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If you kill the brain (Bang!)

then you kill the ghoul (Bang!)

and its motor functions!

Aim for the head.
Cut it out! Stop wasting your damn bullets, you jerks! You need to hit their heads! I told you! See, like this! (shoots zombie in the head)

The ubiquitous "gotta shoot 'em in the head" scenario. For many different reasons, The Undead throughout fiction are vulnerable only to Boom! Headshot!. Kinda like how (many) vampires are only vulnerable to getting stabbed in the heart. Fortunately, removal of the head also works on people who are not a member of the walking dead, so you don't have to worry about it going out of fashion as a killing method.

Is a consequence of a Cranial Processing Unit.

Sister trope to Boom! Headshot! and Attack Its Weak Point. It is distinct from them, however; Boom! Headshot! is when a headshot is the most efficient way to kill something, whereas this trope is where Boom! Headshot! is the only way to kill something; Period.

Most songs about zombies tend to Lampshade this trope.

A lot of these examples should be moved to Decapitation Required.

Examples of Removing the Head or Destroying the Brain include:

Anime and Manga

  • Played completely straight with High School of the Dead. Despite believing the entire situation to be insane, like something out of the movies, the characters rapidly adapt. Or get eaten in sometimes disturbingly sensual manners.
  • Claymore. Due to Yoma's amazing Healing Factor, a quick kill is absolutely necessarry, and even then, it's preferred to completely tear their corpses to bits. Ophelia lampshades this, telling the Awakened who breaks her neck that you need to behead Claymores to be sure.
  • In Mermaid Saga, some people who eat mermaid flesh turn into zombie-like monsters and some become immortal. In either case though, the only way to permanently kill them is to decapitate them.
  • This is how you kill vampires in Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure - the mystical artifact that creates them does so by altering their brains, making destruction of the head the only way not involving sunlight or Hamon to get rid of them. (Decapitation just creates a pissed-off vampiric head, so you have to destroy the head entirely.)
  • Played mostly straight in Hellsing. The ghouls will only stop going if they're shot in the head, with which the power of the guns the characters are using, usually destroys the head completely. It's been stated that they will stop if shot in the heart, but we only see it with the vampires controlling the ghouls. Killing them this way is seen as preferable; the victims who become like this had no choice in the matter and are brainless, flesh eating machines.
  • Unfortunately, this appears to be the case in Bleach - all of the good characters are protected by such thick Plot Armour that only beheading can kill one. It hasn't yet happened.

Comic Books

  • Marvel Zombies can only be killed by destroying their brains. Decapitation just leaves an irritated head and a lifeless body (as shown by Zombie Wasp and Headpool).
    • Except for Earth-Z's Electro, which was his headless body walking around.


  Jeremy Thompson: It's not something you ever really expect to say, is it?

 "You mean the movie lied?!"


  • Zombies from The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z are vulnerable only to headshots because the virus causes radical mutation, making everything but the brain completely vestigial.
    • Partly averted. Removing the head renders the zombie harmless, but not destroyed. The head is still 'alive' and can still bite. In fact, the Record Attacks comics recount a rite of passage involving spending the night locked in a room full of moaning zombie heads.
  • Some Warhammer novels dealing with The Undead state that only a headshot dissipates the Black Magic animating the corpses.
  • Decapitation is actually the only way to kill a vampire in Bram Stoker's original Dracula. (Buffy-style staking is kind of a Plot Tumor of the Dracula-derived vampire mythos; driving a stake through the heart is used to immobilize the vamps in Dracula so it's easier to take the head off.)
  • Lampshaded in Brains A Zombie Memoir.
  • Averted in Counselors and Kings- it's explicitly stated that removing the head does not destroy a zombie, though it does blind and deafen it (since the now-headless undead has no eyes or ears). Magic or completely destroying the corpse (through dismemberment or fire) is what kills it).
  • In The Forest of Hands and Teeth, zombies can only be killed by chopping off their head.
  • Averted in A Song of Ice and Fire the only way to destroy a wight is to chop them into little pieces (just dismembering them is not enough, the severed limbs will come after you) or burn them.

Live Action TV

  • Geeks in The Walking Dead downplayed when the group cuts the head off a walker, but the head is still alive. Daryl comes along and shoots the head and comments that only a headshot through the brain will put them down. This is also true in the Graphic Novel series it's based on.


