Let's Read World War Z Pt. 3: Ronan's Big List of Zombie Tropes

Max Brooks' post-apocalyptic world tour now heads over to Meteora, Greece. Just Greece, not New Greece or Neo-Greece or the New United Federation of Neo-Greece. Our interview subject is Stanley Macdonald, a former Canadian soldier who stumbled onto the aftermath of an early outbreak in Kyrgyzstan.

There's not a whole lot to the story: Canadian forces were involved in anti drug cartel operations in the region, Macdonald's squad entered some generic bad-guy caves to look for bad guys, they discovered that the bad guys had all been munched on by zombies. This was before general awareness of the zombie plague had spread outside China, so they were all like "WTF that's weird" and "I know right". 

There's just one part of the story I want to highlight: 

Beyond them, in the first chamber, we saw our first evidence of a one-sided firefight, one-sided because only one wall of the cavern was pockmarked by small arms. Opposite that wall were the shooters. They’d been torn apart. Their limbs, their bones, shredded and gnawed . . . some still clutching their weapons, one of those severed hands with an old Makarov still in the grip. The hand was missing a finger. I found it across the room, along with the body of another unarmed man who’d been hit over a hundred times. Several rounds had taken the top of his head off. The finger was still stuck between his teeth.

As we've already seen, WWZ and the Zombie Survival Guide both use classic Romero zombies: truly undead, living corpses, who move at a slow shuffle. However, the Brad Pitt World War Z movie (which I reviewed back in the earliest days of my old blog) opted to go with the more modern "infected" zombies popularized by 28 Days Later: living humans who can move, climb and sprint with all the same agility as they possessed in life.

A lot of fans of the book decried this change, but there was a good reason for it: classic zombies aren't all that scary. A monster that you can escape by slightly increasing your walking speed simply isn't threatening. Zombie fiction that uses classic Romero zombies therefore has to tie itself in knots to make them seem dangerous.

This chapter of WWZ is a good example, as it suggest that a compound full of heavily-armed men were all devoured or turned by the arrival of a single zombie into their midst. How could that have happened? It is suggested that the zombies are very strong (Macdonald gets grabbed by one and describes its grip as being like iron), but that only becomes an issue if they manage to get close to you.

I now present Ronan's Big List of Zombie Tropes, outlining the subtle ways that zombie fiction stacks the deck in the zombies' favour. Next time you're reading, watching or playing a piece of zombie media, see how many you can tick off!

Zombie Invisibility 

Zombies have the ability to become completely undetectable until within striking range. This lets them suddenly leap at humans like trap-door spiders despite a complete lack of nearby hiding places. Counter-intuitively, the more zombies present, the more invisible they'll be. One lone zombie will be easily spotted by the human survivors, but an entire army can sneak around like ninjas.

Zombie teleportation 

Zombies that aren't on-screen or immediately within sight of the characters can move instantaneously into a more advantageous position. Frequently, a human will spot a large group of zombies in the far distance, only for the camera or perspective to cut away; when we next see the human, they'll be surrounded and desperately battling for their life, having apparently taken no action to escape or fight back in the intervening time. Zombologists are divided on whether this is true teleportation, or some sort of time and space manopulation. 

Psychological paralysis 

Upon encountering a zombie or zombies at close quarters, human characters will never simply turn around and lightly jog in the opposite direction. Instead they'll throw up their hands and shout "Ohhhh noooo, a zombiiiiieeee!" while backing away very slowly, preferably right into some sort of easily-trippable obstacle. 

Firearm negation 

Classic zombies can famously only be felled by shots to the head. This weakness is softened by the fact that even seasoned military veterans will consistently fail to score a head-shot, even at close range. Characters who are aware of the head-shot rule will inexplicably forget it at a critical moment, uselessly emptying entire magazines into the zombies' torsos. In addition, all humans suffer a severe penalty to their firing speed when using semi-automatic weapons, forcing them to slowly lower their gun and squint in horrified terror between each shot. 

The no-armour rule

Despite zombie bites mostly occuring on the forearm or lower leg, no one will ever think of putting some sort of protective cover over these areas to save themselves from a bite. Even wearing long sleeves is deeply unfashionable in the zombie apocalypse, the better to make good and sure that those zombie teeth are totally unobstructed. 

Lethal curiosity 

In thee presence of a zombie outbreak, human intelligence degrades until it reaches the level of a particularly adorable puppy. Sudden pools of blood, vanishing or moving corpses and unsettling moans will prompt any human in the area to drop their guard and immediately investigate on their own. Upon encountering a friend of colleague with blood dripping out of their mouth and a moving with a distinctly corpse-like gait, the human will rush over to them and get within hugging range as quickly as possible. 

This concludes Ronan's Big List of Zombie Tropes. Add yours in the comments!   I was going to include inexplicably military incompetence, but there's a future chapter that provides a much better example.

Apologies for the short post this time, I've been under the weather this month. Hopefully the next one will be a bit meatier.