[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for AMC’s The Walking Dead: World Beyond Season 2 episode 10, “The Last Light” and Fear The Walking Dead Season 7 episode 8, “Padre.”]
First, we had “walkers.” Now, with World Beyond’s last post-credits scene, it seems the Walking Dead franchise is giving us a new spin on the undead: “Runners.” And that’s exactly what they do… they don’t walk, they run. Fast. More than that, they exhibit signs of having short-term memory, and they have decent strength, too. Uh-oh!
While this is the first time we’ve seen speedy zombies in the TWDU, it isn’t necessarily the first time we’ve seen the undead as “smart.” Early in Season 1, walkers appeared to be capable of remembering and even had semi-advanced motor function; Morgan’s (Lennie James) zombified wife not only remembered where her family was, but she was also capable of climbing the stairs and turning the doorknob to get into the house. Terrifying? Sure. A sign of brain functioning or instinct beyond feeding? Almost certainly.
But as the show went on, whether due to walker decomposition or behind-the-scenes changes, those glimmers of walker intelligence faded. Zombies, for the most part, existed as a straightforward threat; they were slow, their only motivation was to feed, and they were easily killed with a bullet, knife, boot, tire or screwdriver to the head.
The French zombies are completely different. We’re guessing their chief motivation is still to munch on the flesh of the living (they are zombies, after all), but they’re capable of memory (the French zombie remembered where her attacker left the room and started to break down the door), they reanimate horrifyingly quickly (the scientist was only down for a minute at most before getting up again as a walker), and they’re strong enough that their blows can dent steel. Let that sink in.
In that scene, we also get a few hints about how the outbreak started. It’s implied that a group of French scientists called the “Primrose team” either created the walkers (which the graffiti on the wall, reading “the dead were born here,” supports), or they tried to cure them and ended up making everything worse, or both. Those scientists left for a conference in Toledo, Ohio, before the outbreak, and they never came back. Ohio is an interesting location for the franchise to choose, given that the Commonwealth is located there in the comics; on the show, however, it’s in West Virginia.
How the franchise uses these zombies and ideas remains to be seen, but there are several theoretical options. The first and most immediate would be to incorporate the zombies into The Walking Dead’s last 16 episodes as a new threat, but given that the Reapers haven’t yet been dealt with and the Commonwealth storyline is just taking off, introducing a new kind of zombie there would be tricky and might make the last season feel overstuffed.
The second option would be to fold this storyline into Fear The Walking Dead, which seems slightly likelier. We still don’t know what Padre is or where it is, so it’s possible some of the scientists from the Primrose team made it there and are continuing to work on a cure. Maybe there are “runners” there or maybe there aren’t, but we do know the Primrose scientists were in the United States and presumably, if they survived, they continued their experiments. So, the potential for “variants” still exists—and wouldn’t it make “Padre” more interesting if it’s not the perfect utopia it’s rumored to be? It’s also possible Alicia’s (Alycia Debnam-Carey) mysterious illness is tied to the variants somehow: If she was bitten by a regular walker, she really should be dead.
Other options are farther out and less certain. Depending where Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Carol (Melissa McBride) go in their spinoff, they could run into these new walkers and wind up in a storyline that involves the scientists. Putting two original franchise characters in a scenario where walkers are scary again would make for interesting television, and it could definitely generate interest in the spinoff—as of now, plot details have been kept under wraps. There’s also the possibility that these walkers or the scientists fuel an episode of Tales of the Walking Dead, although it would be a pity for them to show up only briefly in an anthology show.
The last, and maybe most likely, option would be for these “runners” to spice up the action in the Rick movies. We still don’t have a release date for the first of the planned trilogy, but since this scene takes place overseas, it’s unlikely anyone without access to a helicopter is getting there. It would certainly keep Rick from his family if he was flown over to France… and he then had to deal with fast, strong, smart zombies.
However they’re factored into the franchise, it’ll be intriguing to see how this bit of world-building expands the TWDU. We’re looking forward to learning more—but if we were in the survivors’ shoes, we’d definitely rather deal with good ol’ garden-variety walkers.
The Walking Dead, Returns February 20, AMC
Fear The Walking Dead, Returns April 17, AMC
Tales of the Walking Dead, Premieres Summer 2022, AMC
Untitled Daryl & Carol spinoff, Premieres 2023, AMC