In the CDC lab, Rick's group is shown a brain scan of a zombie that showed how the infection reanimates a dead person by reactivating the brain stem, which would seem to suggest that only the brain stem is responsible for the walkers being "alive". However, throughout the show, the walkers are killed by basically any blow or stab to the brain in any region, brain stem or not, like this one. How does that work?

  • Speculation: While the infection resides in the brain stem, from there it needs control over the entire brain (or at least more of it) to operate the body.
    – Junuxx
    Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 4:24
  • The brain scan only showed synapses firing in the brain stem and the doctor stated that the rest of the brain, "what makes you you" doesn't come back.
    – dramzy
    Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 4:32
  • 2
    You cannot walk without any function in the brain. In fact, without a functioning cerebellum you cannot even stand.
    – Misha R
    Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 8:43
  • It disrupts the blood flow and possibly "kills" the rest of the brain with it
    – Eumel
    Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 9:29
  • @Eumel: But walkers that have completely bled out are not uncommon and usually still functioning.
    – Junuxx
    Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 10:07

2 Answers 2


According to Greg Nicotero, season 1 head of special effects for the show:

The Walking Dead is "such an homage to the original, George Romero" that there was never a serious consideration to change the cardinal rule that only a headshot can kill them.

As the TWD team from season one onwards deliberately omitted to define underlying facts like the source of the outbreak and the nature of the walking dead brain(stem), I doubt you will find any more canon. Although inspecting the reanimation scene will show an occasional spark shuffling off into other parts of the brain.

So all there is is speculative. And some is based on good forensic knowledge. based on that several parts of the brain can be targeted:

  • frontal lobe, "...the zombie frontal lobe is active enough to process sensory input through the thalamus."
  • primary motor cortex (exists on both sides of the brain, it sends signals, via neurons, to the muscles of the body)
  • brain stem (medulla oblongata)
  • upper cervical spinal cord and between the second and third thoracic vertebrae

Putting down your ripening zombie will become easier over time as as the skull itself decays and will be less protected by other tissue as time commences.

In addition of the 'killer' being a survivor and very well trained by then.


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  • 1
    Your answer is based on general info across the entire zombie genre, and that info doesn't apply to the specific franchise the question is focused on - The Walking Dead.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 15:05
  • @Wad Cheber, I added Greg Nicotero's quote
    – Bookeater
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 15:10
  • 1
    Better, but it still doesn't address the question that was asked. The question is basically "In TWD, the only part of a zombie's brain that does anything is the stem. So why does hitting them in all the parts that aren't the stem kill them?"
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 15:15
  • @Wad Cheber, I also added a remark on the lack of canon.
    – Bookeater
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 16:40
  • There's the rub. If I were to answer this question, I'd say "In the TWD show, the FTWD show, the comics, and the Telltale game, this is never addressed, and the information about the brain stem only appears on the TWD show, not in any other sources in the franchise". I won't answer it, because you basically said what I would say. +1.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 19:06

In the episode TS-19 they explain that the zombies or "Walkers"

  1. They are not conscious they lack the ability to think or process things like humans do, they basically are not human.

  2. The infection infects the brain stem and only re activates part of the brain.

So logically you would have to decapitate them or shoot them exactly in the infected part of their brain otherwise they wouldn't die right away. I'm not sure exactly how blood affects them, but assuming their hearts still beat internal bleeding could kill the brain, but not immediately.

So to answer your question their isn't enough information to Justify killing a walker immediately with any blow to the head.

  • Shooting someone in the head could cause enough overpressure to disrupt the rest of the tissue in the skull. Particularly, I think, if the unused part of the brain has been rotting and liquefying. Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 15:39
  • yeah you are right, but still they shouldn't die immediately after being shot in the eye, or being stabbed in the forehead.
    – Fox-Chan
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 16:22
  • Zombies don't bear a lot of analysis. Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 17:37

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