Zombie Terminology

Fight The Dead Fear The Living image from the zombie series The Walking Dead

Why all the zombies in stories? Zombies have unlimited potential as metaphor. Historically, storytellers have used zombies to explore tensions between conservative and progressive values. The zombies themselves represent widespread cultural anxieties of their era.

Some storytellers use zombie stories to reinforce the status quo while progressive storytellers use zombies to critique it.

Watching the anti-vaccine, anti-lockdown protests in other parts of the world, shows me how inaccurate most zombie apocalypse fiction is. There would be groups of people getting themselves bitten on purpose, wouldn’t there?

@davidgary wood 7:35am · 25 Jul 2021

The 1200s gave us ‘Eyrbyggja Saga’ (‘Story of the People of Eyrr’). This story is full of the walking dead, e.g. Thorodd and his men. In this story, the living aren’t especially worried about the walking dead. Thorodd and his men have been drowned. The living believed that drowned people had been well received by the sea-goddess, Ran, if they attended their own funeral feast. It was only later that the walking dead became unwelcome. They loiter around the first every night and the living become unnerved. So the hero of the story sues them. They leave. These walking-dead stories are to do with the beliefs of pre-Northern Europeans — that the dead could still see, hear and feel.


The word ‘zombi’ first appeared in Le Zombi du grand Perou by Corneille Blessebois. A woman is tricked into thinking she’s an invisible spirit called a zombi. Back then, zombis were spirits or ghosts, not the walking dead as we know them today.


The word ‘zumbi’ appears with a meaning closer to how we use it today in A History of the Voyages and Travels of Capt. Nathaniel Uring. The word ‘zumbi’ refers to the apparition of the dead person, but they walk around and torment the living, much like contemporary zombies.


Robert Southey publishes History of Brazil, in which ‘zombi’ refers to the elected chief of the maroons in Pernambuco. Southey means the guy behaves like he doesn’t have any free will. These early zombie stories were influenced by colonialism. In this era, the zombie characters themselves allude to savage and unintelligent “colonial objects”.


The word zombie first appeared in print in an American newspaper in a reprinted short story called “The Unknown Painter” in 1838.


The word zombie became mainstream in English after W. B. Seabrook published The Magic Island.


After the 9/11 attacks zombies in stories were commonly interpreted as a metaphor for terrorism.

28 Days Later

Danny Boyle’s modern version of Romero’s films. But these zombies are neither bewitched nor reanimated dead. Instead, they’re infected with a virus known as ‘rage’. Docile humans transform into terrifying red-eyed shells of their former selves. The virus has a magical quality.


Julia Kristeva wrote a well-known thesis on the meaning of abject.

Zombies are a great example of the abject because we push them away while at the same time recognising parts of ourselves in them.


Kyle Bishop’s term for zombies as preferred representation for cultural distrust in the United States of America. However, this concept isn’t limited to America — it’s a global phenomenon.

If you’re confused about what ‘gothic’ means exactly, I’ve gone into that here, though I can’t promise you’ll come out enlightened. ‘Gothic’ is notoriously difficult to define.

Zombies are the preferred monster for conveying in narratives about society’s distrust.

Astral zombies

Astral zombies are individuals who still walk among the living but have either sold their souls or had them stolen by a houngan. Astral zombies derive from Haitian folklore. But as you can probaly see, they also share similarities with Deal With The Devil stories. Young adult novel The Boy Who Couldn’t Die by William Sleator (2004) is an astral zombie story.


An automaton is a moving mechanical device made in imitation of a human being.

Automaton are similar to zombies in that they have no free will. But unlike zombies they didn’t start from a living being.


There are many references in the Bible about the resurrection of saints and sinners in the end times.

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Ezekiel 37:7-8

Zombies are thereby associated with apocalypse. Why We’re Obsessed With The Zombie Apocalypse from Live Science.

Zombie stories are generally dystopian. These stories address modern concerns, and the message is generally this: If we don’t confront these societal problems head on, we’re heading for disaster.

The assumption behind apocalyptic stories in general: When society collapses, our true nature is revealed. Behind that: That we have a true nature, and are simply wearing masks of gentility.


