The Walking Dead season 11 deals another blow to its inconsistent zombie guts rule. Most zombie encounters in The Walking Dead prompt one of three responses – fight, run, or hide. Occasionally, however, circumstances demand characters pass through a zombie horde too big to slaughter or run from. Fortunately, Rick Grimes came up with a clever trick for these situations – cover oneself in the entrails of a zombie to avoid detection. Alpha’s Whisperers took this technique to a whole new level by wearing the actual skins of zombies, but the unsavory principle remains the same.
The fictional rules behind The Walking Dead’s zombie virus have been somewhat fluid over the past decade. When a character gets bitten by a zombie, they aren’t actually infected with the virus since everyone is already infected. Instead, bites and scratches are lethal because of the immense dirt and bacteria zombies carry. The guts tactic contradicts this rule, since no one has ever died (Gabriel came close, to be fair) from being covered in undead goop, despite it happening on a surprisingly regular basis. Characters using the zombie guts trick will often be cautious not to get any any in their eyes or mouth, which begins to add logic to the science – but then The Walking Dead season 8 triggered further confusion by having Negan’s Saviors kill their enemies simply by dipping weapons in zombie blood.
At best, The Walking Dead‘s undead camouflage can be described as flexible, but those rules are bent to breaking point by season 11’s “The Rotten Core.” Sebastian Milton forces Daryl and Rosita to pass through a village of undead, encouraging them to use zombie guts as protection. They employ the same tactic for their return journey, but are now accompanied by Mercer, Carol and April. Giving The Walking Dead‘s rule book the widest berth possible, the quintet “gut up” in only the lightest dusting of entrails. Mercer’s armor looks no bloodier than when he was on culling duty several episodes back, while Daryl, Rosita and Carol are largely unblemished. Ironically, it’s April – the one with most camouflage – that gets discovered.
The Walking Dead‘s “The Rotten Core” seemingly argues that a surface-level smearing of zombie blood is enough to fool an entire house brimming with reanimated corpses, but we’ve seen characters covered in way more claret before, yet undead still pursue them. Compare the amount of guts Daryl’s crew are wearing in season 11 to the very first zombie trick scene in The Walking Dead season 1, where Rick and Glenn were positively dripping, damn near head-to-toe in intestines and flesh. Glenn wore an intestine scarf around his neck and still Rick uttered, “We need more guts.” When Gabriel and Negan tried the trick in The Walking Dead season 8, literal chunks of flesh were balanced upon their shoulders, and Connie in season 11 grabbed entire armfuls of the stuff before draping her entire torso.
The Walking Dead is built upon an inherently ridiculous premise, so maybe it’s easier to simply accept the ridiculousness rather than worrying about inconsistencies in a zombie apocalypse. But even fantasy shows must adhere to their own rules, and in The Walking Dead‘s case, that means the zombie guts trick should always result in more than just a token smattering. The difference between getting a little bloody during battle and the zombie camouflage technique should be visible to the eye – purple-red chunks, clothes forever ruined, etc. The Walking Dead‘s guts trick should be unpleasant for the characters, and look gruesome to the audience, or else it doesn’t carry any narrative weight. If Daryl, Rosita and Carol can go home and wash the smell out of their clothes, they’re doing it wrong.
Though “The Rotten Core” provides our latest example of The Walking Dead playing fast and loose with established zombie gut rules, it’s not the first infraction. When Connie smothered herself with offal in season 11, she managed to protect an uncovered Virgil simply by standing before him, which seriously tested the in-universe science. Now, The Walking Dead is shifting the landscape again. “We need more guts?” Turns out you don’t, Rick.