Rules of the Undead

My husband and I watched the pilot of The Walking Dead a few months ago. During the course of the show, I kept asking things like, “How do you kill a zombie?” “Do they have to destroy the zombie’s brain?” “What do they eat?”

I discovered that I was woefully deficient in my knowledge of zombie lore. When I read Dracula way back when I was in college (hello, 80’s!), I researched vampires to the point that I could tell you all of the strengths and weaknesses of bloodsuckers. Sure, some people go and change the rules sometimes (Vampires sparkle, Stephanie Meyer?), but for the most part there are standards that writers follow regarding the legends of the undead.

I figured some of you might be wondering too. So for today’s Deep-Fried Friday, here is what I found: The Rules of the Undead — zombies, vampires, and ghosts.


What they are: A zombie is a corpse reanimated by supernatural or other means. It appears to be alive, but is typically mute and will-less — sort of like that pothead boyfriend you had back in high school. Indeed, the phrase walking dead encapsulates the zombie crisis well. Catie Rhodes did a fabulous post recently on Zombies and Fear tracing the history and beliefs regarding zombies. It’s well worth reading for more information on zombies.

How they are made: You can become a zombie by being bitten by one. I suppose if you are bitten too much, too often, you are just dinner. Having run a preschool at one time, I know you have to bite pretty dang hard to break skin and draw blood, but even some toddlers managed it so I suppose your average zombie can sink their teeth right in.

What they eat: Zombies prefer the delicious taste of human flesh. However, animals will do in a pinch. They do not require cookware or dishes, since they eat their food raw . . . and fresh. Which is a shame because who wouldn’t want to watch a cooking show from a zombie chef on Food Network? Possible titles: Humans & Hollandaise, Fresh Flesh Foodies, The Cannibal’s Kitchen.

How to kill them: To kill a zombie, you must remove the head or destroy its brain. In The Walking Dead (the one episode I saw), the preferred method was a gunshot between the eyes — which of course makes the brains and blood splatter everywhere. Then again, decapitation would be even messier. So make sure you’re not wearing your best threads when you aim and fire.


What they are: A vampire is a creature who overcomes death by drinking blood from the living. By consuming another’s life essence, they remain alive themselves after their own death. (Cheaters!) Generally, it is presumed that vampires can be immortal if they continue to ingest blood and avoid the stakes of the Helsings, et al.

How they are made: A vampire bites a human, then gets the human to drink vampire blood. I wonder why a mostly dead person suddenly finds blood yummy. Is vampire blood tasty? Does it have a vanilla or chocolate flavoring to it? Maybe it’s minty.

What they eat: Blood and more blood. Human blood is the first pick on a vampire’s menu. However, some more compassionate vampires have taken to drinking animal’s blood instead. Then again, your local blood bank may store perfectly good human blood that does not require biting into a neck or other artery location and thus killing the human. Another source is humans willing to let a vampire suck on their veins, as long as they don’t die. Now don’t pretend you wouldn’t do this! Some of you had hickeys the size of Canada in your teens, so you’re clearly open to letting suckers have a go at you.

How to kill them: Typically, a stake to the heart ends the undead life of a vampire once and for all. However, fire will destroy them as well. Some believe that a vampire in daylight will combust into flames, thus killing him. Others believe they sparkle. (Okay, I shouldn’t but I’m laughing again.)


What they are: Ghosts are the spirits or energy of dead people who remain on earth. “I see dead people.” No, I don’t. Moreover, I never even saw The Sixth Sense.

How they are made: Ghosts aren’t made. They remain here when some unresolved issue from their life prevents them from passing over to the afterlife. It can be a young or tragic death, concern for a grieving loved one, or confusion that keeps them from moving on. Some ghosts may know why they are here, but most don’t. They are scared, perplexed, or even mad. Thus, they wreak havoc on the living or the places where they reside. And in Poltergeist, they make cool formations with chairs.

Ghosts can pass through solid objects, but usually cannot move objects. They affect the temperature around them, often causing cold spots. They can manifest if they wish and may appear as a deathly figure or with the wounds they received at death.

What they eat: Ghosts don’t eat or drink, but they may need to recharge energy by coming in contact with the living. Zap! You’re juiced up again, ghost.

How to kill them: You can’t “kill” a ghost. It has no flesh to be destroyed. You can only redirect the ghost away from you by getting it to haunt another place or, better yet, by helping the ghost move toward the light and thus the afterlife. Once issues here on earth are reasonably resolved, most ghosts will happily head over to the other side. What’s on the “other side” is apparently much more interesting than what’s going on here. Maybe the Cubs win World Series in the afterlife. Who wouldn’t want to see that!

