As The Walking Dead has always been more interested in its human characters and their fight for survival than the walker virus itself, the franchise employs the traditional take on zombies – they’re slow-witted, lumbering and like to eat the living. However, season 1 of the TV show is unique in TWD history, both on television and in the comics, for portraying the walkers with some degree of intelligence.
There are numerous times across the first six episodes of the AMC series that zombies show some initiative when it comes to hunting down their prey. For instance, Morgan’s reanimated wife works out to turn the doorknob to get inside instead of just mindlessly clawing and banging at the door, as we’ve seen them do ever since. Memorably, there’s also the little girl in the pilot who chases after Rick Grimes while clutching onto her teddy bear, revealing that she still retains an attachment to the toy. Again, we never see walkers keep any aspect of their personalities after this season.
Creator Robert Kirkman has attempted to explain this discrepancy, offering up that newborn zombies can possess a vestige of their former selves, especially back in the early days of the apocalypse. Unfortunately, though, neither of these points really holds up. For one, we’ve seen many walkers turn in later seasons, with them immediately reanimating as classic zombies. Secondly, Fear the Walking Dead season 1 is also set at the beginning of the outbreak, and the zombies featured in that likewise show no signs of higher brain functions.
We can only chalk this up to a creative decision, then, with future writers simply preferring to disregard this initial experimentation with smart zombies. ScreenRant has suggested a neat explanation for this change in approach, though. As they point out, showrunner Frank Darabont left the series after season 1, infamously entering into a fierce legal battle with AMC. Perhaps Darabont was the one pushing for intelligent walkers and when he left, especially in such an ugly parting, his concepts were discarded.
We’ll likely never know, but it is what it is and if you’re hungry for more zombie action, you can rest assured that The Walking Dead will return to finish off its tenth season sometime later this year.