'Walkers,' 'Biters,' 'Dead Heads' - it looks like the survivors in The Walking Dead will do whatever they can to avoid calling the zombies in the show, 'zombies.' Why is this? Is it because they refuse to acknowledge the situation? Does George Romero have copyright on the word 'zombie'? Or has everyone in the world simply never seen a zombie movie?
Well, actually, yes, that's it. The last of these suggestions is quite simply the answer, and it's one which isn't limited to [The Walking Dead](series:201193). Throughout the zombie genre, it is a common theme that the humans in the apocalypse never refer to the undead as 'zombies,' instead preferring monikers such as 'infected,' 'ghouls,' or 'deadites.' Of course, there are some which break from this convention, such as Zombieland and World War Z, while Shaun of the Dead brought explicit attention to the phenomenon in one scene.
In the case of Romero's earlier work, such as the iconic Night of the Living Dead, the word zombie is not used because, quite frankly, it did not exist in its modern form. Back then a zombie was more specifically a person who has lost their higher consciousness due to voodoo magic. However, over time, the word was applied by reviewers (perhaps referencing Bela Lugosi's White Zombie) while Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2 also spread the zombie name.
However, by the time of The Walking Dead, 'zombie' is a popular word which has spawned its own sub-genre. To get around this, The Walking Dead sticks to the established rules by creating a world in which the zombie genre does not even exist. Therefore, in the universe in which Rick and Co. inhabit, there has never been Dawn of the Dead, Resident Evil or any other incarnation of zombie pop-culture. This is why no character has ever said, "Shit! This is just like that movie!". Furthermore, it also explains why initially they do not know the rules of the zombie genre, for example that bites are always fatal and the only way to kill a zombie is to 'go for the head'.
The Walking Dead creator, Robert Kirkman, explained the issue on one episode of The Talking Dead. He stated:
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. This isn't a world the (George) Romero movies exist in, for instance … because we don't want to portray it that way, we felt like having them be saying 'zombie' all the time would hark back to all of the zombie films which we, in the real world, know about. So by calling them something different, we're kind of giving a nod to … these people don't understand the situation. They've never seen this in pop culture, this is a completely new thing for them.
So by following this logic, The Walking Dead exists in a parallel universe where the concept of a zombie does not exist.
But, there is one very slight issue with The Walking Dead's explanation: The Walking Dead does mention zombie culture... kind of. The reference is so tiny it's only really noticeable to the most obsessive pedant, and even then, it's not a clear reference to the zombie genre.
Remember back in Season 2 when Glenn compared being lowered down the well to the incredible video game, Portal? Well, by doing that, he unwittingly collapsed the parallel universe.
You see, the video game Portal is essentially a spin-off of the popular Half-Life video game franchise, with both games existing within the same universe. Half-Life 2 (which came bundled with Portal on its release) features enemies known as 'headcrab zombies.' These enemies are also referred to as such by characters within the game - presumably because in their world, the zombie genre does exist. So if Portal is present within The Walking Dead's universe, then Half-Life 2 must also be present which therefore means the zombie genre does actually exist!
So why has Glenn never made any reference to this? Well, maybe the stress of the situation has made him repress that knowledge? Perhaps Glenn is a universe hopping Time Lord? Or maybe I'm just thinking way too much about this?
Yep. I think it's the last one again...