In the Season 2 opener of The Walking Dead, our group of terrified zombie apocalypse survivors found themselves ambushed by a herd of walkers on a highway that looked like it was the scene of a demolition derby. With the meatbags closing in on them, Rick Grimes decided the best way to keep everyone alive was to forgo the weapons and get out of sight, so he ordered everyone to duck under cars. What followed was one of the most intense TV scenes in recent memory, as the herd o' dead guys shuffled past, clueless to the fact that lunch was right at their decaying feet.
It was good stuff, but it raised a very interesting question: "Wait, what?" In Season 1's "Guts," Rick and Glenn made a big deal out of covering themselves in zombie innards so the walkers wouldn't smell them. It worked, until a downpour of rain washed off the zombie intestine cologne. After that, Rick's plan became "shoot them in the head and run," because the zombies were starting to smell the human stink on them.
So why didn't the zombies sniff out the survivors hiding underneath the cars? Creator Robert Kirkman addressed that issue in AMC's actually entertaining live talk show Talking Dead, and said this: "The smell thing that we saw in the first season is really just a rudimentary sense [the zombies have] that we don't smell like a dead person in some way, so they have some sense of smell that enables them to differentiate people from zombies. But they're not bloodhounds, you don't see them walking around and sniffing, following their nose or something. So hiding under a car is going to work."
That seems to contradict Zombie Rule #6 from the list (see below) that AMC Tweeted out last year: "Zombies have poor eyesight but they do have a strong sense of smell." So what gives, Kirkman? Do they or don't they? Given how awesome that scene was, I'll say the end justified the means, but not everything seems to be consistent in zombie land.
In an Andrea scene from last week's episode, she was walking along by herself like an idiot when a zombie came out of nowhere. Maybe he was hiding behind a tree. I don't know. But he saw her, and then immediately started to sing the "I'm hungry!" zombie song, the lyrics of which mostly "Unnnnghhhhhhhhhhh!" plus some romantic heavy breathing. So do zombies stay quiet until they spot some dinner? Or do they hum all day long?
Later in the episode, Shane and Otis sneaked over to the former FEMA encampment at the high school, which is now overrun by walkers. There were tons of zombies who didn't notice Shane and Otis, but they were all singing along as if they were part of an a Capella group. Are these guys chatterboxes or not? Do they only shut up when they're stalking Andrea? If they were blabbermouths when they were human, does that mean they're blabbermouths when they're zombies, too? These are the things that keep me awake at night. And during the day.
Now let's go back to the first episode: Andrea (she's had some bad luck so far, eh?) stabbed a zombie up close and got an undead-juice facial, recalling the 28 Days Later rule of infected fluids leaking into the eyes or mouth and turning someone into a zombie. Did Andrea luck out, or is there something else going on here? Will we eventually find out that zombification requires a bite because zombie-ism is really an advanced form of contagious tooth decay?
Kirkman was asked about that sequence as well, and he pretty much dismissed it: "What exactly zombie blood and gore does will be dealt with later." I don't think this evasive move was as egregious as the bit about zombies' sense of smell, but it seems like a pretty easy question that he could have answered without spoiling the series' future. I can't see figuring out that eating a zombie is bad for you being a major turning point in the show.
And am I alone in thinking that in Season 2, the zombies are *gulp* faster? I know they never quite reach a sprint, but the zombies in Atlanta seemed to be a bit less Usain Bolt and bit more Billy Gardell in their ambulatory proficiencies. Also, they're now they're traveling in herds and going to church. Good lord, are these things evolving?
Finally, and this is less of a rule, and more of question: What's up with all the dead people in cars? Did something happen? Did they get bored to death? Why didn't the zombies eat them? Why were they just... dead? Kirkman's answer is a total cop-out: "Brain trauma would keep you from becoming a zombie. Maybe they were in car wrecks. There's plenty of explanation for why those dead bodies weren't up and walking around." But not an explanation that he'll give us, apparently. And please, those people were not in car wrecks. The producers just knew that having dead people in cars would make the scenes scarier and didn't care about why they were there.
I'm a fan of the show and I know the survivors are the most important part of it. But, let's face it, zombie rules are essential to any piece of zombie fiction and should at least remain consistent within a single work. Obviously The Walking Dead is more concerned with making scenes spookier and bloodier than writing its own handbook on zombies. Thankfully, those scenes have been good enough to give she show a little leeway. Let's call it artistic license. Until things get clearer, just remember to avoid zombie chompers and shoot 'em in the head. Those rules will always apply.
Have you noticed The Walking Dead breaking its own rules?
AMC's Zombie Rules for The Walking Dead, as Tweeted before the Season 1 premiere:
Zombie Rule #1: Ability to run is based on the amount of time a zombie has been undead, and how much decay has set in.
Zombie Rule #2: Zombies decay but at a much slower rate than humans, and it's still possible to differentiate between young and old zombies.
Zombie Rule #3: Zombies are like lions: if they've eaten, you can walk by them without fear, but a pack of hungry zombies will attack you.
Zombie Rule #4: The quickest speed of any zombie is a shambling run. see Night of the Living Dead. NO sprinters exist.
Zombie Rule #5: Zombies are not dexterous. They cannot pick up or use any items more complex than a rock or a stick.
Zombie Rule #6: Zombies have poor eyesight but they do have a strong sense of smell.
Zombie Rule #7: Zombies cannot speak but can communicate by pack mentality. The herd tends to move together if they sight food.
Zombie Rule #8: There is no overt recognition of people or places, there is a sense of familiarity that can dictate where a zombie moves.
Zombie Rule #9: There's no known cause of the zombie mutation, but it's suspected to be a virus or infection.
Zombie Rule #10: Once you're bitten you'll die and reanimate as a walker. How long it takes is related to the nature your bite.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom