Since this is the second piece, would it technically be a “return of the living dead”?
We’re going to run with that.
Hello, greetings, and so on. Welcome to the second week of zombie fever, my personal pieces leading up to Halloween season. Last week’s discussion was on Romero, the perennial patriarch of the Hollywood/pop culture zombie. This week, let’s examine writer Max Brooks, one of the spiritual successors to Romero and his honorable horrors. Now while I don’t want this to turn into a middle school compare and contrast piece, it should be noted that Romero’s zombies share some noticeable differences with Brooks’, and in fact the modern zombie as a whole. As is usually the case with any mythical monster, the image changes with each return.
More than Skin Deep
When asked about what makes a zombie, the average person will rattle off similar attributes. Slow, uncoordinated, none too bright and missing some bits. Pushing beyond surface traits, some would say restless and relentless. But after that, a person’s understanding of the undead can start to splinter. Were the undead bitten or not? Is it the bite or exposure to a virus that turns a victim, or is everyone a carrier? Is it even a virus? In my experience, most people tend to get a nervous look on their face and rush off mumbling about being late to something or another at this point, but these are imperative and defining factors of various ghouls. According to Night of the Living Dead, or to use a more modern example, The Walking Dead, reanimation happens because of a virus, and after death, regardless of contact with the undead, everybody turns, full stop. Unless the brain is destroyed, the dearly departed will slowly rise to munch on your backside.
Conversely, a Brooks zombie requires a host-to-host transfer of the virus, and the amount of time needed for reanimation is altered with every individual victim. Bite or organ transplant? Sorry, it’s in the bloodstream, might take 24 hours to turn. A skin graft? Could take a few days, but it’ll take hold. The key difference here is with a Brooks zombie, one has to physically avoid infection, which can be done if careful enough, but symptoms won’t always take as long to show. Romero zombies, and those of The Walking Dead‘s Robert Kirkman, don’t need any help with the plague. It’s already there.
copyright Robert Kirkman 2003-2017 http://28dayslater.wikia.com/wiki/The_Infected
Lesser of Two Evils
So which is worse? A smart Romero zombie, or a relentless Brooks one? Ability to communicate and remember, or one unburdened by conscious thought? Or, for a third possibility, what of the hybrid produced by Kirkman? And would these even matter to the general populace in the unlikely event of a zombie apocalypse? To be frank, if the dead did rise, it’s not likely going to be your first thought as to whether or not they recognize each other on their slow, shuffling march. In that moment, all that would matter would be remembering the golden rule of zombie fiction: aim for the head.
The next piece will be the final one in this series, examining those not actually undead, but rather mutated and labeled incorrectly, from The Last of Us‘s clickers to the infected rage beasts from 28 Days Later. These are going to be a whiplash departure from the ghouls discussed here, and one could go as far as to say that these creatures no longer fall within the realm of zombies. In fact, why not? The next piece will be a full denunciation of these beings’ classification within the realms of undead. These beings aren’t dead, only irrevocably sick, which is, in its own way, much more frightening.
Let us know in the comments some of your favorite undead films, shows, stories, and more, as well as what could differentiate them from the stereotype of typical Hollywood undead, and we’ll see you next time.