(of a story or statement) of doubtful authenticity, although widely circulated as being true. The Haitian zombie mythology is apocryphal.

People who study zombies still don’t know how the zombie moved from Haitian apocryphal mythology to mainstream film/literature.


Many people who follow the voodoo religion today believe zombies are myths, but some really do believe zombies are people revived by a voodoo practitioner. This practitioner is known as a bokor.


Another description of a zombie. A biological creature which behaves as if it is an automaton, with no free will, driven towards one goal and one goal only: consumption.


These days, zombies are commonly thought to eat brains. A lot of our modern conception of what zombies are like comes from George Romero’s film franchise, but Romero himself did not create zombies who ate brains (they ate living flesh in general). The idea that zombies eat brains may come from an episode of The Simpsons Dial Z For Zombies. This is a spoof of Return of the Living Dead. A generation of kids saw this episode before they were old enough to see a real zombie film.

Jordan is a kind-hearted zombie expert who voluntarily lives at a psychiatric hospital. Having prepared for the zombie apocalypse since childhood, Jordan is thrilled when hordes of the infected undead finally invade.

With a bug-out bag and a confident grin, Jordan leaves the safety of the psychiatric hospital and wanders alone into zombie infested streets to rescue family and strangers alike.

Everything seems perfect until Jordan’s loved ones start dying, and Jordan has to face the harsh reality that the zombie apocalypse isn’t going according to plan.

Mind Killer 1987. Brains on the outside of a head are so very gruesome that they more often fall into comedy horror territory.
Mind Killer 1987. Brains on the outside of a head are so very gruesome that they more often fall into comedy horror territory.
Baffling Mysteries cover art December 1952

A cannibal eats other humans. Throughout human history, cannibalism has sometimes been acceptable practice, involving ceremonial consumption of flesh from diseased relatives or, more often, from captives of war. Zombies are commonly cannibals and have a craving for human flesh.

Comics Code Authority

In the 1930s and 1940s plenty of zombie tales appeared in pulp magazines like Weird Tales and Strange Tales. In the 1950s, zombie tales alarmed child development experts. In America, their activism led to the formation of the Comics Code Authority. For the two decades after 1953, this authority prohibited ‘scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism’ and this put some horror comics out of business. However, some comic publishers refused to abide by the rules and zombie stories continued to find an audience.


A crypt is a stone chamber beneath the floor of a church or other building. It typically contains coffins, sarcophagi (coffins) or religious relics.


Zombie bodies are often in a state of decay. This emphasises the horror of death itself.


Dread is anticipatory anxiety. The fear of encroaching zombies is as bad as actually facing them head on, if not worse. Hence, they often walk slowly, allowing more time for audience (and character) dread.


Malevolent corpses from the Norse sagas. These creatures take the offensive by attacking and eating anyone who invades their burial barrows. The wonderful gothic subject matter of these sagas became popular outside Scandinavia in the second half of the 1700s. Draug Asuidus and Thorolf Baegifot are examples.


To exhume is to dig out (something buried, especially a corpse) from the ground.


There aren’t exactly zombies in the Bible per se. But there are many references to bodies reanimated or resurrected. The book of Ezekiel describes a vision. Ezekiel is dropped in a boneyard and prophesizes to the bones. The bones start to shake and become covered with muscle and flesh until they’re reanimated. Yet “there was no breath in them.”

Féile na Marbh

Irish Feast of the Dead. On this night, spirits of the departed rise up, seeking the warmth of the fireside and communion with their living kind. Irish families light a candle and leave it in the window. Or they leave an empty chair by the fire to guide wandering wraiths back home, where the wraiths will receive their blessing for the coming year.

Flat character

Zombies in stories will always be flat (rather than fleshed out, ha) because of their lack of free will. Their desires are basic (not tiered). They can’t make plans. They are indistinguishable from one another, or from any number of other horror monster creations which simply won’t quit. They don’t understand the wretchedness of their condition.


