Though The Walking Dead flagship series is concluding after these eight final episodes, The Walking Dead extended universe isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The franchise’s first spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead, is still going strong at AMC, with an eighth season already confirmed. That will soon be joined by many other new concepts including Tales of the Walking Dead (Aug. 14), an untitled Daryl spinoff (which formerly was set to feature Carol before actress Melissa McBride dropped out), Isle of the Dead with Negan and Maggie, and the newly-announced Rick Grimes and Michonne series.
Simply put: there is a lot of zombie storytelling still on the docket for AMC and TWD Universe czar Scott Gimple to pursue. After more than 20 seasons of zombie storytelling, how can Gimple and company possible keep things fresh? The answer, it seems, lies in evolving the physiology of the zombies themselves.
Though the “rules” of how an undead corpse monster operates vary from franchise to franchise, the tenets of The Walking Dead‘s walkers have always remain consistent. As first depicted in Robert Kirkman’s comic series, TWD‘s zombies have operated under what one might call the Classic Romero Rules from George A. Romero’s first two films.
These zombies are weak, slow, unintelligent, and completely lacking in motivation to do anything other than eat. This doesn’t make the singular zombie a particularly acute threat but it does make the collective population of zombies in The Walking Dead‘s world a dangerous environmental hazard. There are simply so many of these guys and none of them will ever stop their pursuit of flesh. While that has made for some effective horror storytelling over the years for The Walking Dead, signs have started to pop up that the franchise wanted to try something different with its zombies even before the season 11 trailer premiered.
The second TWD spinoff, The Walking Dead: World Beyond was not widely watched (and truthfully also not very good) but it just happened to feature a truly revolutionary moment in TWD zombie lore. In a post-credits scene set in a French lab and featuring none of the show’s central characters, it is intimated that French doctors had something to do with creating (or maybe exacerbating) the zombie virus.
You can read all about the scene here but the TL;DR of it is that the concept of “variant cohorts” of the virus are mentioned. Then, when one unnamed character kills another unnamed character, that character reanimates almost immediately and her newly zombified form runs at a locked door with shocking speed and intensity. Therefore variant cohorts of the virus are likely mutations that lead to different behavior in zombies…behavior like, say, opening doors or climbing fences.