Before there was The Vampire Combat Manual, there was The Zombie Combat Manual. In the excerpt below, author Roger Ma tackles the vulnerabilities and regions of attack for zombies.
The Zombie Skull Although the majority of the populace is aware that destruction of the brain is the only known method to terminate an undead attacker, most are confused as how to actually accomplish this task. Many people mistakenly believe that it is "just like cracking an egg." Nothing could be further from the truth. The protective case known as the skull is one of the hardiest structures on the human body and can withstand a significant amount of abuse. The hair, muscles, and scalp covering the skull all provide additional insulation for the brain, which is itself covered by a fibrous, protective layer known as the dura mater. Many victims have engaged in undead combat believing that destroying the brain would require only a slight rap on the head, only to have the attacking ghoul finish the battle.
In order to inflict a wound severe enough to stop a zombie in its undead tracks, you need to strike with enough force that your blow cracks the skull and penetrates the brain. This act is much easier said than done. Not only must you fracture the skull, you need to cause a severe depressed or compound fracture, in which shattered pieces of bone are driven into the cranial tissue. Ideally, your strike should be powerful enough that the weapon itself penetrates the dura mater and enters the brain cavity. A follow-up blow to the same target area is often required to ensure adequate brain trauma.
Never assume that simply because your blow has landed and penetrated the skull, your strike has incapacitated your attacker. Numerous accounts of combat engagements have involved zombies who had been dealt a seemingly terminal blow but continued their assault, much to the shock and dismay of their human opponent. This can be attributed to a strike that has inadequately penetrated the braincase. Incidents such as this are not unique to zombie altercations. A well-known historical example of such an occurrence is the assassination attempt of Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky.
On August 4, 1940, a Soviet assassin infiltrated Trotsky's home in Mexico, where he was in exile. The assassin buried the tip of an ice axe into Trotsky's skull. Unfortunately for the attacker, his poorly executed blow failed to penetrate the brain, enabling Trotsky to continue struggling with the assassin, who was subsequently captured by Trotsky's bodyguards. Trotsky died a day later in the hospital. In relation to living dead combat, the lesson to be learned in this example is that even if all external factors seem to align in your favor, never assume that your undead opponent is finished until you watch it collapse to the ground in an unmoving heap.
Delivering a terminating blow is more easily accomplished on certain regions of the skull than others. We define these areas as primary targets, and they should be your first choice of attack in any undead combat engagement:
Temporal Region (Temple): This region is one of the thinnest areas of bone on the skull and is represented by the sections along the sides of the head, above the ears and just beyond the eyebrows. A blow of sufficient force with an appropriate weapon can fracture this fragile area and penetrate the brain.
Nasal/Orbital Region (Bridge of Nose/Eyes): The area surrounding the eyes and the nasal cavity is especially vulnerable, as it is composed of seven smaller bones that form the orbital socket. An aggressive, cleaving strike to this area can splinter these bones and drive your weapon straight through to the braincase.
Occipital Region (Base of Skull): The area on the back of the head where the spinal cord enters the brain cavity is another point of vulnerability on the zombie, and can be targeted for a blunt-force attack. The difficulty lies in pinpointing this area, as ghouls will confront you face forward most of the time during their initial attack sequence.
Middle Cranial Fossa Region (MCF) (Underside of Skull): This area is the thinnest part of the entire skull, directly above the back of the mouth, known as the soft palate. Above the MCF is the underside of the brain. Although it is the thinnest area, its location makes it difficult to target, save for one particular attack method, which we will describe later in the chapter on combat strategies and techniques.
Secondary targets on the living dead are those that are non-lethal, in that they will not permanently neutralize a zombie. Attacking these targets can, however, severely diminish the lethality of an attacking corpse during a confrontation.
Mandible: A blow to the mandible, commonly referred to as the jawbone, will not keep a zombie from advancing on your position. However, if you eliminate a ghoul's ability to bite, you have significantly reduced the threat it poses. A powerful enough strike can shatter the jaw and possibly detach the lower half of the creature's mouth from its body. The strike should focus on the weak temporo-mandibular joint, where the jaw socket connects with the temporal bone. (See the following illustration.)
