In the movie Serenity, Mal and his crew travel to Miranda where they discover

that the Alliance had added a chemical called the Pax to the air supply on the planet. The Pax was designed to pacify the population and make them less aggressive, but the crew finds many bodies with no evidence of trauma or injury because the Pax caused most of the population to stop doing anything and simply die. However, they also discover a recording which reveals the origin of the Reavers -- the 0.1% of the population of Miranda which had the opposite reaction and became insanely aggressive.

Why didn't the Reavers murder and mutilate everyone on Miranda? Instead, everyone on Miranda

died peacefully.

A plausible explanation is given in the Firefly Wiki article on the Reavers:

It has been observed/implied on at least two occasions that Reavers do not bother with already-dead prey, preferring, if not insisting, that their victims be alive. At one point, three Reavers were about to attack a man, but when Mal shot him, they gave up their effort. At another point, Mal, Zoë, Jayne, and River were on their Mule, being chased by a Reaver hovercraft. When Jayne questions why the Reavers did not destroy the Mule, River muttered to herself, "They want us alive when they eat us." Both these events take place in the film. In the same vein, the Reavers did not bother to attack the 99.9% of Miranda's population that were pacified by the chemical, as these people would have had no reaction.

However, the article does not appear to cite a canon source for its explanation. Moreover,

it would take days for the pacified population to die of starvation or thirst, and the Reavers would have had time to inflict massive trauma and fatal injuries to them. So why didn't the Reavers attack the pacified population before they died? Surely they would have taken sadistic pleasure in attacking the pacified population, even if there was no resistance. We only know that the Reavers ignore the dead, not the pacified.

Has a canonical source provided an explanation?

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    A tenth of one percent is a tiny proportion of the population and we only see a tiny part of one city. – Valorum Dec 4 '14 at 17:20
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    Each reaver would have to kill 999 people. 10% of 1% is 1:1000. We know from the recording that they were traveling in roving bands, targeting people who're awake/mobile. That could easily explain why they happened to land in an unscathed area. – Valorum Dec 4 '14 at 17:31
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    We don't see them do a planetary survey, they land very close to the wrecked shuttle, then get attacked, then leave. – Valorum Dec 4 '14 at 17:34
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    It seems likely that they were in the same room that she died in. – Valorum Dec 4 '14 at 17:55
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    This might have been asked and answered, but I've always felt that a better question is how can the Reaver's exist when, after any significant period of "boredom" wouldn't they turn on themselves? – RLH Dec 5 '14 at 14:36

Your question assumes that the Reavers were "born" before the rest of the population died. But I would argue the opposite: the process was probably parallel. It seems unlikely that people drew in a single breath of the Pax, went insane, and started killing people.

More likely, the "Reaver-ification" took time, just like the "sloth-ification" of the rest of the population did. They got irritable, and then they got angry. No doubt they were INCREDIBLY frustrated with their friends, who were too tired to move. They probably got more and more angry as the rest of the population began to starve, eventually turning on each other as the only ones who would respond. Hell, watching their friends and family die around them was probably part of them going into a homicidal rage, or perhaps part of why they left the planet: I could see a mob of crazed rage-aholics seeing their world die, thinking it was a plague or some sort of attack by "those damned scientists and doctors and foreigners and GAHIjustwanttokilleverybodyrrraaaahhhhh!!!!", and blasting off-world.

So by the time the rest of the population was dead, the Reavers were finally born, and had possibly already left. Whether out of a half-remembered respect for their friends or simply a matter of timing, they didn't disturb the bodies before they left Miranda.

This is never explicitly said, but it's a reasonable assumption based on the nature of how the Pax affected the rest of the population. Plus, medications in the real world often take some time to take effect, and the one (admittedly non-Pax-related) Reaver "birth" we see in Bushwhacked took a while to reach "full madness."

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    Yes, I think a delayed "Reaver-ification" is a totally plausible explanation (albeit different than the one offered on the Firefly Wiki). We just don't seem to have an explanation from canon. – Null Dec 4 '14 at 17:45
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    I think it meshes fairly well with the Wiki. As the Reavers got angrier, the others got lazier. By the time they reached a murderous level, the rest of the population was either dead or unresponsive. At that point, as the Firefly Wiki says, they simply had no interest in mutilating bodies. Maybe they had a specific target at first (my "kill who's responsible" theory), or maybe they were just looking for a fight, but either way the people of Miranda couldn't offer one anymore, so the Reavers left them alone. – Nerrolken Dec 4 '14 at 17:51
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    You know, it would be fascinating to see a comic or something detailing the last days of Miranda as described here – thnkwthprtls Dec 5 '14 at 13:22
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    @Nerrolken The "kill who's responsible" idea you brought up would explain why the Alliance scientist was attacked in the recording. – Keavon Dec 7 '14 at 20:20
  • +1; this is the explanation I thought of as soon as I read the question. – Rand al'Thor Sep 22 '16 at 12:43

There seem three distinct (and potentially overlapping) possibilities:

  • Based on what we see in the film's script, it seems possible that the majority of the Reavers immediately left the planet (aboard the planet's interplanetary craft) in search of fresh prey.

