Unless you got little cuts or infections in your mouths, like cold sores, that give open access to the blood stream.

  2. I’d like to see a zombie plot where the zombies aren’t the main threat. Imagine zombie animals/humans contaminated by radioactive dust. Heck, the “zombie” disease could be a mutation of rabies, and the problem isn’t so much being attacked as the radiation. Of course, as the mutant rabies spread, you’d have non-radioactive zombies and the original infected would die off. Oooh, radioactive zombie birds! Remember how fast that bird flu spread among the migratory species? That could get nasty fast, and would be very difficult to contain.

    I’ve never really thought much about how zombies actually could work before, mostly because I’m not a nitpicker by nature. I do love reading about how things could/can’t work though.

    1. IFS says:

      I think Left4dead did the infection is mutant rabies thing, and in one of the comics it is stated that the infection was airborne for a while, but mutates too fast to be cured or to track its current transmission vector.

    2. Winter says:

      Or you could have the disease spread through airborne vectors, but do nothing. So slowly everyone gets this disease (over the course of, like, years) but nobody is really paying any attention to it because there are no symptoms or anything. Maybe some random medical people take notice of it but aren’t sure what it does.

      Then environmental conditions start changing (global warming increasing the temperature? Increasing rainfall? Whatever…) and pockets of the world start getting really lethargic and really violent… spreading slowly as conditions change. Or maybe it could work like this: on its own the disease does nothing, but when flu season hits the two diseases interact with each other to cause that very specific brain damage…

      Of course, everyone is freaking out about bites and stuff but the reality is that the vector is different (and in the panic, only a handful of people really think to check) and if you didn’t “get it” at the start you’re one of the extremely rare people who aren’t prone to it anyway. Hell, have the whole thing wear off in a month or so and then maybe everyone goes back to normal and you can talk about picking up the pieces.

      Or something like that.

      You could do an interesting story along those lines, at least if you don’t mind heavy handed moralizing about how superstition and whatever can be dangerous.

      But honestly, the whole “zombie story” plotline doesn’t interest me too much so someone else will have to write it.

      1. Kalil says:

        Alternate alternately:
        Have it be latent and not triggered unless you’re immunocompromised and/or dead.
        That’d allow other illness to trigger it, and would make hospitals major disease centers.

      2. pat says:

        Instead of the 2x disease combo, just use ants. There’s that ant mega-colony thing, with ants on several continents that don’t fight one another, pushing out other local ants. What if they encountered that fungus that caused ants to go zombie and the fungus infects and spreads throughout the mega-colony.

        Now the mega colony’s been infected, but how soon would people notice? Then zombie-ant attacks start up in California, Spain and Japan and now human corpses are getting up to do the monster mash.

        You even get to have swarms of zombie ants as a secondary threat, like the hivenest monster template in Dungeonscape (D&D v3.5, for those unfamiliar)

        Of course there’s the issue of a fungus jumping species… handwave please?

        1. Fleaman says:

          Maybe the fungus doesn’t jump species; the ants do. They get into your orifices and turn you into a colony that they can then ride around like a meaty wicker man.

          1. I think this is a great idea – it recaptures some of the sheer horror of the idea of the undead, plus would have some terrifying* consequences:
            -Individuals would have creepy movement all over their bodies
            -“Infection” can be passed with just a touch and even just by being nearby to a walking ant-hill
            -It’s a unique thing – zombies except the zombies aren’t really the problem.
            -It would be advantagous to the ants to keep their host alive, which gets rid of most of the problems of zombies running out of food. Of course, it does have the problem of for the “zombification” horror (rather than just the practically harmless parasites riding around in the body and eating some of the food consumed, like a bunch of swarming tape worms), the ants need some method of controlling the humans, which once again requires significant hand-waving. We’ve also got the problem that no-one would survive this: if you go out and hide in the countryside, the ants will eventually go that way, trying to eat the crops. Millitary bases are practically useless, because ants can’t really be shot and can “sneak” in through tiny cracks.
            So, if the audience gets to thinking about long-term sustainability, they’ll notice that there’s practically no solution and everyone’s screwed.
            But other than that, this solves practically all of the problems mentioned by Shamus, while also being uniquely flavoured and having the potential to be terrifying.

            *Of course, every idea has the potential to be completely screwed up and done in a hilariously un-scary way.

            1. Fleaman says:

              As a Floridian, I spend most of my time living in fear of ants.

              To the question of ants controlling humans: Ants and wasps are closely related, and the majority of wasp species are parasitic. The emerald cockroach wasp stings a roach twice: First, in its thoracic ganglion, paralyzing its forelimbs; second, in the head ganglion, blocking the neurotransmitter that would tell the roach to run far away and never return. The wasp leads the roach to a burrow by pulling its antenna, where the wasp lays one egg. It then leaves, and buries the burrow with pebbles to hide it. When the egg hatches, the larva feeds on the roach for a few days before digging into its body, where it sustains itself for one week by consuming the roach’s internal organs in an order that optimizes the roach’s chances of surviving long enough for the larva to pupate.

              So, like that, but in a brain.

    3. Wraith says:

      Ironically, it’s actually rather rare that the zombies are the actual main threat in a zombie story. Left 4 Dead is the only example that immediately comes to mind where they are. The vast majority of zombie stories portray HUMANS as the real threat, and a common theme of zombie stories involve the depths of depravity humans can sink to in desperate situations; alternatively, the writer can use zombies as a metaphor for a flaw in humanity or civilization.

      Let’s take a look at different zombie stories:

      Romero: Romero’s zombie movies were always about some flaw in humanity as a whole. In Night of the Living Dead, the survivors squabble amongst themselves about what is the best strategy, leading to the death of every single character – perhaps best illustrated by the hero casually being mistaken for a zombie and killed by the police. Dawn of the Dead utilized the setting and the core mannerisms of zombies to lampoon the absurdity of the mindless consumerist culture propagating throughout the US during the late 70s and into the 80s, with the appearance of shopping malls. Survival of the Dead might be much more silly than his other films, but its core theme was still “humans are the real monsters” – two of the main characters prioritize an old feud over the lives of human beings, to the point that their zombified selves still continue to duke it out in the end; the dichotomy of “Are zombies still human if they retain memories of their former selves? Or are they no longer human and should be put down?” was transparently (to the rational characters) a petty excuse for their feud about issues prior to the apocalypse to continue (I haven’t seen Day or Diary of the Dead).

      Dead Rising: The zombies are basically a gimmick added to provide filler and repeatable gameplay. The antagonists – the dangerous ones at least – were always humans. The original took place in a mall, and the plot revolved around a terrorist performing retribution over his village being wiped out. Said village was wiped out by the zombie plague, which was a side-effect of a business experiment to mass produce cheap beef, and was covered up. It’s about the callousness of modern corporations and the shallow nature of modern consumerism – the profit margin is the bottom line. The survivors are even wiped out in the end by their rescuers in order to propagate the cover-up – human lives are statistics in the face of cold business. The sequel takes this concept up to eleven, with the freaking vaccine for zombie-ism being SOLD FOR PROFIT and carefully restricted in order to maximize that profit. In fact, the big reveal is that The cure can only be created from the “Queens” produced in certain zombies; therefore, the corporation manufacturing Zombrex runs a ponzie scheme of propagating the disease they sell the cure to.

      Left 4 Dead: Left 4 Dead might keep the zombies as the primary threat, but its mechanics alone convey an important message to the players – work as a team or die horribly. The ones who say “Screw y’all, I’m a lone wolf,” get killed first, and because one death weakens the team as a whole, it often causes even more death as well.

      The Walking Dead: The comic, TV show, and game all revolve around the central theme of “Humans are the real monsters.” Humans directly or indirectly kill many more people than the zombies, and every single episode generally involve a human antagonist(s), or infighting among the humans causing more problems than the zombies. ALL!SPOILERS Shane vs. Rick. Lily vs. Kenny. The Governor and Woodbury. The St. John social darwinist cannibal clan. The Crawford social darwinists. The bandits. Ben’s cowardice and naivete. And in the end, the Stranger – even a casual action for the sake of survival can have tragic consequences..

      Urban Dead: For those not aware, this is a low-tech MMORPG game set in a large, fictional city. It barely has any canon, and the setting’s history and actions have always been entirely driven/created by the player-base. In Urban Dead, it is still humans and zombies locked in an endless struggle for dominance, but one must take a meta interpretation of the game – in-game, the antagonists might be zombies, but every single one of them are played by a human sitting at a computer. Urban Dead even has an entire sub-culture on the human side called PKers, or Player-Killers – human players who deliberately infiltrated and sabotage human strongholds, either by killing other humans or destroying valuable items like barricades or generators.

      Webcomics I follow two zombie-centric webcomics – The Zombie Hunters and Dead Winter. In TZH, the zombies do remain the primary threat, but the nature of the disease (as another comment exposited below) creates a society that addresses concepts of racism and segregation. The passively-infected carriers are visibly identified by a symbol, housed in a cordoned-off, run-down section of the settlement, and exploited for the menial and dangerous jobs that the uninfected won’t or can’t do – such as janitorial/yardwork or the scavenging in the zombie-infested Wastelands. One of the main characters is also a “half-breed” – a former Berserker (a very smart and sadistic class of zombie) who underwent an experimental process that largely rehabilitated him, regaining many higher functions but still retaining remnants of his former appearance and diet.

      Dead Winter plays the zombie story more straight. The zombies are slow, stupid, and very rarely a threat – the vast majority of conflict is with human beings. One of the better plot arcs centered around the main characters fleeing from both the remnants of the Police and the National Guard – in the end, a series of coincidental misunderstandings lead to the two factions going into all-out war against each other. The two factions have differing philosophies – the Police believe they are the last bastion of civilization, preserving law and order at all costs; the National Guard has macho delusions of “repopulating the Earth” with their “Spartan seed.” The unnamed metropolis that is the setting is also home to a host of other factions – the makeshift town of Tombstone, a biker gang at odds with the Police, and a colorful cast of hired killers hunting for one of the main characters, hinted to be the comic’s real overarching plot. The zombies and how they appeared are barely addressed at all – the comic started out seemingly as a character’s day-to-day struggles, and then suddenly ZOMBIES.

      Zombies are a means to an end, or a metaphor for a larger concept. That is one of the biggest reasons they are such a common enemy, and also why the “how” of their existence and creation is never their focus.

  3. Volfram says:

    (having not read the entire entry… I’m in a rush here, don’t want to be late for work. I’ll read it later.)

    It looks like you’ve illustrated exactly why I tend to be unimpressed with most Zombie games and mechanic presentations. I’d like to present a counter-scenario I think you may prefer.

    Zombies are fungal shamblers.

    They have no central nervous system, they can’t be killed with a headshot(or, really, at all, short of fire or fungicides), you don’t want to get some on you AT ALL because the fungus can infect you through any sort of body contact, and anything flying off the zombie contains fungal spores. The fungus eats flesh and isn’t picky, so it can zombify animals as well as people, and a given zombie has a life expectancy due to the fungus devouring the body itself, which is why they seek out living humans. The dead person’s muscles and nervous system aren’t functioning, the body just gives the fungus a framework it can operate within. “Living” zombies can also pick up parts of disabled zombies and merge them into themselves to make super zombies.

    Basically, The Flood from Halo, or Alex Mercier/The Thing from Prototype/John Carpenter’s The The Thing/The Thing From Another World/Who Goes There.(in fact, my interpretation was heavily inspired by The Flood)

    1. Thomas says:

      So, like the Last Of Us.concept?

      1. LunaticFringe says:

        More accurately, the Last of Us took it from the real fungus Cordyceps that affects insect populations.

        1. Thomas says:

          It’s ridiculously creepy

        2. Daemian Lucifer says:

          A real life zombie infection focused on just one species that lives in colonies?And neither the species nor the infection have died out?I guess life trumps fiction once again.

          1. BeardedDork says:

            Parasitic organisms are universally very specialized, I’m constantly surprised at how improbable it is that these things continue to exist. Ergot seems to me like it should have died out ages ago.

    2. BeardedDork says:

      As a biologist, I like your fungal zombies. It actually addresses a lot of zombie problems, including some that weren’t listed above, like how do they rot?

      1. Phantom Hoover says:

        Really? Look closer, in this proposal the host’s muscles aren’t being used at all except as a source of food for the fungus, and fungi don’t have anything even close to the highly-developed muscle structures animals do. It’s not really plausible.

        1. BeardedDork says:

          The fungus doesn’t need muscles the host organism has them. The fungus just needs to disable the thinky parts of the brain. If that’s less plausible to you than magic reanimation virus, well then I guess that’s for you to work out.

          1. BeardedDork says:

            Ah sorry, I just saw that the host’s, CNS and musculature aren’t used, you’re right that kills the idea.
            If however the fungus just disables the thinky bits of the brain, leaving the emotional centers and the autonomic nervous system in charge, it works fairly well. Especially if the fungus acts as a antibacterial agent; if it also acts as a dopamine agonist, the resultant zombies would seem to be faster and stronger as well.

    3. CTrees says:

      I really like this idea. My best guess on how it could work was “magic,” but a carefully constructed fungus could well do the job.

    4. atomfullerene says:

      Well, fungus doesn’t have muscles. So the person’s muscles still have to be operating somehow. Doesn’t have nerves, either. Actual fungal pathogens sit in the brain and screw it up, but the brain is still the one moving the body. And frankly that fungus better be producing some very good broad-spectrum antibiotics or secondary bacterial infections would kill off the undead person just from all those wounds and cuts…that’s actually more plausible, just consider the source of penicillin.

      1. Mattias42 says:

        Nice idea, but how about slime molds instead of a fungus?


        Tell me with a straight face that wouldn’t be creepy!

        1. BeardedDork says:

          I love slime molds. They make irrational decisions, and don’t have a brain.

          Edit 1: I can’t think of a conceivable way they could make something zombie-like though.

          Edit 2: You could probably set them up on a population map to predict the spread of zombitis though.

    5. DVL says:

      Yeah but fungal zombies have the exact same issues as Shamus’s living zombies, only moreso. Basically, the fungus is eating the host and there’s only so much of it available you can eat. Remember the energy pyramid? The higher up the food chain you go, the less and less available energy the predator can claim for itself. The same problem happens to shamblers.

      It’s one of the first things I did my nerdy nitpicking on after playing Last of Us. The zombies progressively become less and less human-looking, going from “brain damaged” all the way up to “walking fungal colony” until, presumably, they just fall apart or something? It was never really clear. That should not work. The advanced state of decay would eventually make it too slow and ineffective to be a good vector and advanced stages would have to rebuild a humanoid form with less energy than was used to make a human in the first place.

      What happens after winter? All the early stage zombies just die. I’m sure the fungus can go into hibernation, but still. There’s fortified containment zones and military style checkpoints and bases which keep being overrun by these things somehow, year-after-year. The survivors have guns, gas masks and even portable electronic scan guns that detect infection. But the zombies are still going strong after 20 years.

      You still run into the same physical constraints with energy consumption and the problems of containment that Shamus lays out up there.

      1. Chefsbrian says:

        At first I wasn’t going to answer this, but then I saw you actually posted this naught but three days ago. The infection in The Last Of Us claims that the infected, once the body reaches a critical point of impaired function, brings the body to a nice contained place and kills it, blooming into a large fungal growth and spewing the spores out. The infected likely don’t last more than a year, considering that they have been show to eat, and be dangerous enough to chase down lone survivors and small groups, such as the ubiquitous human scavengers.

        The military checkpoints actually do hold strong, by and far. The major abandoned containment zones the player wanders through almost universally collapsed due to civilians rioting against the military forces, or when the military withdrew from the area to focus their forces. Most new infected are still from recently breached containment zones, or from people who have tried to pass through or scavenge the containment zones. Outside the zones, the infected are fairly scarce, as shown by the long periods of cross country travel with very little infected activity. Infected activity is focused on urban area’s, which make sense as they are most deadly in confined spaces so they can feed effectively, they need closed area’s to spore, and human scavengers are still attempting to gather supplies from urban area’s. And even if they actually kill all the infected in an area, spores are stated to linger for years, and all it would take is one careless raider group to pry open the wrong door, and there is a new batch of infected.

        They’ve got plot holes like any zombie world, but zombies aren’t really the massive threat per say, after the initial chaos. Safe zones are safe, especially if the fireflies stopped trying to bomb them out. Communities are formed, and working on things beyond “We need more canned beans to have the energy to stab zombies.” and have started farming, like Tommy’s group. So far as they go, the world is not so far unreasonable, I’d say.

  4. Thom says:

    They don't have large armies in Europe

    In terms of active, reserve or paramilitary personnel, the EU actually outnumbers the US.


    Obviously that’s a huge simplification but we have plenty big enough armies over here thank you very much! :)

    1. Zukhramm says:

      Still, they’re smaller separate armies rather than one big.

      1. Thomas says:

        I also figure that most of Europe wouldn’t find it any easier to close borders, than for American states or military zones to shut themselves off. We’ve come along way from WW1 and there’s not much of a defensive line (or anything) between most European countries. The UK could (and most definitely would) shut off most of Europe like a shot and some of the Scandinavian countries at least have the advantage of water around 3+ sides. But Belgium would be screwed =D

        (I mean where I live now, I can accidentally stumble into Belgium. And the borders a forest. Belgium is where I end up when I go for a walk and get lost)

        1. Adeon says:

          Switzerland could probably close itself off as well. Not quite as tight as England but tight enough to stop zombies.

          1. Thomas says:

            England cannot close itself off! It’s bordered by land with two of countries who jointly form the United Kingdom with a fourth county on the island of Ireland! Welsh ranting point triggered.

            I agree with Switzerland too, and it’s population is heavily militerised, so they’ve probably got one of the best changes of all the non-island, non-completely isolated halfway up a mountain countries.

            I’m not sure what Swiss agriculture is like

            1. Atarlost says:

              Scotland and Wales can no more conduct foreign policy independent of England than Kansas and Wisconsin can conduct foreign policy independent of the rest of the U.S. They’re not separate nations. You can argue that we should really be calling you the UK, but we’ve been calling the government centered in London England so long we’re not likely to change.

