Daryl Dixon and friends better start hitting the treadmill, because The Walking Dead is (re)introducing evolved zombies. The Walking Dead‘s zombie hordes overwhelmingly follow Romero rules. They’re slow, lumbering, mindless reanimated corpses that possess zero cognitive function beyond devouring flesh. If a wall stands between them and a snack, The Walking Dead‘s zombies will stumble into that wall until losing their target, getting distracted, or their bodies decay. That status quo changes with The Walking Dead season 11, part 3’s trailer, where Aaron reveals, “I’ve heard stories of walkers that can climb walls and open doors.” Clips of zombies climbing walls and opening doors duly follow his warning.
This huge twist was set up by the post-credits scene of The Walking Dead: World Beyond‘s series finale, which reveals the zombie outbreak began in a French laboratory. A video message recorded by Dr. Jenner (the CDC scientist from The Walking Dead season 1) asks about reports of “variant cohorts” before a nearby scientist’s corpse reanimates and runs directly toward the lab door, demonstrating itself to be both speedier and smarter than The Walking Dead‘s average biter.
In his video, Jenner says zombie variants haven’t appeared in the U.S. yet, but that’s not strictly true, as The Walking Dead season 1 included several subtle examples of advanced zombies. Morgan Jones’ reanimated wife, for instance, tries turning the handle of her front door, while others are shown using rocks as weapons. Although behind-the-scenes factors are very probably to blame for these inconsistencies (The Walking Dead had a different showrunner in season 1), The Walking Dead season 11 is now finally revisiting the show’s early concept of smarter zombies, while also putting a little more pep in their step.
Are Fast Zombies A Good Thing For The Walking Dead?
Introducing a new breed of zombie so close to The Walking Dead‘s ending seems odd at first glance. Eight episodes doesn’t offer anywhere near enough headroom to unpack such a mammoth revelation, and with season 11’s narrative landscape already crowded, evolved zombies could strangle The Walking Dead‘s more pressing storylines.
Once the main show is over, however, The Walking Dead will branch out into multiple spinoffs starring Rick & Michonne, Maggie & Negan, and Daryl &… Dog? Throwing faster and smarter zombies into the mix makes these projects much more enticing, and offers that sorely-needed fresh angle Walking Dead audiences wouldn’t have seen before. As zombies evolve higher up the food chain, you’d expect them to enjoy a more focal role in The Walking Dead‘s spinoffs, which can only be a good thing.
For zombie variants to resonate with audiences, however, The Walking Dead must explain where they came from. Walking Dead: World Beyond heavily implies that the French scientists accidentally triggered a mutation while seeking a cure during the outbreak’s early days. That would at least explain why variants took so long to reach U.S. shores. But what about the smart zombies from The Walking Dead season 1? Were these merely flukes? Or were variants extremely rare before the French scientists inadvertently turned them into Europe’s dominant strain?
As long as the progression makes logical sense, faster and smart zombies can help reinvigorate The Walking Dead as Robert Kirkman’s franchise morphs from a traditional TV format into a shared universe. After over a decade of flesh-ripping fun spread across multiple shows, The Walking Dead has tackled zombies from every conceivable angle. If AMC intends The Walking Dead to keep lumbering forward, upending the established formula and giving zombies their advantage back was the best, perhaps only, option.