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Because Science

What Really Kills In THE WALKING DEAD?

You die, you turn. That’s the basic zombie science that underlies much of the drama in The Walking Dead. But is that how viruses work? In my latest episode of Because Science, I get down and dirty with zombie disease.

We have to start with what we know. We know that if you die in The Walking Dead, you turn, but it still seems like getting bitten by a zombie is one of the fastest ways to speed along your demise. Everything about the show implies that a zombie mouth is laden with zombie virus, and that’s the killer. But if everyone’s bloodstream is already brimming with virions, does that make sense?

Above, I offer an alternative explanation — something akin to zombie venom. Because science.

Be sure to check back right here every Thursday for a new episode, and follow me on Twitter @Sci_Phile to chat or suggest topics! You can find previous episodes here.


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  1. si says:

    Since this is science fiction, we’ll throw the “rulebook” on infectious diseases out the window. Indulging the plot for a moment, I would have to imagine that there is something laden or dormant in the body that only once death occurs, it is allowed to “take over”, no longer being suppressed by any number of vital chemical “life signs”. Now If you get bit by a zombie, that bite from the living dead, contains a “post activated “( as a result of being introduced to necrosis?) and cultivated bug that, by itself cannot survive in a living body period, unless introduced into a living person with that dormant or laden infection, triggering a chemical soup reaction akin to a “like” cyanide within the blood stream over the course of about up to an hour, depending on height and weight. The “living dead” bug itself that sparks re-animation in the base of the brain providing the most basic function by mimicking what was once there cannot actually reproduce or initiate until necrosis has occurred….hows that?

  2. Excellent video! This looks like it will be a fun series to follow.

    If I can make a small suggestion:
    The audio during the scenes behind the glass/plexiglass, the sound is obviously a little tighter as it is interupted by the glass, or simply the sound bouncing between the glass and the backdrop is naturally smaller, so the sound is smaller and a little on the low end. I’d suggest adding a bit of reverb and/or treble to fill out the sound to match the scenes without the glass (which is where I discerned the difference.)

    Sorry to be so meticulous about my nitpick, I’m truly looking to help in a small way with an awesome project 🙂

  3. Brian says:

    Point of order: Dr. Edwin Jenner never called it a virus, he called it an unknown pathogen that acts similar to meningitis. And whatever the pathogen is, it must travel thru the lymphatic system, given that the heart is no longer beating in Zombies.

  4. you missed Rabies as a possible Zombie maker.

  5. wadebran says:

    Interesting but “science” is really just a fig leaf in WD. Otherwise walkers function exactly like magical/supernatural zombies unlike the rabid humans of something like 28 Days Later.  They are compelled to eat but their internal organs seem non-functional since they continue to decompose all the way down to skeletal forms and can survivie with large chunks of their body missing.  They might as well have been reanimated by voodoo as by a virus.

  6. Rick says:

    I’m scared of how you looked me in the eyes while writing “Zombies”……..Backwards

  7. JJ82 says:

    Still doesn’t make sense. Turning time of an hour after a bite? And what about scrapes. Blood. All of the things that, at one point, have confirmed would kill and turn you. The only way that any of these things should kill is if the bite is lethal. Luckily they have gone more in that direction lately and made bites more severe and people would bleed out at some point. But poor old Jim in season one, he got a tiny little bite and it ended him. But continuity in season one (with climbing walkers and dead bodies in cars) to now is kind of shoddy at best. 

    Still, cool video

    • Cliff Hawley says:

      I would say that Jim likely died from the wound going septic.  A zombie’s mouth is basically a petri dish of fetid meat brimming with disgusting bacteria.  

      • Jim says:

        Absolutely, I got the impression that the zombie virus was irrelevant in terms of the zombie’s payload.

        My reading was that the zombie bite left so much infectious material in the open wound and even in the blood, that the body couldn’t fight it off without – or perhaps even with – major antibiotics.

        Really the zombie plague is two-fold. The reanimating virus which affect everyone – that we know of plus the bacterial or maybe chemical payload delivered by the zombies which hastens death.

        Michone’s zombie companions never killed her by dribbling or oozing onto her…  None of the cast died from zombie remains being splattered onto them, so an open wound seems to be required for the bacteria.  Perhaps the virus is air or water-borne…

    • xHydra says:

      Well it might be a reaction between the bacteria and the virus in our bodies (considering that its a reservoir). So the virus can react with the transmitted bacteria and kill useven i small bite or nibble.