              1. Phantom Hoover says:

                It’s still wrong and misleading to refer to the UK as ‘England’, and you have no right to complain when corrected on it.

              2. krellen says:

                Scotland, Wales and England together comprise the island of Britain. The United Kingdom properly refers to those three plus Northern Ireland as a single unit – and it would be hard for the UK to “close the border” with Ireland; certainly not in the same way we mean Britain would be able to close its “border”.

                And I’m American.

              3. Thomas says:

                England is factually the incorrect term for the UK (Britain can be used if it’s short for Great Britain and Northern Ireland) and it’s considered insulting for the populations of the remaining three kingdoms to refer to the whole as England. It’s an unfortunate mistake, based on historical precedent but your the first person I’ve met who hasn’t just said ‘oops I forgot’ and I’m slightly mystified why you would make the mistake, and then to someone who is British and Welsh and in no way English, argue for your way of speaking. You don’t live there so you can’t have much attachment to the term, whereas in to people who live in the UK it’s a much more important issue. In the 1980’s there were Welsh terrorists who would burn down the houses of the English over this issue and in the next few years Scotland will have a referendum of independence.

                1. Deoxy says:

                  Seriously, get the bloody crap over it.

                  The United States of America gets all the US, the USA, and America. We can cope.

                  What’s the name of Japan in Japanese again? Oh, and Bombay is called Mumbai by the locals in India (in fact, that’s actually its NAME). Germany is actually Deutschland.

                  Country names get mangled all the time. It’s close enough for the rest of the world.

                  (Also, “Dallas” means “the entire DFW metroples” to anyone NOT from there, who all get offended. Same thing. Get over yourself.)

                  1. Thomas says:

                    The examples you give aren’t relevant to the situation. The other well known example is the Netherlands, wherein Holland is only a specific region and not the whole country. In both examples the distinction crosses language boundaries. In German it’s NiederLaende and Holland, England und die Vereingte Koenigreich, in French we have l’Angleterre a Royaume-Uni. And this mistake crosses boundries, I’m in Germany now and they mix up England and the UK all the time (in the German) and are happy to realise their mistake.

                    We’re not ruled by England, we’re ruled by a parliament with represents from the four nations.

                    What I think maybe the misunderstanding is, you think this is just me, but this is the response you will get from almost every Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish person you speak to. I’m something of a moderate, I count myself as British and Welsh, there’s plenty of Welsh people who don’t even think of themselves as British. If you were to say it in a pub, then first people would roll their eyes and think ‘lol Americans’, and then if you were to persist you are in danger of starting a fight. This is just a cultural fact. Identity is very important amongst the four home nations, we’re always up for a riot and some stabbings during the home sporting events between each other and as I’ve said, Scotland are even considering secession from the Union ( it probably won’t happen though). If you were using a word that doesn’t mean England, but was just nonsense, that would be fine, you could call us fllogalians and that would raise an eyebrow but no more, but the word England has exactly one correct definition in all proper dictionaries in Canada, the US (I just checked Websters and it lists England=Uk as out of date) and Australia and applying that definition to people who have very strong opinions on the relations between those countries is just insulting. It’s like calling an Irish catholic a protestant. Both are christian but that particularly usage is just plain not going to go down well

                    1. Fleaman says:

                      People from the U.S. are dismissive about this sort of thing. Everyone calls us “Americans”, ignoring the rest of two continents, so we come out way ahead.

                  2. Austin says:

                    A few years late, but I believe the Japanese call Japan “Nippon”.

            2. BvG says:

              Swiss agriculture covers about 40% of internal usage, less for grain and more for milk. In addition most Livestock is only by-fed on protein or grains, increasing the independence (and prices) of milk and beef. There’s no unusual law on emergency food retainment tho, so stored food levels are comparable to other western european nations.

              Assuming a reduit strategy, almost all farming lands (and population centres) would be given up tho. I also think that the swiss armament is highly unsuitable to zombie containment. A riffle is just very bad if you need to destroy large parts of someones Brain, instead of just one shot being enough to maim beyond fighting capability. Interestingly, shotguns are a very USA kinda thing.

              Also a lot of those old bunkers have been destroyed Or decommissioned into uselessness (costs a lot even to once a year make sure air condition is still working). On the plus side, almost all houses have liveable and sealable cellars (because of ‘one inhabitant, one bunker space’ laws from the war).

              1. WJS says:

                Um, no. You put a rifle round through someone’s head, you will destroy a significant chunk of the brain. A rifle would do you just fine even if you subscribe to the nonsense that becoming zombified makes everything below the neck bulletproof.

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Depends on the rifle and the bullet actually.A high powered rifle is more likely to send the bullet flying neatly through the skull,leaving only a small tunnel inside it,especially at close range.

    2. Shamus says:

      That’s a really good point. When people talk “military power” they’re always going on about nukes, carriers, tanks, and jets. But those are useless or impractical against Zeds. For zombies, you just need dudes with guns.

      1. AyeGill says:

        Eh, if we’re going by the usual zombie plot “Body armor is suddenly nonexistent or useless” approach to zombie vs military, a couple of tanks would be really useful.

      2. stratigo says:

        Actually tanks would be FANTASTIC against zombies.

        You don’t shoot them, you just go into drive. Seriously a modern military is nigh on immune to traditional shambling bite infectors and could eliminate them in the millions.

        1. CTrees says:

          This is one of my big problems with World War Z. Given the environments our tanks and similar vehicles are designed to operate in, the problem really should’ve been easily solved. Also, explosives-concusive force on the scale the military can bring to bear should turn zombies into salsa.

          1. They mentioned this in the novel. You wanted headshot kills, not concussive/explosive attacks from bombs or other ordinance, because you invariably created “crawlers,” which were heads/torsos that you didn’t see coming in the undergrowth, garbage, or what have you when you thought you’d cleared an area.

            1. Jace911 says:

              This still doesn’t explain how the air force is suddenly rendered useless, or why tanks suddenly become useless at crushing zeds, or why artillery suddenly doesn’t tear people to shreds like it does in real life, or why the army didn’t set up in elevated positions, or how in the sam hell of insanity the United States military, the most OCD organization in the history of the world, forgot to bring enough bullets.

              World War Z is a fun read but every time I go through it I have to skip over Yonkers because of how rage-inducing it is.

              1. Deoxy says:

                This is the same problem that dragon movie a few years ago had – seriously, I don’t care how large the beastie is, an A-10 is going to ruin its whole day.

            2. Ateius says:

              Yeeaaah … the sort of concussive force modern ordnance generates wouldn’t really lead to a lot of legless torsos running around. Think “fine mist”.

        2. Shamus says:

          I was thinking of the “we can’t get fuel” scenario. I take it tanks and planes require supply lines and replacement parts and so on.

          But yeah, assuming you’ve got the fuel to make it go (and you don’t need that fuel for the generators) then yeah, tanks would be impervious to zombies, able to kill them effortlessly, and noisy enough to round them up. Divert and exterminate.

          1. stratigo says:

            Well, they say you can run an abrams off bannana peels.

            But I couldn’t imagine zombies causing the world to break down that much. The US at least has a rather large strategic stockpile for example.

            1. BeardedDork says:

              I was an armored crewman for about six years, and yes an Abrams can run temporarily on just about any combustible liquid you put in it, but the amount of fuel it burns is monstrous, we would routinely go through three or four hundred gallons of JP8(the fuel it runs best on) a day. If we had to move the tanks more than a mile or two it was more economical to load them onto trucks and haul them across base.

              1. NihilCredo says:

                “If we had to move the tanks more than a mile or two it was more economical to load them onto trucks and haul them across base.”

                That’s really surprising, given the physics involved. Do you have any idea of where all the inefficiency comes from? Is it something about the nature of the engine, or is it from having tracks instead of wheels (like how trains are much more efficient than trucks)?

                1. BeardedDork says:

                  They weigh 72-74 tons (depending on the style of tracks they have) and are powered by a jet turbine engine. It’s not an ideal set up for fuel efficiency, that’s actually the reason for making them omni-fuel, if you are cut off from your supply lines you will definitely run out in short order.

            2. ? says:

              Problem is: it does not matter how big your stockpile is, you are still limited by the size of fuel tanks. As a rule of thumb main battle tank will burn through it’s fuel in a day, if you want to use it next day, you need to bring it more of it in trucks and spend time pumping it in. And Abrams, thanks to it’s bigass gas turbine, is particularly fuel inefficient and it swallows gallons of fuel even when it is standing idle. That’s why supply lines are weakest link of every army.

              Proper ammo is another thing, since usually tanks are designed to fight other tanks, not infantry. But quick search tells me that Abrams actually has option for antipersonnel ammunition.
              Personally I would be more excited to use armored fighting vehicles against zombies. They are lighter, faster, and armored enough to be invulnerable to undead hordes.

              Edit: Ninja’d by BeraderDork’s professional comment

              1. BeardedDork says:

                I’ve never actually seen even a training anti-personnel round, and have never heard of anybody else who has. They theoretically exist but they certainly are not commonly available.

                1. ? says:

                  From wiki description it’s basically big shotgun shell. Ambrams is the only modern tank I can think of with smooth-bore main cannon, so it may explain why nobody else is using it.

                  1. BeardedDork says:

                    I was on the Abrams. The gun itself is German but the Germans may no longer use it.

                  2. ehlijen says:

                    The Leopard 2 range of german tanks uses guns based on the same original design as the Abram’s.

          2. NihilCredo says:

            “I take it tanks and planes require supply lines and replacement parts and so on.”

            On the long term, yeah. But if we’re talking about the first year of a zombie apocalypse, well, over six decades of a nuclear-armed world has led armies to make a LOT of plans for a breakdown of supply lines, building underground stockpiles and stuff like that.

            In other words, the French army’s plans for stopping [Russians | zombies] along the Rhine presumably include the possibility that the biggest industrial centres in France have been [nuked | zombified].

            1. ehlijen says:

              Even just going for a year takes a lot or fuel and parts for army vehicles.

              And no, Western Europe defence plans have always acknowledged that a nuke war wouldn’t happen due to MAD.

              In fact, the conventional warplan was to shore up western germany with everything anyone’s got until the US gets reinforcements over the atlantic because without them, the russians would have crossed the rhine into france within weeks at most.

          3. WJS says:

            Your tanks wouldn’t need as much fuel if, rather than being on the move all the time, you used them like mobile pillboxes. Drive one outside the wire a short way, then just stay there shooting anything that attacks you. It would be overkill to use tanks, really. You’d do much better with lighter stuff.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              The turrets still need the motors to run in order to turn.A canon or a mortar would be better for that purpose.

        3. decius says:

          Bring in the A-Team, and weld expanded steel across the glass of civilian vehicles. You still have problems associated with fueling, but you can always refuse to get out of the car.

    3. ccesarano says:

      I do wonder where the “right to bear arms” thing comes in, though. I don’t think I know a single person from Pennsylvania that hasn’t, at one point, fired a gun, and everyone has a minimum of one connection to someone that owns hunting rifles and other such weaponry.

      I don’t know how laws tend to work over in Europe, but my impression is that America is more lax in comparison.

      1. Zagzag says:

        European laws are different enough that (at least in the parts of Europe I’m familiar with) the averge person has virtually no chance of getting hold of any sort of gun, or even knowing someone remotely who has one. Unless you are drug dealer or similar you’ve probably never even seen a real one.

        1. CTrees says:

          Counterpoint: Switzerland, where most adult men have rifles in their homes.

          1. Atarlost says:

            I think Switzerland, the U.S., and Canada are the only nations with large numbers firearms in the hands of law abiding civilians. And in the U.S. and Canada a lot of that is hunting weapons in rural areas where they aren’t going to impact urban zombie stories much.

            1. Mimir says:

              A lot of people in norway and sweden have guns i think. all of scandinavia has pretty lax gun laws, as i recall, because of the danger of random bears and other animals attacking the more isolated homes and villages

            2. ben says:

              go to google maps, search “gun shop”, and then look at North America.
              For fun try zooming in and see what happens as the smaller local stores pop into view.

        2. Zukhramm says:

          Hunters! Though I guess the stores fore hunting rifles are rare enough they’d be stripped bare pretty quickly.

        3. Takkelmaggot says:

          I know quite a few Germans who hunt using guns they own personally. Granted this is a rural (to the extent that anywhere in Germany is rural by U.S. standards) phenomenon. Nevertheless gun ownership is nowhere near as ubiquitous as it is in the rural U.S.

      2. LunaticFringe says:

        I’m reminded of Admiral Yamamoto’s “You cannot invade mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind each blade of grass.” quote when it came to the Second World War.

        I believe that gun laws vary between countries, with some being very strict (Britain) and some actually legally requiring citizens to keep guns in their homes (Switzerland’s militia laws legally require participants to keep their issued rifle and pistol).

        1. Philip says:

          FactCheck says that quotation is bogus.

      3. Jace911 says:

        Unless you live in California, where the gun laws are not even electronic pancake crystal elderly.

  5. Ross Smith says:

    Shaun of the Dead, despite being a comedy, seems to have thought this through better than most zombie movies. The zombie outbreak is only a real problem for a couple of days before being easily contained and kept under control once the authorities get their act together.

    (BTW Shamus, what’s wrong with your server lately? In the last couple of weeks it’s suddenly become very slow and frequently down.)

    1. anaphysik says:

      It got faster for a while, but it’s back to being really slow for me :/

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Something broke during the hurricane,and Shamus sadly still cannot fix it.

  6. Zukhramm says:

    It’d be interesting to see zombies that do not eat. They just kill anything, or eat but are unable to get any energy from it. They’d basically be zombies with a time limit. Combine that with a “anyone who dies becomes a zombie”-rule rather than an infection. Though I guess that shifts the danger from hoards of zombies to the risk of someone dying unsupervised, which then again turns it from a zombie story to a post-zombie-apocalypse story.

    Anyway, I can’t choose not to think. Once something bothers me I can’t just “not think about it”, so telling me I’m overthinking something is about the most useless statement possible.

    1. Dragomok says:

      The idea of becoming zombie by dying in any way was a plot point of a non-canon arc from either Marvel or DC.

    2. ccesarano says:

      This starts to approach something I’ve always noticed, though. How often do you find a body that has been devoured so completely that there’s nothing left?

      It seems once someone’s heart stops beating, zombies lose interest. You see people get pulled into a huge horde of zombies, you’ll even see entrails get ripped out or something (how?) but you never really get to see more than, say, 10% of a person being devoured. Just enough to kill someone.

      This just seems absolutely ridiculous to me. If we must accept the premise that zombies have no desire than to feed, then they should just keep on eating once they have something fresh to feed off of.

    3. ? says:

      Wouldn’t it be simply 28 days later? Infected bite and maul people, but they don’t actually eat, laying dormant while they are not chasing someone. After 59 days since the outbreak all infected in Britain are dying from starvation, unable to move.

      1. Zukhramm says:

        Wouldn’t know, haven’t seen it. Guess I should then.

    4. Fleaman says:

      they don’t eat
      they don’t drink

      i saw one poop a foot!

      THEY EAT FEET!!!

      they don’t eat feet
      i am a doctor

      1. StashAugustine says:

        i miss the internet

  7. Cyanide says:

    I’ve described the first half of The Stand as a zombie story without all the zombies. All the common tropes are there: Random family members dying tragically for all the main characters, areas of civilization “going dark” bit by bit, a small percentage of the population that are “immune,” scavenging through ruins for food, etc. It basically ends up running the same course as Shamus’s post, up until the supernatural stuff comes into play.

  8. el_b says:

    I think that a lot of this has already been gone over a million times, especially in how it would spread so fast. In most zombie stories you simply have to die rather than just be bitten and this means that every funeral home, Morgue, hospital, Major crime scene and 100 other places in a single city have all had murderous outbreaks. anyone who has been bitten or injured in the panic will head to a hospital that will soon become a murder factory that As undead pouring out of its doors, anyone trampled in the streets will start attacking people, car accidents will block off highways which will become tasty bottlenecks for the zombies and the army is not prepared for an enemy that can only take head shots and grows vastly in number the longer you take in putting them down. Since the zombie outbreak would probably be caused by a government anyway the media would be heavily censored and it’s unlikely that they would want to show their reporters be eaten on air anyway.

    about Europe, I think you’re underestimating how easy it would be for zombie virus to take hold. Only criminals and police officers are allowed to carry weapons here (a few years ago the UK government actually passed a law that banned all curved blades over 50 cm ( straight ones are okay though) And even toy guns are not allowed to look like guns) and the main source of news in the UK is funded by the government. The police barely acted during the massive riots That broke out last year and it’s safe to assume they’d act the same during the zombie apocalypse. The fact that there is very little border control in Europe and massive immigration problems means it is very easy For infected people to spread around the new plague.

    in short, I’ll overthink whatever I damn well want :P

    Also, I love the irony that you wrote a post on overthinking zombies while overthinking how it’s not possible :P

    1. Greg says:

      This is what I imagine as the best way to handwave the collapse of civilization in settings like the Walking Dead. Essentially every dead body reanimates at the same time, those which have enough mass left move and bite at least one person (probably more than one before someone kills it), many of those people go to the hospital while others just go home and run it under a cold tap. Hospitals are already backed up because their entire morgue has reanimated so these people reanimate on the way or while waiting in the parking lot/streets, while those who went home either reanimate on the highways or start the suburban/housing complex infection.

      By the time any sort of military response gets scrambled (which will likely take at least a few days) probably half of any given city is infected and hordes are starting to gather from the suburbs. If the military response is ill thought out (likely given the short timeframe and the general confusion) many offensives will likely be lost simply due to overwhelming numbers or poorly cleared areas. In the Walking Dead universe these mistakes seem to have continued until there simply wasn’t enough of a military left to continue, while in something like World War Z they learned from early mistakes. World War Z had the infection spreading out from China, though, as opposed to the worldwide phenomenon I assume the Walking Dead had.

