"I trust those zombies about as far as I can throw 'em, but I trust people even less!"
Let's face it; zombies, on an individual level, aren't really that threatening. Sure, they may be impervious to pain and capable of infecting their victims with a single bite, but they're slow, they're clumsy, and they lack the mental capacity to use any kind of tools. Chances are, as long as you have good aim
, you'll be able to dispose of them with ease.
But in a Zombie Apocalypse
, you may find yourself face-to-face with monsters far more terrifying than the living dead. They're cunning, resilient, resourceful, and absolutely ruthless... and by now, you probably know where this is going.
Indeed, in zombie fiction, the protagonists will often come to realize that zombies are the least
of their problems. The real threat will come from roaming gangs of bandits, psychotic military officers determined to mow down everything in sight
, or even normal, everyday people who were Driven to Madness
by the horror going on around them.
This trope refers to works that either imply or outright state that fellow survivors can be just as dangerous, if not more so, than the undead menace.
- While the titular Crossed are psychopathic, sadistic, murderous rapists (and all four those of those can apply in one scene), many of the surviving humans aren't much better. The biggest example would be the ranch owner who started a religious cult (and had been raping his daughter for years). The protagonists also shoot a bunch of children in cold blood (they would likely have starved/become Crossed otherwise, but that doesn't make them feel any better).
- The Walking Dead includes several examples of this, particularly The Governor, who happily feeds survivors from outside his town to the zombies in order to keep them 'docile'.
- In 28 Days Later, the protagonists face their biggest threat not from the zombies but from the group of soldiers they encounter.
- This trope is a major theme in George A. Romero's Living Dead series, which is also probably the Ur Example and Trope Codifier. For example, in Night of the Living Dead, the sole survivor of the film gets shot by some redneck zombie hunter, who doesn't bother checking whether his target is alive or not. In the following parts of the series, that focus more on the effects of the Zombie Apocalypse on human society, people fall in complete anarchy. More often than not, the zombies actually end up working for the favor of the protagonists by killing the humans who pose a more considerable threat to them.
- The zombies in Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island never actually try to harm the protagonists. As revealed at the end of the film, the zombies are actually victims of a life- draining curse cast by the main villains of the movie, Lena and Simone. Every harvest moon, the zombies rise to scare away visitors, keeping their operation secret.
- The Zombie Survival Guide devotes one chapter to weighing the pros and cons of different types of shelter, from schools to office buildings to churches. When discussing prisons, the author mentions that it's often safer to confront ten zombies than it is to take on one hardened criminal.
- Newsflesh: The living are definitely as big a threat, or worse, than the zombies. They try to control the remaining living with fear, and with weaponized zombie outbreaks.
- In I Am Legend, Neville realizes that to the vampires, he's the monster - especially since some of the vamps he has been killing have managed to supress the killing urge.
- In The Day of the Triffids, the triffids are a hazard, but the most dangerous threats faced by the protagonists are humans choosing to take advantage of the associated societal collapse.
- The BBC Miniseries In The Flesh features an interesting variation on this trope. It presents a universe in which zombies are actually capable of behaving like completely normal humans, and the main conflict of the story concerns the Fantastic Racism they suffer at the hands of the living.
- In Dead of Winter zombies are a constant problem but the real conflict arises from the fact that each player has their own secret agenda despite everyone supposedly playing cooperatively. Some agendas require the player to hoard vital supplies without whom the other players will suffer penalties. Others outright require you to arrange for other characters to get killed off.
- Dead Rising
- The game uses this trope extensively and lampshades it on more than one occasion. Zombies are relatively easy to kill, but the true challenge comes from taking down the bosses of the game (dubbed "Psychopaths") who are generally either regular humans who were driven insane or sadistic sociopaths who are simply taking advantage of the situation. And that's not even getting into the second part of the game, when the special forces agents show up...
- In one scene in Dead Rising 2: Off the Record, Chuck Greene effortlessly restrains a female zombie while commenting on how easy they are to kill compared to psychotic survivors (or as he calls them, 'nutbars').
- Most of the survivors in The Last of Us are not on your side; or, for that matter, anyone's. At one point, Bill (the hero's Crazy-Prepared ally) remarks that he's more afraid of other survivors than infected, since the infected are at least predictable.
- In the Resident Evil franchise, the threat posed by zombie outbreaks is typically just a sign of the much larger threat posed by the Umbrella Corp (and various other Big Bads when they finally get shut down between the events of the first three games and Resident Evil 4) and the weaponised mutants they manufacture from the "lucky" few who don't turn into zombies.
- In an interesting version of this trope, in DayZ, other players are often times much more dangerous than the zombies, as organized groups of bandits will shoot you on sight for supplies, to make sure that you don't kill them, or simply For the Evulz.