This article contains major spoilers for All of Us Are Dead.
You don’t get zombies without a virus, and the one in All of Us Are Dead is tied pretty intimately to both its plot and themes. Named after the German philosopher Hans Jonas, the Jonas Virus is a nasty concoction that stems from a father’s instinctive need to protect his son at all costs. In this article, we’ll look at why the virus was created, its effects, its consequences, and how some of this helps to set this series apart within the zombie-horror subgenre as a whole.
What is the Jonas Virus?
The Jonas Virus was created by Lee Byeong-chan, a genius scientist turned schoolteacher whose son, Jin-sun, is being horrendously bullied at Hyosan High School. Mr. Lee doesn’t even discover the extent of the abuse until his boy tries to commit suicide, and at that point, he tries various things – including talking with the school faculty and urging his son to just toughen up and fight back – before eventually realizing that his options are limited. As he later explains to Detective Jae-ik, he knew a “nobody” like him couldn’t change the system, so instead, he tried to change his son.
The idea of the Jonas Virus was to transmute fear into rage and aggression, hopefully to give Jin-sun a way to fight back against his attackers. Instead, it created a mindlessness and insatiable bloodlust in the boy, who quickly infected his own mother. Unsure of what else to do, Mr. Lee kept them captive and studied them, until a sequence of events at the school caused the Jonas Virus to spread amongst the student body and then out into Hyosan proper.
By this point, Mr. Lee was borderline psychopathic and remorseless, believing that the system was impossible to change and that most of those who either committed or were complicit in the actions that drove his son to suicide deserved their fates. When he really saw the extent of the carnage that had been created, though, he sacrificed himself to save Jae-ik, and implored him to retrieve his laptop from the high school science lab, since his research might hold the key to a cure.
How does the Jonas Virus work?
Mostly, the Jonas Virus creates cookie-cutter zombies – they’re mindless, insatiably hungry, and attack in droves. These ones can run, which is somewhat unusual though less so these days, but they can’t perform actions like open doors – everything is done with brute force and numbers. Eventually, the door will fall either way, but it makes them relatively easy to outsmart.
In All of Us Are Dead, the infection spreads very quickly. Getting bitten or scratched, or even getting zombie blood in an open wound – as we see when Na-yeon kills Gyeong-su – is enough to cause the victim to turn within five to ten minutes. The victims are biologically dead, as we learn later, but they’re kept moving by impulses that power their heightened senses, including smell, hearing, and strength. They also seem unusually difficult to kill.
What are “hambies”?
Later in the series, we learn that the Jonas Virus mutates of its own accord, and one of its later forms allows it to pair with human consciousness, creating what Dae-su dubs “hambies” – essentially half monster, half human. This type of infected retain their heightened senses and bloodlust but are also sentient. They also seem to be almost impossible to kill short of complete incineration. Gwi-nam suffers incredible damage multiple times, including being thrown off every rooftop and out of every window he comes across, and still keeps going until he’s eventually burned up in the bombing of Hyosan. Likewise, Hui-ji and Nam-ra suffer significant injuries and seem to heal their wounds over time.
The virus also seems to exacerbate certain personality traits in the students that become hambies. Gwi-nam was a terrible bully, though also full of resentment and bitterness about the fact he was mostly a lapdog, so his newfound sense of power sends him mad and murderous. Eun-ji was filled with hatred towards the school and its students after being relentlessly bullied, and so for her, her powers are an excuse for revenge. Nam-ra, though, was mostly a good kid, and she’s able to stave off her basest impulses for the longest. When we see her in the epilogue, it seems she has most aspects of her infection under control.
Is there a cure for the Jonas Virus?
Not really, no. Because the virus continues to mutate – in the hambies it is either dormant or active and impossible to detect when it’s the former – the creation of a vaccine is almost impossible. Mr. Lee theorizes this in several of his research videos, and while we spend most of the season believing he must be wrong, he’s eventually proved correct. Ultimately, the decision is made to lure all the infected to four key locations using drones emitting sound at a specific frequency, and bomb them all. The epilogue informs us that martial law was eventually lifted but the Hyosan survivors were still kept in quarantine until the virus eventually expired.