      That’s why I like the “everyone dead rises” concept, because I feel it explains the failure of civilization far better. Before the Walking Dead I actually either hadn’t realized or hadn’t remembered that this was the original concept, because zombies had become synonymous in my mind with “spread themselves by biting”, so it was refreshing when I first got into the setting.

      1. Thomas says:

        This is definitely something I liked, it really does seem the only way it would actually bring down society, because no matter how good the military are, they can’t be everywhere and you would need to be everywhere, because every day and every place there would be a new outbreak

      2. Abnaxis says:

        Something that has always bugged me about the “everyone is infected” scenario, however, is this: why does biting make any difference beyond the physical damage it inflicts? Being infected with a disease is a binary state. You are either infected, or you aren’t; you can’t get *more* infected just because a zombie got more germs in you. That kinda changes zombies from infection vector to enfeebled, ineffectual pack hunters.

        That said, it’s a handwave that holds up better than most. I’m sure you can come up with some sort of contrivance on “active” viruses and “passive” viruses, but eventually I stop listening and go “okay we have zombies and you want to feel justified, are you done yet?”

        1. Jace911 says:

          IIRC the bite doesn’t transfer the reanimation bug, you already have that. What the bite does is spread an unrelated pathogen that “burns you up inside” with a raging fever, resulting in a quick death.

          1. Abnaxis says:

            And at that point, I start wiggling my fingers and saying “conveeeenient,” because this is a very special virus.

            It’s like the modern-setting version of “a wizard did it.”

            1. Jace911 says:

              There’s one zombie fiction series very similar to World War Z where they find out that the origin of the zombie virus is a crashed spaceship that the Chinese were mucking around in.

              At that point I kind of had to shake my head and put the book down.

        2. Fleaman says:

          Pathogens can be tricksy. HIV goes through a period of latency, during which you don’t actually have AIDS (i.e. you have no symptoms), but the virus is replicating and you’re infectious as shit. That’s why HIV sucks. Bacteria can go dormant by WinRARing themselves into endospores to survive antibiotics and being boiled. Kuru is a neurological disease that turns people into zombies, and has an incubation period measured in decades.

    2. bloodsquirrel says:

      It still doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

      1) Your scenario completely disregards human survival instincts. People aren’t just going to march into a hospital where they hear the screams of people being eaten. Even if the highways are choked, people can still just walk away from the zombies. They can lock themselves indoors, or in their cars. You’ve got people committing mass suicide and throwing themselves into the zombies’ mouths when all they have to do is walk the other way at a brisk pace.

      People try to justify people being incredibly stupid to allow the outbreak to happen with “panic”, but panic is actually a survival instinct. It tends to make people try to directly flee from threats, not do whatever random thing they need to do to get eaten by a zombie.

      2) The military will have 0 problems killing zombies. Shooting something in the head when it won’t go down to a body shot isn’t exactly a hard thing to figure out. Once they do, it’s a turkey shoot. This isn’t even getting into heavy machine guns, where head shots aren’t even necessary to mission kill a zombie. A .50 cal vehicle mounted machine gun isn’t just going to leave a neat little hole in the zombie’s chest, it’s going to turn it from a shambler to a barely-crawler.

      3) News of the outbreak being oppressed, especially in the age of social media, is farcical. When one crazy guy in Florida ate someone’s face it became international news, and you’re going to actually expect me to believe that millions of accounts of the dead rising across the world is going to be kept quiet somehow?

      And the best part about this whole goofy idea is how point #1 and point #3 contradict each other so thoroughly. You’re talking about the entire public acting in a blind, raving panic while at the same time being completely oblivious of the apocalypse around them.

      1. Lord Nyax says:

        I just have to say, in regards to #2, it won’t be “a turkey shoot” even if the military does figure out that headshots are necessary. Except for snipers and the like, infantry is not trained to go for a headshot. They’re trained to aim for the body. Heads on a moving target are really hard to hit at distance, even with modern weapons. Yes, a machine gun could shred a zombie into immobility, but then you have a hazard of still living zombie heads and torso that have to be cleaned up before the area is safe again.

        What I think everyone is forgetting is the numbers involved. If a big city like New Yorks started getting infected then you’ll be dealing with tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of zombies. Thats a massive number of bodies to take out, especially when you have to aim for the head. It would take a massive amount of ammunition, ammunition that may not be readily available in those quantities. If the infection is allowed to spread, suddenly you’re dealing with MILLIONS of undead. At that point even if you’re using ammo at 100% efficiency you’re still going to be running short.

        1. bloodsquirrel says:

          Yes, it will be a turkey shoot. Shooting zombies in the head isn’t like shooting people in the head. You’re not doing it from 200 yards away while they’re firing back at you from behind cover, you’re doing it while they’re 40 feet away, barely moving, and you’re in no danger and have plenty of time to aim. Speaking as someone who has actually fired a gun before, that isn’t a hard shot to make.

          Speaking of numbers, look up the numbers on how much ammunition is used up per actual kill made in modern firefights. Modern wars are all about logistics, and the US military isn’t going to run out of ammo shooting at zombies. A quick google search shows that the military purchases 1.8 billion rounds annually. And that’s just the military- it’s estimated that there are as many guns in the US as there are citizens.

          Also, you’re jumping to “millions of zombies” without actually explaining how it got that bad in the first place. The NYPD has 40,000 officers. They can take out the thousand or so zombies that will make up the initial outbreak without most of the officers even getting a chance to fire their weapons.

        2. Fleaman says:

          So assuming that 1. An infection event in New York City will be effective enough to produce millions of zombies (debatable), and 2. The zombies in question are of a durability such that a disembodied head will continue to function (magical), I remain unsold on the idea that an army will lose to zombies, because if we’re talking about Walker-types (i.e. not Runner-type as in Left4Dead), there’s still no way they can reasonably pose a threat to anyone capable of walking in the other direction.

          I mean, we don’t really have to argue that, right? It’s why there are ninja zombies. If you avoid narrow spaces, escaping from zombies is basically trivial.

          At that point, you really don’t have to shoot them all. Lines of barbed wire could do most of the work. Maybe dig some trenches. Any mass of zombies can be set on fire, and no matter how magical your zombies are, a fire is pretty much always going to do the trick.

      2. el_b says:

        zombies never have to rest whereas humans do, so Simply walking away isn’t always best, And what direction do you walking when outbreaks are popping up all over the area? and if you do lock yourself away, how long for? Before you know it everyone outside is dead and leaving your new cell is a death sentence. A large part of the panic would be caused because you simply cannot tell who is dead or simply injured, they haven’t begun rotting for the most part so they would simply look ‘off’, not necessarily something you’d notice if you’re not in the right state of mind.

        In most zombie media, the world doesn’t seem to know what zombies are before the outbreak so they wouldn’t even know to hit the head for a while and it’s not like you always get a second chance. Not everyone has access to modern media, large parts of America don’t even have the Internet and I’ve never owned a mobile phone personally. The fact that most of the stuff on the Internet is completely rubbish anyway and the old media only ever tells one side of the story wouldn’t exactly leave everyone knowing what is going on. pretty much every story I read about the bath salts outbreak was making it Sound like a zombie apocalypse, for humor or trolling purposes. I had To look in several places for the full story And I’m sure I’d be rushed for time if the dead began to walk.

        if you want to hear how the military would handle a zombie apocalypse, you should check out todd wanios sections in world war z. not only are they awesome as hell and performed by Mark Hamill in the audio version, they really do take a lot of things into account, including how the military would Probably try to play to the media to show that they are in control. That’s not taking into account the fact that outbreaks are everywhere and it would be impossible to coordinate a solid military attack, I’d imagine most soldiers would desert to try and find their families as well.

        wwz also goes into How many people fled the cities to try and head up north where it is colder and ended up resorting to cannibalism or starving to death because they didn’t know how to survive outdoors, Especially in the winter.

        1. bloodsquirrel says:

          I’ve read World War Z. It has all of the problems I’ve been pointing out and more, and does an awful job of trying to justify them. I’ve read a ton of discussions about the battle of Yonkers, and among everyone who has even a passing knowledge about how the military or basic physics work, the conclusions is unanimous- Max Brooks has no earthly idea what he’s talking about and Yonkers is a farce.

          For reference:

          Notice that you aren’t actually explaining how the apocalypse happens- you’re jumping right to “There’s nowhere to run to!”

          But there will be somewhere to run to, because there’s only a few zombies actually around at first and plenty of places to hide until the cops show up to take care of them.

          And no matter how you write it up, the media doing the exact opposite of what they consistently do in real life isn’t plausible. They’re not going to ignore the story.

        2. Alex says:

          “…the military would Probably try to play to the media to show that they are in control.”

          That’s not going to work out in the zombies’ favour. After ten years fighting against guerrillas, a readily identifiable enemy that literally does not know the meaning of the word “tactics” is going to be a cakewalk.

  9. X2Eliah says:

    Good writeup.

    And this is one of the two main reasons why I personally dislike zombie media so very much. Just trying to justify and rationalize zombies leads to such intensive hand-waving that you’d turn into a human windmill and fly across the north pole.

    And, of course, the second reason is that I am tired of the overplayed “small group of survivors in the first weeks/months of the infection”. Double points of trope-ocity if the premise is “the humans are the real monsters zomg so edgy”. … which is, as you concluded, about the only feasible story in a zombie scenario. … Which lets me unabashedly say that I don’t like zombie stuff, full stop.

    1. Esteis says:

      And, of course, the second reason is that I am tired of the overplayed “small group of survivors in the first weeks/months of the infection”. Double points of trope-ocity if the premise is “the humans are the real monsters zomg so edgy”. … which is, as you concluded, about the only feasible story in a zombie scenario.

      Ah, but that’s only if the author makes the story about the zombie threat, instead writing a good story in a zombie setting. Try Terror in the Flesh for size: it’s very short, it’s written by Andrew Plotkin (Zarf), and the twists he puts on the setting I have not seen before or since. For bonus goodness: neither of the main twists is merely for originality, but they are both essential to the story being told. The story’s only shortcoming is that it can’t make you enjoy other zombie stories, being quite unlike them.

      1. Dragomok says:

        Thank you for the link.

    2. Joneleth says:

      Windmills do not work that way!

      Sorry, had to be said.

  10. Wedge says:

    “Again, the author might as well drop the whole zombie concept and write a story about a regular plague with a 99.99% fatality rate, since that's where this sort of story will end up in a year or so.”
    I brought this up in one of the TWD threads, but Survivors is basically this–global plague, 99%+ of people die in the pilot, no zombies. I still found it tired and uninteresting because it really was basically The Walking Dead TV show minus the zombies.

    1. Thomas says:

      I commented on your post in the TWD thread, but didn’t really acknowledge this bit. I saw the show too and it’s almost identical to all zombie stories except for the zombies. I quite liked the cutting out the middle man though, but there was no avoiding the same fatigue from all zombie films. It’s another example of ‘one of the survivors is actually a murderer’ being a setting trope too. There really aren’t that many new character dynamics to explore =D

  11. MikhailBorg says:

    This post is greatly appreciated. A good 75% of my family is involved in the medical profession, and as a result of the knowledge I’ve picked up from them, I figure zombies are some of the least biologically-plausible monsters I’m aware of. Nicely articulated :)

    (Also, Enterprise-D does have toilets. For example, there’s a door on the starboard aft of the bridge, next to a turbolift, that you never see a character use – that’s the Deck 1 head. Crew cabins also have such a door, visible in some episodes. Kirk’s Enterprise, on the other hand…)

    1. Yeah, but look at ST:TNG’s first-season uniforms with the zippers down the back. I’m guessing everyone had to go to the loo in pairs just to be able to use the facilities.

      “Would you be so kind as to zip me up, Number One?”

      This assumes they just didn’t beam the waste out of people.

      1. MikhailBorg says:

        First season, they zipped down the front: third season, the men’s uniform zipped down the back, but it was a two-piece by then, so no bathroom problems :) Starfleet TNG Uniforms at Memory Alpha

  12. Dragomok says:

    You have explained both the limits of zombie apocalypse stories and why they look like they look.

    Have you ever considered a career in literary theory?

    1. Asimech says:

      There are careers in literary theory? /facetious

      1. Zerotime says:

        It’s the same Would You Like Fries With That path as a liberal arts degree.

  13. lurkey says:

    Before mouse-overing it I thought the first picture was actually from some parody and those were a bunch of crazy shoppers wanting in on a big discounts day. Also, the “Left 4 Dead” far right dude looks like Gogol Bordello’s violinist. :D

    Overthinking is any monster’s stake and holy water. There’s a scene in “Divine Divinity” game – you hear an existential skeleton ponder on how skeletons possibly work at all, what with no tendons and stuff, and as soon as that is said poor thing falls into a pile of bones. It is fun, however. :-)

    1. anaphysik says:

      That sounds like a great little scene, but I have to ask… who thought it was a good idea to name a non-comedy ‘Divine Divinity’? Crazy Belgians…

    2. Amnestic says:

      Actually explained in Dungeons and Dragons. Skeletons (and indeed pretty much all undead creatures) are animated by Negative Energy, which in turn is drawn from the Negative Energy Plane. Negative Energy isn’t evil so much as anti-life.

      In other words, “a wizard did it”/”It’s magic, we don’t have to explain it.”

      1. Wedge says:

        But that’s D&D. In a world where actual, literal magic is a fact of everyday life, you can handwave just about anything.

        1. MelTorefas says:

          Literally, as hand-waving is often crucial to spellcasting. Which, come to think of it, is probably where that term originated (stage magicians)?

    3. Bryan says:

      The L4D right-hand dude is missing his pushbroom. I’m so disappointed. :-/

      (From this, if it wasn’t obvious…)

  14. anaphysik says:

    Lol-ing at “Geeks” in the splash image, btw ^_^

    1. StashAugustine says:

      It’s actually a Walking Dead reference- Episode 4, I think. (It’s a one-off joke.)

      1. anaphysik says:

        Oh. Well, as you’d know, I’m only through E2.

  15. Steve C says:

    I like how Walking Dead lore handles the infection part. The zombies do not spread it at all. They just bite people who then die from a nasty but unrelated fever. Everyone is infected and and completely asymptomatic… until they die. However it still doesn’t explain the physics or a host of other issues that do not bear scrutiny.

    And just last night I was thinking about the whole “Why not wear leather? Or sports equipment?” I guess Australians will be best suited to fight zombies. We all know they go straight for the leather and sports equipment in case of apocalypse.

  16. Aldowyn says:

    Most of the post I was like “wait wasn’t the point that doing this was dumb”? And then you said that and I was cool.

  17. MichaelG says:

    There was an analysis awhile back (forget where) that said it’s all political (isn’t everything these days?)

    Zombies are Republicans — a mindless horde that will turn on you and can’t be stopped. Let them near you and you become one of them.

    Vampires are Democrats — charismatic blood suckers who can’t be killed and seduce others to join them.

    I’m waiting for the zombies vs. vampires, aliens and superheros movie. With Elves!

    1. Dragomok says:

      I'm waiting for the zombies vs. vampires, aliens and superheros movie. With Elvis!

      Fixed it for you.

      1. anaphysik says:

        You may be interested in the sort of related Bubba Ho-tep, then.

    2. Christopher M. says:

      I take issue with this on a number of levels, not least of which is that assigning political parties to specific kinds of individuals simply doesn’t hold water. It works much better to say, Zombies imitate a political superparty – the group that’s in vogue at present, to which low-information voters cleave simply because it’s the Thing to Do ™. Vampires are the counterparty – the rebels, the underdogs.

      In today’s political climate, as it happens, you have the party identification switched. Your given examples fit the 70s and 80s’ “Moral Majority” better than today’s dominant Democrats and subversive Tea Party setup.

      Just sayin’.

      1. hborrgg says:

        Supposedly it’s backed up by a trend for zombie movies to do better and earning more money during Republican presidencies while vampire movies do better during Democratic presidencies.

        This theory would pin President Obama as being directly responsible for the “Twilight” saga.

        1. “Twilight” isn’t a vampire story. It’s about something unnatural, though I’m not quite sure we’ve got a name for it. “Emo Disco Ball” might be a better label, but that doesn’t cover everything.

      1. StashAugustine says:

        I love how half the discussions on the Internet boil down to “Yeah, I read that Cracked article too.”

        1. newdarkcloud says:

          Yeah. Especially when zombies are involved, as Cracked has deconstructed zombies in several different ways.

  18. John says:

    I’m not totally conversant with the whole zombie canon, but I recently read Mira Grant’s Feed/Blackout/Deadline series. The books have a least thought through some of the obvious plot holes (of course in some ways, she just moved the line of debate).

    Anyhow, her premise:

    – Zombies are caused by a virus
    – Virus can be active (zombie) or dormant (normal)
    – Almost all mammals carry the virus (Could be all animals, my memory fails me).
    – Zombification happens when dormant virus become active. This change is usually caused by conventional death, or exposure to the activated virus (bites, zombie blood, etc). There is also some fear that spontaneous conversion is possible.
    – There’s a lower body-mass limit (~40kg) below which the virus won’t become active.

    So we have life going on (with some interesting societal changes), not quite ‘as usual’. Civilization doesn’t collapse entirely and you do get occasional outbreaks.

    1. Clint Olson says:

      This — I’d highly recommend the series, as it’s the best zombie-postapocalyptic thriller trilogy I’ve seen.

      1. Mattias42 says:

        Is there a reason in story for the 40 kg limit or is it one of those no undead children despite all logic things?

        1. Ranneko says:

          Apparently the virus needs sufficient mass for amplification, means that you also need to worry about large dogs zombifying, along with moose, bears, horses, etc.

          I hadn’t thought about how it sidesteps young kids being zombified, because the animal aspect is a big deal in the background of the stories, with campaigning to completely outlaw raising large animals anywhere.

          1. Mattias42 says:

            Doesn’t that mean no cows and pigs as well? Sounds like she took the idea far enough to be interesting at least.

