There are two things that The Walking Dead is known for. The first is killing off characters faster than you can say “stuff and things.” The second is its legions of undead humans roaming its post-apocalyptic landscape. Eight seasons in, The Walking Dead is so much more than a show about zombies. When it’s at its best, it showcases a battle of good versus evil that occurs not on just on a physical, but a psychological level.
And despite the fact that it is still, at least on the surface, a zombie show they’ve never actually uttered that word on screen. It’s not an accident, either — according to TWD creator Robert Kirkman, the lack of the “z” word is entirely intentional.
According to Kirkman, the concept of a zombie doesn’t even exist in the world that his characters inhabit. “They’re not familiar with zombies, per se,” he said, during an appearance on The Talking Dead. “This isn’t a world the Romero movies exist in.”
Because they don’t use the term “zombie” on The Walking Dead, the writers have gotten creative. And they’ve used numerous other nicknames for the undead. Here are 10 of the best they’ve come up with so far.
Technically, the zombies on The Walking Dead don’t just walk. Still, Rick’s preferred nickname for the undead rolls off the tongue a little better than, say, “crawlers,” or “hungry wanderers.”
The term “walker” has also taken on a double meaning as time has worn on. In the Season 5 episode, “Them,” Rick tries to inspire his fellow weary travelers with a story about his grandfather, a World War II survivor: “After a few years of pretending he was dead, he made it out alive. That’s the trick of it, I think. We do what we need to do, and then we get to live … I know we’ll be okay. This is how we survive: We tell ourselves that we are the walking dead.”
That mentality — that any and all of them are, really, walkers in some way — has helped Rick survive so far. So it looks like he picked a good nickname after all.
2. Skin eaters
It’s one of the more gruesome names for The Walking Dead’s hungriest villains. But it’s also one of the most accurate, when you get down to brass tacks. The fact that “skin eaters” is so squicky, though, is probably a large part of the reason why we haven’t heard it much.
In fact, to date,only two characters have called zombies by this less-than-savory name. It happened in the Season 4 episode, “Indifference,” when Carol and Rick came across a young, frightened couple while scrounging for supplies. Ana and Sam referred to their common enemy as “skin eaters.”
Sadly, the pair were barely around long enough for us to remember their names, let along their preferred handle for the undead.
When Rick and his crew first met their soon-to-be allies in Alexandria, they could tell immediately that they’d had a much different experience during the zombie apocalypse. And the same was true for the name they gave the undead predators that lived outside their walls.
Aaron was the first Alexandrite to make mention of it in the Season 5 episode “The Distance.” He referred to the horde that had been following Rick and co. as “roamers.” Given the fact that he and his cohort had mostly observed the undead from afar, this benign nickname certainly makes sense — from their perspective, at least.
Merle Dixon had quite a colorful vocabulary — and a fondness for nicknames. Sure, many of them were for his still-living counterparts, and most were either completely insensitive or straight-up NSFW. But he did contribute one really excellent, and underused, zombie nickname to The Walking Dead canon. In the Season 3 episode, “Walk with Me,” he called them “creepers.”
Logistically and aesthetically, it’s one of the better names for TWD’s undead. They don’t move very fast, so it describes their pace accurately. And, of course, their decaying and often mutilated bodies do look really creepy.
As The Walking Dead has progressed, it’s made sense for the characters to have a variety of zombie nicknames in play. After all, they don’t all behave the same. That was true of The Governor, who employed more than one name during his time as Woodbury leader-turned-vigilante.
In “Walk with Me,” he referred to a jawless, armless walker as a “lurker.” And given the fact that the zombie in question could pose no harm, it’s as good a name as any.
We’ve spent most of The Walking Dead away from large urban areas. Out in the country, roaming the back roads, it has to be at least a little bit easier to escape the constant smell of death. But the dead surrounded the survivors at Grady Memorial Hospital. So it’s easy to see why they’d be preoccupied with their corporeal state.
In the Season 5 episode “Slabtown,” Officer Gorman revealed his preferred nickname for the undead: rotters. Maybe it was because of the smell. Or maybe he was a huge fan of the UK series In the Flesh – that’s their de facto zombie nickname, too.
Not all zombie nicknames are created equal. And even the characters on The Walking Dead can admit when they’ve come up with one that doesn’t quite hit the mark. That’s what happened in the Season 2 episode “Nebraska” when Rick, Hershel and Glenn encountered Dave and Tony.
The short-lived survivors turned out to be adversaries for Rick. But before they figured out they weren’t going to be copasetic, the two groups traded stories about life on the road. When Rick revealed that they called the undead “walkers,” Dave was impressed. And he told him he preferred Rick’s moniker to his own — “lamebrains.”
8. Cold bodies
The Terminus crew’s cannibalistic tendencies were, to put it mildly, barbaric. And apparently their preference for fresh meat made them especially aware of the less-than-appetizing parts of the zombies that roamed around them.
In “No Sanctuary,” Martin referred to zombies as “cold bodies.” On a practical level, it’s a useful nickname. The undead don’t have blood running through them, so they’re cold — not to mention inedible.
Daryl Dixon is, without question, one of the most popular characters on The Walking Dead. So it’s a shame that one of his quirkier nicknames for zombies never really gained any traction.
In the Season 2 episode “Save the Last One,” he and Andrea came across an undead man hanging from a tree. “Look at him hanging up there like a big piñata,” he said. “The other geeks came and ate all the flesh off his legs.”
Sure, calling someone a geek could be seen as bullying. But that’s in a reality where the person you’re picking on isn’t trying to eat you alive.
The Governor was one of The Walking Dead’s most nefarious bad guy. But he was good at coming up with names for zombies. In addition to offering up “lurker,” he contributed what is probably one of the best nicknames we’ve encountered so far. His favorite term was “biter,” one that he and the rest of Woodbury’s residents used frequently.
“Biter” is a near-perfect descriptor for TWD’s undead. After all, their most dangerous quality is their propensity to chow down on the living. Rick may have ultimately beaten where his feud with the Governor was concerned. But in the battle of naming zombies, the Governor may have won out.
Follow Katherine Webb on Twitter @prufrox.
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