The Arms (so to Speak) of The Walking Dead

The Arms (So To Speak) of The Walking Dead
Daryl Dixon yields a crossbow...not exactly the fastest weapon to deploy and reload.illustration by Brad Walker

Suppose you are preparing for the zombie apocalypse. What is the absolute worst defensive weapon you could choose? Other than an ice pick, it’s got to be a crossbow, right? They are heavy, awkward to carry, and slow to reload. Trying to fight a zombie horde with a crossbow is a very fast way to end up dead...or undead, if your luck really runs out.

Yet that's what the producers of AMC's The Walking Dead gave Daryl Dixon, one of the most popular characters, as his "signature" weapon.

It seems that television often picks guns and weapons for visual appeal rather than any sort of reality-based reason, and a crossbow has a “cool” factor with some viewers. On the other hand, so does Michonne’s katana sword. But that one makes some sense for fighting zombies, as it is fast to deploy, good for multiple attackers, and never runs out of ammo.

The Walking Dead rode the zombie craze in America and was a very popular drama on cable television. My wife hates watching it with me because I am constantly yelling at the television about the stupidity of the weapons and tactics, which apparently is a pretty common phenomenon in some households. After all, everybody knows if you have any hope of surviving the zombie apocalypse, you need the right guns. But this show clearly didn't get the memo.

The leader of the group of survivors is Rick Grimes. He is a former cop in Georgia, so you would think he might have a clue about the proper guns for fighting zombies. But he does not. Rick’s signature gun is a Colt Python. I assume that the producers picked this revolver because it has a very distinctive profile.

The thing is, a revolver is a poor choice to survive the zombie event. The Python, as with most other revolvers, only holds six shots and is extremely slow to reload compared to a magazine-fed pistol.

Viewers who are familiar with guns are often left to wonder about Rick’s bona fides. He has a weak, muzzle-down way of pointing the Python that is technically wrong. In the premier episode, Rick tells a cop with a Glock to “make sure the safety is off.” That line was sure to have Glock owners wondering, because Glocks do not have safeties!

Shane’s signature gun was a pump shotgun. That’s better than a revolver, but it still doesn’t hold enough ammo and is far too slow to reload for fighting zombie hordes. But it’s cool to have him rack the slide in every single scene, which is another Hollywood move that drives gun guys insane.

So where are the ARs? Rick and Shane were law enforcement. At the very least they should have been familiar these guns. Even when Rick empties the police armory and fills a bag with guns, there are no battle rifles. The bag contained six shotguns, two high-powered rifles, a dozen handguns, and 700 rounds of ammunition. But the rifles were hunting guns—a Browning BAR and a Remington 700. Rick just slung the bag over his shoulder and walked off like it was nothing. A bag with 20 guns and 700 rounds of ammo would have needed a forklift to move.

Obviously, somebody finally got through to the producers, because the guns did get better in the later seasons. Rick still uses the Python, but we started seeing more sensible guns for fighting zombies, including a lot of variations on the AR-type platforms and a bunch of semiauto handguns. They also have a lot of AK-47 variations, probably because of the "mean" look of the gun. The Governor (the worst of the bad guys) used the Steyr AUG, which is a very distinctive looking firearm. I know for a fact that the management at Steyr wanted to stay out of the whole zombie thing when it was in vogue, and they were a bit upset that their gun showed up on The Walking Dead. But when demand for the AUG soared, it was okay.

Some of the guns still make you shake your head. For example, Carl used a Marlin lever-action rifle for a while. Tyreese has an M1 carbine, which I suppose is okay for half-rotted zombies, but where on earth is he finding a supply of ammo?

Glen and Maggie are even shown with a Mosin Nagant--a Russian bolt-action battle rifle from 1891. Really? My guess is that it was added mostly so the bayonet could be deployed on a few walkers.

Several characters are shown with an original Vietnam era M-16 with its tapered triangle forend. The last one I saw was in a museum.

Of course it wouldn’t be Hollywood if it didn’t have a MAC 10 and an Uzi or two. Both have roles in season five.

But all in all they are getting the message about the guns. There was a brief appearance of the UTS15, 15-shot shotgun. Sasha, the badass zombie-hunting member of the group, has a custom Seeking Precision MSR fitted with night vision and a suppressor. Crazy Carol rescues the group in one scene by blowing up a propane tank with a tricked-out M16A4.

But the coolest gun, in my opinion, is the Ma Duce, a .50 BMG machine gun mounted on a Hummer. When that thing opens up on the walkers in the season three finale, well…if you have to shoot the zombies, you may as well have fun doing it.