            I asked because in far to many horror stories, not just of the zombie variety, children tend to have plot-armor and I find that irritating. I know this has been talked about before on this site in one of the Prey articles, but to me it is a sign that a author is not ready to scare me.

            I know that it is a complete and total taboo to some, but we are talking about horror here. Is not the reason one tells such tales to horrify, frighten and even disgust?

            I know it is a whole other debate, but I find it hypocritical that showing a man or women in a horror story have their soul sucked out and eaten is OK-kosher, but if a kid gets bruised on “scene” it’s to far.

            Sorry for the wall of text, pet peeve of mine.

            1. Ranneko says:

              Actually yes, heck, eating real meat is somewhat out of fashion in the post-zombie world, at least for those born after the Rising.

              They don’t actually feature many young children in the series, but as background/historical characters they certainly don’t have plot-armour.

              I really liked the Newsflesh trilogy.

              1. Mattias42 says:

                Sounds like I need to add it to my to read list.

                Thanks for clarifying, plot-armor on kids is such a immersion breaker for me that it completely ruins otherwise good stories for me.

                Skyrim for example, good game, but the immortals masquerading as kids… Urk.

                1. AyeGill says:

                  To be fair, the main problem with immortal children in bethesda games isn’t so much that you can’t kill them, as that you can’t kill them and they are insufferable cunts

                  1. Mattias42 says:

                    Oh yes! Someone at Bethesda is either unable to write children or hate them, no other explanation.

                    But I think their immortality is a problem anyway. I might not have finished the game, but I still got yanked out of the moment every time a dragon attacked a town and what should have been a really tense moment turned into a farce when the children just jump up from getting burninated.

                    They don’t even try to run for cover for Petes sake!

                    Now I get why. Avoiding the dreaded AO rating and I can understand that, but there must be a more elegant solution.

                    1. WJS says:

                      Yes. Don’t put kids in the game. You know, like they didn’t in the previous two games! Oblivion was just fine with no kids. Why change that? We didn’t ask for that!

      2. Jekyll says:

        Mark me as another recommendation of the Newsflesh series. Great use of the setting without settling in too much with the zombie tropes. Also, I loved the twists the plot took, it really made the whole thing compelling.

        1. Lifestealer says:

          I read through to here largely to ensure people had already raised this as a (semi) counter example to a lot of the points…I haven’t yet managed to read the final book, partly because I wouldn’t be surprised to get it for Christmas (I think it’s now the highest placed item on my Christmas list), and hence leaving it as a low-cost item on there that I really want to get…

    2. Yes, highly recommended. The books eventually morph from “zombie thriller” into “conspiracy thriller”, but still great fun. And she’s at least thought about her virology. Great, original back story for zombies rising…

  19. Gahrer says:

    Very nice writeup. This totally encapsulates why I (mostly) can’t stand zombie stories. I can’t stop thinking about these things. The first two points are possible to handwave with magic or something, but the rest simply don’t work for me.
    It would be fun to see a “realistic” zombie movie where the infection is quickly contained and defeated and the majority of the story would center around the work and relations of the containment people.

  20. Hal says:

    Incredibly relevant:

    7 Scientific Reasons a Zombie Apocalypse Would Fail

    My favorite points are those about weather. The human body isn’t really made for enduring extreme heat/cold without protection. If you can wait out the zombocalypse for the winter, your zombie problem is essentially over. (Unless that’s another hand-waved point, and zombies are either immune to weather or they can survive being frozen solid.)

    Shamus, have you watched Revolution at all? It’s a post-apocalyptic story about all electricity (and thus all electric devices) going away. You variously see people engaged in acts of farming in episodes, so there’s a measure of verisimilitude to it.

    1. MikhailBorg says:

      Except that electromagnetism is one of the four fundamental forces of physics. So when electricity goes away, at best our nervous systems stop working, and at worst the world disintegrates as every atom flies apart into particles.

      1. anaphysik says:

        I think I prefer this interpretation to the perhaps more reasonable ‘all electricity’ = ‘all electricity-producing power plants, electrical distribution networks, etc.’ one. Plus, it doesn’t ignore battery reserves.

        1. Zukhramm says:

          That one’s the less reasonable one. How does whatever force caused this manage to specifically target anything that produce electricity but nothing else?!

          1. krellen says:

            Aliens. They decided to make The Day the Earth Stood Still be more than a show of force.

          2. Takkelmaggot says:

            Ages ago Frederic Brown wrote a wonderful short story (“The Waveries”, which you can easily find online) about just such an event. In that case it was aliens who existed as a quasi-electromagnetic field which subsisted by eating generated electromagnetic fields. Civilization eventually dropped back to a 19th-century level of existence and everyone was happy because there wasn’t any television or radio. Brown appears to have been nostalgic for streets covered in horse manure.

      2. Peter H. Coffin says:

        Yeah. The the limitations even as presented, “no electricity works”, only push things back to about 1910 for most of the country, and you’d be AMAZED how many functional steam locomotives there are around the country. I can think of about 12 within five hours roll of Chicago that I *personally* know of, and probably three times that that are static displays that could be refurbished and gotten steaming in a year or two. Every county fair in the country has a collection of steam tractors with PTOs that can be relatively easily adapted to run contemporary harvesting and tilling equipment. Communications based on semaphore towers and telescopes would get SMS-level messages from Chicago to New York in an hour or two. There ought to be regular steamer and slow-boat sailing service across the oceans again, with about six weeks of round-trip time most of the year.

        And that’s setting aside the blatant idiocy of a majick amulet somehow being able to undo whatever this thing that breaks electricity is…

      3. RCN says:

        Revolution has much more inexcusable problems than the very specific ways its electricity doesn’t work. Like how in the hell the lack of electric power also means automatic and semi-automatic weapons don’t work anymore, like if all post-WWI weapons had electric parts like the Minigun…

        The truth about this show is that someone wanted to write an American Civil War era series but then someone higher up said it should be set in modern times. Then they came up with the electricity bullshit explanation to keep their setting. That’s the only reasonable explanation to such a premise being so poorly thought out.

        1. WJS says:

          I know, right? I mean, you could at least make a decent argument that production of modern weapons is intrinsically tied to electrical systems, and a loss of electricity would have a significant effect on manufacture of parts (which would have a subsequent economic effect), but this wouldn’t do anything to all the parts already extant. It might actually be an interesting part of a setting, a collapsed society where the price of firearms is driven out of the reach of the common man, but from what I’ve read that’s not the case there.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Thats kind of the world of metro,where modernly manufactured bullets are used as currency because of how scarce they have become,and how better made they are compared to hand filled ones.

    2. Steve C says:

      That’s why I never understood why people stay in the south and wear T-shirts for zombies. You want to win vs zombies? Make through one Canadian winter and you’re set. And blackflies in summer eat living humans so dead ones are completely screwed.

      1. Zukhramm says:

        Zombie flies. Imagine that.

      2. LunaticFringe says:

        That’s actually talked about in World War Z, I don’t remember the specifics but I believe that parts of Canada get off rather easy because the zombies just freeze in the winter and then get picked off by groups of hunters as the flaw begins in the spring.

        1. AyeGill says:

          No, you see, in the canadian winter, the cold would cause the water in unprotected human cells to freeze, breaking the cell membranes.

          Those zombies aren’t getting up again.

          1. LunaticFringe says:

            World War Z’s zombies are a ‘special’ case where the transformed ‘brain/other organs’ can reanimate after periods of extended cold.

            1. Fleaman says:


      3. Lord Nyax says:

        Actually, a few million Americans heading north and trying to survive a Canadian winter without knowledge of basic survival skills or enough warm clothes or blankets would be an extreme challenge in itself, likely resulting in massive death tolls. It’s not really simple to survive winter up there without food or shelter provided for you.

        1. Fleaman says:

          Luckily it would be, because Canadians are super nice.

        2. anaphysik says:

          Sure, but the real reason why?


          (Actually, heh, that even had zombies in it too XD )

      4. guiguibob says:

        Hypothermia is one thing that would atop a zombie plague. To survive in winter you have to wear a lot of clothing. And to stop those zombified in winter clothes. A water hose would be the ultimate weapon. The nice thing is its freezing for 1/3 of the year

        This must explain why most zombie apocalypse take place in the south

    3. Aldowyn says:

      I heard some interesting things about that show before it started… *shrug*

  21. DaveMc says:

    “Why Don't the Infected Attack Each Other?” I was just thinking about this one recently, and the only real answer seems to be “Because then you wouldn’t have a zombie movie/TV show/comic/filmstrip”. If zombies ate each other (and really, why wouldn’t they if they’re so ravenous?) the natural horde size would be one, all the others have been eaten. (It could even drop to zero if the last two manage to do enough damage to one another.) Outbreaks would burn themselves out almost instantly: “Oh my god, the hospital’s infected … and they’ve all killed each other. Well, that was easy.”

  22. James says:

    This is always the problem with trying to science something that has its roots in mythology and magic.

    Zombies are voodoo witch doctor territory, and are actually quite different to the modern pop culture zombie. Skeletons have the same problem “Wait, how are any of their bones even connecting with each other? And why do they have the strength to wield weapons?” “Magic!”

    Scienceing up the zombie plague is more in service to the modern day setting, because if you establish there created through magic you've just opened a big can of worms for your setting. So media attempts to go for the “˜realistic' choice in order to try and not disturb your sense of disbelief too much, or at least in order not to shake up the modern image too much.

  23. swenson says:

    Interestingly enough, most of these problems are addressed by Half-Life’s zombies, mainly because they’re not actually zombies. Lack of brain isn’t a problem, because the headcrab (which is entirely living, not undead at all) is controlling the body. Not attacking each other isn’t a problem, because again, headcrabs are an alien species and could undoubtedly distinguish members of their species from other species. Starvation? Headcrab zombies often are encountered in a sort of stasis, just lying on the ground, and they’re also seen eating dead bodies. (Also, if/when the body does die, it’s no big deal for the headcrab–they just pop off and find a new host.) Infection, well, again not an issue because there’s no infection to catch. It’s literally a creature clamped to your skull. Spread of infection, that’s deliberately done by the Combine, so it’s not surprising that it happens. Finally, defending against them… not that difficult, if you can use a gun and aren’t caught off-guard. Father Grigori held them off for who knows how long, and the rebels only have problems if they’re shelled and can’t react in time.

    However, I don’t think an after-the-apocalypse story would be all that boring. There’s the webcomic the Zombie Hunters, which doesn’t necessarily answer all of these problems, but does seem to take place a while after the zombies show up. The zombies are ubiquitous outside of well-guarded settlements, but inside the settlement, it seems quite safe. Humanity already survived the initial attack, now they’re trying to rebuild their population. Zombies are environmental hazards, not really the villains. If there is a looming danger, it’s the fact that some people are carriers and will turn into zombies when they die, but that’s played up to be more of a danger than it really is–uninfected people are often scared of the carriers, even though normal human contact doesn’t endanger anyone.

    1. Mattias42 says:

      You know something that bothered me about the Half-life universe, specifically NR 2?

      Why do no one wear helmets, especially among the resistance? Even if they don’t work 100%, as the zombine hint, they should at least slow the headcrabs down enough that you could whack it off with whatever blunt instrument you have near by.

      1. swenson says:

        That is the biggest remaining question. Even if they don’t have a lot of body armor (which they don’t seem to have), you’d think they could scavenge something off Combine bodies or make hats out of pots or something.

        On the other hand, headcrabs do seem to be able to bite through just about anything, up to and including skulls, so maybe it doesn’t matter!

        1. Jarppi says:

          Yeah, that is kind of weird. You could think that even a simple bicycle helmet might give you some time. Anyway, if there would be headcrab infestication that had killed most of the population here, I would totally head to nearby military area for those composite helmets… and for guns and ammo.

          ( Off topic here on: ) Which leads to another wierd thing in HL2: If things take place in Eastern Europe, where are all those AK’s? After all AK variants should be the most common gun type here.

          1. Mattias42 says:

            Bingo, that’s what I meant. Even if they can bite through a helmet OR a skull, can they do both at the same time?

            And even if they can it should give you a few extra seconds to bash your head against a wall.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        The cops in half life 1 wore helmets.It didnt help at all.

        1. Mattias42 says:

          True, and thinking about it the soldiers in Opposing Force as well.

          Still, even if traditional helmets don’t work it sounds like something an resistance with access to top scientist should have thought about at least trying to develop.

          Considering La Mar (not certain if spelled right, the pet headcrab) and his “debeaking” their reproduction cycle seems understood at least.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Sure,but keep in mind that these were people trying to fight for their lives,to survive an alien occupation,not just researchers with abundant resources at their disposal.

            1. Mattias42 says:

              Considering the climax of Episode 2, not to mention Dog and the prototype teleporter, I would argue that they have great access to tools and materials as well.

          2. krellen says:

            It’s Lamarr, as in Hedy Lamarr, and she is referred to in the feminine in-game.

            1. Mattias42 says:

              Thanks! Had no idea that it was a reference.

              “Famed for her great beauty”, huh…

    2. Jarppi says:

      I also thinked Half Life’s headcrab zombies while reading this. Like you said, those zombies don’t have most of problems pointed here. One more item to ‘why Half Life series is so much better than any other game’ -list, btw.

      1. Varre says:

        Unless I’m missing something, because I didn’t particularly enjoy HL2, and havn’t played it in a while, head crabs would still have several problems. I assume head crabs are parasitic with living hosts, in that they absorb nutrients from their still-living hosts. So, their hosts will be burning nutrients both with their movement AND with the leeching by the headcrab. Eventually, all the hosts die, and the head crabs lose out on the best food supply and starve. Also, I’m pretty sure that headcrabs only reproduce through ‘queen’ headcrabs, like that one on Xen. They are definitely better in the fact that they don’t handwave things like normal zombies, but they still have problems. [I hated Ravenholm, thought it was the worst of HL2’s gimmicks (even worse than the stupid ‘hurr let’s make the player only use the gravity gun’ section in the last part of the game), if only for the fact that suddenly we’re fighting the same enemy copy-pasted a hundred times in badly-lit, grey hallways or badly-lit grey streets].

        1. swenson says:

          Headcrabs are seen eating a variety of things, though. Lamarr eats watermelon (or at least that’s what a note in Kleiner’s lab implies) and chases a bird, for example. And there’s likely no energy expended in keeping their hosts together, as they seem to have at least partially cannibalized themselves. So there is that.

          What’s more strange to me is that they’re basically perfectly designed to control humans, yet they’re from an entirely different universe…

    3. Thomas says:

      Zombie Hunters is probably one of my most enjoyed Zombie stories, I’m not sure why but I think maybe the far ahead setting stops it from repeating the same tropes. People only engage Zombies in it because they choose to engage Zombies (although it looks like there are resources problems in the future)

      1. swenson says:

        Yeah, this. Zombies themselves aren’t a danger at all to your ordinary person. Even non-infected who go out among zombies aren’t that scared of them (although maybe that’s just because Jasper is Jasper). The real concern is that they might become infected, but that’s fairly easily guarded against once you know what can transmit it (and they DO guard against it).

    4. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Bonus points because:Headcrabs are a genetically engineered race,like most of the combine,and the actual combine(the advisors)are practically immune to them.So combine from half life are actually a successful umbrella corporation.

      1. Varre says:

        Well, the overseers are immune, but zombines show that maybe deploying head-eating parasites on a planet you control using organisms susceptible to said parasites isn’t the best idea. They’re a better Umbrella, but they’re still kind of dumb in that regard.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Only if you care much.After all,they arent that interested in keeping the population(sterility thing),nor in conserving the occupation forces.They arent even interested in the planet itself,or theyd simply eradicate the humans.So either they wanted some rare mineral,which they obtained,or they were interested merely in erecting the citadels for expanding their portal network.Either way,they are reckless because they dont care about those they enslave.

          1. Mattias42 says:

            If you look closely on any level by the sea, you can tell that the sea-level has dropped several meters.

            That is the only one I remember off the top of my head, but it is hinted that the Combines long term plan involve sucking the planet dry, literally and figuratively.

            Weather for terreaformation or resources I don’t think has even been hinted at yet, but that the same is being done to Xen has.

            1. Fleaman says:

              Back in beta (described in the artbook “Raising the Bar”), there used to be a level called the “Air Exchange”. Basically, they had a giant machine designed to breathe up all of our air. The decline in sea level is because there is literally a giant portal draining the ocean.

              In Nova Prospekt, when Breen is chastising the Overwatch for failing to capture you, he basically says that his boss is breathing down his neck to prove that transhuman soldiers can be a viable permanent fixture in the Combine army. As far as Breen is concerned, the eventual destruction of Earth is a foregone conclusion, and the only reason humanity is still a thing is because he convinced the Combine that humans were worth reaping like the air and the water.

              Still, putting headcrabs in rockets was probably the Overwatch’s idea, so even if the Combine proper don’t give an Earth human fuck, the Overwatch could still be acting kind of petarded. Though, they do seem decent at dealing with zombies and crabs before things go tits up. You only see Zombines after you get done ruining the whole city, so I could give the soldiers the benefit of the doubt and assume that they were dead before getting crabbed.

  24. postinternetsyndrome says:

    There has been a distinct lack of ordinary magic zombies lately. All in all, they represent a much more plausible scenario…

    Also, about the smell thing: It’s easy to imagine the zombie disease forcing the body to start producing some new type of pheromone that allows the Z:s to identify each other. That stuff is subconcious anyway and need not neccesarily rely on the host having a good sense of ordinary smell to begin with.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      magic zombies tend to be part of a bigger setting because, you know, magic. So a magic zombie apocalypse is relatively rare.

  25. Thomas says:

    This pretty much shows the zombie apocalypse setting is pretty indistinct from normal apocalypse settings. These stories are the same asDay of the Triffids and War of the World, except the threat is familiar and doesn’t have tp be explained.

    Outside the setting theyve got a space to be the slow herd monster amongst others though

  26. Cat Skyfire says:

    I doubt we’ll see a movie/show about it any time soon, but a part of me would like to see a zombie story featuring D&D zombies. That is, the dead raised by magic. It’s the power of magic (the ultimate hand waving) that powers them, makes them able to move, etc. Even permits parts that are severed to keep moving, because of the magic.

