I enjoy The Walking Dead, however one question keeps nagging me. The 'Walkers' are always shown to not have any intelligence or memory of having been human. This is for all seasons except the very first one.

In the very first scene of Season One, Episode One, we see a little zombie girl stop to deliberately pick up a teddy bear from the ground.

Later in the same episode we see a zombie apparently try to turn the door knob to get into Morgen Jones' house.

Also at Atlanta they can climb fences and used rocks to break glass.

After season 1 I do not recall seeing any such intelligence demonstrated by a zombie again.

My question is: are these initial displays of intelligence a discrepancy in the story, or is there a plausible explanation why the Walkers performed these actions?

  • 4
    Tough to put as an answer- but TV shows, especially ones adapting other works, often have 'bugs' in their initial episodes.
    – Solemnity
    Apr 14, 2013 at 0:28
  • @Solemnity I also believe this to be the correct answer
    – user13789
    Apr 14, 2013 at 5:14
  • great question coming from great observations. i was always bothered about the female zombie trying to go home but never really seeing that kind of stuff again . . . but i completely glossed over the little girl zombie picking up a bear.
    – FoxMan2099
    Jul 6, 2013 at 15:34
  • 3
    In the pilot we also saw zombies sitting in a burned-out bus. They had clearly not been in the bus when it burned, but what do you do when there's a bus standing at the curb? You get in and take a seat. These actions aren't intelligence exactly, they're more like sleepwalking.
    – Beta
    Sep 5, 2013 at 2:15
  • 4
    My take on this: The zombies in The Walking Dead have been decaying for a long time now. Behaviors that might have made sense at the beginning of the series, memories and normal human behavior, are now impossible due to progressively more decayed brains. It was only when a zombie was freshest that he or she was able to display human behaviors. Oct 23, 2014 at 14:22

8 Answers 8


Zombies tend to follow instinct, but have been known to react to certain stimuli that do not involve food.

George Romero is responsible for the typical 'zombie rules', and his original trilogy set those rules. Zombies are slow and essentially mindless, they crave living flesh and prefer human, zombies are drawn to sounds and motion, zombies do not attack other zombies, zombie bites are fatal, and dead people rise as zombies (often changed to 'dead from zombie bites').

Even in Romero's original trilogy, he broke these rules whenever it was needed to make a better movie, as I've said before.

But there are some actions which are so automatic that they become instinctive. For instance, many people who drive the same route frequently don't need to focus on it. They'll frequently have their minds on other subjects, yet still drive safely and on the correct route. It's possible that different zombies retain different 'learned instincts'. Remember Bub from Day of the Dead? He was an outstanding example of a zombie retaining some learned instincts, even before the training he was given.

Further, in the 'Day by Day Armageddon' series the protagonist comes up with a theory of what he calls 'ten-percenters', noting that about 1 out of every 10 zombies seems slightly more capable than the rest. They retain some problem solving skills, can recognize patterns they've seen frequently, are better able to climb stairs or ladders, or something similar that sets them apart.

In a town that's been abandoned as long as Rick's home town, only the most capable zombies will still be present and successful in hunting. Thus, the ones we see that are most active are likely the highest-functioning.

Later in the series, when we're in areas with higher (or recently higher) populations, the most capable zombies just don't stand out as much (or got to the harder-to-reach, better defended 'food' first and have been head-shot already).

  • The concept that the zombies retain memories was a part of season 3, with the governor especially keen to know if any memory of the zombies past life still remained. I believe that the series has not yet indicated whether this is actually possible, although your answer provides a very interesting context to this with the idea that zombies could have different levels of ability, possibly taken from their past lives.
    – user13789
    Apr 15, 2013 at 13:04
  • 1
    "Bub" not "Bud" very minor but makes it easier to Google. Oct 23, 2014 at 13:45
  • @anotherguest: D'oh! Thanks, it had been a long time since I saw the movie.
    – Jeff
    Oct 23, 2014 at 14:17
  • @Jeff +1 for mentioning Bub. I think Day of the Dead (1985) is the best in the series and is underrated. Oct 29, 2014 at 17:56

The behavior demonstrated by the Walkers (Zombies) in Episode 1 of Season 1 was likely to be a discrepancy in the story writing as a result of being right at the beginning of production.

As pointed out by the User Solemnity, this is a relativity common issue in early TV episodes generally.

Therefore not too much should be read into the actions of the Zombies in the first episode.


The most common and believable explanation is that all new Zombies show the same intelligence because they retain some of the intelligence that they had as humans. This explains why almost all of the zombies in the first season are fast because most are newly turned. You can see the same behavior in the newly turned Merle. As time progresses they will get slower and dumber. Although Kirkman has said they do not rot. Their cell structure is not replenished as it would be if they were alive.

