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Off My Mind: The Walking Dead Zombie Outbreak

Is it important to know what caused the zombies or better left unsaid?

The Walking Dead comic and TV show have been a success. I'm surrounded by people who are at different points in the story. Some are just getting started reading the comics while others are at different issues, trying to catch up. The final episode of AMC's first season of the show aired and took a slight departure from the comic but one common element is the unknown. The big question besides who will live and who will die is what caused the zombie outbreak? 

I recently got caught up with the comics, not able to wait for the next hardcover to be released, and I won't spoil whether or not the cause has been revealed in the comic. It is a question that runs throughout the series. Rick might have missed the chaos when everything went to hell since he was in a coma but he has heard from others. They all have said the same thing, they don't know what happened. What caused the outbreak to occur? There are a few possible answers we could look at.  
 == TEASER == 
The obvious answer is that the government was somehow involved. In the comic at one point, Rick comes across someone that says he knows exactly what caused the mess. In different zombie movies, it's usually some contagion that gets loose after the government or corporation has an accident.  
With that being the obvious choice, there's still some variation we could have. Was it the U.S. government doing some sort of research and the public was exposed to the virus? There would be the question of was it created as an accident, as research or as a biological weapon? Would it really be surprising if some mysterious branch of the government or research facility developed the virus and wanted to test it out on a nearby town. As things often go, it probably got out of hand, a volunteer or test subject may have wondered off or escaped and the chain reaction began. This seems a little unlikely as those in the comics suggest that  the outbreak and chaos happened pretty quickly. Most likely the researchers were working on the virus and got in over their heads. People were exposed and everything changed.
 Is this guy telling the truth?
With the wacky things that governments do in media, it's possible that this was a biological weapon from another country. Through the course of the comic, the survivors don't have any contact with other survivors. They have no idea what is going on in the rest of the world. The outbreak could be contained to just the United States or even to just their immediate area. It could be possible that scientist in another country developed a virus and it was unleashed on the United States. 

There is also the possibility that it was an act of god. Is mankind being punished for their sins? I doubt we would a huge biblical cause being the reason for all the zombies in the comic but there could be a slight variation on this. If it wasn't an act of god, it could have been simple evolution. The virus could have occurred natural and people began to become exposed. Being honest, I don't see either of these as being the cause. 
I am curious as to how it could have spread so quickly. There would have to be some sort of airborne pathogens that spread the virus. We know that zombies are caused when people are bit but I'm pretty sure we haven't seen the dead dig their way out of graves. The thousands of zombies walking around couldn't have all been created as the result of a bite from another. You see people get bit and infected. There's no way it was all from bites. But at least in the show (which is taking it's own liberties), you see people (like Shane) covering their mouthes when all hell broke loose.
Does it really matter what caused the zombies in The Walking Dead? Would it be better to not know at all? It's been such a great series and there's the chance that reading about the cause could lessen the drama and mystery. The story has focused on the survivors. Would readers accept it if we were never told what created all the zombies? Either way, my money would be on some dopey researchers meddling with something they shouldn't have been.
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Edited by SystemID

Great article. I never really thought of that. There is no way that Rick was out long enough for a disease.. that requires that kind of contact, bites, blood, saliva, etc. to spread that qucikly. If that were true we would of all been dead from AIDs or HIV a long time ago.
Well now I have to know! >_<

Posted by speedlgt

I prefer my zombies to be basically hell unleashed on earth..........basically satan or demons or God's wrath. When you make it science related than that means you can cure it and in theory your cure would be a cure for death itself and while I am all for the idea that mankind could or will be immortal someday in this type of story I dont prefer it
Edited by .o0Johnny0o.

