As the countdown to the final days of Rick Grimes begins, “The Walking Dead” is finally cooking with gas.
A lot happened in the Season 9 premiere, which aired Sunday: Our ragtag group of survivors rummaged through Washington, D.C. for supplies. Ezekiel (Khary Payton) proposed to Carol (Melissa McBride), who seems into it but like not super into it. Maggie (Lauren Cohan) hanged Gregory (Xander Berkeley) after he initiated a plot to kill her, which seemed to upset Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Rick (Andrew Lincoln). (Because think of the children!)
Amid all the action, though, the show did something a little more subtle. It’s taken nine seasons, but “The Walking Dead” finally addressed one of the biggest plot holes in the show: the magical, never-ending supply of gasoline.
A few weeks ago, I noted in a story that every car in “The Walking Dead” universe seems to appear equipped with a full tank of fuel. Where is all this gas coming from? And why hasn’t it gone bad? Did everyone seriously fill up their tanks and load up on fuel stabilizer supplies right before the zombies showed up?
Well, in the opening shots of the premiere episode, the writers addressed my long-standing gripe. Fans learned this week that the crops over at the Saviors’ sanctuary are dying and as a result, the characters are turning their dead corn into ethanol. We saw barrels of the fermenting stuff on Sunday, which Eugene seems busy concocting. Meanwhile, Daryl had motorcycles seemingly being converted to better use the fuel.
It’s an easy explanation moving forward for the world’s never-ending supply of fuel, and the show glossed right over it. But it had me like:
In fact, I got on the phone with an ethanol expert, professor Harvey Blanch from the department of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of California-Berkeley, to see if I could officially put this particular plot-hole consideration to rest.
“The answer is yes,” he told me. “This turns out to be one of the projects the Department of Energy has funded for years, which is how to convert cellulosic material like corn stalks and corn husks, the leaves and so on, and break them down either by acid or enzymes into sugars, glucose and then ferment that glucose into ethanol. So it’s absolutely feasible.”
“You could certainly run cars on that,” he added. “That’s what Henry Ford did in the 1920s.”
OK, I’m onboard. I can accept that Eugene, who miraculously understands anything remotely scientific, is able to make ethanol. The only issue I have now is: do the Saviors have enough corn?
Blanch told me you could conceivably get between 60 and 70 gallons of ethanol from a ton of corn, though it doesn’t really look like the Saviors have that much. The episode on Sunday showed small plots of crops around the Sanctuary, but at this point, I’m willing to give AMC a break. Plus, the Saviors could easily just take the last bit of the endless magic fuel and run out to get corn from somewhere else if they needed to.
As a final note, Blanch weighed in on whether he thought survivors of the zombie apocalypse would be able to kickstart the kind of enterprise ethanol production would entail. “You could certainly do it,” he said, but it would require a sophisticated knowledge of the process ― and it’d be expensive as heck.
“It’s not terribly economic today, but I guess in the event of a zombie apocalypse money doesn’t mean much,” he qualified.
When it comes to fixing plot holes for Rick’s final season, AMC is sparing no expense.