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In the Fear the Walking Dead episode Cobalt (S01E05), the soldiers in charge of our protagonists' neighborhood made a strange decision while outside the wire. After spotting a solitary zombie, they took an inordinate amount of time to stop their transport vehicle, get out, set up an anti-matériel rifle on a bipod, and chatter about it the whole time.

For those who aren't aware, an anti-matériel rifle is often used to kill human targets at long distances, but it was initially designed to kill vehicles. A .50 round through an engine block will stop a truck dead. This is how the weapons got their names.

A .50 caliber rifle round is almost an inch in diameter and almost 6 inches long:

ammunition
The round on the far left is .50 caliber

Why would they waste relatively expensive, extremely powerful, probably irreplaceable, and wildly overpowered ammo on a single, easy to destroy target? If the zombie was behind a wall or truck or something, I might understand, but it was just standing around in the open. So why bother wasting such powerful ammo?

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  • Beyond the usual genre criticism of "the only way a zombie apocalypse could actually happen is if 100% of humans were bred to make every bad decision possible while still somehow managing to stay alive most of the time," they were also trying to get Travis to kill the zombie, either to impress him or scare him or whatever. Maybe they chose the sniper rifle to make it "easier" for him to either man-up or chicken-out so they could clap him on the back if he went through with it or "that's what I thought" him when he didn't.
    – Sam Skuce
    Sep 28 '15 at 14:06
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    @DaveJohnson - Given what happens just after the rifle scene, I have to disagree.
    – Wad Cheber
    Sep 28 '15 at 19:40
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    Wouldn't they want to use the larger, less useful ammo whenever they can, preserving the small arm ammunition for actual confrontations? While it certainly CAN stop a truck, there aren't that many zombies driving trucks.
    – Vogie
    Oct 1 '15 at 19:26
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    I think this was supposed to highlight the inefficiencies of the military. What @Vogie said makes sense too.
    – milk
    Oct 6 '15 at 19:25
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    I'm not familiar with this particular work, but in the real world, ammunition for a .50 AMR isn't exactly rare, at least among the military. The M82/M107 anti-material rifle uses the same .50 BMG ammunition as the M2 heavy machine gun, so as you might guess, the Army has a lot of the stuff on hand.
    – Mark
    Nov 13 '15 at 23:11
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As usual, the answer is almost certainly somewhere closer to "Rule of Cool" than anything else, though I believe there is some real-world precedent to using that sort of rifle to shoot soft targets.

Chances are good you'll see one or two .50 caliber rifles similar to that one at your average gun and knife show in the midwestern U.S., and I actually thought about buying one until I realized that:

  1. even out in the country I had no place to practically shoot such a monster,
  2. shooting it would loose its novelty after the painful recoil of the first shot,
  3. the ammunition is ridiculously expensive,
  4. the rifle and ammo are ludicrously heavy and wouldn't be fun to take to any range that could handle them,
  5. I can't even make up a good almost-realistic-sounding excuse to own one.

I consider myself fairly practical about stuff like that, so if even I seriously considered it for a moment, then I guess it goes to show that nothing exceeds like excess. Why were the soldiers using a .50 caliber anti-materiel rifle to swat flies? Perhaps because there was nothing stopping them.

In-universe, there's another possible explanation: I think "The Walking Dead" revealed that EVERYONE is infected with whatever causes them to become "walkers", and the series in general has hinted (sometimes more, sometimes less subtly) that the infection has had some effects on the characters' reasoning. If there's a more violent/suicidal, irrational, and over-the-top option that the characters can take, they generally take it.

All that said, that specific episode of the show is playing around a bit with the contrast between what the civilian character wanted to believe about the military (that they were competent, in control, and going to protect everyone and fix everything and all he had to do was get behind the fence and stay out of their way) and the reality of the situation: the soldiers involved were pushed close to their breaking point, their morale was hitting rock bottom, their discipline was falling apart, their chain of command had begun to break down, and they were on their own, making bad decisions, close to mutiny, testing the limits of how much freedom they had to abuse their authority, and waiting for an excuse to bail out of a situation that had long ago "gone pear-shaped".

A scene in which these soldiers are trying to get a pacifist civilian leader to pull the trigger on their ridiculously excessive force has a symbolic touch to it that will probably give that scene some context from a storytelling point of view. I think this, combined with the Rule of Cool, is probably the real explanation for why the scene was framed the way it was.

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    There is no reason to think that infection impaired anyones judgment there, simply they don't understand the enemy.
    – Mithoron
    Nov 13 '15 at 22:28

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