Review: It’s Flu Season in The Walking Dead

By Sony Salzman
BU News Service

America’s favorite zombie show, The Walking Dead, was feeling a little anemic at the end of season 3. Actually, the grand finale of season 3 was a total letdown, but new showrunner Scott Gimple seems to have put new life into the show.

To recap, Rick’s ragtag group of survivors was gearing up for epic war when Governor crazy-eye kills almost all of his own people, for reasons unknown. The weird anti-climax in season 3 brings us to the start of season 4, where Rick and our team have established an almost-normal life at the prison. Rick has transformed from zombie slayer to pig farmer, his son Carl is acting like less of a psychopath, Tyreese has a girlfriend and people are generally feeling peachy.

But any moment of happiness in TWD is merely an ominous sign of chaos to come. And sure enough, at the end of episode 1, the nerdy new guy comes down with a pretty serious case of the sniffles, coughing into the prison’s water supply before croaking and waking up as a zombie. Clearly, chaos ensues when zombie-nerd wanders around the prison, munching on former friends (and expendable actors). The nerdy kid turned out to have the same weird flu that was killing off Rick’s cute pigs.

A swine flu outbreak, inside a prison, inside a zombie apocalypse? Go on…

In episode 4, swine flu sweeps through the prison community, and the survivors set up a quarantine. The decision to infuse a traditional disease horror story, like Contagion or Outbreak, within a zombie apocalypse was pretty inspired. Especially now that characters I love are sick, it’s pulling at my heartstrings and keeping me glued to my seat.

However, reading the post-show coverage online reveals some common misconceptions about the real-life (non-zombie) flu. If the show’s writers were indeed trying to depict H5N1 (swine flu), they got some things right, and some things wrong. Here were the top two in my book:


1. People can take animal meds – TRUE

The show patriarch’s sends a rescue team to a veterinary hospital for antibiotics. Some reviewers seemed shocked/dubious that you can use animal drugs on people, but in fact, this is 100% plausible. In fact, some physicians in rural areas actually order antibiotics and antiviral drugs meant for animals because they are less expensive than the people-packaged version.


2. Swine flu mostly kills the very young and very old – FALSE

Once the flu breaks out in full force, the leaders decide to quarantine the very old and very young. This makes sense when you’re thinking about typical flu, but if the writers were really trying to depict swine flu here (and if not, then why all the hubbub about Rick’s sick pigs?), they got this count wrong. In fact, the H5N1 outbreak of 2009, which may have killed as many as 400,000 people around the world according to new estimates, actually affected the young and healthy.