I like the 'natural evolution' theory, hadn't thought of that before.  It's always said bacteria is the most successful type of organism the planet's ever had.  I recently put my thoughts down for a thread 'Should the Virus be explained in The Walking Dead TV Series?' (is it big headed to quote yourself? =/ )  
I don't think it's necessary. For me the books were all about how people survive and cope. What some people will do when introduced to stress, what measures they'll go to.  For me, a lot of the time it could be zombies, it could be unicorns with a bone to pick.  Put simply, the zombies are there to drive the characters to a point where we start to see survival mechanisms, rationalising horrible acts, crossing moral lines.  That's where I think the brilliance lies.  It's not about 'you gotta get 'em in the head' its far murkier and ambiguous.  The panels may be in black and white but the story's grey.  I'm a fan of zombies but I think I would be reading the Walking Dead and watching the subsequent show even if it was something else supernatural.
So for me, the explaination of the virus I could take or leave.  It wouldn't be a put off (unless of course it turns into a hunt for 'the anidote at base alpha!' which I doubt)  The final episode shed some light on the process which I liked.
edit: Forgot to say good article and thank you!

Posted by dondasch

I haven't read much of The Walking Dead, or /gasp seen the episodes (yet) but Im curious to know one thing.  Are the zombies slow moving (typical American style George Romero speed), or are they the UK kind, which can basically chase down vehicles like in 28 Days Later ?

Posted by zzax

I think it is better left unsaid. In some ways t does not matter. The appeal of the genre is usually the way human characters act and deal with the collapse of society and horror of the situation. The focus is themes of social order and what makes us human. Zombies need no motivation or explanation since they are usually a static plot device to get to the human elements. 
On the Walking Dead finale I could not help but think of George Lucas trying to scientifically explain the force in the prequels. I do not need to know they why.  
In the end, it really does not affect the way the human characters have to deal with the zombie outbreak, so ultimately it is irrelevant to me. 

Edited by Danial79

Might have been in the water supply?

Posted by G-Man
@.o0Johnny0o.: Not big headed at all. I would even say you should give a link to your post as well.
Staff Online
Posted by Danial79
@dondasch: They're the slow-moving kind
Edited by RedheadedAtrocitus

Maybe it was Nekron. Heh. Nah but seriously this article does raise a good point about what caused the whole "mess." Current zombie paradigms attribute walkers as being exposed to some kind of contagion that spread like wildfire, and it seems that the show is taking that route as well.  What is baffling is the rate at which the zombies are spawned, and the quickness for all we know could be of any origin.  With corporate irresponsibility though it makes it sound like Resident Evil.  With government tampering and contagion it makes it sound like 28 Days.  If it was biblical, well, then it sounds like Dawn of the Dead.  I, however will direct everyone's attention to George Romero's Night of the Living Dead and attribute the dead to rise due to a radioactive fallout created by a space probe explosion in Earth's atmosphere.  Compared with all other theories of how walkers come about, its not so bad a theory now, is it? Makes you wonder. Alas though, in the end, it really doesn't matter how the zombies came about. What does is that they are about and how people deal with either avoiding them, combatting them, surviving and what not.  Personally I'd love to see a slant in Walking Dead that turns out similar to what was done in Max Brooks' book World War Z.
Posted by .o0Johnny0o.
@dondasch:  Romero speed.  You've actually hit on a zombilogical question there.  Are 'the infected' from 28 days later zombies?  They never die and come back, they change almost immediatley.  I've seen grown men shout-argue yes or no about this haha. 
If you're a fan of zombies in general or even casual, I'd recommend the comic and series.  It's one of those comics that you seem to transcend the stigma comics still get among certain circles.  A great comic.
Posted by SystemID
@dondasch said:
" I haven't read much of The Walking Dead, or /gasp seen the episodes (yet) but Im curious to know one thing.  Are the zombies slow moving (typical American style George Romero speed), or are they the UK kind, which can basically chase down vehicles like in 28 Days Later ? "
The UK kind? Those aren't even zombies in 28 Days Later. Those are normal people infected with Rage. That's why they act like that and can still run. They aren't dead. Remember? They even starve to death at the end. Zombies are slow moving because they are literally dead. All except for the absolute most basic of functions.
Posted by Danial79
@.o0Johnny0o. said:
" @dondasch:  You've actually hit on a zombilogical question there.  Are 'the infected' from 28 days later, zombies? "
Isn't it explained in the film that it's basically just a rage virus?
Posted by Danial79

I think it would make a nice change if it was an alien virus or something, rather than the usual government/company created fare...

Posted by howlettgrowl

they maybe spread the virus through the things they touch like door knobs or toilet seats or maybe it works like an STD as well...however, i just wanna know what the scientist said to rick in the season finale.

