Okay, so Science has a thing or two to say about The Walking Dead.
At this point, TWD is known for its gore, its decomposing bodies, and yes, it’s zombie-fied action. But, just how realistic are the show’s reanimated corpses? MTV News had this same exact question, so they spoke to forensic archaeologist Kimberlee Moran, who gave us all the knowledge we could ever want about dead bodies.
First of all, there should be maggots – and lots of them. There should be so many maggots on TWD that they’d have to give them their own spot in the show’s credits. “Honestly, how come the walking dead aren’t completely covered in maggots?” Moran wonders. “Within 24 hours of death every fly in the neighborhood would sense that there’s a free meal walking around, and they would be covered in fly eggs — and in Georgia, where it’s hot, they would hatch very quickly, and be covered in maggots.” While this would be quite graphic, at least it’d be realistic!
Even though TWD is lacking in the insect department, they are doing a pretty good job with their, um, skin slippage. After being dead for a few weeks, the body begins to undergo internal decomposition. In other words: everything becomes soft and squishy, including your bones. Then, well… the skin begins to slip off of the body. You may recall the scene where Tara had to wrestle with a zombie and she began to peel of its skin. Yeah, so, TWD has that covered.
The popular TV series also has the whole “exploding zombies” thing down pat. As the inside of the body begins to liquefy, the bacteria that’s helping this process along is consistently producing gas. Since you’re dead, you can’t release this gas and it builds up inside the body. When your corpse can’t hold any more of this gas, it then explodes. So, when a car hits one of the walkers and they explode, that’s science in action, my friends.
It turns out that TWD could make one small improvement when it comes to believability. “The first thing that happens is the eyes go dull, and they decompose quite quickly,” states Moran. “After nine months, depending on the environment, there wouldn’t be eyes anymore. They’re basically big sacs of fluid, so they’re the first things to go. And within 24 hours, decomposition begins. It starts with a discoloration in the lower abdomen, and within three days the entire body is showing signs of decay. The initial stages happen quite quickly.” Now, all TWD has to do is get rid of all their cloudy zombie eyes and they are (almost – ok, not really) good to go.
Oh yeah, and how are these zombies able to move like right after they, ya know, die? “Another thing that’s unrealistic about zombies is that our bodies are subject to rigor mortis,” explains the forensic archeologist. “Within three to six hours of death, all the muscles in your body release lactic acid. You go completely rigid, it’s like a full-body cramp. It dissipates within a few days, so then your zombie could move around again, but immediately after death you wouldn’t be able to move at all.” All right, so this may slightly slow down the action sequences on TWD.
And, once again, the show’s location has betrayed their zombie timeline. Since they are filming in hot, humid Georgia, all the zombies should be fully decomposed within nine months. To put this in perspective, Moran says, “Basically, the walking dead would have all kinds of parts of their body dropping off of them all the time, until they become a skeleton. The ligaments and tendons take longer, because they’re more cartilagenous, but your bones are the only part of your body that’s going to last. And depending on environmental factors, it might be between one and three years before your body is totally skeletonize.”
Lastly, we have some good/bad news. Good news for those who hate gore and bad news for those who love it: the zombies should not be biting people. While we are talking about walking dead people here, let’s just pretend that this is actually a real thing. On TWD, there is reanimation occurring in the brain stem, which allows the corpses to move. But, biting people would require a greater amount of power from the nervous system, which means that the brain stem wouldn’t cut it. If the zombies are walking around and eating people, this means that they shouldn’t be zombies in the first place. *puts down chalk and walks away from blackboard*
To conclude, we’d like to thank you all for participating in Zombie 101. Be sure to grab your I love rigor mortis pencils on the way out!
[Image via American Movie Classics]