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The real reason they don't say 'zombie' on The Walking Dead

Most people who describe The Walking Dead to their friends and family use the word "zombie" when trying to give a short synopsis of the popular post-apocalyptic horror show. The show takes place in a post-apocalyptic future and follows a group of survivors as they attempt to fend off undead creatures looking to feast on humans. There isn't a day that goes by that the threat of an attack from these monsters looms overhead, and the massive Walking Dead ensemble cast split into factions living under their own rules and morals in order to protect themselves from being killed by the lurching beasts. This leads to a ton of fighting between disparate groups of survivors, but no matter interpersonal conflicts or the unique laws their community follows, the humans' common enemy is the grim-looking, flesh-hungry creatures.

The monsters from the series are, for all intents and purposes, zombies — undead creatures whose corpses were supernaturally reanimated who roam the world soundlessly. Sounds familiar right? Yup. The word you're looking for is definitely "zombie," and it's basically impossible to talk about The Walking Dead without the Z-word cropping up.

So why don't the characters on The Walking Dead (those who are still human and alive and running from the monsters, that is) actually refer to said monsters as "zombies"? They're called literally everything else — walkers, monsters, roamers, geeks, lurkers, biters, the infected, empties, and muertos, the Spanish word for "dead" — but not once in the ten seasons of The Walking Dead has the word "zombie" crossed the lips of a single character on the show. Here's why.

The Walking Dead creator explains that the word 'zombie' doesn't exist in the series' universe

Robert Kirkman, who co-created the Walking Dead comic books and executive produces the television series, had an explanation for the omission while speaking to Conan O'Brien during a December 2016 episode of the late night TV host's show. Based on Kirkman's comments, leaving the word "zombie" out of The Walking Dead has been an extremely deliberate omission all along — and one that makes a ton of sense.

"Well, zombie lore is very popular. We wanted to avoid that notion of, 'Hey, why doesn't that character just shooting that zombie in the head because it saw all those movies I saw,'" Kirkman explained. "We wanted to kind of give you a sense that The Walking Dead takes place in a universe where zombie fiction doesn't exist."

In other words, there's no reference to the word "zombie" on The Walking Dead because the word simply doesn't exist in that universe. If no such creature — or rather, monster — has ever been seen, heard of, or dreamed up in the minds of artists within the fictional realm of The Walking Dead, it's unlikely that they would somehow come to call it the exact same thing we do in our universe.

Kirkman added, "No one inside The Walking Dead has seen a [George Romero] movie, so they can't get the rules from that. It felt like having people not use that word would kind of separate it from that, make it a little bit more clear."

They're not zombies on screen, but they're zombies in our minds

Even though the word is never used on screen in the popular series, Kirkman did cop to the fact that he himself refers to The Walking Dead as a "zombie show." He also added that the word is regularly bandied about on set, and actually used in the scripts despite never making it into the dialogue on the series. (Think "zombie" appearing in stage directions and descriptions, and staying out of the mouths of any Walking Dead characters.) As far as we're concerned, that gives us permission to continue calling them "zombies," even if we never hear the word uttered on a single episode.

The series, on the other hand, will continue using clever ways to avoid stating the Z-word. Characters will forever call the undead creatures "walkers," the most popular colloquialism, and volley between referring to them with such terms as lurkers, lamebrains, rotters, deadies, dead heads, skin bags, meat puppets, and more.

The word "zombie" actually appears in the Walking Dead comics

Though the Walking Dead team has gone out of their way to avoid using "zombie" on the series, the word has popped up a few times within the comic series. 

In the second issue of the Walking Dead's first volume, the six-issue Days Gone By collection released in May 2004, Glenn Rhee instructs Rick Grimes to take a giant leap from the roof of one building to the roof of another. Rick says that there's "no way in hell" that he's going to do that, but Glenn tells him that he doesn't have a choice — unless he wants to die. It's in this exchange that the word "zombie" is used. "You're going to have to," Glenn says to Rick. "Listen... it's easy. I do it all the time. When we climb down this building, those things will still be waiting for us at the bottom of that building. And there's no way out of that one. All these buildings are filled with zombies. Trust me."

The word is again used in the second volume of the comics, entitled Miles Behind Us. Rick actually employs it twice in the same conversation, telling fellow survivor Tyreese, "When we were camped near Atlanta, we went into the city. Most of the zombies just sat around, not doing anything unless provoked [...] Then our camp was attacked. A pack of those things just tore through us, killed two of our friends. So I gotta think that there are other kinds of zombies that roam around, always on the move."

There's been no explanation as to why the comics have used the word "zombie" and the show hasn't, but it's possible that the print and the screen projects play by slightly different rules. Zombie, zom-bay, roamer, or walker — no matter what you call them, we're just glad they're totally fictional.