Tyburn was an infamous execution spot west of London, used since medieval times. The Tyburn "tree" - a unique, multi-person gallows - erected in 1571 became a popular public spectacle, drawing crowds of thousands.Tyburn Tree blog is less blood-thirsty but hopefully topical, interesting and informative, if slightly bent to my personal topics of interest - books, writing, history, technology, with a smattering of politics and dash of pop culture, science and the downright strange. So "take a ride to Tyburn" and see what happens...
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Going Medieval on The Walking Dead!
Eventually the bullets run out and you will be forced to tier back to a more traditional methodology for eliminating the walker menace: hand-held, muscle-driven weaponry. While the tried and true use of gardening tools and heavy hunting knives seems to be popular on the show, the reality is that using a hoe to brain a zombie might not be the most efficient tool.
When it comes to taking down a zombie with hand-held weapons, the Walking Dead crew might want to peruse some traditional medieval weaponry.
Zombies require a brain shot to permanently grant them quiescence and eliminate the menace. The human skull is designed to protect and shield the brain and can be a difficult target. Strikes can deflect quite easily, sliding off to one side or the other, leaving you off-balance and vulnerable to a quick zombie chomp. Measurements from skull impact tests and force studies have concluded that the human skull can fracture from as little as 16 lbs of force (71 Newtons for you science types) but it is very dependent on how and where that force is applied.
For ideal zombie slotting, you want a hand-held weapon that allows you to strike quickly, with minimal muscle force, maximum leverage, and lots of kinetic energy and precision for the impact. Ideally, the weapon should have enough reach to keep the slavering monster at an appreciable distance. The minimal muscle force is a necessity as you probably have a fair number of the undead lined up hungering for your brains. You don't want to expend any more energy killing them than you have to.
Medieval weaponry, designed for use against armored opponents has strong potential for efficient zombie slaughter, after all, it worked really well on the French at Crecy and Azincourt.
So what's your best in-close, effective zombie-killing tool?
this site is terrific if you are interested) but I am going to note that swords were often overrated as the melee weapon of choice. Long swords were heavy and sometimes unwieldy, especially when you started getting into the William Wallace-style claymores. In untrained hands you were likely to tire quickly and probably accidentally clip Carl, who just can't stay out of trouble.
As a zombie-killing device, the long-sword has the goods to deliver an effective strike. The television show Deadliest Warrior tested a Viking long sword against a skull target encased in ballistics gel, to try to assess the type of damage. The sword test saw the skull almost bisected, prevented from being sliced in half only because of the steel mounting rod the target was fixed to. The sword actually chipped the steel support rod, so the force involved in being on the receiving end of a strike is considerable and any zombie hanging around the arc of that strike would soon be an ex-zombie.
First-hand evidence on the show is provided by the season 3 character Michonne, who's dai-katana serves her as a very effective zombie-elimination tool however it is fairly evident that she has significant training. Japanese katanas are designed primarily as edge weapons, with a focus on cutting. As a tool for lopping off zombie heads, it is first rate. The long sword could certainly effectively take out zombies, but would it be the most efficient tool for the job? There are a lot of zombies.... and heavy, two handed swords can be tiring.
One-handed swords were probably a better option, which opens up the question of what are you using in the other hand? Often it was a shield or a buckler. T-Dog leveraged a shield very effectively in helping clear the prison, which brings to mind that the use of a team-based protective shield wall approach might be very effective against small groups of zombies. Against large groups, the technique would probably be less useful as you would certainly have zombies coming up the flanks and turning the corner on your shield wall just because of sheer numbers. At which point, you would be lunch for walkers. But I digress...I think we will save defensive strategies and armor for another time.
One-handed swords are lighter but typically also shorter, which impacts your reach. Often they are better designed for quick, accurate attacks, culminating the rise of the rapier-style blades when you move into the Renaissance period. Rapiers would be good, accurate for attacks in through the eye sockets but are designed for killing with the point, not for slicing and dicing. They probably lack the weight and heft to be effective skull busters like the long-sword In addition they, like the katana, require a significant amount of practice and training to be used effectively.
The overall conclusion around swords is that while they certainly provide effective zombie killing, they might require a strength and skill level to effectively wield and will probably not be the most energy efficient solutions for when you have undead lined up around the block. In short, around about zombie number three, you will be feeling the burn...
Moving onward there is the all-purpose axe. Medieval era battle axes were generally more tapered in the blade and lighter than the typical general purpose axe used around the home, with a crescent-shaped head rather than the familiar wedge. They varied widely in size and blade type, including two handed variants of all sizes and shapes.
Flanged maces in particular were effective at penetrating even the strongest armor with the protruding flanges denting the metal on impact. Against an unarmored zombie skull, the flanged mace would be routinely lethal.
Ideally the best possible position for using the mace would be on horseback, allowing the weight of the weapon to do the work. Typically horsemen would ride past the enemy and swing the mace back for the impact on their opponent, moving onto the next target without having the horse break stride or slow, which could be fatal in a melee. Whether a horse would proceed against a horde of ravenous zombies is questionable, but one can see possibly riding past in the back of an open pickup and swinging away quite effectively.
Another bludgeoning weapon with a brutal elegance was the war hammer. These long-handled hammers ranged from halberd-sized (for use on mounted targets) to hand-held, mace-sized weapons. Usually a hammer was paired with a spike, useful for penetrating armor or hooking foes and their reins. Designed as bludgeoning impact weapons, war hammers were usually effective at stunning armored knights, even through plate armor. Against unarmored zombies, the hammer would be deadly as it permitted a massive amount of force to be directed against a zombie's head with a minimal effort, as anyone who becomes practiced at driving a nail can testify.
The last items to discuss are the pike, lances and other types of spears. Spears are tremendously versatile and dangerous weapons and would be effective with zombies on one-on-one where you could target the zombie's head. The issue, I think, with them and with pikes, is that a horde of zombies, unlike cavalry, would probably not stop or split when faced with a wall of pikes. Rather they would end up spitting themselves on the spear and continue moving forward. I suspect you would end up with a zombie on a stick, which is better than one in your face but begs the question of what next? Ideally your pikes or spears would have some type of crossbar to prevent them from moving forward all the way to the wielder but aside from an impediment to their movement, a wall of pikes might not provide much advantage.
Other medieval weaponry that might be helpful in a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested hellhole would include most of the many variations of the above, in all their myriad details. Mauls, flails, quarter-staffs picks, and morning stars (these give me nightmares just thinking about swinging one. You just know that somebody would accidentally spike Rick and end up on the receiving end of the harshest glare in television).
In summary, a good weapon layout for the Walking Dead survivors would probably include a nice mix of "mid-range" handheld weapons and good close-in finishing tools. My suggestion would be a team of four wielding halberds or poleaxes to engage the zombies at a good distance, and the others armed with flanged maces and hammers for in-close zombie splattering. Oh, and rondels or poniards for everyone, for that just-in-case gory close-up moment that all the Walking Dead fan base like to see.
Although I have to say, I would pay cold hard cash to see Rick going to town on a horde of walkers with a long-sword....