Zombies Deconstructed

What makes a Zombie a Zombie?


There’s been some great Zombie fiction written/filmed.  There’s also been a ton of crap.  Only by deconstructing the tropes, can I decide what I’ll do differently.   Forgive me for the roughness of what lies below.




Infectious (usually bite)

Eat flesh/brains


Once dead

Hard to kill (headshot)



Other in human mask – no emotion, sleep, fatigue, no care for what society has done or expects of them

Pack, but not pack mentality

Other Zombies not prey items

Sensitive to sound and smell

Aggression, No fear of death, no concern for casualties


Infectious – Regardless of how the Zombie came to be, their greatest weapon is their ability to recruit others to the cause.  Because, let’s face it, if this weren’t the case they’d be a pushover.  Modern weapons and smart tactics would mean a Zombie war without the threat of infection would be over shortly.


Eat flesh/brains – I’d prefer to think flesh, despite their Zombie catch-cry.  Let’s face it, stronger-than-you-outta-be or not, the brainpan of an adult is not an easy thing to get to.  It’s like cats ONLY eating tunafish that comes from a can.  Still think they’d be a common household pet?  Hassle.  They’re nothing special nutrition wise about the brain you can’t get elsewhere, unless you’re looking for brain chemical stuff, pituitary and the like, and if that’s the case, well, good luck to you.


Mindless – Despite a few cases of “smart zombies” out there, the stereotypical zombie is still dumb, in some cases staggeringly so.  Authors and film makers have assumed that dumbness and cunning cannot go together, a fact I very much disagree with, which has left a lot of Zombies without the threat mantle they should wear about their dusty shoulders.


Once-dead – Dead, or undead, or once-dead, rare is the Zombie that is truly “infected”, i.e.whatever the contagion is it kills you and either transforms you, or makes use of your body.  Very few Zombies, even those brought about through infection, are “cured”, because that’s not what Zombies are about.  Small moments of moral objection aside, the people who have become Zombies are not people anymore.  If there were a chance the zombies could be saved, every dark (and fun) Zombie story I’ve ever read turns into a bunch of mass-murders running amok.  Not a bad story, necessarily, but not the story I want to write.  No, it’s us or them, baby.


Hard to kill – Ah, the quintessential moment in all Zombie fiction when the world works out the Zombies have an Achilles Head.  I agree, it makes sense, if we assume the brain is still what’s driving this flesh machine, but I don’t necessarily see the correlation between head-shotting zombies that are clearly not making use of their heads for anything other than biting?  What about their spines?  Harder to hit, sure, but muscle control goes through their, too.  It’s safe to say that Zombies have cast aside their –need- for food and air, and headshots make great splatter, but a Zombie in a thousand pieces is a Zombie a smart survivor doesn’t have to worry about.  What’s that, there’s a disembodied zombie hand still crawling toward you?  You say it’s grabbed your ankle?  Here. Catch, I’ll toss you my Swiss army knife and you’ll be fine.


Horde – Zombies are not a force of man.  They are a force of Nature, a rogue wave of flesh and teeth.  They are Legion.  They can be everywhere and everywhere.  I haven’t seen any Zombie fiction where the Zombies were in the immediate minority (percentage of infected vs. survivors) for very long, for good reason.  One Zombie is a target, three is a worry, ten is a serious threat, and thirty is time to run.


Rotting – Zombies are vessels, and imperfect ones.  They have thrown off, as discussed, human needs, and the tradeoff is that the body they ride has lost its ability to heal.  Thus, upon inspection, a Zombie is (by sight, smell, touch) clearly a Zombie.  This is not a war (or, subconsciously, a philosophical question) of uncertainty.  The zombie genre is not (to my knowledge) one that minces about and ponders the meaning of life.  If it’s dead and it’s moving, it’s the enemy.


Other in Human Mask – Zombie are the ultimate liberators.  Our role in society is a responsibility which keeps society running.  Father, husband, provider, law-abider, tax-payer, consumer, all are thrown off when the Zombie takes over.  Not only do they ignore their prior roles, they show no care for the breakdown of what they were once a part of.  Their humanity is lost, or at the very least lessened.


Pack, but not pack mentality – Zombies may travel together, but rare are the hordes that show true pack mentalities.  They make no effort to flush out survivors, mindlessly attack targets of opportunity despite possibly better options, establish little to no hierarchy in any of their socializations, etc.  They are selfish, a pack of lone wolves.


Other zombies not prey items- Zombies rarely attack one another, and do not feed upon each other, presumably because either what they need to feed upon is not present in other Zombies or, alternatively, whatever is powering them, virus, magic, demon or disease is aware of the futility of culling their own numbers.


Sensitive to sound and smell – Exactly what is says on the label


Aggression, No fear of death, no concern for casualties – Zombies eat.  They’re mouths with legs, and they couldn’t care less about the Zombie next to them getting one-shotted by the sniper on the ridge.  Nor do they flinch at taking damage to get their prey, a very unpredator response to feeding.


So, that’s what I’ve got, at the moment.  Not sure what I’ll take apart, yet.  If anyone can think of anything I’ve missed, let me know, huh?


5 responses to “Zombies Deconstructed

  • bloodandstardust

    I know you mentioned you weren’t thrilled with Planet Terror. But what I liked about Planet Terror’s zombies was how they seemed to represent uncaged emotion as they always magically appeared when things were heating up. Also I think the zombie as a metaphor for power be it repressed power or enslavement really takes the zombie back to its supernatural roots and is ripe for development. But perhaps this is looking at the zombie from a thematic standpoint first and not the approach nor the kind of zombie you had in mind…

  • Jason Fischer

    I reckon you’ve summed up Zombie Classic quite thoroughly. There are some other types of pseudo-zombies, such as Stephen King’s “Cell” outbreak, and the 28 Days Later “Rage Virus”, where to all intents and purposes the hordes are zombie-ish, but are not actually undead.

  • christophergreen

    I like Zombies as metaphor, was very interested in what King did with them in “Cell”, and 28 Days Later brought some sprinting “Zombie” fun to the table too. All good things.

    Time to start making the “rules” work for me, I think. One reason so much Zombie fiction is the same, I’m convinced, is because the rules are seen as narrow. So many authors follow the same path to the same conclusion…

  • christophergreen

    That’s awesome, Chris. Thanks!

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