Zombies are different from other modern monsters in popular culture because they have no clear predecessor. However, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein serves as a good literary predecessor to the modern zombie monster, at least until another comes along. (We might also point to some of Lovecraft’s monsters and call those zombie predecessors.)

Frankenstein’s monster is a bit like a zombie. He has no free will. However, he is not made from a reanimated human or animal and therefore does not qualify as a zombie exactly.

Free will

To qualify as a zombie, a creature must have no free will. Mummies and vampires are also reanimated corpses but they are not subcategories of zombies. That’s because they have free will. Zombies must be completely subordinate to the will of someone else or to some monomaniacal drive. The drive might be for human flesh, violence, revenge or perhaps resistance of the tyranny of entropy itself. Zombies are therefore a parody of slavery. (The other criterion: a zombie must be reanimated from a human or animal.)

There’s really only one thing a zombie wants: to satiate their hunger. Everything else is an impurity standing in the way of total consumption.

Zombies have no individuality. They are fulfilment machines.

I like living in my head because in there, everyone is kind and innocent. Once you start integrating yourself into the world, you realize that people are nasty, mean creatures. They’re worse than zombies. People try to crush your soul and destroy your happiness, but zombies just want to have a little nibble of your brain.

J. Cornell Michel, Jordan’s Brains: A Zombie Evolution

in Jewish folklore, a golem is an image (typically comprising clay or mud) brought to life by magic. Golem in the Bible and in Talmudic literature refers to an embryonic or incomplete substance. Golems are not zombies but instead corporeal beings created from other forms of matter. Zombies have to come from humans or animals to qualify as zombies.


Modern zombie stories are commonly set in the 1700s especially if they’re comedic e.g. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.


The 1700s was the century that invented the gothic novel. We think of Enlightenment and Regency England as a time of rigid, stable and elaborate social codes. Whether this is true or not, this era makes a good setting, ripe for disruption. Also, characters in powdered wigs contrast comically with decayed bodies wearing them. I Walked with a Zombie (1943) owes a lot to Gothic stories from the 1800s, and is very loosely based on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. The setting is the Caribbean. Also typically, the dark-skinned natives use voodoo for good (improved health and well-being) but the whites appropriate native practices for their own evil ends.


Grendel is a character in the poem Beowulf. HE and his mother exhibit some qualities of the modern zombie — they can’t speak, eat human flesh and just keep coming after the Danes for no reason. They are also strangely human. Metaphorically, they represent the Danes’ failings: pillaging vengeance and pride.


comically or repulsively ugly or distorted

Haitian Revolution

Important to understand: In the late 1700s, enslaved Haitians successfully threw off their oppressors. There was a massive bloody struggle. The number of British and French soldiers was far higher but slaves still managed a revolution. It was two decades after this revolution that the word ‘zombie’ first appeared in English. In 1819 poet Robert Southey used it as a metaphor for imperialism in the Americas, meaning that colonised people had been robbed of their free will.


Shakespeare may have made reference to zombies in Hamlet:

A mote it is to trouble the mind’s eye.
In the most high and palmy state of Rome
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets


A hedonist is someone who goes after pleasure and consider their own desires take precedence above the desires of others. Hedonists are barely living legitimisers of complete and pure desire, which makes them akin to zombies. But it is prioritising of their own goals above the goals of everyone else which makes them different from regular people, who also want what we want, but won’t go to any lengths to get it.

Homo homini lupus

Homo homini lupus, or in its unabridged form Homo homini lupus est, is a Latin proverb meaning “A man is a wolf to another man,” or “Man is wolf to man.”

It refers to situations where people are known to have behaved in a way similar to a wolf (hence ‘lupus’). The wolf is thought to be predatory, cruel, and inhuman i.e. more like a monster than a human.

This phrase can also apply to zombies, of course.


Zombies have Haitian roots. Before that, zombies can be traced further back to West Africa.

