After watching the the MythBusters (Discovery Channel) Zombie Episode Special, we  found ourselves perplexed by a number of holes in their normally sound logic.  In all fairness, it is difficult to test theories surrounding a danger that is generally speculation, but the MythBusters team did attempt to use scientific methods and reasoning to bust three standard apocalypse scenarios seen in most films and books. Also, the zombie horde used in these experiments were in fact living humans dressed as zombies.  Testing real weapons against this living horde, was of course, not an option.

MythBusters Jamie Hyneman , Kari Byron, and Adam Savage were joined by The Walking Dead’s Michael Rooker.  The team was rounded out with Tory Belleci and Grant Imahara.

Here are the three myths to be busted:

  1. What is the better weapon against a zombie horde: an ax or a gun?
  2. Can you outrun a shuffling zombie horde?
  3. Can a barricaded door hold back a zombie horde?‎

Here is the Zombie Research Society’s dissection of their conclusions.  See if you agree. 

Myth#1: When faced with the army of darkness, does the ax out-gun the gun?

Adam uses an ax

mythbusters_ax_gun_1The crew creates a 30 foot diameter circle on the floor of a large warehouse. 100 zombies are scattered randomly around the warehouse floor. Adam stands in the middle of the circle with an ax that has a foam head (filled with paint, to mark head shots). On the signal, the 100 zombies proceed to shuffle (slowly– no more than 2 mph max.) toward the circle. Adam can not engage the undead until they step into the circle.

Over two attempts, Adam averages about 14 kills before being swarmed.                   

Jamie’s (got a) gun

Same 30 foot diameter circle and warehouse, same rules, same number of zombies. Jamie is using a single action paint ball gun. All the zombies are wearing protective masks. Jamie manages only 6 kills before being swarmed. Jaimie ups the firepower with multiple guns, including a pump action. Jamie kills 8 zombies, for an average of 7 kills overall.

MythBusters Conclusion

The Ax wins.

ZRS Conclusion

The issue we have here is that an ax can get stuck in a zombie’s head, and this was not factored into these experiments.  If Adam perhaps had to wait an extra second to strike the next zombie, the results would have been entirely different. Also, he used a foam-headed ax– easy to wield without tiring quickly.

This experiment was only designed to decide which of the two weapons (ax or gun) is superior (within the rigid parameters outlined), and not what weapon, of all weapons out there, is superior.  With the human starting at the center of the warehouse, unable to leave the circle (or engage any zombie until they enter the circle) it is a foregone conclusion that both would perish– the question is who will last the longest.  In different environments like hallways and narrow alleys, the gun would likely prove to be superior (especially if the zombies are only coming from one direction).  The gun has the distance advantage– the zombies do not need to be within arms reach (like the ax).

Lastly, if they did want to find the gun lacking, it should be because it makes alot of noise.  But the parameters of the experiment they had designed made that pretty much irrelevant.

Myth #2: Can walkers really ‘outpace’ the human race?

Field1The crew has set up a field 100 yards long and 55 yard wide (about the size of a football field). They have scattered over-turned cars and other obstacles on the field, and populated the space with 150 zombies (scattered randomly). This works out to be the population density of Manhattan: 90,000 zombies per square mile. A couple of zombie rules were in effect: they must work on instinct only (attracted to noise etc), and must move slowly (max. 2 mph).

Attempt #1: Kari: 100 yards long and 55 yards wide, 150 zombies (density of 90,000 zombies/sq. mile)

Kari runs with 3 mini brains attached to her body. If a zombie grabs one of these brains, she is dead. Kari makes it easily.

Attempt #2: Tory: 100 yards long and 30 yards wide, 150 zombies (density of 135,000 zombies/sq. mile: matching parts of the Indian megacity of Mumbai).

The field is reduced to 10Tory10 yards long and only 30 yards wide. Same number of brains are attached to Tori, and he makes it– but not quite as easily.

Attempt #3: Grant: Zombie density is increased to 180,000 zombies/sq. mile (the highest population density in the world). The MythBusters do not indicate whether or not they have increased the number of zombies or shrank the width of the field even more.

Grant is quickly overwhelmed and eaten.

MythBusters Conclusion

With enough zombies (who even move slowly)– you will be quickly overwhelmed.

ZRS Conclusion

That being said, the experiment was done in a fairly open area, and does not include the use of weapons (even crude ones).  The experiment boiled down to what zombie-population density would you be unable to penetrate by just running, dodging and weaving. The three MythBusters actually attempted to avoid contact entirely with the undead, as even getting close to one (in the experiment) could result in them grabbing a dangling brain.  In reality, the human would likely push the weaker zombies aside– which was not an option, once again, with real living living-dead volunteers.

The experiment as designed is really one of mathematics (and missing some variables).  As we mentioned, the continued rising of the population density can be calculated by increasing the number of zombies, or shrinking the field.  The problem is that the physical size of the zombies does not change, so if you continue to shrink the size of the field, you will eventually have a wall of zombies, as deep as the length that needs to be traversed.  Also, if you exchange the length (with the width) that needs to be traversed, you have the same zombies per sq. miles, but a much shorter distance to travel (and therefore a greater chance of survival).


As a side experiment, the three MythBusters attempt to use several techniques to increase their odds of survival in the highest zombie-density field. One includes Kari duct-taping Tory to a wheelchair, and using him as a decoy. The zombies swarm the free meal on wheels, and Kari is able to make it through the horde. Grant uses a rolling robot with lights and noise as a distraction, and is also able to survive the run. But Tory’s attempt at blending-in with the undead fails half way through.

