This article contains spoilers for THE WALKING DEAD: DARYL DIXON episode 5.
Through 11 seasons of The Walking Dead and its countless spinoffs, the zombie franchise’s version of the undead have remained stubbornly static. In keeping with comic creator Robert Kirkman’s original vision, Walking Dead zombies have followed the traditional George A. Romero rules for reanimated corpses. That is to say that the show’s titular walkers were slow, unintelligent, and driven by only a vague notion of hunger.
Of course, that’s all started to change of late (as tends to happen when you have more than a decade of storytelling to fill). The final season of The Walking Dead introduced zombies that could climb ladders and turn doorknobs. The lore-heavy post-credit scene of The Walking Dead: World Beyond suggested that French scientists were aware of (or even complicit in the creation of) “variant cohorts” of the undead. The latest spinoff The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon even revealed that some zombies could be literally hot to the touch. But all of those zombie variations and remixes pale in comparison to what Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) encounters in the fifth episode of the series bearing his name. Folks, the super soldier zombies are finally here! And they’re glorious.
The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon and the franchise overall have done a pretty admirable job of warming viewers up to the idea of a massively different and dangerous new genus of zombie. The concept of an acid zombie or “boiler” as Isabelle (Clémence Poésy) calls them is easy enough to wrap one’s head around. Hey, maybe some zombies stumbled into some caustic chemicals. It’s not like they’re very discerning about their environments or diets after all. This penultimate episode “Deux Amours,” however, finally removes all doubt by confirming that the myth of a super zombie is not only real – it’s manmade.
The revelation comes in two parts – one set in the present where an imprisoned Daryl is forced into a Thunderdome battle against a roided out zombo and another in the past where an imprisoned Daryl (he ends up in jail a lot) is pushed off a boat by yet another unusually violent and athletic walker. Let’s start with the past timeline as that now represents the first time a main Walking Dead cast member has encountered such a revolutionary creature.
The past portions of “Deux Amours” finally show us how Daryl came to wash up ashore in France. The short version of the story is that he stopped by a zombie harvesting operation in New England to earn gas for his bike. When he discovers that some good old boys killed a kid to inflate their own zombie numbers, he breaks the operation’s golden rule by fighting them. Since violence is strictly prohibited Daryl and his new enemy end up on a freighter bound for parts unknown (but probably France because signs on the boat are in French).
It’s aboard that boat that we see that French scientists’ experiments on walkers are well underway, as teased in that aforementioned World Beyond post-credit scene. The scientists have two cages of walkers – one to be fed (marked “Feed – Nourrir”) and one to be starved (marked “Fast – Ne Pas Nourrir”). In addition to this rather elementary exercise, the cargo containers on the boat are filled with some more high level scientific shenanigans. When Daryl elicits chaos with his escape, one door swings open to reveal chained up zombies being electrocuted – as though their experimenters are trying to jumpstart their limbic system. Ultimately Daryl comes across a zombie covered in electrodes and syringes that displays an uncommon level of both intelligence and aggression, which will ultimately foreshadow the zombie he will be forced to fight in France weeks later.
As if everything that occurred on the boat wasn’t evidence enough, the final act of “Deux Amours” just goes ahead and shows how this new breed of aggressive zombies are created. Basically, you grab your typical rotter and then inject something into its neck. What exactly is being injected? The Walking Dead hasn’t revealed that yet but it really could be something as mundane as adrenaline.
We know a little bit about zombie physiology already thanks to Dr. Edwin Jenner (Noah Emmerich) in season 1. The only active part of a zombie’s brain is the brainstem. While that part of the organ is primitive and concerned with only lower level function it’s still connected to the rest of the nervous system. There’s no reason why it can’t be effected by an injected steroid or hormone.
In the end, the creation of the first Captain America-esque super soldier serum zombie appears to have been pretty easy to accomplish. While it’s a wonder why no one else has tried it yet, now that it has the zombies of The Walking Dead will never be the same.
The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon finale airs Sunday, Oct. 15 at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.