    1. anaphysik says:

      Well, I do hear that they’re making an Evil Dead remake.

    2. Alex says:

      That, and if you’ve got literal necromancers about, there’s room for the zombies in aggregate to act in a more intelligent manner (ambushes, flanking attacks, etc), even if individual zombies are still stupid.

  27. Ace Calhoon says:

    I think you’re being a little unfair in your analysis here. That’s normal with analyzing genres, of course… Either you pick the worst examples, or the best. But that’s where the fun comes in :)

    The “Living Dead” —

    You’re basically assuming that life processes go on after death, while being hindered by all the characteristics of… Well, death. There are plenty of examples of this being “answered,” but most involve the virus/bacteria/parasite responsible for zombieism causing a physiological change after death.

    Either the zombie plague is an entity that survives the host’s death, or it modifies the host in such away that life processes restart after what we would term death.

    I believe World War Z is the most detailed here, postulating that the zombie infection causes the host’s brain cavity to rearrange itself, diminishing actual brain space and replacing it with a suite of organs (heart, simplified digestive system, etc.).

    The main issue is dealing with the heart (flow of blood to muscles) and digestive systems (conversion of meat to energy). On the other hand, most survivors don’t get much opportunity to examine zombie physiology beyond “I shot it and it didn’t fall down.”

    We don’t know how to make this happen in the real world, naturally, but if that’s our constraint, then all of science fiction and fantasy is off limits to us.

    Smell —

    There are plenty of real-world animals that operate quite well on scent. If nothing else, assume that they key in on human scent, and that soaking yourself in zombie remnants covers that scent up. Remember that not all information conveyed in a story is necessarily true — If a survivor douses himself in zombie guts and it saves him, he might describe the zombies as detecting their own stench. But all he really knows is that a specific trick worked.

    Armor —

    Yeah, armor should probably happen more often. But not quite so often as you present it:

    * Not all armor works. Football armor won’t cut it, because it’s designed to protect against impact, not biting. It provides limited protection to the arms and legs, for example.

    * Military body armor is much better, but much more difficult to obtain.

    * Riot armor is great (and features prominently in the Walking Dead comics), but it’s heavy and bulky. It’s not suitable for long-term hiking, climbing, etc. It’s also difficult to find.

    * Home made armor is going to be extremely difficult to move around in. It will also be prone to unexpected failure. A car mat is great and durable, but figuring out how to cover your entire body in car mats is non-trivial.

    * Almost all modern armor fails the “pull” test. Remember that one poor schmuck who always gets pulled apart by the zombie hordes? Even if you’re immune to bites and scratches, being surrounded by a dozen or more people-sized things isn’t a fun time.

    Infection —

    The Walking Dead actually has one of the better explanations here: The zombie plague is actually two diseases. The first has very few symptoms, and causes the victim to metamorphose into a zombie on death (regardless of whether or not the person has been bitten). The source of transmission of this disease hasn’t been explained to my knowledge, but is presumably air or water borne.

    The second is a super-fever, delivered by zombie bites. Zombie bites don’t turn you into zombies, they just kill you very quickly and catalyze the other infection.

    The first infection spread easily, because it has a long lifetime, and doesn’t exhibit a lot of visible symptoms. Think Toxoplasma Gondii. Eventually a mutant strain popped up that killed infected hosts quickly, catalyzing an outbreak.

    All of the survivors in the comics and TV series are infected. The Walking Dead is a “clever” device that refers not to the zombies, but to the living infected.

    Survival —

    I’m a little unclear on the issue here. Most zombie stories either have the survivors linking up with a larger remnant of civilization, or don’t follow them very long. Dead Rising, for example, has the main character link up with a broader post-zombie civiliation after escaping from the overrun mall he spent the first game in. Walking Dead (TV) hasn’t spent long enough to deal with agricultural issues. Walking Dead (Comic) has started the transition, but is managing it by simply starting before existing food sources have run out. World War Z has militaries and civilization adapting tactics to deal with the zombie menace.

    Certainly, long-term zombie stories are different from short-term ones. But there’s nothing inherently impossible about the idea.

    1. MelTorefas says:

      Thanks for addressing this, it was bugging me that no one had yet. I for one have never expected a zombie story to sell me a disease I think could really happen. It’s fiction, and I fully expect it to contain elements that wouldn’t actually work in the real world. Much like superhero stories.

    2. Even says:

      I think the bare minimum for protection against bites should be maximum covering of skin and wearing resilient if not thick materials. The way they run around in tops, T-shirts and what else in the Walking Dead TV-show that leaves a lot of skin bare it’s like they’re asking to get bitten. Unless it’s a constant overbearingly hot and humid weather they’re suffering, it just doesn’t make any sense.

      1. It’s GA, and the summers are massively miserable. If you’re wearing heavier clothing (like a friend I have who dresses up as Batman for DragonCon which is over Labor Day weekend), you’re asking for heat issues. Heck, it was 70+ today.

    3. Mayhem says:

      Beat me to mentioning Toxoplasma Gondii.

      For those not familiar, here’s a nice pop-sci write up from the Atlantic on some of the more bizarre neurobiological actions the parasite performs.


      Key point – since the parasite reproduces inside the digestive tract of cats, it infects rats and reverses the aversion to cats into an attraction, to ensure their host gets eaten and the parasite can breed.

      Or take rabies, which migrates from the brain to the saliva as the host nears the point of death to maximise the chances of transmission to a new host.

      In fact the idea of Zombies being infected and controlled by a parasite explains a lot of their behaviour – say it requires living human flesh to reproduce, though it can be transmitted via other creatures. That explains the lack of reaction to fellow infected – not a suitable host.
      It also explains the mad chase after any living found – suitable reproductive hosts must become rapidly rarer so the evolutionary drives would dictate a quick and persistent response when you find one.

  28. Athatar says:

    This is why I loved World War Z and the Zombie Survival Guide. Max Brookes really puts some thought into the issue you mention above:

    The “Living” “Dead”

    In Zombie Survival Guide, the infection (Virus I think) heads to the brain, kills the host then spreads though the body via a black goo. This black goo replaces the zombie’s blood and provids the energy to the musles to move thus preventing the “starvation” issue. The incubation time also depends on if the bite is in “slow” (fats ect) or “fast” (musles, the heart) and this can effect the infection vectors (see below).


    It was this that World War Z, I think, really did well. The idea in the book is that the virus started in China. China has lots of land boarders allowing spread. But what about U.S.A ect? Well, in World War Z, the inital spread of the virus is though black market organ transplants. Organs of infected people are bought in China, shipped to South Africa, then transplanted into rich people from across the globe. When the organs have a good blood supply, e.g. the heart, the infection is straight away. When it is fattier organs, I think the Liver is the example given, then the infection takes much longer and can make it back to the home country.

    This leads to the first major, publisied outbreak in South Africa but it is diganosed as an extream form of rabies. This is spread by drug companies selling rabies treatments and vacciens that make people think they are safe.

    Biting People Who Carry Machine Guns

    Now, this is adressed in the book. I am not going to go into detail as it is one of the better chapters of the book. Also, it was a while since I read it and I really wouldn’t do it justise…. In fact, I think I might give it a reread……

    Anywho, if you want to read, in my opinion, a well thought out Zombie story starting with the inital outbreak, right though to the aftermath and rebuilding after the outbreak please, please give it a read. In my mind the book was scary due to the fact I honestly belived this was how the world would react to an outbreak.

    Final points, the book is set world wide so you get to see how different contries react (God save the Queen). It is set after the world rebuilds in a documentry style which works really well.

    1. Nersh says:

      Yes, this! World War Z struck me as a remarkably believable zombie apocalypse scenario.

    2. Fleaman says:

      What does the black goo eat?

    3. ben says:

      “Biting People Who Carry Machine Guns

      Now, this is adressed in the book. I am not going to go into detail as it is one of the better chapters of the book.”
      Words fail me…
      Those “people who carry machine guns”? They also tend to have body armor that can be sealed against NBC attacks. And live in isolated fenced off areas stocked with large quantities of food, water, & fuel. And have access to things incendiaries and high explosives.

      If I can completely negate the risk of infection during an autopsy with a $5 paper thin disposable suit. What kind of hack writer thinks military grade suits designed to keep out horrifically corrosive gas under combat conditions are going to be penetrated? Especially when being worn under body armor.

      (fun fact, the brain is one of the first things to decompose in a corpse. I saw one yesterday that literally liquified into a paste when the medical examiner tried to section it to take samples.
      “Shoot them in the head” would be redundant in any scenario where the zombies were rotting or even immunocompromised.)

  29. TMTVL says:

    Before car analogies, we had cart analogies. And we had mammoth rider analogies before that.

    What, don’t you remember the good old days?

    1. anaphysik says:

      “They can’t move for the same reason a mammoth can’t keep running once you cut out its heart.”

      1. Zukhramm says:

        “Think of the human brain as… kind of the brain of the mammoth.”

        1. DaveMc says:

          Ha! Well done.

    2. hborrgg says:

      “Professor, I’m having trouble with some of these concepts. Is there any way you can explain them so that they relate to hunting or gathering?”

      1. DaveMc says:

        Another good one! Funny community we’ve got here.

  30. The Cornman says:

    On one hand, yes, zombies are played out and require excessive hand-waving in order to even exist. However, they can still be fun or interesting in a story.

    As long as the zombies remain fun, I’m willing to ignore a hand-windmill. That’s why The Walking Dead game works even though it has zombies, it’s fun enough that I can forget the helicopter of hands hovering overhead

  31. Chris says:

    Again, the author might as well drop the whole zombie concept and write a story about a regular plague with a 99.99% fatality rate, since that's where this sort of story will end up in a year or so.

    Yeah, George Romero’s Land of the Dead tried a “post zombie” universe and it… it didn’t work.

    Still, I love the idea of a smaller scale post apocalypse story without the pretense of zombies. Stuff like The Road or Children of Men or A Boy and his Dog (which heavily influenced Fallout, incidentally!) have this wonderfully depressing morbidity to them. Zombie apocalypses lend themselves to a few things – cheese, horror, social commentary – but not a sense of bleak defeat or nihilism. Certainly not in the way those films have. A Boy and his Dog has some great comedic moments, but Children of Men and The Road are almost a chore to watch. Not because they’re bad, but because they have this oppressive pessimism and despair. I’d compare it to, say, the 1984 version of 1984 that sticks to the book without an ounce of happiness, comic relief, or even simple optimism.

    The Road in particular nails this. Whatever caused The End of the World (it’s never really specified) has resulted in the biosphere basically falling apart. You can’t just run away and farm – things just don’t grow. There are no animals to hunt. Everyone is starving and no one can be trusted. And in this setting you have Liam Neissen trying to raise his son to not be a terrible person despite the world he’s being raised in. Actually, The Road is an interesting comparison point to The Walking Dead, as both involve a father figure in a post apocalyptic universe dealing with raising a child after the end times have come.

    1. Zukhramm says:

      Liam Neeson? I guess with one in Star Wars and one in Lord of the Rings they’re easy to mix up. Both trilogies, right?

      1. lurkey says:

        Speaking of post-apocalyptic universes where Liam Neeson is trying to raise his son to not be a terrible person, there is one in which Liam completely and utterly failed.

    2. anaphysik says:

      I love A Boy and His Dog. Ultimately, it’s a sort of brotherly-love story.

    3. bucaneer says:

      Children of Men a chore to watch? That, good sir, is a blasphemy. It does have a good amount of humor, even if it’s mostly various shades of black, and if the ceasefire scene is not a crowning moment of heartwarming, I don’t know what is. (TvTropes agrees; I checked so that you’d be spared the dangers of venturing there.) That, in addition to just generally being a great film.

    4. ACman says:

      You mean Viggo Mortensen.

    5. Steve C says:

      Fido did the post-zombie universe. I thought it was ok.

    6. Wulfgar says:

      watching The Road spoiled episode 2 of Walking Dead for me. after few minutes on that farm, I thought: “cannibals”

      1. newdarkcloud says:

        Of course, the whole point of that episode is that you see the plot twist coming a mile away.

        1. AyeGill says:

          Yeah, I thought it was really interesting that you see it coming, but Lee doesn’t have that genre savviness, so it highlights the player/character distinction in an interesting way.

        2. Aldowyn says:

          You can see pretty much all the plot twists coming a mile away ;) It’s how you deal with them that makes the game.

        3. Steve C says:

          I really want to talk about ep2 but also really want to wait for the relevant SW posts. That episode was both really good and really bad so lots to talk about.

          In ep2 the plot twist is really easy to see to the point where I considered then discounted it as a possibility. Cannibalism is too illogical for a group of farmers with crops, a cow and spare muffins. Doubly so when the whole zombie thing started weeks ago.

          1. Nick says:

            There was a three month time skip between episodes, so it’s between three and four months since the apocalypse hit. And I spent the entirety of this episode after I found out that they had one cow shouting ‘THEY ARE CANNIBALS’ at the screen – I mean, seriously how else would they supply bandits and feed themselves off of one animal?

    7. RCN says:

      A Boy and His Dog influenced lots of nuclear post-apocalyptic stories, including Mad Max.

      As for me, The Road and Children of Men were a chore to watch because they were very boring. Children of Men because it was preposterous from start to finish so I couldn’t get invested.

      The Road because every single scene drags on forever, the father is a completely different character in the flashbacks and in the present (I guess the death of his wife could’ve changed him, but the reason he chooses to live on clashes with how he acts in the present), I don’t got a sense of HOW the people who survived did so, I actually have a problem with the fact it never tells WHAT caused the apocalypse (it can’t be nuclear war, unless the writer just doesn’t know what radiation is). I get the sense that the characters know, but I’m left in the dark just… because. And finally the ending clashes with the entire rest of the movie and makes no sense.

    8. Blue_Pie_Ninja says:

      This is a bit late to the party and all, but I decided to enlighten you guys about a book I read a while ago which was set in some sort of post-apocalyptic setting.


      It is a book called Taronga, and it is set around Sydney Australia, and although there are no zombies in the book, there are a load of bandits and the like. The protagonist Ben decides to head back home to the sea after leaving his uncle (I think, can’t remember) who was using Ben to “talk” to the animals to hunt them down (Ben’s magic or something idk). Ben then gets caught by a group of bandits in Sydney who task him with breaking into Taronga Zoo, at night, and gets caught on the inside. He then has to battle with the Tigers to get them back into their cages at morning and try to escape from the group controlling the Zoo.

      It is a really great book and is worth reading.

  32. anaphysik says:

    “Sooner or later you end up with a boring story about people who put on zombie makeup before they go into the city to forage in complete safety, because this makes the zombies ignore them.”

    Except when Bill Murray did that in Zombieland, it was actually pretty clever and funny.

    1. Jace911 says:

      To be fair he did get shot for it.

  33. mdqp says:

    You know what solves a lot of the problems? If the zombies are magical in nature. I mean, at the beginning of the horror genre, were there all these discussions about the scientific side of zombies? Aren’t zombies inspired by the Voodoo tradition, which is very much magic-like?

    This of course still raises the problem of how are the survivors going to eat, if they don’t adapt to the new situation soon, but if they are in small numbers, they could probably make do for the first few years with food that has a long-term expiration date. If the infection doesn’t involve animals, they might go hunting for food, and gather what the plants spontaneously produce. Also, this is true for all farms that had fruit trees before, they won’t simply wither and die all of a sudden. It all depends on where they are located, how far the easier source of food are, the season and if they have any vehicles available.

    All in all, there should be enough time to properly organize themselves, even if they fool around at the beginning (but of course, let’s not overthink ^_^)

  34. Picador says:

    In the end, I think zombie stories are doomed to be about small groups of survivors in the first year after infection, because with larger groups and longer timelines the zombies can't be a credible threat.

    Hence “NIGHT of the Living Dead” as the seminal text of this genre. As opposed to, say, “First Four Years of the Living Dead”.

    1. SleepingDragon says:

      Ha, this was also the title I thought of. The people in the “Night…” are a group of civies, surprised by the entire situation, underarmed and isolated. They are understandably panicked and may act illogically and erratically, by the end of the movie we can clearly see that after the initial shock people just get organized and get down to cleaning the whole mess. Too bad so few people seem to remember that.

  35. anaphysik says:

    Re: ‘Containment’: if Pandemic 2 is anything to go by, CERTAINLY Madagascar will NEVER see any zombies.

    1. krellen says:

      Unless they ORIGINATE in Madagascar …

    2. LunaticFringe says:

      Stupid Madagascar and its one incredibly aware seaport…

      1. DaveMc says:

        Plague, Inc. is a whole pile of fun, isn’t it? :)

  36. Irridium says:

    Also, one question for a zombie apocalypse that nobody answers is, what replaces toilet paper?

    1. Thomas says:

      Water and not shaking with your left hand =D I’m not sure but I think it might be TWD that makes a ‘toilet paper has suddenly become a valuable commodity’ joke. Something I consumed recently at least

      1. Tse says:

        leaves, I guess.

        1. Gruhunchously says:

          A sponge on a stick.

    2. Abnaxis says:

      And that leads to something with (possibly) a more concrete answer that has always bothered me: what did toilet paper replace?

      1. Abnaxis says:

        And…I come up for the answer in three minutes with wikipedia. Wooden skewers are our salvation in the apocalypse.


  37. Tobias says:

    Having to farm out your living after a Zombie Acopalypse might make a boring story.

    But it will make for an awesome sandbox game.
    Unreal World or Harvest Moon set in a postapocalyptic setting, is probably my favorite unrealized game concept.

    1. Varre says:

      I would play that game so hard. It’d be cool if it had something like a zombie awareness thing; the more you do, the more you have to defend yourself as your little enclave’s activity attracts more and more zombies.

  38. Cerberus Public Relations says:

    You forgot about zombies’ teleportation powers — they are inexplicably able to appear in the middle of a well-lit room behind our heroes without producing any sound whatsoever.