Edited by FoxxFireArt

For so many people to of been effected and for this to of spread so far. Yet, everyone still knows nothing. Whatever it was, it had to of been really, really quick. Otherwise, you know the media would of been yapping on and on about events building up. Reports would of been spreading and rumors. The fact people have almost nothing to say is telling. All media would of had to of been blacked out all at once. Especially in the internet era.
Look at the coverage swine and bird flu got all over the world.

Likely, the event was somehow being shielded or hidden. The first symptom is a serious fever. It could of been mistaken at first as something else. That speaks to a biological infection. The body is going into over drive to try and fight off what is attacking.
I like that they aren't trying to explain the cause so quickly. Though, I just hope he does have one planned.
It all reminds of of a new manga that is causing quite an uproar recently. It's been crazy popular and it's starting to be published in the US next month. It's called Highschool of the Dead. A group of high school students are surviving a zombie onslaught in Japan. It has the same sort of vibe of a small band of survivors working together against a zombie massacre. No idea where they are going or where help could be. no clue of the cause. A whole lot of blood and violence. There is one character that looks to be a villain for the series. A former teacher of the heroes school that is forming a cult of survivors.

Posted by .o0Johnny0o.
@Danial79:  Yeah but the debate is: if you define a zombie as a human whose higher brain functions have died, craving for flesh, can be passed along with a bite or scratch then they tick the boxes.  There is where the wiggle room is and before you know it two of your friends are causing a scene at 1am at your local.
There is a sub category it could fit into, the 'zombie by synthetic means' which is basically man creating (on purpose or accidently) a zombie style virus.  The Resident Evil series is generally classified like this.
I just looked at the Zombies page, I think I'm gonna make it my mission to clean it up
Posted by Danial79

A lot of people I have spoken to about this have said they hope it's never explained, but realistically, curiosity is a very powerful motivator, so from the characters' perspectives, they would be wanting to know, so I'm sure someone would be able to put the pieces together. 

Posted by Mainline

(Note: I've stopped at 75, waiting for a few issues to build up before continuing...) 
Part of the appeal of The Walking Dead is the almost suffocatingly narrow perspective.  You can count on one hand the number of times the perspective has exceeded the whereabouts and wherewithal of the main cast and their enemies.  That information vacuum, fog of war, etc. helps us identify with the characters and see their choices as rational- if not optimal- to them... too often audiences gifted with the omniscient perspective judge the characters based on information unavailable to the characters and some of the tension, sympathy, identification, etc. is lost. 
From an overall perspective, I'm content with the answer never being revealed because it seems outside the scope of their experiences.  The danger and consequences to the characters- any character- is part of what makes it feel real... that the series is no respecter of fictional tropes where the heroes are of inflated importance and thus plot-protected by writer fiat... and the way the story is now, coming across a definitive answer would definitely feel like a trope: That this unlikely bunch stumbles across said secret for the audience's benefit rather than in service of the fiction's reality / realism.  That doesn't mean they won't come across those who have theories or claim to have knowledge as would be expected, but that's different than a definitive answer. 
If, however, the story and the characters' own logical rationales take them there- in the way they were brought to a place more privileged to information in the TV series- then it's more acceptable... but this is a different series from Y: The Last Man where being the last man meant Yorick, of course, had an inflated importance to the story even inside his reality... so it is a little more believable that his band would routinely encounter more extraordinary circumstances, information, and explanations. 
For The Walking Dead, it is much more documentary-like... and the cast are just ordinary individuals in and shaped by an extraordinary event with no special importance save for the fact that we're observing them.  And in the world presented, it doesn't seem like ordinary individuals would have access to the origins of the outbreak if they didn't know it already.

Posted by Danial79
@.o0Johnny0o. said:
" @Danial79:  Yeah but the debate is: if you define a zombie as a human whose higher brain functions have died, craving for flesh, can be passed along with a bite or scratch then they tick the boxes. "
I think the biggest factor is that a zombie is dead. As @SystemID mentioned, the 28 Days Later ones aren't dead at any point.
Posted by Danial79
@Mainline: If I was in that situation, I'd actively go looking for answers. I have a highly scientific and curious mind. Surely there would be someone like that in TWD "universe" too :) 
Posted by nick_verissimo

The Walking Dead comic books are better served by keeping the cause for the outbreak out of it for now. Obviously, the question will eventually have to be properly served and answered, but that card being played wouldn't make the series any more interesting than it already is.

