It might be a zombie show, but The Walking Dead avoids using the ‘z’ word entirely. Here’s all the nicknames the characters came up with instead.
The Walking Dead, despite its reputation as “that zombie show,” has never once used the infamous ‘z’ word first made popular by horror maestro George A. Romero. While the word is regularly used by fans of the show and comic creator Robert Kirkman himself, the show’s post-apocalypse survivors are unaware of it. Instead they’ve accumulated an abundance of clever nicknames for the undead.
The “zombie” – at least, what horror fans have come to recognize as one – was initially popularized by Romero’s 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead. Though most zombie pop culture since has taken notes from the acclaimed director, comic creator Robert Kirkman chose to exclude the series from his own apocalyptic universe entirely. In an interview with Late Night host Conan O’Brien, Kirkman said:
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“Well, zombie lore is very popular. We wanted to avoid that notion of, ‘Hey, why doesn’t that character just shoot that zombie in the head because it saw all those movies I saw.’ It felt like having people not use that word would kind of separate it from that, make it a little bit more clear.”
Essentially, the Living Dead franchise doesn’t exist in The Walking Dead, which would explain characters’ initial apprehension to the undead when we are first introduced to them (and why they seem to completely skate around the word “zombie”). Despite this, there’s not a one-size-fits-all term for the show’s reanimated corpses, most commonly referred to as “walkers” by Rick Grimes’ group. After all, while they’re the first group viewers are introduced to at the start of the comic book adaption series, they aren’t the show’s only survivors.
Though The Walking Dead alone has gotten quite creative, its spinoff Fear the Walking Dead, along with a new series premiering later in 2020 (World Beyond) have proven to be equally as innovative when it comes to zombie nicknames. Here’s every name the undead have been given across all three shows.
The Walking Dead
Considering its been running for 10 seasons (and counting) it makes sense that AMC’s flagship show The Walking Dead has the most extensive list of alternative zombie names. While real-life “zombies” originated from the Haitian practice of voodoo and were clinically alive, the “walkers” of The Walking Dead are very much dead, doomed to deteriorate until they are nothing but skeletons. The characters in the show often differentiate a “type” of zombie based on different actions or behaviors they exhibit – for example, “floaters” refer to zombies that have become bloated after spending an extended amount of time in water. The first to encounter one in the series was Glenn, who attempted to pull it out of a polluted well at the Greene family farm. However, this proved futile as the floater got stuck on the edge of the well and split in half. “Swimmers” and “bobbers” are also used on occasion when referencing zombies trapped in varying bodies of water.
Other names refer more directly to the undead’s own rotting flesh (or penchant for human flesh), including “biters,” “skin-eaters,” “deadies,” “rotters,” and “dead heads.” A “herd” refers to a group of walkers that essentially act with a mob mentality. These typically form on highways or major roads in the show, when walkers are attracted by gunshots or other loud sounds. Certain characters also seem to have preferred nicknames – Glenn, Shane, and T-Dog use “geeks” on multiple occasions, while Merle frequently refers to walkers as “creepers.”
While Rick’s group as a whole usually sticks with “walkers,” other groups have differing customs members typically conform to. “Lame-Brains” first appears in “Nebraska,” where Rick, Glenn, and Hershel encounter a group of strangers at a bar not far from the Greene family farm (they also use the name “lab-rats”). While the term “meat puppets” is only used once by a Savior, its presumed that the nickname is common amongst the group. Members of the CDC and military personnel tend to prefer “the infected,” while the Atlanta Police Department at Grady Memorial Hospital (and the Wolves, at one point) use “rotters.” Most recently, “guardians” is used by the Whisperer group, who use the undead to their advantage in the form of disguises and shields.
Despite this extensive list of names, writers of The Walking Dead show no sign of discontinuing their appetite for new, creative ways to refer to zombies. “Lurkers,” for example, are the kind of zombie that simply sit around and wait for their meal to approach them. Incidentally, these can also be the most dangerous, since they masquerade as dead corpses. In the show, Hershel had his leg bitten by a lurker while scouting the prison with Rick during season 4, forcing him to amputate the leg. Alternatively, “roamers” are known to be the ones constantly searching for food and are the most frequently encountered type of zombie. Less common nicknames include “monsters,” “dead ones,” “wanderers,” “cold bodies,” and “the wasted.”
Fear the Walking Dead
With “zombie” off the table, The Walking Dead spinoff Fear the Walking Dead uses many of the same nicknames as the show on which its based. Regardless, its characters have still managed to come up with a few more creative options. While they often use “the infected” – essentially the show’s counterpart to Rick’s “walkers” – several characters also refer to zombies as “groaners” or “the passed.” “The dead” is frequently used by Daniel Salazar, while the somewhat unsettling “skin-bags” is only used once by Moyers in season 1. Though they don’t seem to name them, Fear the Walking Dead does introduce a new breed of zombie with endless nickname possibilities: the toxic zombie. In season 5, episode 2 “The Hurt Will Happen,” viewers are greeted by a new kind of radiation-infested zombie, posing a new dilemma wherein killing a zombie is almost as dangerous as the zombie itself.
The Walking Dead: World Beyond
The Walking Dead’s newest spinoff, World Beyond, will feature two female protagonists and will focus on the first generation to come of age during the zombie apocalypse. While fans of the franchise have been given very little information about the show so far – apart from what was shown in the season 1 trailer at the 2020 SDCC – viewers can expect to see characters referring to walkers as “empties.” Those eager to know if the series has any connection to Rick will only have to wait a few months, as the show is slated for an October 2020 premiere following The Walking Dead season 10 finale.
Though fans of the show have questioned showrunners’ avoidance of the word “zombie” for years, The Walking Dead makes up for it with a long list of original nicknames. While it certainly wouldn’t exist without its predecessor, Night of the Living Dead, The Walking Dead has still managed to innovate the zombie sub-genre while remaining true to die-hard horror fans.
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