This isn't unique to Walking Dead, I've noticed it a lot. It is almost like these worlds are always alternate timelines where no one ever thought of Zombies before. Is that the case? Or is there some alternate reason why it seems like this?

It really pulls me out of the show sometimes.

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    Excessive GenreSavviness can ruin the story even worse than GenreBlindness
    – Nick T
    Commented Oct 23, 2011 at 17:57
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    @NickT: False Dichotomy. In a story where it was done well, such as World War Z, taking it from the stand-point where people know what's happening the moment it starts doesn't need to result in Genre Savvy characters.
    – DampeS8N
    Commented Oct 23, 2011 at 21:09
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    Why does everything have to happen in our universe? Clearly this is a case of "Zombies only happen in universes where zombies aren't known of". Which is great, because we're really safe then!
    – Rob
    Commented Oct 25, 2011 at 15:34
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    One of the neat things about Mira Grant's (awesome) Newsflesh series is that people have in fact heard of zombies before, and George Romero is actually a kind of hero for unwittingly teaching everyone how to survive against them.
    – grautur
    Commented Nov 2, 2011 at 4:36
  • I was just about to comment the same this as grautur has here. Mira Grant's Newsflesh series handles this particularly well (and they worship zombie reference material: George and Shaun are popular post-Rising children's names), but this also makes sense (to me) as part of the reason that civilisation is not so completely screwed as in other genre works. They're definitely worth reading. Commented Feb 26, 2012 at 12:36

5 Answers 5


In The Walking Dead universe there are no such things as zombies. They don't exist in the media and fiction of the universe either.

At least not before the outbreak. That's why they don't automatically use that word or understand what's happening around them.

Robert Kirkman explains this in the second episode of Talking Dead, a companion TV show that follows the new episode reruns on AMC:

One of the things about this world is that people don't know how to shoot people in the head at first, and they're not familiar with zombies, per se," Kirkman said on Talking Dead. "This isn't a world the (George) Romero movies exist, for instance … because we don't want to portray it that way, we felt like having them be saying 'zombie' all the time would harken back to all of the zombie films which we, in the real world, know about.

That's also why they call them "walkers," "roamers" and such. The word rarely used in the universe's lexicon (never in the show). The comic makes mention of the word in a joking context about how silly it is to call them Zombies; as well the game has the word used in chapter two when talking to on of the students met at the beginning.


There are a few movies that mention the idea - Shaun of the Dead comes to mind first, with the famous "zed word" gag:

Ed: Any zombies out there?

Shaun: Don't say that!

Ed: What?

Shaun: That!

Ed: What?

Shaun: The zed-word. Don't say it!

Ed: Why not?

Shaun: Because it's ridiculous!

Most works of speculative fiction require a healthy suspension of disbelief to begin with. Pair that with the initial shock of "there are rotting corpses trying to eat my flesh, how do I survive now" and I can understand why people don't really bother talking about how their situation has been presented in popular media. Pop culture references in general aren't particularly common, and when they are used it is often used to point out how different life is post-apocalypse.

For reference, you're not the only one wondering this:


Either this is a universe in which zombies are a part of popular culture in the same way as in the real world or it is not.

If it is then it really makes no sense to NEVER have have the re-animated corpses of the show referred to as such. The truth is that 99% of people would think of a zombie as being exactly this...a re-animated corpse. It doesn't matter where the word zombie originally comes from or what it was originally used to describe in the same way that it doesn't matter that the word robot came from the word roboti, itself derived from the word robota, and did not in fact describe mechanical beings but rather biological ones. In the real world the day re-animated corpses start walking around, especially if they are also then consumed by the uncontrollable urge to eat living flesh and have the ability in doing so to kill any human they bite who will then also die and become a re-animated corpse, is the day we start calling those re-animated corpses ZOMBIES.

Therefore the world of The Walking Dead has to be a world in which zombies do not exist in popular culture in the same way as they do in ours as the re-animated corpses of the show are not referred to as such. The truth is that this is a lot easier to accept than the idea that the people who make up this fictional universe wouldn't make almost any popular culture reference at all. No talking about old tv or radio shows. No mention of any celebrities at all. No clothing that makes reference to such things. I know this is a serious world these people are living in but they're still Americans aren't they? These things used to be their bread and butter. Beth singing Hold On by Tom Waits and Beth referring to a DVD player are the only instances I can remember, off the top of my head, of anything being referred to that smacks of popular culture from these characters' previous lives.

I believe that the main reason this universe exists without zombies is that to have them even say the word without recognizing the ridiculousness of their circumstances, and the humor inherent therein, would truly be pushing the boundaries of willing suspension of disbelief for the audience....and the writers don't want that particular element of humor in the show. Which is fine. But no reference to all the crap we ingest on a daily basis just to get through the day....come on!


It's because they aren't really zombies. A "zombie is a person whose higher thought processes have been removed...leaving them under the sway of a master. This original zombie is usually the result of occult vodou magic."

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    Don't think people would be all too eager to get the dictionary out if the dead suddenly started coming back to life >_>
    – jono
    Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 3:47
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    @jono: yes, and it wouldn’t be the first time a term gets a new meaning, especially the word “zombie” has been used colloquially before, e.g. for people staring at a TV, etc.
    – Holger
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 9:39

The top two answers pretty much answer this question. I don't see the walking dead universe as being a different universe but really just this universe with zombies. I don't think very many people are aware of how to deal with zombies or know much about them. I am sure that fictional zombies exist in the Walking Dead universe but those accounts would be fiction and pretty much useless. If zombies started appearing in our world there is no reason to believe they would follow the rules we have made for ficticious zombies. Maybe shooting a "real" zombie in the heart would kill it. The rules we make for zombies mean nothing because there has never been a real zombie. Characters in the show are relatively not supersticious. The boy clearly states how he doesn't believe in heaven and really only the old farmer seems to be Christian. The other charicters also criticize Daryl... the far more valerous of the redneck/nazi brothers, when he says he saw a chupacabra.

From an aesthetic point of view, the word Zombie would really change the mood and remind the viewer that this is a work of fiction. A major part of the allure of the show is just how real everything is. The charicters don't suspend there belief about anything except the zombies. I personally like the wide variety of terms that come up. Walkers, lame brains, biters... I am not going to investigate too much but I do think there were some scene where people used the term walker without having had it introduced to them.

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