When we think of zombies we probably have a host of macabre images that pop up in our head.
It’s not a herd of galloping horses or a flock of geese.
I’m guessing the word zombie doesn’t conjure up images of a wolf pack, or a pride of lions, or a troop of baboons.
You certainly don’t think of a flock of flesh-eating sheep; unless of course, you’ve seen the movie Black Sheep.
The word zombie, for most of us, churns up images of a decayed ugly dude who’s a starved crazed-flesh creature and void of all humanity.
A pack of zombies is simply not a phrase you’ll ever hear, except here of course.
Yet, here’s a universal truth. Every zombie film you ever watched has streets thronged with Undead stumbling about. The Dead-Walkers all have their heads down and are pacing slowly down the street, while some are just standing and staring.
In every scene, you can count on at least one of these guys having a defect of some sort. Sure, there will be one off to the side. His body will be contorted, and his head will jerk back and forth like he has Tourette’s. But for the most part – it’s a group of moaning Zs.
Indeed, the Zsters are all aware of each other and even stay at a respectful arm’s length. If you think about it – this in itself is quite remarkable.
Let’s say you snuck into an area festered with zombies, set your film gear up, and taped a group of peaceful shambling zombies. They’re all moving about as one cohesive group.
How can that even be true?
The concept of zombie group organization has never been explicitly addressed in any zombie movie or TV series that I know of. I might be the minority here, but this unexplored and unaddressed question fascinates me.
Flip on a Walking Dead series and you’ll see a mob of zombies doing a synchronized walk.
Okay, so you have your lone wolves out there. We can count on one Undead milling around and doing his own thing. It happens most of the time though we’ll see a group of zombies united as one.
Obviously, no one is conversing, as the Zs are not known for being verbose. Maybe a few are moaning, but mainly everyone is quiet, dragging their feet and following the other in front of them.
I always ask in these situations, Where in the holy hell are they heading? Are they just walking aimlessly? Is someone leading them?
It’s like someone starts in one direction, and the rest conform.
In Land of the Dead, there is little question about whether the Undead are being lead. Big Daddy is the leader here, and he takes his posse across the river where they take out the human forces that have been cruelly killing them.
And one in their group is attacked they’re all pissed and ready to rip you to pieces.
A pack of zombies, weirdly, shows some similarities to a herd of horses. Attack a herd of horses and they all react.
A lion who sneaks up on a horse herd, and pounces, will quickly find the herd charging away.
Experts in horse behavior inform us that the stampeding horses are not interested in protection of the group even though that’s essentially what’s happening. They’re running for self-preservation.
In the stampede horse members on the outside are constantly trying to dig deeper into the middle. Saving oneself is key and sometimes there are unfortunate victims who stumble and fall and trampled.
Good pickings for the meat eaters.
Social psychologists tell us that numbers delivers safety.
A horse seeks to be around its own because, for one, it provides physical safety. You are more likely to survive an attack from a lurking wolf if you are standing with your friends. A herd always conform to its group members which aids in survival. Much easier to run one direction that multiple routes.
Horses are not the only ones who like to stick in groups.
Humans have a tendency to gravitate towards places with other people. For example, let’s say you have to choose between two restaurants.
You notice one is vacant and the other has four tables that are filled. People are drawn to the place with more people. This is true to a point of course as certain people will avoid heavy crowds.
In the end, people rationalize their decisions of going into group with a series of reasons but are completely unaware of their instinctual motivation to be around their kind.
Not only do humans select places with people, they readily adapt conform to social situations like horses. Have you ever walked onto an elevator where everyone is turned in one direction? What do you do?
Most of us, will turn the same direction. The point – we conform to the group. It’s built in us. In Star Trek, when everyone hops on the transporter you see their faces. When was the last time you saw a guy turned the opposite direction?
I mean, if Spock had his back to us, while everyone else is facing us, would he end up in a different place? Course not. This just underlies the idea of conformity in groups.
I Am Legend captures this perfectly as we watch Will Smith encounter a pack of Darkseekers crowded in a corner. They’re not milling about. No, these guys are sleeping on their feet. They have their heads down, are clustered together, and they’re facing the same direction.
Will soon discovers there’s one clever mutant leading the group – known as Alpha.
One could ask, did the writer in I Am Legend think out this group behavior? Did he say, I’m creating zombies who crowd together and we’ll be lead by one zombie.
It it is more likely the writer followed a template of basic group dynamic behavior without him even realizing it. Most of us understand that team work will increase chances of survival. We don’t need to be a fan of Hunger Games or Survivor to know this.
Zombies want to get along just like humans, and apparently, they do it better than humans.
It happens more often than not, we writers characterize zombies who are social. When have you ever seen a zombie film and the zombie members turn against each other?