Note that the crew land the ship on one of the half-dozen empty spaceport platforms in the previous scene:

Given their known predisposition for ignoring dead victims there simply wouldn't have been time for the remaining reavers to kill or mutilate more than a tiny percentage of the population before they started dying off.

Dr Caron : I have to be quick. There was no one working the receptors when we landed, so we hit pretty hard. We can't leave. We can't take any of the local transports because...

It's left to the imagination why they can't use local craft but it could well be because there simply aren't any left to commandeer.

  • In the original draft script, we learn that several parts of the city have been severely damaged so it's not like the place is totally pristine. It's very possible that those damaged areas contain Reaver victims.

That being the case, given the the small numbers of Reavers in the first place (less than 30,000 on a planet of 30 million inhabitants) and the small proportion of the city that we see, it's not surprising that the crew didn't stumble on many inhabitants that had been attacked by the reavers:

Gleaming metal, spread out for miles in every direction. Small portions have been decimated by fires or explosions long since cold, others are overgrown with weeds, but most of the city is intact. So silent, as if trapped in amber.

  • On top of that, we know from Bushwhacked that the Reavers ignore dead bodies and target those they perceive as lively prey. It's a distinct possibility that they did try to rape or mutilate a few of the settlers at first (several of the bodies seem to be missing clothes), then simply got bored and wandered off to find more exciting things to kill.

As evidence of this, several of the corpses that River sees in her vision do seem to exhibit signs of mutilation (Warning - Very NSFW!)

Stab Wound (Neck)

enter image description here

Orbital Disfigurement (Eye Socket)

enter image description here

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    That quote doesn't necessarily mean that the Reavers already left. "We can't take any of the local transports because the rioters are blocking our path." "We can't take any of the local transports because they've been destroyed in the fighting." "We can't take any of the local transports because fuel depots have been damaged." "We can't take any of the local transports because we can't risk giving these monsters a working ship." We know they hadn't all left by then, at least, because they attack Dr Caron in that same recording. – Nerrolken Dec 4 '14 at 19:29
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    Maybe, but to continue the thread about the recording they found... If the crew was in the same room that it was recorded in, that means Reavers were there and close to a whole lot of unmolested, non-insane (though dead) inhabitants. Perhaps the Reavers ignored the others because they were so passive, but I think there is plenty of evidence against the sparsity argument. – Dave Johnson Dec 4 '14 at 19:31
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    @Richard But since there are clearly Reavers on Miranda at the time of Dr Caron's death, why should we assume that any had left before her arrival? Simplicity would suggest that they were on-world until at least that moment, then left Miranda between Caron's death and Serenity's arrival. If there were Reavers already in orbit as well as on the ground, it's doubtful that a small research ship would be able to land at all. – Nerrolken Dec 4 '14 at 19:36
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    @Richard Semantics, and irrelevant because she specifically tells us the cause of the crash: "there was no one working the receptors." Miranda went quiet, the Alliance sent a small science ship to investigate, and the first problem they encountered was that the spaceport was abandoned upon their arrival. This tells us that they didn't encounter Reavers in orbit, and given what we know about Reavers, that means there weren't any spacefaring Reavers ANYWHERE nearby. Hence, no reason to think they'd left the planet by that point. – Nerrolken Dec 4 '14 at 20:09
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    I'm inclined to agree with @Nerrolken that the Reavers were still primarily (or entirely) on Miranda when Dr. Caron was murdered. But +1 for the rest of the answer. – Null Dec 4 '14 at 21:22

Given we have evidence of mind reading (River) being done by the same Alliance who puts together Pax, it's possible that Pax does something to connect people on a psychic level. For most people, this leads to catatonia as they cease to see any importance in the individual, as they join minds with everyone. The outliers, the proto-Reavers, are the people who, due to whatever quirk in personality or brain chemistry, get pleasure from being connected to the minds of people in pain. Those who laid down to die on Pax had nothing to give because they'd already essentially vacated their body. Thus, they're not targets anymore.

That said, this has no real canonical backing, just my idea based on what canonical information we do have.

  • I thought about there being some sort of connection between the Reavers and pacified population that would get the Reavers to ignore them -- sort of like in World War Z where the zombies ignore people infected with a deadly disease. – Null Dec 4 '14 at 17:46

A small point to add: even assuming that one tenth of one percent of the population could physically contact the rest of the population, they'd have to be pretty darn organized. I don't mean to be insensitive but consider that many of the worst genocides in our history have actually taken quite a bit of systematic and organized (the word "efficent" comes to mind) action.

In the case of the Reavers, they didn't just go around collecting and gassing people en masse, they would gang up on one person and rape them for hours. Not very likely to reach the entire population.

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    Sure, but a big difference between historical genocides and the case at hand is that the pacified population did not resist at all. In real genocides people run away, hide, fight back, etc. The length of time spent attacking individuals would more likely slow them down, although it's not clear by how much. – Null Dec 4 '14 at 21:57
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    @Null - That is true, for sure. The non-Reaver population of Miranda was definitely pacified. I just wanted to bolster the larger point made above that 0.1% of the a population would have a hard time reaching the rest of the people--especially if they're not hyper-efficient about it. – Xplodotron Dec 5 '14 at 18:10

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