ZRS Conclusion

Distractions seem to work, but blending-in doesn’t. We have an issue with the blending in hypothesis in that it was entirely unscientific. In their experiment, Tory just wore make up and shuffled along moaning. I’m not sure entirely what changed half way through the experiment to alert the zombies that he was not one of them.  In our opinion, this was just TV for the sake of TV– if makeup and shuffling doesn’t work halfway through the experiment, then it won’t work at the beginning either.  Would the slathering of human guts all over his body (ala Rick and Glenn in the Walking Dead) have worked better?

Myth #3: How exactly does an undead horde beat down a door?

Door1The crew has set up in an old barn. So as not to damage the barn itself, they have built another partition in front of it with a new typical barn-style door. Jamie and Michael Rooker have barricaded themselves inside, and Adam has joined the army of the undead– 100 strong. Jamie calculates 50 pounds of push force per zombie, for a total of 5000 pounds. The zombies are therefore fitted with sturdy plastic corrugated pipes (think barrels) that they wear around their mid-sections, so that no one is crushed during the onslaught.

Barrels1Attack #1: the doors are made in an old-style typical barn door fashion: lots of gaps between boards, weak hinges, and a single 2×4 board used to bar the doors from the inside.

The 100 strong zombie horde passes through the doors like a knife through butter, barely losing a stride, and destroying the doors on their way.

Attack #2: the doors are made much sturdier, no gaps between boards, stronger hinges, and a single 2×4 board is used to bar the doors from the inside.

The 100 strong zombie horde passes through the doors with a bit more effort. The doors survive, but the weak point turns out to be the board used to bar the doors.

Attack #3: same sturdy doors reinforced with a whole bunch of boards, screwed across the doors themselves (Jaimie mentions nailing, but we see only screwing).

Though the 100 strong zombie horde make many attempts, they are unable to break through the doors. Jamie notes that many screws popped out, the doors themselves bowed severely inward, and the hinges even curled– but they held.

MythBusters Conclusion

Screwing multiple boards against a door can hold back a horde of 100 zombies (exerting 5000 pounds of push force).

ZRS Conclusion

Door2Screwing in multiple boards against a door can hold back a horde of 100 zombies (exerting 5000 pounds of push force). This is because attaching multiple boards to the structure and boards underneath spreads any of the impact exerted on them to the surrounding boards.  This will differ, of course with the size of the opening that is being boarded up, as well as its material construction. The tests performed have nothing to do with windows and normal sized doors, which we all know are more the standard zombie entrances than a barn door.  As well, the exerted pounds of push force is based only on the zombies directly or indirectly (zombies pushing on zombies) pushing on the structure– the smaller the space, the less there will be of direct or indirect force.  Therefore smaller openings (standard doors and windows) are easier to defend.

Also, using a screw instead of a nail makes for a sturdier construction (as used in the experiment)– but one would have to have a power drill handy. Using a screwdriver would guarantee that you’d be a zombie lunch.  Would like to have seen the experiment done with nails.

A couple of more points:

  • Most barn doors are barricaded on the outside (as it is unnecessary to worry about the cows unbolting the door from the inside).  This really makes the MythBusters’ first two experiments irrelevant (how do you bar the doors on the inside without nailing it shut)?
  • The MythBusters have the zombies eventually giving up breaking through the third door.  We all know of course, that zombies never give up, and will eventually bust down the door(s).

Busted, MythBusters!


  1. All good points. We did, however, just play their game, with their rules (which centered around the “standard zombie rules” — as we all “know” them. Of course, as you mentioned, this is all speculation, but speculation was the name of the game, and there needed to be parameters to work within, or the show would have made no sense whatsoever.

    So, based on their parameters, the standard zombie rules (rate of movement, intelligence (or lack thereof), their senses etc), and our many many hours of contemplating the apocalypse for the good of mankind, we came to the conclusions in the article.

    But change a single parameter, like jumping parkour zombies on meth, and all bets are off.

  2. Cynic's gotta keyboard

    The Myth-Busters “Test theories surrounding a danger that is generally speculation”, the whole premise here is speculation and based largely on a sub-culture of wishful thinking by the next generation of survivalists who have traded off the threat Soviet Nuclear apocalypse and I can survive anything although I will never have to be really tested. For Zombie apocalypse and much the same conclusion.

    Although I do not always agree with Myth-Buster methodology, (I have picked a lot more faults than just yours over the years). However I haven’t seen a lot to suggest that it was wrong either, in that when it comes to Zombie defence or the best way to hunt Unicorns, you can say and do what you like. Because at the end of the day, it cannot proven or disproven that zombies wouldn’t or would not do anything like they claim.

    Just trying to keep it real, for all those deluded souls who would be better off it they did not get what they wish for a real opportunity to prove themselves.

    • I would like to take issue with the outrageous claim that you make in your comment. We certainly may not “say and do what you like” when it comes to the techniques and strategies for hunting unicorns! While certain issues of speculation may be up for debate such as applicability of hunting permits and ethical bait practices. We can all agree that all unicorns may only have a single horn and make speculations on such! On that note I enjoyed the Mythbuster show and look forward to the episode in which they tackle some of the pressing and practical questions of unicorn hunting. (on a much smaller note I also take issue with your uninformed generalizations of the zombie subculture and your hubris to make comment on such as an outsider)

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