I've been following along with the trade paperback version and through the 13 volumes I haven't needed that piece of information. Considering the actual timeline hasn't even travelled a full year yet, the characters aren't that desperate for an answer. They just want to continue protecting each other and staying alive. To be quite frank thats all I want out of the series. Y the last man turned a little sour near the end when it was completely about finding a cure.... I really would prefer for that not to happen again.

Posted by Mainline
@Danial79 said:
" @Mainline: If I was in that situation, I'd actively go looking for answers. I have a highly scientific and curious mind. Surely there would be someone like that in TWD "universe" too :)  "
But we aren't presented with the "universe"... heck, 99.99% of the time we aren't even presented with the character's thoughts... no thought-bubbles, no narration-boxes, etc. [with some very rare exceptions] the entire story is told through just dialogue and the actions of the cast.  There might be someone out there, but unless serendipitously- and thus smacking of trope- they encounter this person, it doesn't match the tone or reality of the series.  By now we know these characters and it's easy to see that survival trumps curiosity as a matter of necessity and priority... they aren't in a position to help the matter scientifically, aren't scientifically inclined, and don't really have the choice to be so.  It isn't a coincidence that scientific progress occurs mainly amongst the prosperous, because on an individual level, advancing science is a luxury.  Using the TV series... a man with food, water, protection, power, and time... he gets to "do science"... Grimes and company do not.
Posted by dondasch

@Danial79 @SystemID .o0Johnny0o.  That's what Im interested in.  True, the UK type of "zombie" wasn't actually dead, but they did behave in a manner strikingly similar to your typical zombies in that they would actively seek out the living and proceed to kill/infect them.

Posted by weapon154

I'm pretty sure zombies are best explained to be the cause of scientific drug gone way wrong. Supernatural zombies would be... well supernatural.

Posted by Moomin123

I'd like to know how everyone became zombies, it's much better if there's an explanation for the outbreak rather than just making the audience assume that corpses were just returning to life one day.
Posted by dondasch

@Mainline  Several good points here.  Primarily, and I have yet to read the books, or see the series, but the gist that I get is that you cannot really do any scientific minded studies, other than mere observations along the way until you have secured your safety.  In the zombie apocalypse, first get yourself safe and secure, then start asking and searching for why it occurred, who's responsible, what's next, etc.

Posted by caesarsghost

personally I prefer it when no explanation is given. It makes the horror more cosmic (in the Lovecraft sense) and hence more poignant
Posted by comicbikerscott

awesome article
Posted by thveej

Here is my theory.. . WARNING SPOILERS!!!!!!!  
My intepertation is that it is a virus / infection. In the comic everyone already has it. If anyone dies in the comic they come back as zombies (for example in the prison this happened to a few characters who got killed by each other and came back as zombies) meaning that everyone in the world is already infected by the virus, its just a matter when they die. And from what was shown in EP6, the military were just gunning down people, even Shane not being infected was hiding from the military.  
My theory is that somehow this infection got out, and at some point the military just went all out on a rampage killing everyone they could see because everyone was "infected". That is why so many people are walkers.
The science dude  shown in the scans is obviously not a scienctist, we know that from the comic. So I am not sure if the virus was from the government. 
I do think there should be safe heaven all around the walking dead world, the problem is there is no way people can communicate, and there is no way people can commute because no one is producing fossil fuels. 

 The only thing that bothers me about the walking dead, is that I don't get how it is possible for the world to be this fucked up. I mean i know that is not the point of the series but  I mean all u need is a couple of tanks and helicopter and you can kill millions of zombies easily..... WTF is a zombie gonna do to a tank or an attack helicopter???? Why did the government get so f'ed up. And I think the explanation is completely bull about soldiers leaving to protect their families. If your a soldier wouldn't sticking together with ur unite and killing zombie be far more efficient way of protecting your family than disbanding and having no military? With that logic no one would ever go to war!
So I hope when the explanation comes (I don't really care when it comes or if it comes) its a good one, because I absolutely love the comic and the TV show, and hope it doesnt cop out with a shity explnation at the end. 

