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Discovery’s Mythbusters studies life with undead

By Michael Storey

This article was published October 17, 2013 at 3:07 a.m.


Hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman (center and right) are joined by Walking Dead star Michael Rooker (and about 100 “undead” extras) in a special Mythbusters zombie episode airing at 9 p.m. today on Discovery.

That collective scream you heard last Sunday was the return of The Walking Dead to AMC.

Now the Discovery Channel gets in on the action.

Mythbusters has a special zombie episode that will delight all fans of the undead. It airs at 9 p.m. today on Discovery. Come prepared to be enlightened as Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage put the scientific method to three puzzling zombie concerns.

Joining our hosts for their own experiment is the Mythbusters secondary team of Tory Belleci, Kari Byron and Grant Imahara.

Special guests for the episode are Walking Dead star Michael Rooker (the late, lamented Merle Dixon), and Greg Nicotero, The Walking Dead’s executive producer and special effects guru.

I see you folks out there in the chat rooms debating the pros and cons of post-apocalyptic survival. When the horde descends upon us, there are certain things we must do or be eaten - just like Rick and the gang on Walking Dead.

Here are the three myths to be tested.

  1. Weapon of choice: ax or gun?

  2. Can a brain-dead swarm work together to smash down doors?

  3. Since walkers only shuffle around, can’t humans simply outrun them?

First of all, we must agree that these are shuffling zombies with a top speed of 2 mph and not the speedy versions featured in some films. Nicotero laid down the ground rules on what these zombies can and can’t do.

In addition to being slow, they are attracted to sound and tend to bunch in packs when they sense human flesh in the vicinity.

But first, because the undead can only be stopped by a head shot, the debate rages as to the best weapon to deal with the threat.

On Walking Dead, Daryl prefers a crossbow (it’s quieter). Rick uses a 6-inch Colt Python .357 Magnum. Other weapons have included a Mossberg 590 12-gauge shotgun, Michonne’s scary katana, Tyresse’s hammer, Glenn and Maggie’s machetes, and assorted knives, baseball bats, shovels, iron bars and screwdrivers.

But in a zombie melee - when you’re surrounded and they’re closing in - what would be the weapon that would ensure your survival? Pick just one: ax or gun? Remember, you must go for the head.

For their experiment, Jamie chooses a gun (actually a single-action, seven-shot paintball gun) and Adam picks an ax. In this case it’s a 6-foot battle ax made of foam rubber so as not to decapitate any of the zombie actors. And there are scores of them.

The crew assembles in an appropriately Walking Deadish abandoned warehouse and are joined by Rooker, who gives some of his sage zombie-dispatching advice from his show.

Standing in the middle of a 30-foot circle, Jamie and Adam each uses his weapon of choice and tries not to be overwhelmed in the zombie tsunami.

How’d they do? I’m sworn to secrecy. I’ll just say that for Round 2, Jamie came “loaded for bear” with a couple of paintball shotguns, two pistols and bandoleers of reload clips.

For myth test No. 2, Jamie barricades the door of a 150-year-old barn to see if he can keep 90-plus zombies out. In the movies, the undead always seem to be able to smash down the door. How can they do that if they are not sentient creatures?

Adam, leader of the horde, believes that, lured by the prospects of human flesh, the zombies’ combined body mass and pushing force (each exerts about 50 pounds of force) will cut through the door “like a warm knife through brains.”

I will say that it took three barricade attempts to settle the myth on whether undead, unthinking zombies can actually smash through a door.

The third myth tests whether fleet-footed humans can simply outrun poky zombies. Tory, Kari and Grant conducted the experiment on an airfield.

The goal was to run through a crowd of 150 zombies in an area the size of a football field to see if they can reach safety at the other end.It’s a sort of flag football (using detachable mini brains) obstacle course.

The testing area is gradually diminished to replicate an increasingly dense urban zombie population. At what point are there simply too many zombies - shuffling or not - to evade?

And are there other ways besides running to escape a pack? How about trickery or a diversion? Those are tested as well.

Each week, Mythbusters either confirms or debunks rumors, urban legends, movie stunts and other pop culture stuff. It is always creative and fascinating. I’ve seen this episode and promise it’s the best since Mythbusters had a special Breaking Bad episode in August.

It was even better than when they blew up the cement truck.

Men gone. The fall season’s second cancellation is in. CBS has killed We Are Men after only two low-ranking episodes (5.4 million). The 7:30 p.m. Monday slot will be filled with 2 Broke Girls and reruns until Mike & Molly returns Nov. 4.

The TV Column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Email:

Weekend, Pages 32 on 10/17/2013

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