Diabetes Makes a Cameo in The Walking Dead

Insulin becomes a major plot point in a recent episode of the zombie-filled show.

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon and Liz E. Morgan as Tina - The Walking Dead _ Season 6, Episode 6 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC


Last Halloween, we wrote a tongue-in-cheek story on how people with Type 1 diabetes could survive a zombie apocalypse. Now, the show The Walking Dead has provided proof that someone on insulin did survive an outbreak of zombieism…if only brief

SMALL SPOILER ALERT. This article will talk about a minor character in Season 6 of The Walking Dead, and a possible future plot point.

It would be lovely if the show featured a zombie-killing character with Type 1 who carefully manages her blood sugars while dispatching zombies with an axe. Too often in movies and television, a character with diabetes is part of a plot either to be saved or to die so all the other characters can be sad. Unfortunately, The Walking Dead decided to combine both cliches in one short episode.

In the episode of “Always Accountable”, one of the main protagonists, Daryl, encounters a new trio of survivors in the woods. The three carry a duffel bag between them. Daryl and the new group get off on the wrong foot, as the trio assume he is a bad guy and tie him up as their prisoner.

One of the three is a young woman named Tina, who appears weak and flush. Snippets of conversation reveal the three are on the run from a brutal community of survivors. It’s a bit unclear, but it sounds as if they had gotten away from said community once, but had to double back on Tina’s behalf.

At one point, the trio become distracted and Tina passes out. Daryl grabs the duffel bag and runs into the woods. After dispatching a zombie with his trusty crossbow, he looks into the bag to discover a cooler with insulin.

Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Evidently, Tina has passed out from very high blood sugar levels (luckily no one mentions hypoglycemia, so we can assume the writers know the difference between a high and a low). Although the show never clarifies whether she has Type 1 diabetes or insulin-dependent Type 2 diabetes, her young age and relative health points to it being more likely the former.

Daryl, apparently feeling some moral qualms, retraces his steps to give the insulin back to the group. The four make their way through the woods, only to have to hide from another group of survivors; these are apparently the group that the trio originally fled. While hiding, Tina is given her insulin.

And here we have to stop for a moment and examine whether that insulin would do any good. It’s the zombie apocalypse and we are in Virginia – could insulin have survived long enough to be any use for Tina? The answer is possibly, but everything would have to go right.

Here’s why that insulin could….and I mean could….be good: we first see the insulin in a cooler, so we know it’s cool at the moment. The next problem is whether, even if it’s cool, it still would have gone bad by this point; we are in Season 6 of this show, after all. Again, maybe, and only if everything goes right.

To piece this together, we have to assume that all the insulin factories shut down within a month of zombies coming around and eating the factory workers. This vial of insulin would have to have been made pre-zombie outbreak.

Next, we have to establish how long it’s been since the zombies started shuffling around. Luckily, there are superfans of The Walking Dead who have tried their best to account for every day on the show. The well-established fan site, Walkingdeadwikia.com, came up with an estimate that we are on Day 553 post-outbreak; other sites have adopted roughly the same count. However, a WetPaint article quoted a character talking about the last two years of his life being a lie, so 553 days might be a bit short or that character might have lost track of time.

In either case, let’s safely say we’re talking about somewhere between 550 days and 730 days. Insulin expiration dates for refrigerated insulin generally stretch one to two years after date of manufacture. While insulin loses effectiveness as it gets older, if Tina’s insulin had somehow been kept cool all this time, it’s possible that the shot would have done her some good.

But wait, how could this straggly trio have kept that insulin cool all this time? Here again, we have a possible out, albeit a highly unlikely one. There is some speculation from casting moves for the show that we are about to be introduced to a group called the Saviors. If the show follows the comic book on which it’s based, the Saviors have survived the zombie outbreak by holing up in …..wait for it…. a factory. Could it have been an insulin factory? And could the Saviors have kept the power on all this time, without interruption?

Probably not, but if we can believe corpses are walking around eating people, we can believe that this group of survivors somehow kept the insulin cool, at least until we are proven wrong when we see the Saviors’ living conditions.

Of course, Tina would still be in trouble if her blood sugar was so high that she was in diabetic ketoacidosis, but that’s another problem we’ll ignore. The point, it turns out, will be moot.

That’s because poor Tina is going to have a very short life expectancy after being used as a plot device to prove the moral worth of the other four protagonists. The group comes across a glass greenhouse that melted in a massive fire and two corpses of people that apparently were trapped there during the fire. The trio realizes that the two corpses were friends of theirs, and Tina unwisely decides to lay down flowers at their resting place. Bad move, Tina, as the corpses choose that moment to reanimate, break out of the glass, and eat her. She’s buried in the next scene.

So once again, people with insulin-dependent diabetes are either there to be saved or there to provide a sad death. Thanks, The Walking Dead, thanks a lot.

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Craig Idlebrook is a past editor for Insulin Nation, Type 2 Nation, and Información Sobre Diabetes. He is now the community engagement and content manager for T1D Exchange.