Edited by Maximus95

Awesome article, and great opinions so far!  I've only read the first graphic novel recently and watched the AMC series.  I'm really digging this series and can't wait to dig into the further issues of the comic!  I've never really considered myself a fan of the zombie genre, but I think I'll check out some of the stuff recommended in that if you liked walking dead.. article. 
As far as whether or not the cause should be revealed?  Tough question.  On one hand I'm really curious, but on the other the story is definitely more engaging due to the fact that no one has that ultimate answer.  Even if they did, could they do anything about it? 
What did that scientist whisper in Rick's ear?  Did he see Shane's drunken confession?  Was something revealed in his wife's blood test (pregnant?)? - gotta give my brother credit for that idea... 
If the military was being overrun is it so wrong to think they might desert and head for home?  How many troops do we actually have stationed within the continental United States vs abroad?  I thought it was pretty powerful when the CDC dude told the group how a lot of people had "opted out".  Stuff like that really makes you stop and think....
Posted by humanfly26
@Danial79 said:
" @Mainline: If I was in that situation, I'd actively go looking for answers. I have a highly scientific and curious mind. Surely there would be someone like that in TWD "universe" too :)  "
there are a couple. Alice (and Hershel to a lesser extent) are trying to figure out the cause of the zombies. 
Posted by JediAutobot

Thanks for pointing out the "everyone is infected" that is shown in the comics.
Also don't forget, Rick went back to the camp to visit Shane.  And Shane had an undead welcome for him and we KNOW he didn't die from a bit.
So my theory is that everyone was always infrected, and there has been a trigger that set it off.
As for the military, we saw in the show that things were pretty messed up.  It's bad enough to see a buddy die, but then for him to come after you.  Panic happens, we will probably never see the complete breakdown.

Posted by blaakmawf

I say don't go into it. Zombies become more and more ludicrous as you think about them critically and what possible explanation could they come up with that would actually be satisfactory?

Posted by jws

according to the comic
dead equals zombie, zombie bite only equals zombie if the bite is fatal
there is no virus transmitted from zombie to human.  if it is a virus then everyone already has it.  currently no one has been show to be immune to the virus.
if it is biblical then you would think that dead prior to the event would have risen.  that has not been stated one way or the other in the comic at this point.
I am sure that the entire comic story will be revealed as a coma dream that rick is sufferring after being shot.

Posted by danhimself

I'm one of the people who believes that the cause is unimportant to the happened and that's all that matters...what's important right now is the survivors and what's happening with them...over the course of the last 80 issues I've really grown to care about Rick, Carl, Glenn, and Andrea 

as for how the disease spread so quickly?  well I wish I could find the link (someone posted it here on CV awhile ago) but the CDC actually did a study on what might happen should a zombie outbreak occur and they basically came to the conclusion that due to the way it spreads that we would be's hard to believe but apparently we would stand no chance at surviving an outbreak
Posted by lobsticle

i really enjoy that shows such as this have really wild science i.e. the really high res MRI shown in the finale, but still have glaring issues with certain simple areas.  when the cdc professor states that they are unsure if the infection is bacterial, viral, fungal, etc... they could have easily isolated and sequenced the 16s RNA from the infected brain tissue samples and at least come up with a basic phylogenetic assignment.  nonetheless a great show and a great topic, thanks.
Edited by The Impersonator

It's more likely have to do with the virus just like the T-virus that caused mutations and zombies in Resident Evil. However, there is another possibility that the zombies may have been caused by Necronomicon, the Book of the Dead. But I doubt it's dark magic.

Posted by webhe4d
@takeoffyourpantsandjacket said:

" according to the comic dead equals zombie, zombie bite only equals zombie if the bite is fatal

Pretty sure that once you're bitten, you're infected.

there is no virus transmitted from zombie to human.. if it is a virus then everyone already has it. 

There are some instances, like Shane's, that would imply that everyone already has the virus, and by dying causes people to turn into a walker.

