Castle and the Zombie Horde
Various elements of the supernatural have played a role in a number of episodes of Castle—including ghosts and vampires—but in the end, the murders investigated by New York City homicide detective Kate Beckett and her mystery-writing partner Richard Castle have always had a more rational explanation.
During the season four episode “Undead Again,” however, the pair is faced with overwhelming evidence that the death of David Lock occurred at the hands of an actual zombie. Although the cause of death is ruled blunt-force trauma, for instance, large chunks of Lock’s skin were ripped away by human teeth. A piece of a lace cuff from the Nineteenth Century was found at the scene as well. And in addition to the account of eyewitness Charlie Coleman, a video security camera caught the culprit on film as he lumbered away in the aftermath.
“My friends, that is a zombie,” Richard Castle remarks upon seeing the decaying face of the suspect. Despite the declaration, Kate Beckett remains skeptical until their investigation leads them to an abandoned warehouse in the dead of night. “They’re after us, they’re after us!” a young female shouts as she races past Beckett and Castle. “What are you people doing, don’t just stand there—run!” adds her male counterpart.
Kate Beckett and Richard Castle refuse to heed their words, however, and soon find themselves surrounded by a zombie horde. While Castle contemplates the hopelessness of their situation, telling his partner that there are just too many of them to fight, Beckett realizes that something else must be going on. “There’s no way this is real,” she tells Castle. “NYPD! Stop moving, now! And stop pretending to be zombies!” With those words, the zombies do indeed stop.
“Take it easy, we’re just zombie walking here,” one of them explains. “Zombie walking, it’s like an amped up form of tag. We dress up like zombies and we chase the normals. If we tag them, we turn them and they become zombies too.” While Kate Beckett still appears confused by the announcement, Richard Castle merely exclaims, “How did I not know about this?”
How someone like Richard Castle—who is well versed in the realm of pop culture—could be oblivious to the concept of zombie walking is indeed puzzling. Rather than being a new phenomenon, the Zombie Walk actually evolved from a 2001 promotion in Sacramento, California, for the city’s annual Trash Film Orgy film festival. Although only a handful of participants showed up for this initial Zombie Parade, the event was drawing well over 1,000 “zombies” a mere decade later.
Other cities developed their own Zombie Walks in the years that followed, including Denver, Chicago and Toronto. The Guinness Book of World Records eventually took notice as well, awarding Pittsburgh the honor of attracting the largest zombie crowd for its 2006 Zombie Walk, a record that has been broken many times since.
While it is apparent that zombies are a popular part of contemporary culture, the question of why they have such appeal is another matter. During the episode “Undead Again,” Richard Castle himself asks that very question. “Being a fan of zombie lore, I get,” he tells Kate Beckett. “What’s the appeal of being a zombie? Who would want to be alive in a decayed, mindless state? Being a vampire, that I understand. That’s the romantic route to immortality. The gentlemen’s monster, as it were.”
One of the participants at the Zombie Walk is an assistant professor of anthropology, and he offers his own answer to the query. “I believe our fascination with zombies is a cultural phenomenon, a commentary on the inner numbness of modern life,” he flatly states before Kate Beckett cuts him off.
In his essay “A Stagger-on Role to Die For” from The Walking Dead and Philosophy: Zombie Apocalypse Now (Open Court, 2012)—an anthology volume that examines the AMC drama The Walking Dead—David Beisecker likewise explores the current cultural fascination with zombies. “It’s built into the very concept of a zombie that the possibility of becoming a zombie is supposed to be one of the most horrible and terrifying fates to contemplate, one that no rational creature would ever wish on either themselves or their remains,” Beisecker writes.
Despite this fact, tens-of-thousands of people still dress up as zombies and pretend to be amongst the walking dead every year. To understand their motivation, Beisecker considers multiple possibilities, ranging from mere curiosity to perverse fantasy, until he finally arrives at an acceptable answer.
“Zombies might be wretched, pathetic, utterly ungraceful and laughably inept,” he begins. “Even so, I suspect many of us harbor, deep down in our souls, doubts of being awkward, pathetic losers as well. So when we look at zombies, we just might see our own insecurities reflected right back at us—as through a magnifying glass. Zombies might suffer their bodily limitations, but don’t we all? We too sometimes stumble about, and have trouble finding the exits out of stairwells—not to mention that we’re often much less articulate than we’d like to be.”
While society’s fascination with zombies is exhibited in the Zombie Walk sequences of “Undead Again,” Castle likewise explores the terror of not only being confronted by a zombie but facing the prospect of being turned into one as well. Charlie Coleman most exemplifies that horror when Kate Beckett and Richard Castle find their initial murder suspect chained to a radiator in his apartment, screaming that they need to “get back” and “you need to shoot me—do it now!”
Later, after he has been exonerated and is on the verge of being released, he tells police detective Kevin Ryan, “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.” While he agrees that enough time has passed since being bitten to ensure that he himself will not turn into a zombie, the fact that the killer has not yet been apprehended likewise gives him pause. “I’ll just stay here,” Coleman tells Ryan as he shuts the door to his cell. For Charlie Coleman, being in jail is a better alternative than coming face-to-face with a real life zombie.
“The answer lies in fear,” Robert A. Delfino and Kyle Taylor write in The Walking Dead and Philosophy. “Zombies are a projection of some of our worst fears. They represent everything we do not want to be. We’re living, they’re dead. We’re intelligent, they’re not. We’re civilized, they’re cannibalistic beasts. We hope for an afterlife of happiness, they represent an afterlife of horror. If humans are in the image of God, zombies are the reverse image of us—deformed, hideous, and bestial. Zombies force us to contemplate human nature itself and our worst fears about it. That’s why zombies fascinate and terrify us.”
Kyle Jennings, the zombie killer of Castle, was unfortunate enough to experience both the fascination and terror during “Undead Again.” A regular Zombie Walk participant in New York City for years, he had even crafted an outfit from the 1800s—coupled with elaborate make-up—in order to transform himself into the perfect zombie. Jennings was drugged at his most recent Zombie Walk, however, and in essence turned into an actual zombie who was then coerced into killing David Lock.
“Jennings had scopolamine in his system, which in small doses is used to treat motion sickness,” medical examiner Sidney Perlmutter explains. “In larger doses, it acts on the central nervous system to promote compliant and suggestible behavior. You’ll basically do whatever you’re told. It’s like a date rape drug only the victim remains conscious and when the drug wears off, have no recollection of what happened.”
By the end of “Undead Again,” Kyle Jennings’ fascination with zombies has obviously evaporated. “My zombie walking days are over,” he tells Kate Beckett and Richard Castle. “I just want to put all this behind me.” Zombie fans around the world, however, are showing no signs of putting their own fascination with the “walking dead” behind them, making the zombie horde an ever growing part of contemporary culture in the process.