In Haiti, a houngan is a type of voodoo priest. If you want to take revenge on someone, you can pay this houngan to give your victim a deadly neurotoxin out of a pufferfish. This toxin convincingly simulates death. The victim’s family thinks they’re dead and buries them. However, the houngan digs them back up and revives them, sort of. This newly minted ‘zombie’ is kept ‘in thrall’ and used as a slave. The zombie is not properly fed. Zombies must be kept in a malnourished state. In fact, feeding zombies salt or meat may be enough to rouse them from their stupor. At this point they’ll either kill their master, kill themselves or go running back to their grave. When the houngan dies, the zombie person is meant to be free. But sometimes that just means jumping to their death.

Italian zombie film

Zombie (1979) by Lucio Fulci is a typical example of the Italian zombie film – a category in its own right. Similar to serial killers in American slasher films, Italian zombie films are shot from the heterosexual male gaze. The audience is expected to become complicit in feasting upon naked women, or preying upon couples having sex. Laura Mulvey has said that the image of a naked young woman often juxtaposes against an image of a disgusting, decaying zombie. In the Italian zombie films this takes on a more literal layer: the zombie eats the naked woman’s body. These are women who receive abuse from both humans and zombies. The women exist to absorb violence.


the state of being a lunatic; insanity (not in technical use). The word comes from ‘moonstruck’. People used to believe that the moon causes madness.


This word describes something disturbing because of its connection with death.

Male gaze

In early 20th century zombie films, time and again villains learn that to possess the woman’s mindless body is unsatisfying. (A guy called Dendle said that.) White Zombie is a classic example, and so is Plague.


having or showing a wish to do evil to others. This is the zombie’s only desire.


to go about in search of things to steal or people to attack.

Marbh bheo

Irish night walkers


“Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks,” claimed Karl Marx in Capital, his multi-volume magnum opus.

The Zombies of Karl Marx: Horror in Capitalism’s Wake, Lithub
Memento Mori

An object kept as a reminder of the inevitability of death, such as a skull.

The zombie is quite literally a memento mori, and serves to remind us that if we think we can cheat death, we are only fooling ourselves.


Zombie stories are typically about keeping women in traditional subordinate position. Does The Walking Dead Still Have A Woman Problem? (Season 3 update from Pajiba) See also: Walking Dead Writers — Don’t Ruin Carol, from Persephone Magazine. See also Thoughts On Andrea from My Friend Amy.


The etymology of ‘monster’ is especially interesting in relation to the premonitory narrative of zombies. (Zombies are so often used by storytellers to warn us.) These stories say: This is the horrible future humans might expect unless we correct our course.

Monster is a word from late Middle English, from Old French monstre, from Latin monstrum ‘portent or monster’, from monere ‘to warn’.

For more analysis of the word monster, see the work of Marie Mulvey Roberts.


Mummies share the shambling gait of the zombie but are generally covered in bandages. Generally mummies aren’t considered zombies because they not entirely without their own will, or completely controlled by one basic drive.

Night of the Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead by George Romero (1968) is a watershed zombie film series. This wasn’t the first zombie film, but this was the film which popularised zombies worldwide.

Romero took various aspects of earlier zombies and crystallised them into an iconic creature we recognise today — the slow, inarticulate, shambling, undead thing motivated only by a desire to eat human flesh. The zombies have no master and are horribly persistent. George Romero’s zombies are created by a vague technology run amok.

We are never told what brings the recently dead back to life, but it’s thought to be radiation leaking to earth from a satellite. This was a typically Cold War fear, reminiscent of a whole lot of 1950s films in which radiation causes men to shrink and women to grow massive. In this film there is an indistinct boundary between monster and victim, and the audience questions how monsters are essentially different from humans. (Maybe not so different after all.)


Unlike giants (more generally), ogres have a massive appetite. Zombies and ogres are therefore related.


On the island of Haiti, it’s not unheard of for family members to actually see their dead alive, walking in a state of zombification. But no one wants to reclaim them. They are seen as irredeemably unclean and are now outcasts forever. They’re not figures of terror, though. They’re not capable of harming anyone. Instead, they are a creature hovering between life and death – it has no will to kill, or any will at all – and is simply a scary symbol of human bondage.


In stories, zombies often come about due to some sort of outbreak. Robert Kirkman, creator of the immensely popular Walking Dead series, has said he will never reveal how the original zombie outbreak started or how the zombies infect through biting because that detail is “unimportant” to the story.