I am sure that the entire comic story will be revealed as a coma dream that rick is sufferring after being shot. "

Never even thought of that before. Nice
Posted by Dr. Detfink

Who cares? The best part of the Walking Dead is how you are just as in the dark as these characters and there are no answers because the world as they know it, is over. So what's the point of finding out? 
This is a book about emotional depth...and if you are trying to think about missed the point. 
Now for a TV show trying to attract non-Walking Dead fans (probably fans of Resident Evil films) then you have to have a random CDC filler episode.

Posted by Nikst

To the fans who have read The Walking Dead novels and have watched the TV-series up to episode 6. How far have we come in the series story? Is it safe to read volume 1? or are they still somewhere in there? Really want to read the series! but dont want to spoil the TV show. So, is it safe for me to read volume 1 or should I wait a little bit longer?? =)    

Posted by webhe4d
Since the show is a lot different than the comic, I think you should be ok in reading volume one.. Just be prepared for one intense death.  It has gotten pretty far along and I don't want to ruin anything, but I read the comic now it doesn't spoil anything on the show.  I like the two different worlds.
Posted by GraveSp

One of the things I like about the book The Road was that they never directly said how the world got the way it did, it hinted but it never directly said.

Posted by EdwardWindsor

i hope its something diffferent than the usual explinations for zombie contagion which are noramally down to 3 main course,

  • Viral leak from shadowy company or government project
  • Curse or some kind or necromancy
  • Rath of God end of days stuff
I would like it to be something weird like ,
  • gene mutation " patient 0 " then goes on a rampage and so on
  • Alien invasion super weapon " think about it "
  • alternate reality. timetravel based attack 
 Least would be something different from the zombie genre, which i love so much 
Posted by Dracade102
@speedlgt said:
"I prefer my zombies to be basically hell unleashed on earth..........basically satan or demons or God's wrath. When you make it science related than that means you can cure it and in theory your cure would be a cure for death itself and while I am all for the idea that mankind could or will be immortal someday in this type of story I dont prefer it "

Interesting concept... I liek.
Posted by JonesDeini

Honestly, I don't particularly care what the cause is. As you stated this story's about the people and not the zombies. This comics about the human condition and that's what's so appealing about it. 

Posted by skaarason
@Nikst: forget the show , when i met robert krikman i told him how much of a huge of a fan i was for invincible and he told me to check out twd but im only into superhero comics and that horror isnt my thing .  then i heard that the show was being considered by amc , so i went out and bought every issue 1-43 back then now i have every issue all 79  , and after reading the comics for so long and watching the show im really starting to dislike the show , it's like the wanted comic vs the movie both are good but the comic is the best .  
im just saying that you should go forth reading the comic and dont let the show hold u back 
Edited by ateygheyev

Definition of ZOMBIE

usually zombia: the supernatural power that according to voodoo belief may enter into and reanimate a dead body b: a will-less and speechless human in the West Indies capable only of automatic movement who is held to have died and been supernaturally reanimated

a: a person held to resemble the so-called walking dead; especially: automatonb: a person markedly strange in appearance or behavior

: a mixed drink made of several kinds of rum, liqueur, and fruit juice

 While I really would equate the infected from 28 DAYS LATER as a type of zombie or zombie-like, the infected from CROSSED are less zombies and more heartless pricks.
 Although the type of zombie I wouldn't mind infecting my system is the one made of rum.  YUM!
Posted by PLWolf

There's a part of this that you completely missed in the comics, the Zombies aren't caused by being bit, they're caused by dying. Everyone in the world is infected, the zombie bite doesn't turn you, it kills you and then you turn. 

Posted by jamdown

Last year my friend and i used a whole class periode devising our survival plan during the zombie outbreak or Z-Day as we like to call it. when the teacher asked us what we were doing i said "Surviving" in a very seriouse tone.
Posted by xFRIGx

Great article, I'm not exactly sure where the comic will end up with the cause, however there is plenty of things that could be written in. When there is the start of a zombie outbreak anything can be the cause, so I hope that they will get creative with it and explain it in some new way, not merely a weaponized virus. Finally I would have to say, I don't know if it is airborne it would make sense seeing how even people who die naturally come back as zombies. But I do not think this is why Shane was covering his mouth, if you are referring to the moment inside the hospital, I would say he was covering his mouth and nose because there was smoke everywhere possibly teargas; which can irritate the lungs quite badly. 

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