  39. Tse says:

    What if the story isn’t about a zombie apocalypse, but about living in a modern post-zombie world. There was an outbreak in the past, it didn’t do any lasting damage to society, but now everyone turns after death. The story would become completely different. It would be about the changes in the way of life and people’s reaction to it. I would love to read about people choosing to hide a relative’s death in order to spend some more time with their zombified form, everyone locking themselves alone before going to sleep, the changes made to hospitals, illegal zombie fighting rings and so on.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Hmm, so the “zombification” virus (or whatever) happens to everyone after death? Very interesting. That could lead to some interesting speculative fiction!

      1. Mattias42 says:

        There is a series called Xombie that more or less does that.

        It started as a online flash series and kinda ballooned from there.

        Also one of the only zombie series I know where the virus works on animals as well…

        Homepage of the whole franchise.

        Sadly only the first and worst episode of the original series seems to be viewable for free right now. Still it should give you a taste.

        I did find the other episodes on YouTube for what its worth, but I’m not certain if they are offical or not, so I’m not linking them.

      2. StashAugustine says:

        I’ve heard the movie “Fido” deals with this (haven’t seen it) but it’s apparently more comedy.

        1. Tse says:

          Just watched Fido, I really liked it.

        2. Lifestealer says:

          See the Newsflesh trilogy for pretty much this-book one is Feed, the author’s Mira Grant

  40. Henson says:

    Zombies have faulty internal hard drives (read: brains), so the system is just trying to find an external drive.

    I guess this is why zombies don’t attack each other.

  41. Thomas says:

    As far as overthinking it goes, there are limits and they’re mainly timebased for me. If you have something with these sorts of problems, the first couple don’t bother me unless they start dealing with themes directly around those problems *coughtorchwoodmiracledaycough* *coughME3cough* but there’s only I can only accept people not putting on a decent suit of answer whilst they’re distracting me from thinking of it. Eventually we’re going to cross a line and I can’t keep up the doublethink

  42. Mattias42 says:

    I realize that it is debatable if necromorphs count as zombies or not, but I liked how Dead space handled the infection part.

    The living can’t be effected by the microorganism in question and it knows this. And thus acts accordingly…

    I personally found them an interesting and horrific twist on the zombie AND the rubber forehead alien.

    It even makes impossible the boring “Infected or not” cliche that everyone has seen already, a small but nice bonus.

    1. anaphysik says:

      What I like most about Dead Space is the setting. And the colour (flavour and little details), like the ‘weapons.’

  43. Isy says:

    I have an intense personal fear of zombies (have I mentioned I hate you for making me buy this game, Shamus? I hate you) and all of this has been pointed out before – but it never helps. Why? I’m starting to think that’s why I’m so afraid of zombies. They cheat. They shouldn’t work in any capacity, but they do. They’re too slow to threaten anyone who can even manage a mild jog, so they teleport out of nowhere into any spot you’re not actively looking at, even if you spent hours looking in every nook and cranny to make sure there weren’t any there.

    It’s like being trapped in an extremely malevolent game of the Sims. The real foe in zombie movies isn’t the zombies. It’s not even the other survivors. It’s the uncaring, omnipotent power that’s decided it’s just going to murder everyone, but it wants to toy with you a bit before doing so.

    1. Amnestic says:

      You really shouldn’t be afraid of Umbrella Corp. They’re far too incompetent to be a real threat.

      1. anaphysik says:

        I hear they get undone by the stock market?

        1. Amnestic says:

          Yep. The stock market and lawyers. I…the Resident Evil series isn’t a zombie story. It’s a story about a corporation so incompetent and unrepentantly “Gwahahahaha” moustache-twirling stupid evil that its existence – not the zombies – is what breaks suspension of disbelief.

          Also emblems. SO MANY EMBLEMS.

          1. LunaticFringe says:

            You fail to mention Neo-Umbrella, the inbred cousin of the Umbrella Corporation who’s goal is to outdo the stupidity of its more ‘successful’ counterpart.

            1. Amnestic says:

              Is “Neo-Umbrella” from Resident Evil 6? I have yet to play it – after hearing about its many, many flaws I decided not to pick it up until I can find it for less than £15.

              1. LunaticFringe says:

                Yeah, it’s in Resident Evil 6, I didn’t play it, just watched a fair bit of a let’s play…it’s hilariously bad from what I can see.

          2. Varre says:

            Soooo…. the Umbrella Corp. is Cerberus?

      2. Isy says:

        Pshhh. Everyone knows Resident Evil is a comedy.

        1. Shamus says:

          Everyone except the writers at Capcom!

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Who think its a cash cow.And they arent wrong.

          2. ACman says:

            That’s what makes it so funny.

            Then again, Capcom have that other, very self aware, zombie thing Dead Rising. To be fair RE4 was fairly acknowledging of it’s absurdity as well.

        2. StashAugustine says:

          I met someone who honestly, unironically liked the story of ResE 6. Somehow.

          1. newdarkcloud says:

            I have a friend like that.

            It’s not the same guy who liked the ME3 Ending, just for the record.

            1. Aldowyn says:

              I didn’t HATE the ending, just the kid. The ending was somewhat passable after I automatically assumed that it was basically like what the Extended Cut turned out to be.

              But LIKING it? After ME1 gave us a decent ending? >.>

  44. stratigo says:

    To me zombie “realism” has always been all or nothing.

    Either the infection is so virulent that the zombies would spread faster then the world can react and your survivors end up just being the lucky few immune/isolated enough to never see a zed.

    Or the modern military crushed the zombies fast.

    1. bloodsquirrel says:

      The Walking Dead/L4D scenario actually does work-

      The disease spreads like any other, taking out 90% or more of the population by itself, before you even get into zombies getting up and walking. Once that many people are dead, society will no longer exist and people would have problems surviving even without the zombies. Once they start rising you can have your 1000:1 zombie-survivor ratio without the zombies having had to defeat the military (which no longer exists).

      Without relying on zombies as the vector, you can make the disease spread pretty easily without relying on lots of other handwaves.

      1. WJS says:

        Which is kind of cheating, no? We want a zombie apocalypse, not a “handwavey pandemic” apocalypse.

  45. Klay F. says:

    I will admit that zombies worked much better back when they were contained (geddit?) entirely within the horror genre. The vast majority of horror hinges upon the unknown and how such things generate fear.

    Think about your favorite survival horror game. Now think about how it could be ruined if somebody somewhere decided that they wanted to provide half-baked explanations for every unknown, then use those same half-baked explanations to transplant the story to another genre. Actually you don’t have to imagine it, because it happens all the time. Condemned‘s transition to Condemned 2 for example.

    1. atomfullerene says:

      This is the difference between plots in horror and science fiction or fantasy. Pardon my huge oversimplifications here about how these things tend to go:

      Classic horror: Undead monsters show up, start attacking randomly. They are slowly whittle down a group of survivors who are unable to handle the situation and whose best attempts to do so fail.

      Classic science fiction: Undead monsters show up, start attacking randomly. Protagonists work feverishly to find a solution, have some narrow escapes, and finally solve the problem through judicious application of technobabble.

      Classic fantasy: Undead monsters show up, start attacking randomly. Protagonists battle their way through the zombie horde, have some narrow escapes, and confront and defeat the evil power responsible for the zombies.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        That’s how any scary thing works. Cue: Reapers.

  46. H.R. says:

    Cracked.com had a terrific article about why zombie apocalypses would fail almost instantly 2 years ago. Unless you do a lot of hand-waving, you have to survive about half a year, then it’s all good and rotting dead (as in dead-dead, not undead-dead) zombies whereever you look.

  47. Doctor Satan says:

    I remember this story I read (can’t remember the bloody name) where the virus retooled the brain so that all the logical reasoning and emotions and the human-y stuff was now being used for sense management and stuff like, turning the ones who contracted it into animals, very dangerous animals.

    The story revolved around the base where this virus was created to facilitate creation of an army who had no meaningless emotion (which, of course, they bollocks’d it up). The interesting thing about the virus was that it took some time to act. So the person affected would slowly start gaining great reflexes and stuff like that while losing some emotion and creative capabilities.

    This created a problem. The army men had a hard time judging whether members of their squad were able to do amazing stunts because of their training or the virus. The scientists working on the virus had all been affected and none of the other scientists knew much of the virus (compartmentalization), and their ego kept getting in the way.

    In the end, well, nobody survived because the military big guns decided bombing the whole place was the best options.

    Anyway, about the small group, one year in future comment, there is a way we can tackle it. We can go the Fallout way. With a few major and minor tweaks, I think we can change the nuke war story into a zed apoc story. We can make the story about, say, creating an army to attack and capture and self sufficient army base. I don’t know if it’ll but it could be interesting.

    1. WJS says:

      “very dangerous animals” – and that’s the problem. Without our Braaiiiinzzz, humans are not “very dangerous animals”. We’re slow, weak, fragile, we don’t have fangs or claws, we do have pretty amazing stamina, but that is only really useful if chasing something that’s just going to keep on running until it drops, not against a thinking human who would very likely set an ambush for any “zombie” chasing him. The reason we’re on top is because we can kill anything on the god damn planet if we put our minds to it. If you want to make humans into “dumb, but very dangerous animals“, you need something like a werewolf, that is much stronger and more deadly than an unarmed human. You aren’t going to do it just by futzing with the brain.

  48. hborrgg says:

    The basic formula that goes into creating a zombie story is pretty straightforward. You take any old standard survival scenario and all the things that make it interesting, and then add violence, which is always fun. And what’s more you add it in a really simplistic, almost sandboxey manner.
    With zombies, you have a whole lot of flexibility to work with, is this the kind of universe where you are supposed to blast them with shotguns? or the kind where you are supposed to slice them up with a sword? or maybe even the kind where you are supposed to lure them into elaborate traps and crush them with a flaming grand piano? Basically you have plenty of room to modify the setting’s combat to something within your comfort zone, or at least something interesting. Compare this to conflict with other humans where scope tends to be pretty limited to those with military-grade weapons and training vs those who are dead.
    And that doesn’t even get into the problems you have when your antagonists are actually expected to think logically. I mean, how long would you actually follow a story like the walking dead if they were up against living humans who were constantly announcing even the most perfectly laid ambushes with a loud obnoxious yell or slowly advancing on a cornered protagonist instead of just shooting from a distance? How much would the story change if the protagonists couldn’t get the bad guys to give up and stay put by simply running into a building and locking the front door?
    And don’t forget the other side of the coin if you had something like the walking dead with no violence at all.
    “Darn it! We forgot to bring enough water, again! Oh well, who should we let die of thirst this time, Dave or Carla?”
    “Why not Jenny-”

    1. hborrgg says:

      Actually, I think you could make a good case for calling Minecraft a good example of a zombie apocalypse scenario. Society is already gone and you can’t do anything to fight back (zombies keep respawning apparently) so why even bother? What is your purpose? Do you simply focus on testing the limits of your survival, do you channel your energies into something constructive or creative even if it’s ultimately meaningless?

      The point is that when **** hits the fan I’m going to head for the mountains to build the BEST castle ever and get sooooo many diamonds. . .

      1. mwchase says:

        Of course, Minecraft has a bunch of other weird twists. Like, judging by how zombies interact with villagers, the player character is not human, or possibly…

        Possibly humanity split in two as part of the apocalypse, into a race of sleepless hermaphrodites susceptible to infection, and incredibly strong neuter beings that are either instantly infected, or so immune that they can safely engage in cannibalism.

        It’s like someone added zombies to an alternative take on the future of The Time Machine, or something.

      2. WJS says:

        I’d quite like to see a mod for minecraft that made zombies immune to sunlight, but prevented them from spawning on artificial surfaces. I think this would approximate your typical zombie scenario to a decent degree.

  49. MikhailBorg says:

    While “the virus rebuilt your body” is fine for an episode of Star Trek: TNG (well, actually not…), what a virus can actually do to your body with a limited supply of energy, useful raw materials, and genetic program code falls far far short of the repeated suggestions here.

    By the time the World War Z virus was half-done disassembling and crafting the brain into new organs as suggested, the body in question would be long decayed past any ability to get up again and start wandering about. Though respect is still due for addressing the problem, at least!

  50. CTrees says:

    One thing to note, since you mentioned military bases:

    Unless you’re talking about an FOB someplace like Iraq, most people on a military base are unarmed. MPs and guards, sure, but otherwise? You have a lot of people basically doing office jobs or training. You have families living in base housing. You have civilian contractors. All of these groups either are not allowed firearms on base, or have them locked up when not specifically using them for an approved purpose (or when taking privately owned weapons off base). Basically, a base can mobilize quickly but if you’re dealing with fast zombies? It’s going to be bad, and there are a *ton* of people who aren’t soldiers of any kind. To use a real world example, this was why the Fort Hood shooting was so bad-you had a nutcase sneaking a weapon in and doing the equivalent of shooting up an office building.

    This only applies to US bases-I have no idea how other countries handle these things, and again, bases in active combat zones are different with regards to access to weaponry.

  51. Rich says:

    According to the Star Trek blueprints there are bathrooms throughout the Enterprise. One is in the corridor outside the bridge right behind the main viewscreen.

    1. ? says:

      I’m more concerned with Millennium Falcon. Not only it is unclear where the toilet is, all deck plans for this thing I can find either have cargo hold or living quarters for it’s crew and passengers. One thing that was done right in Firefly was planning out the ship and building it as complete set. Everything has it’s place and purpose on Serenity.

      1. Peter H. Coffin says:

        The Millennium Falcon’s pretty much no good as a cargo vessel to begin with. Even if you omit the idea that it even carries fuel, the parts that otherwise aren’t accounted for by on-screen interior space or “this is clearly engine space” by hull features, and you end up with about as much room left over as one contemporary boxcar or semi-trailer. Whatever the regular cargo is has to be at least as valuable as whatever they’re supposedly trying to smuggle to be even worth the time to make the trip.

        1. Jace911 says:

          This is partially explained in various novels where Han has a lot of the cargo space cut down to install a capital ship-grade chunk of armor plating he salvaged, plus a bunch of other stuff.

          And Star Wars does have other examples of characters making a living off running very expensive yet perfectly legal small goods. Google Mirax Terrik.

          1. ehlijen says:

            The Falcon was always a bad cargo ship simply because all it has to un/load anything is a single person sized doorway (that doesn’t align with any storage compartment I can see). That means it cannot carry anything much bigger or bulkier than a person and what it does carry has to be awkwardly and manually carried on/off the ship.

            1. WJS says:

              Well, I don’t think anyone would ever mistake it for a bulk freighter. It could be a fast courier, though; if there’s a substantial market for fast transport of small items, or a regular demand for charter passenger flights like Luke & Ben in EpIV, I can see them being viable.

  52. MelTorefas says:

    There was one point Shamus made that I really disagree with.

    In regards to transitioning from “shortly after apocalypse” to “long after”: yeah, you will eventually lose the zombies if you are striving for near-plausibility, but if that isn’t the story you want to tell then that is an excellent time to say “the end”. The idea that telling a zombie apocalypse story is useless because eventually the zombies will die out seems silly to me. The fact that there eventually won’t be any more zombies does not negate the parts of the story that happen while there ARE zombies.

    Maybe I just have an odd perspective. I was never involved in any zombie-related tale until I played Left 4 Dead.

    1. Asimech says:

      “The idea that telling a zombie apocalypse story is useless because eventually the zombies will die out seems silly to me.”

      I didn’t get that from anywhere in Shamus’ post. He seemed to be going for “there’s no point in timing a zombie apocalypse story two years or more after the outbreak” and “in the real world the zombies would die out”.

      Generally speaking the point of the post is that “you shouldn’t over-think the setting because it breaks down easily and there’s no way to really make it so it wouldn’t, so over-thinking isn’t useful for improvements either”.

      1. Shamus says:

        Yes, this.

        And really, the REAL point of the article was just to explore and muse about the realities suggested by zombie fiction, not to pass judgement on a setting or story.

  53. Collin says:

    I’m happy with fantasy-setting zombies. Foul magic reanimates, dead things don’t eat, they just run on a strict diet of necromancy and hate.

    1. Amnestic says:

      But you see, magic zombies aren’t believable in a real world setting. Virus/Infection zombies who shouldn’t be able to move because it breaks the laws of biology and physics make so much more sense! :p

  54. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Thats why you dont try to scientifically explain zombies.You just stuck some necromancer in the story,and all is well.

    1. Fleaman says:

      But then it’s no longer a story about survival; it’s a story about shooting a necromancer.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Depends.Some versions have permanent zombies,meaning even if the necromancer dies,the creations will continue with their last standing order(like “kill all humans”).

        1. Alex says:

          Second last order – the last order is probably “Not me, you idio-aargh!”

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Ha!That would be a great setup for a movie.

  55. Blackbird71 says:

    “This means that a few hours after death you'll have a violent, ravenously hungry immobile statue due to rigor mortis. We can do another hand-wave and say that something in infected bodies prevent them from stiffening up.”

    One point on this. I’m not a medical professional, so take my statement for what it’s worth, but I did spend my college years doing part-time work for a mortuary. In my experience handling dead bodies and working with the local cororner, I learned that contrary to popular belief, rigor mortis is a temporary condition. It will usually set in within a few hours of death, but then a few hours later, the joints begin to loosen up again. In about a day at most, those zombie stiffs would be loose and limber again, and ready to hunt some brain.

    Of course, that’s putting aside all of the other problems with zombies…

    1. Abnaxis says:

      That could be an interesting feature–if you can hold out for the first couple of hours after an outbreak, you get a few hours of time to travel while they’re “frozen” to make a break for a more fortified position…

    2. WJS says:

      When rigor mortis wears off though, isn’t that basically because the tendons have already begun to rot and decay? Meaning there’s no real resistance to someone repositioning a body, but it’s not in any shape to get up and walk around by itself.