In philosophy, this idea of a hypothetical creature that looks like a regular human but has no conscious experiences is known as a “philosophical zombie” or a “p-zombie”. […] According to philosophers like David Chalmers, p-zombies are an argument against physicalism – the school of thought that everything that makes us human is ultimately derived from our physical characteristics. Physicalism is based on the success of science in exploring the physical world. According to physicalists, we are essentially intricate arrangements of atoms. Behaviorists, a subset of physicalists, maintain that even all mental processes – thoughts, desires, etc – are just responses to the behaviors of others.

Big Think


The concerns of contemporary zombie narratives are Postmodern: About the fall of humanity and collapse of society. Postmodern zombies exemplify loss of identity and governmental indifference to society’s welfare.


Bokors have a tradition of using herbs, shells, fish, animal parts, bones and other objects to create concoctions including “zombie powders,” which contain tetrodotoxin, a deadly neurotoxin found in pufferfish and some other marine species.


Zombies are different from regular humans in three main ways. Zombies lack:

  1. Conscious experience
  2. Qualia
  3. Sentience

You’re probably familiar with the terms ‘conscious experience’ and ‘sentience’. Qualia is a philosophical term and refers to sensory experiences which have distinctive subjective qualities but lack any meaning or external reference to the objects or events that cause them, such as the painfulness of pinpricks or the redness of red roses. The term is virtually synonymous with sense data.


White film makers of the 20th century tended to appropriate from other cultures and centre white people and white people’s fears. The white male nature of zombie stories itself is a zombie that just won’t die.
The Walking Dead Has Become A White Patriarchy, so I have been going elsewhere for my zombie stories.


Zombies have two basic criteria: It must be the reanimated corpse or possessed living body of one person (or animal). (The other is it must have no free will.)

Ring of Salt

an enchanted circle of protection to keep the bad out — a kind of magic circle

Robert Southey

In the early 1800s poet Robert Southey used the term ‘zombie’ as a metaphor for someone who has no will. This is how we tend to use zombie today.


In Irish culture, Samhain is a major Druidic festival marking the boundary between the living and the spirit world. This is the last festival of the harvest year, so pagan Ireland decreed that fruit and nuts (especially apples) would be eaten on the night of Samhain.

The Serpent and the Rainbow

When Harvard scientist Wade Davis travelled to Haiti to investigate two documented cases of zombies he wrote about his experience with vodou in “The Serpent and the Rainbow”. He inspired the 1988 film and this sparked a new zombie craze. Variety


In a Haitian community Zombies make excellent slaves. The toxin disables their memory and intellect but the lower brain functions still work, allowing the body to move. Obviously, keeping someone as a zombie slave requires complicity from an entire community. Generally, no one in the community likes the victim so they don’t bother checking they’re actually properly dead before burying them. (Means of checking might include cutting off their head or driving a dagger through the heart.) Some people might want to intervene, but they’re afraid the same thing will happen to them.


Zombies don’t have souls, and this distinguishes them from humans.

She’s probably good at compartmentalizing her feelings. Or maybe she just doesn’t have a soul.

J. Cornell Michel, Jordan’s Brains: A Zombie Evolution

In an expanded definition of zombie, zombies appeared in literature as far back as 1697. But they were described as spirits or ghosts, not as cannibalistic fiends.

Survival of the Fittest

This is a Darwinian term meaning harsh conditions weed out weaker members of a species. Survival of the Fittest a common theme among zombie narratives. Zombie narratives tend to have a resurgence after a big, scary world event such as the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War 2.


The zombie is a malleable symbol. Storytellers can use zombies as they see fit. Zombies have been used to represent the horrors of slavery, white xenophobia, Cold War angst, the fear of death, apprehensions about consumer culture.

They all call me “Excuse me,” even though my nametag clearly says “Jordan.” It’s like people don’t actually exist while they’re working. Workers are just tools who aren’t supposed to have feelings or personalities. You don’t become human until your shift is over. Until then, we’re all just zombies. We’re dead to the world: infected people who need to be avoided, unless, of course, someone needs to know where the paintbrushes are located.

