In some parts of the tv series and the comics it seems that people rise up almost instantly after they have "died", becoming shambling zombies, while in other scenes it almost seems like it takes years for them to finally turn into zombies.

Has anything in-universe ever explained how long it would take for someone to die and then turn into a human?

1 Answer 1


Time Between Death And Reanimation:

In the comics, it has never been specified, as far as I can recall; however, it always seems to take at least a couple of minutes, and never more than a few hours.

On the show, Dr. Jenner at the CDC gave us an official answer:

We had reports of it happening in as little as three minutes. The longest we heard of was eight hours. In the case of this patient, it was two hours, one minute, seven seconds.
- S1:E6, "TS-19"

However, Shane reanimated in under two minutes, and in S6:E2, "J.S.S.", we saw at least one person reanimate in a few seconds. It seems likely that reanimation takes however long the scene demands.

Time Between Bite And Death:

AMC has tweeted a list of rules pertaining to zombies on The Walking Dead, which included this tidbit:

Zombie Rule #10: Once you're bitten you'll die and reanimate as a walker. How long it takes is related to the nature of your bite.

The reason that the amount of time between being bitten and dying is contingent upon the nature of the bite is simple: bite kills you via blood loss or normal infection, not because of the zombie virus. Everyone already has the virus, so that isn't fatal.

The rule is: WHATEVER it is that causes the zombies, is something everyone already has. If you stub your toe, get an infection and die, you turn into a zombie, UNLESS your brain is damaged. If someone shoots you in the head and you die, you’re dead. A zombie bite kills you because of infection, or blood loss, not because of the zombie “virus.”
- The Walking Dead Wikia, quoting Robert Kirkman's statement in the "Letter Hacks" column of the comic books

As Kirkman's comment makes clear, the zombie virus has nothing to do with the cause of death - if you are bitten and die of infection, the infection that killed you wasn't the zombie virus, it was regular old sepsis or something along those lines, because zombies have filthy mouths.

So you might be bitten in the throat, severing an artery; this will kill you very quickly. We've seen this happen to several people, including Andrea's sister Amy. On the other hand, you might be bitten on the torso, where no major arteries are accessible; in this case, you will die much more slowly. This is how Jim died, and he appears to have lasted almost a day before he finally succumbed to the infection. Likewise, Bob was able to hide his bite and live for more than a day after being bitten. He didn't even appear to show signs of infection until after his lower leg was amputated by the Terminus cannibals.

Along the same lines:

The pathogen itself does not kill its hosts, but it seems to weaken their immune systems considerably, to the point where even minor illnesses are far more fatal than normal to humans.
- The Walking Dead Wikia


"You all know how this shit works. You get a bite, you get any kind of wound from these things, something from them gets in you...and you fucking die."
- The Walking Dead, Issue #122, "All Out War: Part II"

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    The problem I have with this answer is that obviously something in the zombie bite is abnormally venomous. Normal people don't die from bites -- they just get an infection which is perfectly treatable with medicine available in the show. While it's pretty clear throughout the show this answer is supposed to be canon (even without the quote above), it's also pretty clear many of the bites would have never killed the people in reality.
    – MichaelS
    Oct 19, 2015 at 8:22
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    @MichaelS see Why are Walker bites in the Walking Dead fatal?
    – phantom42
    Oct 19, 2015 at 12:27
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    Well, following the link above, about 10% of bitten people get infected, then 20% of those people have bad enough infections to require amputation. Even if those numbers double due to hardship, there's still a 92% survival rate. Add in access to antibiotics and that rate goes higher. As for zombie bites, I would expect them to be less dangerous than human bites, if anything. You're unlikely to die from eating rotten meat, let alone getting a little in a cut. Yeah, it's perfectly plausible for a zombie (or other) bite to kill, but the 100% rate in the show requires something more.
    – MichaelS
    Oct 20, 2015 at 3:05
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    The "Why are Walker bites in the Walking Dead fatal?" link which leads to this link. I absolutely agree that in-universe zombie bites are always fatal. I just know it doesn't work that way in reality unless there's some type of toxin in the bite (and even then, it's a bit sketchy).
    – MichaelS
    Oct 20, 2015 at 4:15
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    It's relevant if the zombies aren't special, because then zombie bites are functionally similar to human bites. If we just say the zombies have zombie-germs caused by the zombie virus in their mouths, we can hand-wave a lot of it away. Saying it's just regular infection makes it hard to ignore how silly that sounds.
    – MichaelS
    Oct 20, 2015 at 5:03

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