Why No Walking Dead Character Has Ever Said 'Zombie'

It's accepted wisdom that nothing succeeds like success — if it worked one time, it'll probably work the next time, too. Oscar Wilde, one of the great smart alecks of the 19th and early 20th Centuries, observed, "Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess." Both lines would apply to the phenomenon known as The Walking Dead, once a long-running series of comic books, now a full-on media franchise with (at the time of this writing) three TV series, a web series, novels, and merchandise.

The comics, which weren't even in color, were first published monthly by Image Comics in 2003. The premise was simplicity itself, and therefore effectively nightmare-inducing: A man protecting his family and friends, all relying on one another as they try to survive a zombie apocalypse that has overtaken Earth. The comics wrapped in 2019 after 193 issues and a 2010 Eisner Award (sort of like the Oscars for comic books) for Best Continuing Series. AMC trotted out the first series in 2010, followed by Fear the Walking Dead in 2015, and at some point in 2020, The Walking Dead: World Beyond. The TV series diverged from the comic books in various ways, but the central theme is consistent: Staying human, and staying alive, in the face of inhuman contagion, destruction, and doomsday. You know, zombie stuff.

There's a good reason why nobody uses the Z-word

One weird thing about The Walking Dead: as the zombie apocalypse lasts on and on, none of the survivors use the Z-word, ever. Oh, sure, there are other terms. Walkers, rotters, even (aptly) biters, but never "zombie." The key reasoning is that it's a fictional universe, of course, and as such, it has its own rules and, to some extent, history. That means that in the universe of The Walking Dead, there was no preexisting concept of zombies. Not even George Romero movies. 

As E! News Online points out, Robert Kirkman, the man who wrote the comics series and serves as an executive producer for the TV franchise, has explained that in his fictional world, the concept of zombies had never occurred. The undead virus outbreak was new information for everyone. As Kirkman told Conan O' Brien, "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.' We wanted to kind of give you a sense that The Walking Dead takes place in a universe where zombie fiction doesn't exist ... 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."