J. Cornell Michel, Jordan’s Brains: A Zombie Evolution

Zombie films are quite often about the specific anxieties of white men, and the perceived threat to the white male ability to control the sexuality of white women. Zombies Are All About The Heteronormative Power Struggle from Science 2.0 When zombies were about slavery, stories were concerned about how slavery transplanted to the USA something malignant, but for the masters more than the slaves. These stories were for white audiences. White audiences are terrified of voodoo. The House In The Magnolias (1932) and Song of the Slaves (1940) are two examples of that.

Amy Wilentz writes that the zombie is a modern creation of a “very logical offspring of New World slavery”. Zombies derive from the belief that the souls of dying people can be stolen and kept “in a ritual bottle for later use”. This belief was passed to slaves taken to the New World in the hope that they might escape their suffering. Death on the sugar plantations was seen as a return to Africa. However, this story wasn’t all that helpful, because the logical extension of this belief is that even when you die, your zombie-self might be recaptured by yet another slave master. It didn’t help that slave drivers counted numerous voodoo priests among them.


Used carefully at sub-lethal doses, the tetrodotoxin combination may cause zombie-like symptoms such as difficulty walking, mental confusion and respiratory problems.
High doses of tetrodotoxin can lead to paralysis and coma. This could cause someone to appear dead and be buried alive – then later revived.


The Ancient Greeks may have been the first civilisation terrorised by a fear of the undead. Archaeologists have unearthed many ancient graves which contained skeletons pinned down by rocks and other heavy objects. We deduce this was to prevent the dead bodies from reanimating.


Freud’s terminology, translates to ‘uncanny’. The zombie is an uncanny other for humanity. This zombie is close to human but without being human. These types of monsters are the scariest of all.


Zombie outbreaks can be caused by a virus, which makes the story an allegory for our human fear of viruses. The Bestial Virus: The Infectious Origins of Werewolves, Zombies & Vampires from Discover Magazine


Voodoo (sometimes spelled vodou or vodun) is a religion based in West Africa and practiced throughout Haiti and the Caribbean, Brazil, the American South and other places with an African heritage.

New Orleans voodoo and American hoodoo derive from Haitian vodou. Professor Cosentino explains there’s really not much evil to these sacred religions:

“The Haitian revolution … actually scared the s–t out of America because it was the first and only successful national slave revolution in world history. And of course, what America saw was that the vast slave population in the United States could do this too and so there was the immediate beginning of this degradation of Haiti and of Haiti’s religion, which is vodou.”


Walking Corpse

In earlier English, corpse referred simply to ‘the body’. Only later did it refer to ‘the dead body’. Romeo’s zombies walk slowly, but Danny Boyle’s Zombies in 28 Days Later are really fast.


A highly successful and influential contemporary zombie comic book and TV series in which an unknown pathogen that everybody already carries (for unknown reasons) brings the dead back to ‘life’. Sheriff Rick Grimes becomes the group leader, guiding his people across America seeking shelter and safety.

Unfortunately, The Walking Dead series embraces rather than critiques regressive models of patriarchal forms of masculinity. Gender roles are conservative and stereotyped. The main quest of the group becomes protecting Lori and her baby as characters settle back into their heteronormative nuclear families. The long term goal is to repopulate the earth, which means the women will be consumed with the task of pregnancy and child-rearing.

On one hand, visualizations of post-apocalyptic terra incognita provide the means of producing a new and fragmented spatiality by renegotiating seemingly natural, everyday social practices. On the other hand, narratives of the apocalypse also contribute to the ‘conspiracy against history’ in that ‘they deny what they pretend to explain’. In other words, while the series [The Walking Dead and also Survivors] take the audience to a breaking point where societal norms are seemingly challenged, once the apocalypse has become reality the overall temporal structures of society (and thus arguably also its ideologies) are shown to remain intact. […] the post-apocalypse does not put an end to capitalism but instead demonstrates its adaptability. […] the series seem to showcase the overall power of capitalist structures and absence of a utopian alternative, mirroring the conclusion of Mark Fisher (in refernce to Marx’s vampires simile) that ‘capital is an abstract parasite, an insatiable vampire and zombiemaker’. In other words, the apocalypse depicted in these series usually does not represent the end of history but an end and thus also relies on spaces that still echo a pre-disaster familiarity.