  56. The Unforgiven says:

    I don’t know if anyone else said it, but you can always go the route of the hunter-gatherer. Your meals are technically less certain than if you go farming, but it’s been ‘proven’ that hunter-gatherers had more time to spend on recreation, than those who farmed. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yocja_N5s1I&list=PLBDA2E52FB1EF80C9&index=1&feature=plpp_video)

    1. Thomas says:

      Crash Course is brilliant =D We’d have the problem that we’ve kind of mostly killed off and wiped out most of the places to hunter-gather. I’ve always been interested in seeing a number crunch on how long food supplies would last. If 90+% of a population is dead, how long would it take for the tinned food in a supermarket to be used up?

      1. WJS says:

        I wouldn’t think very long. You’d need warehouse data to be certain, of course, but remember that they are manufacturing tinned food as fast as we eat it. There’s no reason to believe that there’s even a month of tinned food in storage at any given time, which even with 90% of the population dead would still last less than a year. And that figure is assuming that people will eat the same proportion of tinned food as before, and not, for example, start eating only tinned food because everything else has gone bad the first week.
        That’s something that our modern society seems really bad at, is stocking up on food. A thousand years ago in Central America, the civilizations there were stable despite horribly inhuman practices because they kept something like 40 years of grain in storage, and the people appreciated knowing that they would never have a famine. Bread and Circuses, indeed.

  57. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Anyone tried the I am alive game?Its a post apocalyptic game where there are no zombies,and the biggest threat is other survivors.

    1. Thomas says:

      Is it good? I was really interested when I heard first heard the concept, but the highscores and demo put me off

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Well it is definitely slow and methodical,but I liked it.Conserving ammo,picking fights carefully,bluffing opponents,if you like those,its worth a try.

    2. newdarkcloud says:

      I played the demo and I honestly got pretty bored.

  58. Eljacko says:

    In my opinion, the zombie apocalypse just doesn’t make for a good story any more. The outcomes are too few, and the story has been told as many ways as it can at this point. If we want to use zombies anymore I figure we’ll have to rely more on small-scale zombie catastrophes, rather than large-scale zombie apocalypses if we want to tell good stories.

    1. silver Harloe says:

      So not true.

      Zombies are here for a while because shooters.

      Shooters need armies of mooks. It’s either Nazis or Zombies or emails calling you a racist.

      1. Chuck says:

        How about robots and aliens?

        Those are fun, and don’t give me nightmares :)

        1. evilmrhenry says:

          Or Orcs or Demons

  59. In Norway (and possibly Sweden and other Scandinavian/Nordic/North Europe countries) things would be even odder Shamus.

    In Norway at least all males and females goes through a 1+ year military service after they turn 18 (unless you got a good reason not to, in which case you can postpone, and a really good reason is needed to not do it at all).

    Norway could easily be called a “nation of killers” in that respect.
    And though we may lack desert combat training and survival, we did get quite a bit of training all year, including winter combat (we get beautiful but sometimes harsh winters here).

    Add to that the fact that way up north where Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia meets the solid land area is rather small so Norway and Sweden could isolate from the rest of Europe by land. If as much as a Zombiefied gnat tried to cross it would be taken out.

    There is also a lot of fjords and mountains and islands along the North Atlantic coast, again areas can easily be sectioned off.

    And considering that pretty much everyone has internet (and if not they certainly can get access to such within a short time) and that there is a national broadcasting company (multiple TV and radio channels, nationwide coverage, even digital now) that is well funded indeed and you got news handled well too.

    The interesting thing though Shamus is that what you are pointing out is not that Zombies don’t make sense, it’s that once you start applying real logic (or at the bare minimum common sense) then very few things hold up under scrutiny.

    I am unable at this moment to recall any movie or game where everything actually made logical sense.
    (I guess Monkey Island 1 + 2 could sneak away with it, but I consider “it was all a dream” (or similar) to be a cop out really, and as such do not apply!)

    You could probably to some really interesting articles/posts on your sitr by looking at games from way back (that you’ve played) up to the latest and look at them with a logical eye and see which ones fail and which ones fail horribly.

    I suspect that many of the older games actually hold up under logical eyes much more than modern games.

    (Please note folks that I said logical eyes rather that critical eyes on purpose here, under logical eyes 1+1=2, it’s almost impossible to be purely logical, hence why Spock was such a popular character, but a few people can get in that mindset now and again, I certainly can but it’s hard not to get subjective after a while, and I’m pretty sure Shamus is able to as well).

    1. Thomas says:

      The problem with repeat setting though, or when you play a long game based on zombies, it’s hard to be distracting enough to stop the thought kicking in at some point

    2. postinternetsyndrome says:

      Sweden did away with the mandatory military service quite recently, and even before that, only a small portion of young men actually did the year of service, because of money. So we are ripe for the taking right about now. :)

    3. Even says:

      Sweden has the issue of Gulf of Bothnia freezing over for five months of the year and there not being that much natural barriers between the land border between Finland and Sweden other than the Torne river which is subject to freezing in the winter as well. That’s a long stretch of land to cover.

      Icebreakers could probably keep the ice in the gulf at bay to a point, but the river would need a ridiculous amount of effort just to guard and/or keep ice free.

  60. Bentusi16 says:

    Actually, the zombie apocalypse would end in about a week tops.

    One of the basic things about living things is that the require moisture to keep being alive.

    So the zombie apocalypse happens, the zombies are busy eating people, and yes you do get some moisture from that, but to actually survive for any reasonable amount of time you need far more water then simply eating meat can give you.

    Think about that scene in the church in 28 days later. How long were those zombies sitting in their in basically a heap? And yet they are moist and filled with water?

    The average person can survive for 3 days without drinking directly. The truly tough and crazy intelligent have been known to survive as much as 10 to 11 days.

    But zombies are always mindless and ravening. And I’ve never seen them, anywhere, ever, described as stopping to stoop down to a stream like an animal to drink water; they never seem to actually do anything but wander around and moan and try to eat people.

    And having your mouth open is a great way to dehydrate, since the moisture is literally sucked out of your body by the sun. This goes doubly for Walking Dead style zombies that are clearly rotting and falling apart. There would be no moisture left in their body within a day of dying.

  61. Atarlost says:

    How’s this for a scenario.

    Zombies are alive but suffer higher brain function loss.
    Zombies do not fear
    Zombies attack and eat things that produce the pheromones associated with fear.
    The zombie vector was created as a biological weapon as a variant of that parasitic fungus mentioned above. It does not kill, but will produce a fruiting body a few days after the zombie dies.
    The zombie vector causes partial sleep as in sharks and aquatic mammals to recover neurotransmitters without periods of inactivity. Sleep periods are random.

    Because it’s a biological weapon it will be deliberately deployed. There’s your initial large scale infection.

    Because it is not infectious when in a living zombie you can fight zombies.

    Because dead zombies produce airborne spores there will be recurrent outbreaks.

    Because zombies attack things that are frightened they go after survivors (and animals), not each other.

    Because zombies are alive and retain their instincts they can survive on their own in hospitable wildernesses. A feral human can run most land animals to death. Feral zombie bands can probably sustain themselves in Africa and possibly the jungles of Asia and central America, resulting in a long term threat in those regions.

    Because zombies sort of sleep they will have periods of full and partial wakefulness, resulting in variations in the degree of cunning they exhibit and making it harder to rely on the predictability of zombie behavior.

    1. While it is pretty nicely thought out, you are forgetting something though.

      The zombies in The Walking Dead are created when a living human dies, a bite does not zombify you, but dying of an infection from the zombie bite is possible, considering all the health issues in the US the number one zombifying reason would probably be heartattack (is Telltale making a statement on obesity?).

      It’s almost like death has been removed from the world, anyone see the Torchwood: Miracle Day mini series? Torchwood is a spinoff of Doctor Who).

      My explanation is that in The Walking Dead there is a parasite that came on meteorites during a worldwide meteor-shower, and that when people die the parasite gains control of the body. Maybe it’s in the brain somewhere. The Zombie decay is due to the parasite basically burning up the body for fuel/energy, (and if we go the evolving route… over time it’s likely that the parasite will adapt more to the Earth and human hosts. but TWD does not go that route so it’s a very simple parasite instead)

      1. Atarlost says:

        This is not about any existing franchise. It’s a relatively self consistent zombie explanation that provides a setting that supports short, medium, and long term zombie stories.

  62. brainbosh says:

    All zombie infections can be boiled down to two main types. It’s “virus” or “magic”.

    Realistic zombies have been infected with a virus like rabies, as in 28 Days Later. It turns them into killing machines, but doesn’t fundamentally change the body, so they are still vulnerable to normal wounds and hunger, although they might not feel the pain. Other authors have used parasites as the cause, and while there is evidence of parasites changing the brain function of some lower-level creatures, it still cannot create true zombies.

    All other zombies are basically caused by “magic”. While they might not have been raised by a necromancer, or a voodoo priest, their cause is given as an unknown at some level. There is no way to make a genre-traditional zombie in the real world as we know it, so authors must use something unknown to create it. The Zombie Survival Guide uses a black goo as its “magical” cause, which somehow enables the brains and muscles to work despite the lack of oxygen and energy.

    Most people seem content to use the traditional zombie models of “Shoot them in the head” and “Zombie bites make zombies.” Its only whenever you try to dig deep into the causes that the inconsistencies and inaccuracies pop up.

    I understand that most of what I call “magic” are just explained as a more advanced virus or parasite or something that we just don’t understand yet. But remember, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

  63. Gray_Ghost says:

    All very good points.

    Quite possible someone mentioned this above, but Max Brooks’ book “World War Z” makes about the most plausible/minimalist handwaving route for developing a zombie plague on a worldwide scale, covering national responses as well as individuals. For reaching the “critical mass” of zombies, the author has the plague ramp up early in densely-populated countries with repressive or non-open societies, where governments could plausibly attempt to hide or ignore the onset (China, India, North Korea, South Africa, etc).

    On the military angle, Brooks also has the various militaries setting out to deal with infestations in “modern warfare” style, using weapons designed to overawe, wound, and strike at the support systems of human opponents, not deliver the all-important headshots to zombie foes. The handwave here is that you don’t get major military responses until the infection is well-entrenched in major population centers.

    Incidentally, though I’ve never seen anyone draw this connection, it seems to me there is an ancestor of the modern zombie genre in the 1951 postapocalyptic novel “Day of the Triffids,” by John Wyndham. Very different premise (mobile cannibalistic plants and 99% of Earth’s population struck blind), but some similarities emerge. Multitudes of individually weak, but dauntingly relentless foes? Check. Isolated bands of survivors initially scavenging, but seeking to fortify homesteads against antagonists? Check. Hordes of said antagonists besieging the gates? Check. Disagreements (sometimes violent) among survivors threatening the stability and survival of all? Check. Musings on the loss of the old civilization and what new society might be created? Check. Given these similarities and the relatively early publication date, I wouldn’t be surprised if Romero and some of the others had read it int the 1950s-1970s. If you’re in the mood for an emotive, thoughtful post-apocalypse with a good dose of British pluck, it’s definitely worth a read.

    1. Phantom Hoover says:

      The WWZ zombies require a shitload of handwaving; the books even outright say that zombies are perpetual motion machines. This is the point at which most ‘realistic’ zombie apocalypses are doomed to fail: if you strip out all the survival instincts from a human and replace it with mindless hunger, they’ll die very quickly unless you allow them to ‘cheat’. Brooks’ zombies have an arsenal of completely unrealistic defences: they don’t need energy; they don’t need any moisture /at all/; they don’t need oxygen; every last bit of their body is able to operate independently so long as it’s still attached to the brain; their body tissues are far more resilient than an uninfected human’s; they contain a universal poison which completely deters all microbial and animal life. None of those things are even remotely possible in real life, otherwise some organism would have evolved them and outcompeted everything else on the planet.

  64. ACman says:

    I’ve always thought that were ALL the dead coming back to life, so you’d have to worry about hospitals, morgues, nursing homes, university dissection wing as well as all those killed after.

    I’m guessing it would make cremation pretty popular.

    The explanation. Dark magic? Something Lovecraftian? Does it matter?

    How about some sort of fungal parasite from has arisen to infect everybody in an area. It cannot grow until the hosts immune system stops functioning. It causes locomotion after death by using new biomolecular pathways to metabolize the host-body’s necrotic flesh, and any flesh the host consumes, as energy to power the fungal hyphae molecular motors that have grown into the host’s muscles.

    Allowing an open wound to come into contact with a zombie is fatally hepatotoxic and results in death and transmission of the fungus if the new host is not already infected.

    That leaves why zombies don’t attack other zombies only living humans — The human central nervous system having been co-opted by the fungus can senses living hosts and seeks to kill them to synchronize fungal development so that there will be good genetic mixing during the spore release stage.

    After the fungus has achieved a good spread it settles down into a dormant stage that transitions to sporification with renewed human activity thus infecting a new set of hosts.

    There. Technobabble enough for you? What I have written is a horrific abuse of my scientific education but I’ve seen worse. Mass Effect for example.

    1. Re-purposing of flesh is not that far fetched considering all the plumbing (nerves, muscles, veins etc.) all throughout the body that can be utilized, there is also a lot of protein in the body, and more importantly lots of carbon (as humans are made out of carbon).

      If you add the space parasite angle of mine in the post further above. And then tack on that this was a biological weapon created for war against a carbon based enemy, by some unknown race. Heck humans may not be the target just caught by a stray weapon. Or it could be like the Prometheus (Alien prequel) movie, hmm did I just make Space-Zombies a plausible plot now? New book idea for Shamus then I guess! :P

      I think you and me ACman created the the best zombie foundation (though I’m sure similar exist in fan-fiction somewhere), might be a few holes here or there, but as far as a backstory/explanation goes this should cover it.

  65. Kristian Madsen says:

    I love the deconstruction of zombies here. Perhaps, if we want to tell a zombie story that can be held up under scrutiny we just have to change zombies again, like how in Left 4 Dead they become horrifyingly clever and lethal killers, rather than just shambling idiots.

    Has anyone read Zombicorns by Hank Green? It’s not really a perfect solution, but it is a very interestingly different take on how zombies could function. (His zombies are smart enough to grow and harvest crops)

  66. Will says:

    I always liked the supernatural version of the zombie story, because gets right down to the monster survival/horror without a *dang science lecture.

    Short of that I kind of liked “I am Legend”‘s explanation (movie not book). It started as a fast spreading, airborne virus that killed and zombified most of the population leaving a lucky (or unlucky) few genetically immune individuals to try and survive. It’s self consistent, but you do lose that dramatic moment where a someone gets bit, and their loved ones have to decide what to do with their soon to be zombie friend.

    In the walking dead version you only get zombified if you are first bitten, then you survive being completely eaten by the zombie/s that bit you, finally you manage to not get put down/locked up any fellow humans long enough for the virus to incubate. It seems unlikely to spread very far or fast that way. It’s probably why the author decided to have the protagonist sleep through the initial outbreak in the TV series.

    *(Somebody remind me how much swearing I can get away with on this site.)

    1. newdarkcloud says:

      Actually, Walking Dead functions differently. Every single human in the world is infected. When they die, then they become a zombie unless their brain has been destroyed. Zombie bites only transmit other infections that kill people.

      1. Will says:

        Oh internet. I write a post about how I don’t like science lectures in my pop culture. And of course somebody swoops in with a “Well.. Actually” and a science lecture.


  67. ? says:

    “Again, the author might as well drop the whole zombie concept and write a story about a regular plague with a 99.99% fatality rate, since that's where this sort of story will end up in a year or so.”

    This scenario could still use some zombies or other danger forcing the survivors out of the cities into the wilderness. Without it, foraging for canned tomatoes and rice in Wal-Mart is neither hard nor dangerous. It would take decades for 0.01%* of population to eat all preserved foods in the world. And through those decades nothing would be stopping smart ones from walking into library and researching this farming thing. Or figuring it out by trial and error on a football field.

    * Or any number around 1% probably.

    1. Like the Falling Skies tv series? (renewed for a 3rd season and it’s getting pretty good actually)

  68. Chargone says:

    I seem to remember that zombies started life as a ‘magic’ thing… actually, a mind control sort of deally.

    on a different note:

    do and due.

    these are not the same word.

    i am aware that most Americans (silly yod droppers what they be) can’t tell the difference in pronunciation, but still. ‘due’ refers to a time when an event associated with the item is to take place (and usually refers to an arrival of some sort), Or labels something as the cause of something else. (when used as ‘due to’)

    ‘do’ is a basic verb. it’s exact grammatical role is quite complicated and tends to be associated with pronouns.

    ‘make do’ is a well entrenched idiom meaning something along the lines of ‘to do what one can with what one has’.

    ‘make due is a litteral statement (if a slightly weird one) meaning ‘to cause to become expected to arrive’

    kinda different.

    (not really a major issue in and of itself, but i’ve been seeing it all over the place from americans for quite a while now and it Annoys me. not only is it wrong, it makes no damn sense except as a hyper correction. ‘do’ is the simpler one, after all, so one would expect the error to crop up where ‘due’ was expected, but instead we get ‘due’ for ‘do’, particularly, though not always, in ‘make do’. an associated error (possibly plus spell check) gives us ‘adieu’ for ‘ado’. again, compleatly different words.

    but yeah, plague zombies = non-viable on any sort of meaningful scale in a real world enviroment.

    which… makes sense when you realise that they’re a magic based entity which only got tech attached to them because ‘evil corporation’ was a more popular villain at the time than ‘evil wizard’, so far as i can tell.

    1. Shamus says:

      I know the difference between do and due. What I don’t know, is where the mistake is in the 2,500 word article I wrote. You don’t need to go off on “Americans” or give me a little condescending lesson. Just let me know where the mistake is and I’ll fix it.

      Most people just say:

      Hey Shamus, when you say “Its a great day today” in the middle of the article, it ought to be “it’s”.

      1. Myself I try to write “it is” I found that (is it called contractions?) like “it’s” is not more readable than “it is” quite the contrary in my opinion.

        And do not worry about Chargone he(/she) has probably never typed faster than his fingers can keep up, and run a spellchecker over the TBOD (Text Block Of Doom) only to have it not pick up that “tan” is not the same as “than” (that actually happen while writing this paragraph).

