The zombie apocalypse is an end times scenario like no other. I mean how often do we hear about humans fighting flesh eating reanimated corpses.

The zombie has been depicted in film upward of 400+ times. That’s even before we mention comics, books, tv, plays and so on.

Aka biters, the living dead, the undead, or zeds. One tv series alone, The Walking Dead, can boast 13 different ways to describe these gruesome creatures.

The concept of the zombie has clearly penetrated deep into the fabric of modern popular culture, but behind the modern image is also a long and interesting history worth exploring.

Zombie Apocalypse: Who, What, Where, When and Why?

Zombie Apocalypse Metrics

The Etymology of the word Zombie

The word Zombie can be traced back to the island nation of Haiti.

In local folk law it is believed that a Zombi is a corpse that has been brought back to life. The act is often performed by a witch doctor or some other purveyor of black magic. Folk law states that this zombi is then under the direct control of whoever awoke them.

The story has roots in traditions brought over by African slaves. Some academics have even gone as far a saying that the zombie is a metaphor for slavery itself.

The word zombie rose to international prominence following the USA occupation of Haiti in 1915. Soldiers stationed on the island sent starnge accounts back home of the traditions of local island inhabitants.

These accounts where given additional credibility in 1929 with the publication of William Seabrook’s The Magic Island. An eyewitness account of some of the same practices.

The Development of the Zombie Archetype

While the word zombi may trace it’s origin to Haiti the idea of the undead can trace its origin as far back as the Epic of Gilgamesh. In the poem one of the characters Ishtar threatens her father Anu by saying she will raise the dead from the underworld to eat the flesh of the living. 

The famous 1818 novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is also another notable example from history, the monster displays a whole collection of character traits similar to later 20th century zombies.

The modern idea of the zombie draws heavily from the 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. This was the first of six in the Living Dead series. Most critics agree that the movie contributed more to the public’s notion of zombie than any literary or cinematic work that had gone before it.

The sub genre continued to develop in popularity through much of the 70s and 80s in both Japanese and Western cinema.

Then in the nineties the genre exploded. The most notable examples include 28 Days Later in the UK and I Am Legend and World War Z in the USA but the catalog of zombie movies is almost endless.

The zombie movie sub-genre has now graduated to a fully fledged genre in its own right. Few can deny that zombie movies have come to dominate a large chunk of the public imagination.

The Zombie Apocalypse

The sheer quantity of zombie related output means that it is a little tricky to answer the two questions of what is a “typical” zombie? and what would a zombie apocalypse look like? 

To illustrate our problem, just compare the zombies in the movie World War Z to Night of the Living Dead. In the former the zombies are hyper-aggressive, fast and show signs of intelligence. In the latter the the zombies are slow and have human levels of strength. To be blunt, they are completely different monsters.

So, for the sake of this article and to answer the above questions I am going to assume we are up against zombies typified in Max Brook’s World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. 

What is a “Typical” Zombie?

1. Strength – equivalent to a human host 
2. Speed
– a slow almost crawl like pace
3. Life Span – 3 to 5 years depending on climate and environment
4. Agility – unable to swim, jump or balance easily
5. Intelligence – unable to use logic or reason of any kind
6. Death
– only by completely destroying the brain
7. Virus
– transmitted through contact with saliva or blood

What Would a Zombie Apocalypse Look Like? 

Stage 1 – Patient zero is infected by the virus from an unknown origin.
Stage 2 – Patient 0 begins infecting others with virus. Doctors attempt to treat the infected but are quickly overwhelmed.
Stage 3 – The infection spreads to large population centers
Stage 4 – The military is brought in to contain the infection but the situation is too chaotic to handle.
Stage 5 – The infection spreads to other countries
Stage 6 – Worldwide economic panic and political breakdown
Stage 7 – Different nations attempt varying containment strategies.
Stage 8 – Survivors retreat to militarized settlements

Modern society would break down and in many cases people would have to rely on themselves to escape the chaos. The extent to which you could rely on others is certainly to be questioned.

The Panel of Experts

Professor of Physics – If we assume this isn’t just some students playing a prank then I would quickly gather grab my bug out bag and escape to a less populated area.

State Governor – The government will be forced to retreat to safe zones and abandon dense population centers.

CIA Field Operative – If you survive the initial chaos you should team up with a well armed group of people you can trust. Basic supplies are going to be hard to come by so be prepared.

What Would Karl do?

Karl – a 30 something millennial living in the San Francisco bay area

Karl woke up that Morning to a loud banging on his door. His best friend Chris was outside in a state of panic. He had a bloodied bandage around his right hand.

“We need to use your van Karl” said Chris. “Why?” replied Karl. Karl didn’t hear the response. He was transfixed by the sight of his neighbor across the street. She was slowly walking towards Chris with blood oozing from her mouth.

In an instant Karl knew what was happening. He had spent the weekend before doing a zombie movie marathon. The zombie apocalypse had begun.

He grabbed his bug out bag and ran out the front door past Chris and into his VW camper van. Fuck Chris, he had already been bitten. Karl was on his own.

He drove east along main street. There were zombie everywhere, but they were slow. Thank god they weren’t like the zombies in I Am Legend he thought. He was low on petrol so he stopped at the next petrol station. It looked quiet.

He jumped out and scanned the surrounding streets. It was a little too quiet. But he had no choice. He plugged in the petrol nozzle and began to fill up his tank.

He then notice the man with sawed off shotgun. “Walk away from the vehicle” he said. “Hands behind your back!”. The mans family appear from a nearby door and piled into the van. “It’s nothing personal” the man said before speeding off down the road.

The man’s shouts had attracted a few zombies and their moans were attracting more. Karl retreated to one of the buildings nearby. He was unfortunately surrounded. Game over Karl.

Reading List

World War Z – An amazing look at how the world would behave in a zombie apocalypse. Get it if you are interested in geopolitics.

The Zombie Survival Guide – Anyone a little worried about the prospect of a zombie takeover. Buy this book!