The semantics of empty spaces in contemporary post-apocalyptic fiction from the book Empty Spaces: Perspectives on emptiness in modern history, Martin Walter, 2019

The Walking Dead makes heavy use of iconography from the Western genre, an unashamedly conservative category of story (though anti-Westerns switch up the ideology). Like a pre-WW2 Western, The Walking Dead is about the lone hero struggling to build a safe community on the frontier. All the while, danger surrounds him.


In any good zombie story, the zombies represent the weakness of a society or community of people they come after. Zombie films are therefore allegories. In Night of the Living Dead, the zombies tape into anxieties of the late 1960s — the dehumanising violence of the Vietnam War, uneasy reactions to the Civil Rights movement and a human tendency to become as monstrous as any monster who attacks us. With each subsequent film, the allegory gets updated. The next film is about brain-dead consumerism and after that the sexism turns into feminism.

White Zombie

The first zombie film. Importantly, zombies don’t have literary predecessors, unlike literary aliens (The War of the Worlds) or vampires (“The Vampyre”).

Speaking of vampires, Frankenstein and Dracula also appeared on film at this time (1932). In early zombie films, villains learn that to possess a woman’s mindless body is unsatisfying. White Zombie started all that.

W. B. Seabrook

The word “zombie” was used intermittently throughout the 1800s but wasn’t a well-known word until 1929, when W. B. Seabrook published a travelogue called The Magic Island. Seabrook was an American journalist and adventurer who traveled to Haiti and lived there with his family. (Um, he was also a cannibal.)

Seabrook collected stories about zombies and voodoo and he even thought he saw a dead man resurrected once. Readers in the West were intrigued by these stories, especially Protestant readers, perhaps, because free will is held very dear to the Protestant’s heart – thought to be humanity’s main virtue.


A highly successful and influential contemporary zombie narrative. This book is an example of the ‘future history’ genre, comprising a mixture of futuristic events and historical ones. This technique helps to make the outlandish premise of zombie invasion plausible.

In this novel, the United States government has failed to plan for the zombie plague because of a lack of civil unionising. The moral irresponsibility of Americans leads to their downfall.


In 28 Days Later, the virus called ‘rage’ is the Zeitgeist of the modern era, where everything is so impersonalised and moves so rapidly that everyone is consumed by fury and can do nothing about it.


An Enlightenment zombie meant someone who has no free will, and could refer to a high-level administator.

Zombie can now mean that, but also refers to a supernatural creature who has been renanimated from the dead and walks (or runs) around trying to eat the living, or infect them with a virus.

More recently, zombie describes a computer that’s been taken over by a remote host. Zombies are generally stupid but recent zombies are able to learn quickly, sort of like artificial intelligence. This says something about our collective fear of computers taking over. For years zombi was spelt without an ‘e’ at the end.

Zombie lit

A whole literary subgenre featuring zombies


Parasitic worms called Laucochloridium take over the motor functions and eye stalks of snails, mimicking caterpillars so that birds will eat them. The worm reproduces in the bird’s gastrointestinal tract. The hapless snail is known to us as a zombie snail.

zone one

A highly successful and influential contemporary zombie narrative. Colson Whitehead satirizes the zombie genre by making use of its tropes and symbols in a new way.


I really like Walking Dead, in spite of its many problems. But the truth is, thinking about the show is often better than watching the show.

Blue Milk

The Zombie Manifesto: Marx and The Walking Dead from TSP

20 Essential Zombie Reads, Now with Superheroes! from Tor

Then there’s zombie cake pops and A Zombie door stopper and Baby’s First Book Of Zombies. I want these.

World War Z Concept Art Shows Off the Zombie Designs from Shock Til You Drop

There’s something strangely zombie-like about these creepy anatomical kitchen cooking tools.