Now, with the arrival of the Daryl Dixon-centric spinoff The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon, the franchise is leveling up its zombies once again. This time with something a little more frightening than basically motor skills and spatial awareness.
There are hot zombies now! No, we don’t mean physically attractive zombies. The existence of those is purely between you and your hard drive. We mean like literally hot-to-the-touch walkers. Allow us to explain a little more about them and what they might mean for the TWD Universe going forward.
Daryl Dixon introduces these new so-called “burners” early on. Shortly after titular hero Daryl (Norman Reedus) mysteriously washes ashore on the coasts of France he stopes by a warehouse to re-up on supplies. While there he accidentally alerts his presence to a group of walkers. Normally this is something that Daryl would have no trouble handling but there’s something different about this crew of shamblers. When Daryl strikes the head of one zombie, it’s blood splatters on the floor and audibly sizzles as though it’s acidic. Then another walker grabs a hold of Daryl’s arm and thoroughly burns his flesh.
Later on, after Daryl is rendered unconscious in an unrelated skirmish, he wakes up in the convent led by Isabelle (Clémence Poésy). Isabelle explains that they had to cauterize Daryl’s burn wound as it’s the best way to “stop the spread,” suggesting that the zombie infection can proliferate via burned flesh now. She then goes on to say that her people call these specific kinds of walkers “boilers” or “burners.”
Unfortunately that’s all Isabelle and The Walking Dead at large have to say about this new iteration of zombie. There is no early indication where they come from, how they came to possess these high temperature traits, or how long France has been dealing with them. While we don’t know much about boilers themselves, however, we do know that The Walking Dead has been setting up the existence of “variant” zombies for several years now.
On the flagship series there were the aforementioned doorknob-turning zombies of season 11 but this could have just been an attempt from the show to wave away some curious zombie behavior from previous seasons. The pilot of The Walking Dead was written by then-showrunner Frank Darabont who didn’t seem as constrained to the rules of Kirkman’s source material as future showrunners would. As such, that episode features a notable instance of a zombie experiencing something vaguely resembling a memory and weakly manipulating the doorknob of her old home. Perhaps circling back to this instance was a way to lampshade the whole thing away – “Oh by the way, some zombies know doors. Deal with it.”