In this monthly blog series, our collections team write about their Object of the Month. With Halloween imminent and the chance of a so-called Zombie Apocalypse increased, Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms, nominates a surprising candidate for ‘best zombie killing weapon’.
For October’s Object of the Month, I was asked to choose my favourite object from our collection – but with a twist. It had to be my favourite zombie-slaying object. I will be following this post up with one on the history of zombie violence, and on 30 October will be delivering a public lecture on the strengths and weaknesses of various weapons. I’m looking forward to some spirited debate with the audience!
Being someone who was practically raised on zombie fiction and now works with arms and armour professionally, people often ask me about my ideal zombie apocalypse weapon. Knowing that I’m a firearms specialist who is fortunate enough to work with one of the best collections in the world, they usually assume that I’ll reference a large and impressive gun of some sort. This is fantasy, right? Well, as a professional nerd of sorts, I take my fantasy seriously. So if I had to choose something from the collection to take with me into the post-apocalyptic wasteland, what would it be?
Yep, that’s right; an English bill. A long Medieval/Renaissance-era staff weapon derived from the agricultural tool of the same name and famous for its military use at battles like Agincourt (1415) and Flodden (1513). This particular one was found at Horsham, Surrey and donated to the Armouries in 1950. The head is 490 mm (19.2 in) in length, and the complete weapon (with a replacement haft) weighs 2.3 kg (5 lb 1 oz). Like all bills, it has a broad flat head with a cutting edge and two triangular tines or spikes. One of these curves forward and the other is inclined slightly backwards from the vertical. A third spike or ‘fluke’ is located on the back edge. Bills differ in detail but the basic idea is the same; a simple, robust, cheap, but devastating weapon. So why is it the ideal anti-zombie weapon?
The Killer Bill
- It’s long so you can keep individual zombies at bay with it.
- You can use both ends to fend off multiple attackers.
- You can use the fork of the tines to temporarily keep the creature in place, push them away, push them over, or to one side.
- You can skewer a zombie with one of the spikes and prevent it getting past the weapon and attacking you, but then have sufficient heft in the weapon to easily withdraw it or – if you have to – abandon it and run away (failure is always an option).
- The design of the weapon allows you to hook a zombie’s leg out from under it, either with the fluke on the back if you have some skill, or just with a swing.
- You can remove a leg or render it useless with one strike, and then simply move on.
Unlike a sword, you can swing it with minimal training at the zombie’s head and do serious damage to the brain, the jaw, the eyes, and the spine. The mass of the bill’s head (with a somewhat sharp cutting edge) moving at speed at the end of the long haft will cleave through and/or crush most structures in the human body with ease. Try grabbing me for a bite with no hands, Mr Zombie. Try moving your head with half the tendons severed. You get the idea (Michonne certainly did). The Romero zombie’s weapons are its teeth and its hands. The impact of even a weak or badly aligned blow to the head is likely to have a temporary incapacitating effect (depending upon the vagaries of zombie biology of course). Although risky, you can try for a piercing strike to the head with the spikes and stand a decent chance of getting through the skull, unlike all those ridiculous knife kills we see in The Walking Dead (are zombies actually made of jam?).
For a good idea of what a bill might actually do to a zombie, see the below ‘sling blade’ and partisan weapons being tested by ‘Zombie Go Boom’ on one of their realistic ‘Ivan’ zombie heads. The ‘sling blade’ cuts like a bill, the partisan penetrates the skull like one.
A Useful Tool
The bill has other uses:
- You can use it as a walking staff, a self-defence weapon against other threats (bonus intimidation points against human opponents), and potentially as a survival tool in other ways (to support a bivouac-style shelter for example).
- You can use it to bar a door to make your escape. It’s far more robust than most other weapons, and if the haft breaks, you can probably craft another, or simply wield the head by the broken portion of haft (or even the metal socket).
- The head alone would stand in for an impact weapon in a pinch, and if you have any remaining haft, you’ll still have some of the leverage and speed necessary to cause damage.
- It doesn’t need much maintenance; a wipe down with an oily rag will do, and a bit of rust won’t hamper its effectiveness.
- When it finally does break, if you lose or bend one spike; the weapon remains combat effective.
- If something fatal (like the metal socket) breaks, someone within the post-apocalyptic economy ought to be able to repair it or even forge you a new head.
- Or you can raid a garden centre for an approximation of the same thing!
- If you feel that your bill’s haft is too long, you can cut it down to a handier size.
I have other ‘melee’ weapon recommendations for handier sidearms, but this post is based on the conceit that I can only take one weapon.
It’s worth noting that Max Brooks came to a similar staff-weapon-based conclusion in his seminal ‘Zombie Survival Guide’, but settled on what he called the ‘Shaolin spade’ (and the ‘Lobo’ – a militarised version of the same thing). This crescent-shaped blade on a staff was a sound choice too, but the focus on decapitation was misguided I think. Simply put, it’s hard to cut heads off, and the bill, whilst capable of that, gives you more options. If you simply must ‘remove the head’ rather than ‘destroy the brain’, then go ahead and sharpen the inside of that blade, between the two spikes, and push REALLY hard…
So what do you think? Am I completely off-base here? Should I be taking a hip-fired minigun with 500,000 rounds of ammunition instead? Come to our zombie-slaying lecture on 30 October and tell me why I’m wrong!