        Spellcheck and reading over the text (at least once, more if it’s a really important or permanent piece) is something I always try to do.
        Then again, I hate editing something, if it’s written then it is written, so on my own site I only fix really stupid typing mistakes I should have caught or not done originally. But I always try to minimize the editing as the temptation to start rewriting is always there, at which point I (and the readers) are better off if I actually write a new article on the same topic again (nothing wrong with that).

      2. Mark says:

        (not to be a dick but)

        CTRL+F “make due” would have found it. It’s in the second paragraph under “Survival”.


        Apparently it’s used often enough to be slowly gaining acceptance.

      3. Chargone says:

        Wasn’t being condescending. I’ve encountered so many people who honestly don’t know the difference/understand such things that I explain them out in full by default. … that and I get somewhat paranoid about being misunderstood if I leave any aspect unexplained ( The story behind which amounts to ‘stupid childhood events’ + aspergers) … and didn’t go off on ‘Americans’ … I noted that a lot of Americans have trouble with this due their dialect and that I understood that (with joking aside as to What the trouble with it was.)

        … I even included disclaimer paragraph in there basically pointing out that it didn’t even matter that much… which, admittedly, got tied up with a minor rant against the evils of ‘hyper correction’ due to my slightly obsessive nature when it comes to grammar and things which make no sense. (Like the auto correct on my tablet which keeps making me retype entire words when it auto-corrects correctly spelled words halfway through and simply highlights the ones I actually get wrong. Grr.)

        And yeah, pointing out where it was would have helped. My bad on that. Pretty sure I was using the tablet at the time, in which case I offer the partial excuse of ‘finding the place again is an absolute pain in the arse and I got distracted’. Note I say Partial excuse. I really should have realised that at the time…

        Hopefully that clears that up a bit…
        (Oh joy. Now I’m freaking out about This being misunderstood somehow too… )

        1. Shamus says:

          No, we’re cool. Sorry if I was snippy.

  69. Zaxares says:

    And THAT’S why I’m 100% confident that a “zombie apocalypse” will never wipe out humanity. There are just too many variables standing in the way of the zombies for them to succeed. The main killer is the zombie food issue; zombies are never shown eating anything but humans, which means that their bodies would be running out of energy within a week, tops, since zombies don’t have the intelligence to hunker down and preserve their energy when they can’t find food, instead just continuing to shamble around and waste precious energy.

    So in truth, all you’d need to do to survive the zombie apocalypse is make sure you have a well-fortified safe room in your house, fill it with enough food and water to last you a few months, and then just barricade yourself in and wait out the zombie plague. I guarantee that such a zombie outbreak will be over within two weeks. Maybe a month, at most, and that’s only if the government doesn’t wise up quickly and lock down borders/transit points to keep the infection from spreading. (And they can do this pretty darn fast. Look at the way the world reacted to the SARS outbreak for a good example of how they can keep new pandemics from spreading.)

  70. Sometimes people or intelligent life exhibit rabdomancy, while actually rabdomancy never indicate normal guise!

    Now I challenge someone else to do the same.
    To not make things too difficult you are allowed to use: SPOILER, Spoiler, WARNING, Warning, SPOILER WARNING, Spoiler Warning.
    Case variations are allowed if the normal words (non-code words) look like part o a normal sentence, and no other characters (No “,” or “.” except a space (between “Spoiler Warning” or “SPOILER WARNING”) is allowed.
    The word or (multiple words if sentences rather than a single word per letter is used) must be findable either on http://dictionary.reference.com or on Wikipedia for verification.
    The letters do not have to be from the start of a word.
    It does not have to be every first or every second etc. As long as it’s mathematically correct; you can use Pi or Prime numbers, or a math equation, like increasing the letter position by one per word for example. As long as it’s logical.

    And what is the point of this? None really other than some word fun. Although maybe as nice “intelligent game” idea for Shamus to play with the kids (use pencil and paper) while they wait for all that Xmas food to be made by mom. *laughs*

    Edit: And no this is not a memory mnemonics trick. This is actually code. In my example it is “The first letter in each word!”

    Edit: Added WARNING (OK! Not the best use of words but you try doing better then! :P )
    And Shamus, if you want to nick this idea and use it as a “filler” post for a slow day, by all means do so. :)

    Edit: change the case rule to make things easier.

    1. newdarkcloud says:



  71. Maldeus says:

    What I think is a cool concept is a show or game that was sort of a cross between the first three seasons of Lost, Left 4 Dead, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The apocalypse strikes because the Hellmouth opens. Militaries worldwide mobilize to try and contain massive supernatural threats, things like kaiju and body-snatchers and other things that could legitimately bring down nations. No one has to come out and admit that these things are magic, but despite pretensions of medical accuracy, zombie plagues are basically magic already so whatever.

    There is a very large number of these to begin with (let’s say 666), and on the way out, the global militaries are able to take down most of them, but not all, and now there are, say, thirteen remaining. This is basically just to establish plausibility, because if there were thirteen big huge baddies to begin with and the militaries of the world couldn’t bring down even one, it raises the question as to how a bunch of rag-tag post-apocalyptic survivors could possibly do the job, and that question will probably be answered with some McGuffin plot.

    Regardless, the zombie plague doesn’t take hold until after civilization has already fallen, and they become the shock troops of the big baddies. The baddies can’t actually direct them, but have some method of scaring them away, and can thus funnel the hordes in the general direction of their enemies while leaving their own nightmarish citystates where humans are kept as cattle free of zombie attack (perhaps this defense mechanism is seriously just a great big wall).

    This all sets up the premise of the show. Over yonder is an evil and oppressive citystate basically run by the Combine. If they find us, we are all in big trouble. Over here is a swarm of zombies that function basically as we’ve grown to know them; transmit infection via bite, victim succumbs within 2-3 days. We must try to rebuild a sustainable civilization in spite of not only these two major threats, but also monsters of the week that can crop up whenever because the premise of our media allows for all kinds of kitchen-sink mythology bad guys. As the plotline progresses, things like establishing trade lines with other survivor settlements, finding people who know how to make pre-industrial farming work, and securing vital tools and supplies from before the fall can seriously be plot points.

  72. Michael says:

    So it turns out a good way to tell you’re spending too much time with video games is if (like me) you read the word “rebuff” and your first fleeting thought is “re-apply the buff?”…

  73. rayen says:

    I may have been ninja’d on this, but a couple of points.
    -Considering that the brain uses upwards of 80% of your energy intake, if it was shut off and only a few functions still worked, make heart pump blood, make legs go, process hearing, process smell, keep balance, you almost are asleep, or at the very least aren’t using more energy than you would be if you were (especially of you’re dreaming). If they only used large portions of energy to attack and eat victims, it stands that they would have enough energy to survive for a long period of time.

    -Lack of smell is a thing. Animals have been using it for a long time. For example look at ants. The “guard ants” that protect the anthill, smell each ant in turn, if they aren’t giving off the right smell they attack. Pheromones are already produced by humans, if the infection affects the glands that create pheromones and hormones it is possible for Zeds to tell whether a living thing nearby is or isn’t a zed.

    However my biggest problem with zombies isn’t energy, it’s decomposition. Zombies usually are shown to retain wounds after injury, so they obviously don’t regenerate lost or damaged cells. After Four days putrefaction begins. The organs inside the body have stopped regenerating lost cells and begin to rupture and break apart. After the Stomach and intestines break, everything begin being broken down by the acids. The bacteria and other decomposers already inside your body right now will begin to break down things as well. Every zombie has a ~1 week lifespan. Zombies would need a constant supply of new victims inside a ~1 week walking range, otherwise they’d just wither away.

  74. ehlijen says:

    I feel as though this is all missing the point of zombies.

    In the original zombie movies, they were just another unstoppable serial killer. Not a plague to think your way out of. They are meant to be scary because you know that eventually you’ll have to lie down for a rest and then they’ll get you. Like Krueger haunting your dreams, there is only so long you can postpone an encounter.

    The living dead: How does Krueger work? Why is Jason immortal? How does the T1000 metal work? These are the ideas zombies should be compared against.

    Why don’t they attack each other: Why doesn’t the T1000 split and attack from two sides? Because it’s scarier if they behave the way they do. They are meant to be slow, menacing, but also implaccable.

    Infection protection: The characters aren’t supposed to be aware of how the infection spreads, but even if they do, there is no way to be 100% protected from bites and not get exhausted trying to run from a group of zombies that will hold you down if they catch you. If they don’t bite you, they’ll *just* kill you.

    Containment: If this is an issue, you’re telling an apocalypse story, not a zombie story as such. Zombies were meant to be about personal horror; facing your mortality, deciding what to give up to stay alive for just a little longer (friends, ethics etc).
    A worldwide apocalypse isn’t neccessary, but if desired can be handwaved without affecting the small scale setting too much.

    Guns: Whether guns work depends directly on how many hands are waved in the ‘how do they move’ question. If they are dead bodies and the classical ‘headshot’ rule applies, guns are fairly useless; their main effect is tissue shock which doesn’t bother dead bodies; you have to hit the head, which isn’t all that easy when you’re not playing an FPS. But assuming guns do work, the miliary could still be handwaved to be outnumbered by too much, or have too low supplies if the infratstructure is hit…
    But mostly, if you want zombies and want them to be scary, you don’t add any easy countermeasures to the story. Just set it where guns are not in ready supply.

    Survival: Yes, trying to tell the story of the plucky survivors long after the apocalypse is pretty boring. Which is why no one does it and it’s not the intent of zombie stories. The very possibility of survival is meant to be fleeting at best. If you don’t turn, you’ll get eaten or starve. Death, it’s inevitable.

    Decent zombie stories are samy in the same where most slasher horror movies are samy. You watch them because you enjoy that kind of story, or you don’t.

    Trying to outthink the zombie apocalypse is like trying to think your way out of of one of those ethical dilemma psych questions: a fair enough thing to do if it was real, but it defeats the purpose of the thought exercise. A better ST analogy would have been to pick apart the physical impossibility of the warp drive. It’s central to the setting, yet it shouldn’t work. But we accept that it does because we want to see what happens if it does.

    If you don’t like stories about small groups of survivors hopelessly trapped without supplies by hordes of living dead, zombie movies aren’t for you. The original Night of the Living Dead didn’t even have a single survivor (even though the rest of civilisation was just fine). Granted, the last one didn’t die to zombies, but the theme of inevitable death was pretty clear.

    1. Shamus says:

      “I feel as though this is all missing the point of zombies.”

      I feel as though you are missing the point of the article. I gave it away in the title!

      1. ehlijen says:

        True. My apologies.

        I just took slight issue with the phrasing
        “I think zombie stories are doomed to be about small groups of survivors in the first year after infection”

        I guess I read more into the choice of the word ‘doomed’ than was really there. Sorry.

  75. Jeff says:

    To pick up on a single sentence in your article, I assume the bathrooms on the Enterprise (which have been shown, including sonic shower scenes (hubba hubba)) have toilets.

  76. Dork Angel says:

    For all it’s flaws, I think Dead Island is a very enjoyable game. I love open word games which is what put me off Dead Space. (Follow this corridor to the end and come back. Now the other door opens. Follow this corridor and back, Repeat). In Dead Island you could explore and do what you wanted. Paying money as part of upgrading and creating weapons was stupid but it was still fun to create the weird and wonderful contraptions. Car mechanics weren’t brilliant but it’s not a driving simulation, it’s a drive round running over zombie’s simulation. I love the way it makes you behave. Kicking a dead body to make sure it’s not moving. Taking down a lone zombie is easy, but you find yourself having to check there’s not more you can’t see as a group will take you down. Luring a group of zombies together so you can take them out with a grenade or molotov. Looking round frantically for that infected you hear screaming and if there’s more than one knowing you’re in trouble. Running round the rooftops trying to find more supplies or even a safe way down. The in your face quick-time event if a zombie gets close enough to grab you when you aren’t expecting it still makes me jump. I have not played another zombie game that gives the same feeling and hope they make another.

    1. WJS says:

      I tried that, but there were too many problems for me to really enjoy it.
      – Zombies made of concrete, taking far more punishment than seemed reasonable
      – Weapons made of styrofoam, that break after killing like two zombies with them
      – Respawning zombies, so I had to do it all over again every time I visited an area

  77. Jon says:

    My answer to all of these objections (save the medical/physics ones which are quite legit) is go read World War Z.

    1. You mean the ones with zombies who were magically resistant to artillery? The military using weapons with ranges of several horizons away in visual range? The truth about African Rabies being largely unknown, yet a placebo medication making a guy a gajillionaire? Yonkers alone requires more stupid mistakes than literally any military has made in a single engagement in human history, such as the military not knowing about “chain swarms”, despite having anti-zombie black ops. And being in open conflict with them for some time. And all the data Israel must’ve collected.

      Then we get to the fact that every animal besides humans can somehow tell zombies are poison. And the zombies are vulnerable to standard human-inflicted trauma, but oddly resistant to wear and tear, artillery (via magic zombie goop), and ocean pressure.

      Heck, just skim this thread;


  78. Speaking of Europe, Switzerland is a heavily militarized, mountainous country that’s built its infrastructure around fending off attack. Literally every home has some kind of bunker, or has to pay into a community bunker fund. There’s also mandatory service, and automatic rifles are extremely common.


    So when World War Z tells me Europe fell…

    Also, Brooks had the zombies magically be resistant to artillery and explosives.

    Fast zombies are slightly more of a threat, but that just means they get detected faster.

  79. Exasperation says:

    I think there’s probably an interesting story to be told about a rebuilt society post-zombie-apocalypse where the zombies follow rules somewhat like TWD’s: everyone is infected, but the virus (or whatever) remains dormant until the host dies from something else. Then the zombies can burn themselves out for lack of a sustainable food source, or get wiped out by the military, or otherwise be completely destroyed and still remain a constant background threat for as long as there are still people alive.

    Of course, this would probably not be a story about surviving, but about what sort of society would develop under those conditions. Would people still sleep in the same rooms as their spouses, knowing what dying peacefully while sleeping would cause? What systems for handling death would develop (and to what extent would ‘preventing zombie outbreaks’ override concerns such as privacy)? How would people with terminal illnesses be treated? What about the elderly? Maybe there would be some sort of Logan’s Run style system for people whose actuarial tables present too high a risk of death? (And so on…)

  80. These are all things I’ve had to consider when researching for a few zombie tales I’ve worked on. (I think the Walking Dead hit a stroke of genius by making literally everyone infected. So there’s at least a steady supply of walkers once people die of natural causes. A lot more people are dead than alive, after all.)

    I settled on just setting stories in a particular place that was quickly quarantined, and just follow the perspective of those who weren’t able to escape(or still had business in the quarantine zone). Things can get out of hand, bureaucracy and simple human stupidity can help make things spin out of control, but for the most part I think human beings could overcome a zombie outbreak pretty quickly.

    Unless it were airborne, then everyone’s f***ed.

  81. Matt Hunt says:

    In the WWZ book, there were “slow burners”, a small percentage of the infected took over a month to start showing symptoms which is how it spread. By the time governments realized this, the infected that had escaped the initial outbreak in China had already spread across the world.

    If it was just a virus, it would have to stop the purification process or at least slow it down considerably. A virus would probably infect neurons, and just force muscles to move. Really, the virus would also need some kind of “pesticide” too for keeping flies / magots away which would consume all the dead within a few months.

    A “scientific” approach IMHO would be some type of fungus as opposed to a virus. We have real-life examples of fungus that can control living creatures (Ophiocordyceps unilateralis specifically) so it jumping to humans wouldn’t be out of the question. Even more likely is some mycoviruses, which is a virus that can infect a fungus. Imagine OU that is infected by some rabies-type virus…something not “strong enough” to kill a living host, but immediately after death takes over the nervous system and “reboots” many low-level functions. It wouldn’t need to actually breath, the fungus could provide “food” if needed to keep the “body” going.

  82. WJS says:

    Personally, although I really like zombies, I have no illusions about them being at all realistic. This seems to be relatively uncommon; most people (who have a particularly strong opinion one way or the other, at least) either hate zombies because of how unrealistic they are, or get quite indignant when you suggest that zombies are unrealistic, and will go to great lengths to try to convince you otherwise (there are quite a few WWZ fans doing that in these very comments). Liking the genre, but accepting that zombies are just something you have to accept like FTL drive in Space Opera, seems to be less common.
    Personally, I prefer supernatural zombies like in the original Living Dead movies. Trying to make them seem “realistic” with pseudoscience is not a good thing, IMO.

  83. Content Consumer says:

    You know, re-reading this in 2020, particularly the “Containment” section… I’m honestly not sure if I agree or disagree anymore.

    1. Rolo says:

      The big obstacle with the current situation and some people being uncooperative is how invisible and inconsequential ‘rona is if you aren’t in contact with at risk populations. A zombie disease is observably hyper-contagious, has a near-100% mortality and fatality rate, and even people in perfect health are guaranteed an extremely graphic death.

      I’m sure this was a gotcha in your mind, but in the improbable event of a zombie outbreak everyone will become a world-class expert in isolation, containment and safety essentially overnight.

    2. Zombie Virus says:

      I was just about to comment this.

      “People are actually really fearful of infections and disease, and tend towards caution. Most zombie infections depend on lots of people being very careless for a long time in order to get the critical mass of walkers required. In a zombie plague, the scenario where one sick, pale guy with a bite is ignored is very unlikely. Instead, most people would wear scarves and gloves and fear touching strangers, “just to be safe”. ”

      Not sure that aged well, turns out, people ARE not that fearful or smart after-all.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        As Rolo said, the clear difference in symptoms and mortality rate is notable. The Corona-19 pandemic is/was nothing like a world destroying zombie plague, so comparing the responses isn’t really warranted.

        1. Wide And Nerdy says:

          I was just going to chime in about what Shamus said about people having to suddenly learn to farm and how they won’t be able to do it well enough to support themselves at first.

          They have an advantage in those early years. There are plenty of stores of food to raid to keep yourself fed until you can learn how to make it yourself.

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