How Does 'The Walking Dead' Virus Work & Could a Cure Really Stop It?

One of the biggest mysteries in AMC's beloved thriller (besides the miracle that no one has chosen to feed Carl to a group of zombies yet) is how the Walking Dead zombie virus works. Since the very first episode four years ago, fans have been trying to pick up clues along the way for how everything began. Is the idea of a zombie cure just a distraction, or is it legit? Will the show end if one is discovered to actually exist? And what's the deal with mullet-rocking scientist and basically useless Eugene?

Warning: major spoilers follow.

When it comes to Eugene's claim that he holds the cure and all he has to do is get to Washington D.C. so he can become the world's first mulleted savior, the Walking Dead comics call BS. He lies to the gang to save his own skin, and after seeing how he reacted around walkers in the Season 5 premiere (see: Eugene running and crying like a small child), it's not that surprising.

Since he clearly doesn't know how to fix it, let's take a look at what we do know simply from watching the show:

1. The outbreak is a virus that everyone already has, alive or dead.

2. It remains dormant in the brain until you die, which is when it activates and reanimates the body.

3. Unless the brain is destroyed, the person becomes a zombie.

4. We have to assume the virus is airborne, due to how many people it's affected.

In short, a bite from a zombie is NOT what turns you into a zombie — the dormant virus does that. However, one of the latest installments in Nerdist's "Because Science With Kyle Hill" video series explains a pretty awesome theory behind how the zombie virus works:

Nerdist on YouTube

To sum it up, the result of a walker chomping down on you is the feverish sickness that later leads to death, thanks to all the nasty undead bacteria hanging out in the mouth of a zombie (they're not exactly fans of Listerine, ya know?). In a world with an endless supply of antibiotics and clean bandages maybe their bite wouldn't kill you, but in The Walking Dead universe where people are perpetually covered in dirt and gore, it means certain death. Once you kick the bucket from the bite wound, the virus activates in your brain and you get a sudden craving for craniums. Make sense?

Even though we might know how it probably works now, don't hold your breath for the discovery of an onscreen cure. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in 2012, show producer Glen Mazzara discussed why the root of the virus hasn't yet been unearthed for viewers.

Robert [Kirkman] has not been interested in addressing in the comic book, and I'm not interested in addressing in the show. That being said, if it leads to new story -- if there's something that's important that we get out of it -- I'll be the first one to write it. But right now the cause of the zombie outbreak seems irrelevant. I always want the show to play like a horror movie every week. If you define what caused the outbreak, that puts us in a world of science fiction, and this isn't science fiction to me, it's horror. In my mind that's two different genres, so that is an important distinction to me.

Who knows, maybe the TV version of Eugene really will make it down to Washington and save the world, but I'm willing to bet my best mullet that he won't. I think we'll have a few more seasons of The Walking Dead before any semblance of a cure is found, and any excuse to see more Daryl is a good enough excuse for me.

Image: Gene Page/AMC;