Throughout the years we’ve encountered all kinds of walkers, empties, and roamers in The Walking Dead Universe, but there are some that linger in our memories. Whether it’s their unique characteristics, behavior, or appearance, these walkers stand apart from the crowd and often times their very existence has greater implications for the TWDU at large. What do these unique walkers tell us about the virus, and what can we learn from them? There’s lots to explore.
One of the first unusual walkers we encounter is all the way back in Season 1, Episode 1 of The Walking Dead in “Days Gone Bye.” When Rick meets Morgan and his son Duane, Morgan’s wife Jenny has already turned. But unlike the wandering walkers we’ve seen thus far, Jenny seems to exhibit a sense of connection to her previous life. She seems to know exactly which house is hers, she climbs the steps to the front door, and she turns the doorknob. Is there some humanity left in her that brings her back to her home time and time again? We see similar behavior exhibited by a walker much later in Season 11, Episode 19 (“Variant”), when a walker turns a doorknob and climbs a wall to access the corner where Jerry is hiding. Did this walker also have a connection to the abandoned Renaissance Faire where the group was seeking shelter, or is this just a variant walker that has evolved into a more strategic hunter?
Also seen in Season 1, Episode 1 “Days Gone Bye,” “Little Girl Walker” aka Summer was the first child walker that Rick had ever seen and one of his first kills. This is another instance when a walker exhibits strange behavior, as Rick watches from a distance as the small girl picks up her teddy bear and continues to shuffle along in her slippers. When he calls out to her, she turns around revealing that she is indeed a walker, and she comes towards him at a rapid pace. It’s rare to see walkers show interest in any items besides potential meals, so the fact that she picks up this teddy bear could imply that there’s some humanity or distant memories left in her still… or she could potentially be a variant as well.
So, if some walkers’ actions are motivated by the memories of their humanity, then are others able to harness muscle memory to achieve their goals? By Episode 2 of Season 1 (“Guts”) Rick has teamed up with Glenn, and he’s brought him back to the department store where other survivors have sought shelter. Unbeknownst to him, Rick’s loud arrival drew the attention of a slew of walkers and the group watches in horror as one of the walkers uses a large rock to try and break through the glass and enter the building. Motor skills, intelligence, and strategy aren’t things that we typically see in walkers, but we see the same behavior much later on in Season 11, Episode 24 (“Rest in Peace”) when a walker once again uses a large rock to break through the glass of the hospital that our survivors are sheltering in.
Environment also seems to be a major factor in the evolution and creation of different types of walkers in The Walking Dead Universe. Sure, we’ve seen how mother nature’s elements can create walker monstrosities like the Well Walker from Season 2, Episode 5 (“Chupacabra”) of The Walking Dead, but in Dead City, Season 1, Episode 5 (“Stories We Tell Ourselves”) we encounter the Walker King and it's unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. This amalgamation of multiple walkers that Maggie and Ginny encounter in the sewers is a creation born out of human waste and methane. It’s almost certainly not a variant, but instead a result of its subterranean environment. This man-made nightmare is an interesting one to ponder, as we’ve seen how natural elements like fire don’t necessarily meld walkers together in the same way (like the burned walkers in Season 4, Episode 14 “The Grove.”) Human activity also played a role in Fear the Walking Dead's Season 7, when a nuclear blast resulted in walkers who were ravaged by the fallout. Some walkers were completely burnt, while other half-and-half walkers were melted on one side and intact on the other. Another particularly gruesome set of walkers, who developed when people died from radiation exposure, lumbered about covered by radiation burns, boils, and pus.
Nature definitely works in interesting ways in The Walking Dead Universe, and we find a great example of that with the moss-covered empties we encounter in The Walking Dead: World Beyond. Although we first see them in Season 1, by Season 2, Episode 3 (“Exit Wounds”) these empties are showcased in much more detail. But note that this isn’t in fact the first time we’ve seen the dead implanted into the earth and taken over by nature. The first time we see a similar walker is in The Walking Dead Season 4, Episode 3 (“Isolation”) but its appearance was so brief you may have missed it. By the time we get to World Beyond, so much time has passed that when Elton and Percy stumble upon a whole slew of these types of empties they’ve become so embedded into the earth that they’re almost imperceivable. When left undisturbed, their silent presence in the forest is haunting.
We’ve seen how certain environmental factors change walkers, but how have humans intentionally pushed along their evolution? A great example of this is seen in Winslow, the Scavengers’ creation that we’re first introduced to in The Walking Dead, Season 7, Episode 10 (“New Best Friends.”) We don’t know anything about his life as a human besides the fact that he was living in the Heaps with Jadis and crew, but we do learn that instead of putting him down they transformed him into an art piece and a venerable foe to anyone who dared to mess with the Scavengers. With a motorcycle gas tank as a helmet, and spikes, saw blades, scissors, nails, and all sorts of other findings affixed to his body, Winslow may have been Jadis’ most daring art piece.
This brings us to further instances of human interference referenced in TWDU. The post credits scene at the end of The Walking Dead: World Beyond shows a French scientist visiting her long abandoned, dilapidated lab. It seems she’s there to copy files to her laptop that have been locked up in storage, but instead of leaving once she’s copied the files she hesitates and decides to sit down and view some of the copied documents. We see video footage of Dr. Jenner from the CDC (who was featured in two episodes of The Walking Dead Season 1, “Wildfire” and “TS-19,”) and if you recall Dr. Jenner does reference working with French colleagues to stop the “Wildfire Virus” in one of those episodes. So, it seems that we’re finally meeting one of these French colleagues albeit briefly. When an armed man enters the lab and questions the scientist, we see a different angle of the lab and graffiti emblazoned on the air ducts that reads in French “The dead were born here” implying these French scientists had something to do with the birth of the virus — and according to the armed man they then made the situation even worse. The armed man shoots the scientist, and the video of Dr. Jenner plays on as he asks for more information about the “variant cohorts” that these colleagues had been telling him about. What comes next is shocking and terrifying for its implications as to what Daryl will face now that he’s on French soil in The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon. The scientist reanimates extremely quickly, and she’s more aggressive and faster than any walkers we’ve seen thus far in The Walking Dead Universe.
With that in mind, we come to Episode 1 of The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon, “L’ame Perdue,” where Daryl quickly learns that the walkers, or Les Affamés (the hungry ones) as Isabelle calls them, are very different than the ones he’s used to. When Daryl ventures into a grocery store seeking supplies (sadly he misses the warning in French emblazoned on the front door that says “dead inside”) he encounters walkers that are loaded with an acidic substance that burns anyone who touches them. It’s not just humans that are at risk as we see that when their acidic insides come into contact with the outside world anything that’s touched burns. Isabelle calls these Brûlants or Burners and we have yet to see how this specific variant came to be, but based on the conversation between the French scientist and her attacker it seems that human intervention may be its source. As we learn more about this new world that Daryl has found himself in, we’re sure to learn more about Les Affamés and these new variants. Whether created through walker evolution or human intervention, these variants will definitely be keeping Daryl and his newfound companions on their toes.
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