Fans were blown away when the final scene of The Walking Dead spin-off, The Walking Dead: World Beyond, revealed the existence of a walker running at a high rate of speed and banging furiously on a door. It suggested there might be changes to come for the main show and the upcoming spin-offs if there are more of these variant walkers.
Indeed, the 19th episode of season 11, fittingly titled “Variant,” presented a walker that was more capable than the slow-walking undead the group has encountered to date. These variant walkers have abilities that, for a live human, are nothing remarkable. But for a walker, they’re terrifying.
The first instance of a walker being able to do more, according to Greg Nicotero in an episode of the talk show Talking Dead, was when Rick and Glenn – two of the best Walking Dead characters – were surrounded by walkers near a department store in season 1. In one scene, a walker picks up something and starts banging on the door.
In this episode, a walker picked up a rock and was about to hit Jerry with it before Aaron jumped in and stopped it. It’s a terrifying thought that walkers who were previously only dangerous when in very close proximity to humans could now physically pelt an object at an unsuspecting person, potentially harming them before even coming near.
Over the years, there have been a lot of things about zombie logic in The Walking Dead that make no sense. In a season one scene and the early series opening credits, Morgan’s undead wife walked up to the door of the house, peered through the peephole, and began turning the knob.
None have appeared to do this again since, but evidence suggests that, at least with some variant walkers, that if they get close enough to a door and can somehow harness that cognitive ability, they can figure out that turning it one way and pulling or pushing will open it. This creates a whole world of danger for the group that would, at least by closing a door, consider themselves safe provided a large enough hoard of walkers didn’t approach and literally break it down. Now, locks and barricades will be necessary.
In one of the most shocking scenes, a walker approaches a set of steps up to the balcony/fire escape area where Jerry and Aaron are hiding. He is quite agile, going up step by step using both his hands and legs until he gets to the top and hoists himself up to the flat surface.
This is one of the most dexterous moves fans have seen walkers make. Turning doorknobs just requires a flick of the wrist and grip of the hand, but climbing stairs requires multiple movements at once. It means all those times the group found safety by climbing higher where the walkers presumably couldn’t get to them will reveal themselves to be ineffective.
After Aaron – the best new character of his first season on The Walking Dead – strikes the walker, thinking it was a Whisperer, the walker begins attacking back. This further convinces Aaron that it’s a Whisperer wearing walker skin on their face, though he’s confused about the knife in the chest that would make it difficult for a human to survive through, much less fight.
But the walker was strong, attacking Aaron and fighting back. Usually, if a walker grabs a hold of someone, the person can fairly easily fight them off. Now, it seems walkers would be able to do more than just passively be killed while trying desperately to feast. This changes the entire game for the survivors who won’t be able to restrain them as easily.
This skill was mostly seen in the post-credits series finale scene of Walking Dead: World Beyond when the variant walkers were first introduced. In France, while a CDC researcher is watching a video of Dr. Jenner on her computer, a walker is seen sprinting towards the door and furiously banging on it. Meanwhile, based on the captioning, Dr. Jenner is saying, “I want to know more about these ‘variant cohorts’ you referred to in our last communication. We haven’t seen anything like that here at all, nothing close.”
Fans were floored as they had never before seen a walker use such strength, determination, and speed. While such a walker is yet to be seen on The Walking Dead, it’s likely to rear its head either by the series finale or in one of the spin-offs. Should this happen, it will surely get fans excited about the many spin-offs to come and how they could be much different.
Again, one of the first pieces of evidence of this was when Morgan and Duane continued to peer outside to watch their wife and mother continuously circling around the neighborhood, even walking up to the door and peering into the windows. Walkers typically travel in herds, but she somehow felt compelled to stay in that area around her home.
Another instance is in the spin-off Fear The Walking Dead when Alicia, one of the most likable characters in the series, is intent on locating something called PADRE. She is convinced the reanimated version of a man named Elias, the only man who purportedly knew the location, could still lead her there. She bases this on a theory that walkers can sometimes return to familiar places. It’s unclear if this is true, but if it is, walkers could actually become useful in helping survivors locate important places.
This one has a question mark because fans wonder if these new, more intelligent walkers are out for something more. Consider the walker that climbed the stairs and picked up the rock. If he wanted human flesh, why didn’t he just launch at Jerry and start chomping away? He easily could have done this, as Jerry was incapacitated with an injured leg.
This leads to an important question: why did the walker want to strike him with a rock instead? Did he simply want to kill or felt it would be easier to feast once Jerry was dead and couldn’t fight back? Which poses another question: was the walker able to consider these facts and be capable of rational thought and deduction?
The actions of this one walker would suggest that these variants not only still maintain some level of control over their brains, but they are also more aware of their surroundings. This means hiding in the bushes a few feet away or walking slowly by a herd of walkers facing the other direction might no longer work at redirecting them.
They might start looking around, checking their peripheral vision, and scoping out the area more than ever before. There was evidence of this when, despite all the commotion, the same walker who later attacked turned and look straight at Aaron. It’s a frightening thought for the group who might find going on missions beyond a community’s walls much more challenging than ever before.