Zombie films, by and large, always have a herd of Undead charging after panicked humans. The Zs are not stampeding over their own, or even pushing another out the way.
Not even the horses, who are quite adept at galloping as one, are able to manage this feat.
Apparently, the Undead have a sixth-sense canniness of coordination that is unspoken, and largely, unquestioned. They move nimbly as one when they need to, and trample down humans with glee in the process.
Stephen King wrote in The Stand, “Give me three [people] and they’ll invent the charming thing we call society. Give me four and they’ll build a pyramid. Give me five and they’ll make one an outcast. Give me six and they’ll reinvent prejudice. Give me seven and in seven years they’ll reinvent warfare.”
In large groups of people we find people working together, competing against each other, and sometimes, scheming to knock someone out.
In a society that falls to warfare or a plague, we find the survivors are not singing Kumbaya. Sadly, they’re raping and killing each other. It’s just a nasty truth of life.
Zombies, however, are apparently a higher species as they do not adhere to Stephen King’s maxim regarding the formation of society.
Zombies. The guys known for being stupid, craved, and impulsive. The ones that eat out intestines filled with steamy fecal matter.
Yeah, these guys. They are the epitome of pure peaceful group organization.
This is quite fascinating to consider given that a zombie has no capacity for thought, but in the words of Sigmund Freud, is a slave to the Id.
The Id only cares about pleasure without any concern of the pain or detriment it may cause another. Someone operating on pure Id will gorge and gorge just because it feels good. In short, zombies’ ids are king, they damn as they damn well please. But they never touch their fellow zombie.
Yet, go look at any society with limited laws and cruelty and corruption rules the day. Take one look at our prison system and you’ll find many guys with power and strength gorging their id without thought.
Am I the only one who thinks it’s strange zombies don’t do any of this? The zombies are a distinctive class who do not cause harm to their fellow Zs.
I have concluded that zombies have a written code in their culture that we humans are not privy to.
I imagine the Supreme Leader of the zombie caste saying, “Fellow Zs. Raise your right hand and repeat after me… Grrrr…. Rrrrr…. Grrrr…. and- Ughh… Uhhhh…” You’d hear nothing groans and moans people, these guys aren’t known for their smarts.
It’s hard to imagine, a group of impulsive Zs who are decaying and have impaired intelligence moving together as a clever pack, hunting down humans with extreme prejudice.
If you think about it, is this even possible?
Have you ever heard of rabid dog packs?
Maybe that’s because there is no such thing.
Dogs infected with rabies come down with symptoms of fever, seizures, paralysis in hips that cause them to stagger, lack coordination, and attack anything that moves.
Wait, that sounds quite familiar to another group–
Right, so we surmise that dogs with rabies are not exactly good pets and look like zombies. They rip into anything around them, including their master and fellow dogs.
This begs the question, what happens if you put two rabid dogs in the same pen?
We can guess it’s not going to be pretty guys.
Not even our scientists who induce aggression in mice have the heart to put two aggressive mice in the same room together – we all know there would be bloodied pieces to pick up later.
Yet, our crazed, rabid zombies hold hands in harmony, and only become aggressive when they catch sight of live humans.
28 Weeks Later had infected humans raged to the red. It is fantastical that these infected didn’t beat each other to bloody hell. Instead, they showed pack behavior, racing together as one tight knit group, chasing down humans across meadows, through buildings, and over bridges.
World War Z was a bit more realistic in their chase scenes if we look exclusively at group behavior.
In this film, zombies were jumping over each other, pushing each other down, stampeding over their fellow Zs; but still, they did not attack each other.
Ok, let’s summarize… the.Zombies are like a herd of horses, kinda. They’re also like rabid dogs, but they’re not a pack of rabid dogs because this doesn’t exist.
Zombies have a silent code that says they will never kill a fellow zombie.
What, in honest truth, would happen if the entirety of New York City fell tomorrow to a plague that turned us into mindless, starving, crazy rabid creatures?
What would we do to each other if we were lunatic, starving rabid dogs?
Take a guess.
It’s safe to assume the acute danger would be over very soon.
Just multiply the road kill below by a million-fold.
We’d be picking up pieces for a long time people.
A long freaking time.
(And yes, I know the picture above is gross. We’ve talking about zombies though for crying out loud – what do you expect!)
BRYCE BENTLEY SUMMERS is an author, copywriter, and psychologist. He’s presently employed at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Presently, he’s published three novellas and one short story on Amazon that are part of the series, Amen to Rot. Amen to Rot is a YA Dark Fantasy/ Sci-Fi.
Please be on the look out in the next months for his recently completed three novels that include Nyte God, conclusion to Amen to Rot series; Rotville, a New Adult Sci-Fi (Horror); and Fresh Meat, Adult Horror (Paranormal).