Video Games

  • In Resident Evil, only the mid-brain has been reanimated by The Virus, the bit that controls motor functions and hunger.
    • However, they don't need to be shot in the head to kill them; it just gets the job done faster (such that weapons that allow you to specifically explode heads are extremely valuable). Too bad the classic gameplay style doesn't allow basic handguns to be aimed at the head.
      • It should be noted that in the Gamecube "REmake" of the first game, if the head isn't removed (or the corpse burnt using limited supplies of fuel or incenidary ammo), "dead" Zombies mutate into Crimson Heads. Crimson Heads, in turn, mutate into Lickers, although this has never been a gameplay mechanic.
    • Chief Irons calls this trope out nearly word-for-word in regards to the mayor's daughter, an apparent zombie victim killed by Irons himself; he just blamed the zombies.
  • Stalfos in The Legend of Zelda games. However, in some games, the only way to kill Stalfos is by using bombs (in order to shatter their bones).
  • The zombies in Cold Fear. The Exocell parasite nests in the cranium, feeding on the brain.
  • Averted in Dead Space: Often, shooting a Necromorph in the face just makes him mad.
    • Subverted, more like. One of the gameplay features is called "strategic dismemberment", where removing or destroying certain parts has different consequences, depending on the Necromorph. The best example of this would be the Pregnant, which can only be killed by taking out its arms. Shooting it in the stomach will almost invariably result in instant death.
  • Minor zombies in the House of the Dead series can be taken out like this. Bosses have their own weak points (although some are in the head).
  • Touted by some humans in Fallout 3 on how to kill ghouls ("zombie" being used as a slur for ghouls), even though they die from normal damage just like any other creature would. One particular ghoul wants you to kill certain anti-ghoul humans, and will pay you more for killing them with a head shot. However, only one of them is anti-ghoul, the others have a key for a bunker that has the T-51b, and you can keep the keys and take the T-51b for yourself.
  • Invoked in Eternal Darkness with Ulyoth Zombies. One has to decapitate them or they will go Action Bomb, however, zombies of all four Ancients will still fight without their heads (and will be momentarily stunned, comically patting their neck stump as if to say "Oi, who turned off the lights?").
  • Used in the final boss battle in the Marine storyline for the 2010 Aliens vs. Predator videogame.
  • Triple Subverted in Plants vs. Zombies. Zombies, when decapitated, need one more shot to kill them... or just a few seconds, and then the body falls down by itself.
  • Not a zombie example, but in Star Trek Bridge Commander, destroying another ship's bridge (which can be considered a brain), will cause the entire ship to explode, even if the rest of the ship was fully in-tact. This is subverted with Klingon ships, as it's very easy to blow off the front of it and would be game-breakingly easy to defeat them. Though you have to wonder who's flying the thing...
  • In Time Splitters 2 the quickest way to kill a zombie is to shoot off its head

Web Comics

  • Both lampshaded and averted in The Adventures of Wiglaf and Mordred. One character (Gawain) is a Revenant, an intelligent zombie. The first thing that happens to him is a headshot. Arthur, who witnessed the event then calls foul claiming Gawain can not possibly be a zombie - only to be corrected:

 Arthur: "You're not a zombie. Everyone knows you take them out with a shot to the head. And you're still standing."

Gawain: "Have you ever killed a zombie?"

Arthur: "No."

Gawain: "Met one?"

Arthur: "No."

Gawain: "Then, how exactly do you know that actually works?"

Web Original

  • Invoked in Tasakeru. During a fight with a Made of Iron Revenant, Commander Nadeshiko wonders how invincible he'll be with a split skull. She doesn't get a chance to find out.

Western Animation

 The Flash: How do we fight it, or them?

Mophir: Two ways. Pure light from Mophir's gem drives evil spirits back into Dark Heart.

The Flash: Great. What's the second way?

Mophir: Separate host head from body.

    • He is rather fond of method #2.

Real Life

  • With one exception[2]|Mike the Headless Chicken]], either of these methods will kill any animal you could possibly encounter in real life[3]. (Effect may be delayed in some insects and crustaceans.)
    • Interestingly, in some insects, such as the cockroach, the only reason decapitation eventually kills them is that they eventually starve to death. No head means no mouth.


  1. which ended in march
  2. [[wikipedia:Mike the Headless Chicken
  3. well, okay, aside from the ones that don't have heads.
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