  • 2
    Not sure about this one.. Merle (for example) did not demonstrate any intelligence, nor do any other 'fresh' zombies that come to mind.
    – user13789
    Aug 16, 2013 at 16:05

In season 1 episode 2, as the walkers attempt to break through the doors of the department store, one male zombie is seen using a rock to break the glass. He would of had to deliberately pick this up to do so, right? I find it hard to believe that he would of had any emotional attachment to the rock, unlike the little girl with the teddy bear and Morgan's wife with the house.

Later in this episode we see walkers climbing the gate at the construction site, but when Rick and the gang first arrive at the prison in season 3 none of the walkers there attempt to scale a similarily sized gate in the yard.

Also in season 1 - I think episode 3 - a zombie unzips the tent where Carol's husband is sleeping, something which I consider intelligent behaviour for a creature with very limited activity in the brain. That walker chose to look in the tent for someone. Carol's husband was lying sulking, and he ddn't make a noise until after the walker had unzipped his tent. However by season 3 the walkers appear to just shuffle around until someone crosses their path. They never actively seek out someone unless that person has made their presence known.

It seems to me that the zombies have become much less intelligent as the show has progressed. This is either a deliberate part of their lore in-universe or the shows creators decided to make other humans the main threat to our heroes to keep it interesting. Because, let's face it, there's only so many times you can use a zombie attack to shake things up - even in a show about a zombie apocalypse!

  • 1
    These are valid observations, and they support the question, but there's no answer offered.
    – user1786
    Sep 19, 2014 at 23:19
  • 'Would of had'? Really?
    – Abel
    Dec 12, 2016 at 15:02

Zombies at first are still connected to their own self in a way. But as they continue to progress into a zombie they lose theirself and become the virus completely.

  • 1
    The failed experiment on Michael Coleman in season 3 pretty much proves that that isn't really true.
    – phantom42
    Oct 10, 2013 at 1:26
  • 1
    Agree with @phantom42 . Additionally, I have seen no evidence of any connection whenever anyone 'turns'. (End of Season 3, it seemed Merle still had some recognition of his brother, although there was no way to know for sure)
    – user13789
    Oct 19, 2013 at 8:10

Robert Kirkman wrote on Reddit:

...In the beginning of the show we saw walkers do things like using a rock to help bash the doors in or turning a door knob, is there a reason we've stopped seeing them do that?

"Older zombies are less together and capable or doing things like that. Fresher zombies, which there were more of in season one, are able to do more than older, more rotted zombies.

As a result of decay, the part of their brain stem reactivated degrades over time, leaving them with the herd following behaviour and the drive to hunt out prey

As described by Eugene in the comic book, a herd is when a group of Walkers acts with a mob mentality. One zombie might brush his hand on a door knob, and another will see this and mistake it as an attempt to get in. Then he will beat on the door to get in, and the first zombie will see this and try to get in. This will spark a chain reaction. An example of this is in the start of the Season 2 finale where a zombie sees a helicopter and follows it to Hershel's Farm. -Wiki

  • Actually, it was Abraham that described herds.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 19, 2015 at 14:32
  • As I stated, I gave the comic book example Sep 27, 2015 at 8:28
  • That's what I was talking about. In the comics, Abraham explains herds, not Eugene.
    – Wad Cheber
    Sep 27, 2015 at 8:29
  • See this cap: i.sstatic.net/skvka.png Clearly, the wikia got this wrong. Abe does the talking, not Eugene.
    – Wad Cheber
    Sep 27, 2015 at 8:31

I imagine that the impulse to eat overrides every other impulse. When the girl picked up the doll she wasn't aware of any food source so she did have the capacity of very limited thought.

The old guy that was alive and later died and became a walker wasn't able to react to those control stimuli because of the presence of food.

  • 1
    Welcome to the site. Any reference(s) that back up your answer ?
    – Stan
    Sep 28, 2013 at 15:46
  • Not sure that I understand the reference to the 'old guy'
    – user13789
    Sep 30, 2013 at 4:28

I found that strange and out of character for the show as well.

If we take the last episode of the first season, the doctor shows us that only the Walkers cerebellum and closer parts are functional. This is in charge of basic instinct and the need to feed, among other things. Without getting too technical into the medical part (as the whole argument for Zombies falls apart), it is unlikely that a Walker would even think to pick up a doll as that wouldn't satisfy any real basic instinct. However when the doctor is showing us the brain, we also see that there are synapses going throughout the brain, even partially. This could possibly lead to human-like responses if a certain area of the brain lights up long-enough. Perhaps a Walkers previous-self might shine through for just a second.