There are other paranormal creatures such as werewolves, witches, etc., but I stuck with the undead this time around. These are all beings who were once human, but are no longer.

Interestingly enough, claims of vampires, zombies, and ghosts exist throughout the world. I chalk up the first two somewhat to our curiosity about hematophagous animals (those for whom blood is at least part of their diet; mosquito, anyone?) and human cannibalism (zombies run amok). Ghosts reflect our uncertainty about the afterlife. Even if you think you know what happens after this life (if you believe anything happens at all), no one can fully explain it play-by-play.

Meanwhile, you might want to keep your Rules of the Undead at hand. In case a hellmouth opens up down the street from you or the Zombie Apocalypse erupts, you’ll need to know what to do. In fact, I hail back to another show for some tips as well. In a crisis, ask yourself What Would Buffy Do?

14 thoughts on “Rules of the Undead

  1. Hilarious and informative, Julie! Thanks for the smiles. I’m writing a dystopian trilogy right now and having trouble finding the bright spots in our future. Hopefully, a sense of humor will prevail against whatever apocalyptic nightmares await us:-)

    1. Yes, I’ve wondered how dystopian authors find that glimmer of fun in the chaos and destruction. But I definitely believe in laughing to keep your attitude up. 🙂 Thanks, PJ.

  2. My hubby has been watching The Walking Dead on Netflix this week, back to back to back episodes. So of course, I’ve been catching a glimpse of it here and there. It’s really too graphic for my taste, but at one point I did question him on something.

    Why don’t the zombies just eat other zombies if they’re so hungry? I mean, there are way more of them than there are of the living.

    His answer? Because that’s against the rules of zombie-ing.

    He is somewhat of a zombie expert so I took his word for it. But still… you’d think they’d eventually eat themselves into extinction. One of the “rules” I do know is that zombies aren’t known for their smarts. Which is also ironic because their food of choice is BRAINS.

    1. That is BRILLIANT, Lydia: “Why don’t the zombies eat other zombies?” It’s not like they are food snobs or anything. And if the zombie lore is right, then maybe you aren’t what you eat after all; they sure aren’t any brainier after a meal.

  3. I am LOL at your proposed zombie chef shows! If the zombies ever do invade, my daughter tells me to go to her high school – there’s so little brain matter there, the zombies won’t come near the place!

    1. Your daughter is hilarious! How funny. I could go on and on with zombie cooking show titles: The Brains Bistro, Human BBQ with Bobby Flayed, . . .

      Thanks, Jennette!

  4. This was a fun post, Julie. A few things:

    On Ghosts: On the TV show Supernatural, they get rid of ghosts by burning the deceased’s bones. If the deceased was cremated, they sometimes burn an object precious to the ghost. Usually the ghost is using this item to tether themselves to the living.

    On Zombies: In TW Brown’s Dead series, it is proposed that the zombies do not eat each other because they seek the warmth of life–human or otherwise. Once the warmth is gone, the zombies lose interest and move on.

    More on Zombies: The season finale of Sons of Guns had Max Brooks (author of the bestselling World War Z) as a guest star. They designed the perfect zombie killing weapon. It was a fun show.

    I’m curious. Did you get hooked on The Walking Dead? My husband is so hooked, he asks at least once a week when The Walking Dead is returning.

    1. YOU are the expert, Catie. I should have simply deferred to you. LOL. Great info!

      I did not watch any more Walking Dead episodes after that first one. My hubby watched a few. I think all of our paranormal shows deal with the living for the moment (Grimm, OUAT, etc.).

  5. This was VERY well written and so hugely funny. I love the way you ingest sarcastic funniness into your posts, Julie. And, I loved the lessons about all three of these dead types of people. Actually the one about zombies I found the most intriguing because I forgot, I guess, that they eat human flesh. Blech!

  6. Fun post Julie! You had me laughing out loud. “Some of you had hickeys the size of Canada in your teens, so you’re clearly open to letting suckers have a go at you.” I know some of these people! Catie had recommended the Walking Dead a while back. So I got season one from Redbox. Watched it all back to back. Awesome show! Thanks for the laughs!

  7. LOVED this. Especially your Food Network segments – hilarious. Did you like The Walking Dead? I’ve heard it’s great, so I was thinking about watching it. I’m not usually for scary movies/TV shows, but I’ve been getting interested in zombies a lot more lately. Also, have you ever seen Zombieland? Like I said, I usually don’t like those kinds of movies, but it was GREAT. When I saw that this post was titled “Rules of the Undead” I thought it was going to be something like that – the main character has all of these rules about zombies in order for him to stay alive. it’s a very funny movie.

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