Neck: Not technically part of the skull, the neck is still a vulnerable target on a zombie, and is susceptible to a strike that detaches the head from its torso, isolating the risk of the specimen's bite. Though secondary in nature, this target is most effective if you are wielding an edged weapon. Because the brain remains intact, the mouth of a decapitated zombie continues to pose a mortal threat and will snap at any human that unwisely comes into contact with it. After decapitation, you can completely neutralize your target with an appropriate strike to the braincase.
If both primary and secondary targets on a zombie are unavailable, which should rarely be the case, there exist several tertiary targets on a zombie that can be targeted. These areas are mostly not recommended, as they only delay an imminent zombie attack. The energy spent focusing on these regions could be better spent to pinpoint areas that would fully incapacitate your opponent. There are special situations when attacking these alternative targets makes sense (if your opponent is wearing a helmet or face mask, for example). In these instances, striking these targets may provide you additional time to either escape or expose another vulnerable region.
Tertiary targets are areas on the zombie frame that, when struck and disabled, appreciably affect the rate of speed by which it can track its prey. The logic for these targets is that if you are unable to neutralize a zombie, you should at the very least prevent it from maintaining its pursuit. This is why these targets focus exclusively on the lower half of the body.
Patella: A strike to the patella, otherwise known as the kneecap, can seriously debilitate an advancing ghoul. This area is composed of not only the fragile patella bone, but also a series of muscles, tendons, and ligaments that serve as a pulley to connect the upper and lower leg and work in unison to propel the leg forward. Destroying this area can prevent a zombie from straightening its leg completely. Either blade or bludgeon can be used to attack the patella, turning an upright corpse moving at a steady pace into one that limps along at a much slower rate.
Calcaneal Tendon: Commonly referred to as the Achilles tendon, the calcaneal tendon connects the muscles of the lower leg to the calcaneus, or heel bone. The vulnerability of this region is well known to those who engage in recreational sports that require sudden bursts of speed. Obliterating this area, evident from the snap you will hear of the tendon rupturing, will also prevent a zombie from walking properly. Be aware that this is not an easy target-not only is the calcaneal tendon the strongest in the entire body, it requires that you navigate around your attacker and strike at the area closest to the heel.
Keep in mind that the goal in any undead combat engagement is to terminate your opponent. Should a blow to one of the aforementioned tertiary targets cause your challenger to stumble and collapse, it is highly recommended that you spend the time to finish the encounter with a concluding strike to the brain. Simply because a zombie can no longer walk upright does not mean that it has lost interest in feeding on human flesh. Several undead engagements have been recorded in which a zombie was left hobbled from a tertiary strike, only to resume its attack later by dragging itself toward its intended victim. Leaving a zombie in a crippled state is also hazardous to other humans who may come upon it, as it will be low to the ground and out of the upright field of vision.
Targets to Avoid
Some regions on the zombie physique should be avoided entirely during your attack. Normally these areas would fare well as targets on a human opponent. Do not be confused in believing that these same areas are just as vulnerable on the living dead.
Torso: Broken ribs or a punctured lung mean nothing to a walking corpse. Witnesses have seen ghouls with their entire midsections blown open from artillery fire continuing to amble forward as if undamaged. The only reason for targeting this area is to gain additional distance between yourself and your undead opponent for you to mount an escape or a counterattack.
Hands: As mentioned at the beginning of this section, the hands comprise two of a ghoul's three primary means of attack. It may seem logical, then, to debilitate these appendages in order to limit a ghoul's offensive capability, which in turn should improve your safety. In actuality, targeting a ghoul's hands is contradictory to increasing your level of security. Strikes to the hands will cause additional cuts, gashes, and lacerations, all of which will be rife with infectious matter. As your opponent continues its attack, it will be extending and waving its hands toward you, resulting in a higher risk of infection.
Genitals: Although a strike to this sensitive area can quickly incapacitate a human being, a blow to the genitals has shown to be completely ineffective against both male and female specimens of the living dead.