Created By: TyeDyeWildebeest on July 10, 2013 Last Edited By: TyeDyeWildebeest on October 3, 2014
Troped

Beware The Living

Zombies are easy to deal with; people are another story.

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"I trust those zombies about as far as I can throw 'em, but I trust people even less!"
Cletus, Dead Rising

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.


Examples

Comic Books
  • 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'.

Film
  • 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.

Literature
  • 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.

Live-Action TV
  • 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.

Tabletop Games
  • 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.

Video Games
  • 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.
Community Feedback Replies: 36
  • July 10, 2013
    dragonquestz
    The Humans Are Bastards pothole should be Humans Are The Real Monsters, as there was a trope shift.
  • July 10, 2013
    TyeDyeWildebeest
    There was? I thought Humans Are The Real Monsters only applied when the observation was made by a separate species...
  • July 10, 2013
    dragonquestz
    Well in the trope repair discussions, I assumed it was about any time humans were made to look worse in comparisons to supposed "monsters"... and the examples fit that.

    The description is really messy though.
  • July 10, 2013
    TyeDyeWildebeest
    Well, the title does sort of seem to imply that, so I'll take your word for it.

    Though if what you say it's true, then this would probably be a subtrope of Humans Are The Real Monsters that only applies to zombie- related works.
  • July 10, 2013
    Bisected8
    • 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.
  • July 10, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    Film
    • 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.
  • July 10, 2013
    arromdee
    Humans Are The Real Monsters is poorly defined and/or poorly named.

    If you look at Mundanger it says " And if the show is given to platitudes you can expect some 'the real monster is man' philosophising at the end -- even though the werewolves, zombies and demons that appear in all the other episodes make it clear that the real monsters are monsters." Which is closer to what I think of when I hear "humans are the real monsters". As a trope, it does mean that humans are being compared to monsters--but not by monsters, as our trope seems to indicate.
  • July 11, 2013
    TyeDyeWildebeest
    Do you think maybe we should start another Trope Repair Shop thread for that trope?
  • July 11, 2013
    dragonquestz
    ^ Yeah.
  • July 11, 2013
    TyeDyeWildebeest
    Do you want to do it, or should I?
  • July 11, 2013
    StarSword
    I'm fairly certain Humans Are The Real Monsters was identified as a result of the TRS thread on Humans Are Bastards.
  • July 11, 2013
    Chabal2
    Crossed: 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).
  • July 13, 2014
    Hero_Gal_2347
    In an interesting version of this trope, in Day Z, 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.
  • July 14, 2014
    Chernoskill
    Hmmm as the description already states, this is actually what nearly all Zombie Apocalypse movies are about... The Romero films might have started this but since then it's what most movies of the genre are built upon.
  • July 14, 2014
    f1shst1x
    • In Twenty Eight Days Later, the protagonists face their biggest threat not from the zombies but from the group of soldiers they encounter.
  • July 14, 2014
    randomsurfer
    In I Am Legend (the book and the original ending of the most recent film version) 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.
  • July 14, 2014
    JohnnyCache
    "Beware the Living!" is a parting phrase said by many Undead merchants and questgivers in World Of Warcraft.

    I think this means the current title violates No New Stockphrases....
  • July 14, 2014
    Bisected8
    A stock phrase is a phrase that is used repeatedly. Not something that was said once (that would just be a Trope Namer).

    I doubt there's a risk of this trope decaying into "any point a character says 'beware the living'".
  • July 14, 2014
    DAN004
    So what, The Living Is Worse Than The Dead? Dunno, the current one is good enough.
  • July 14, 2014
    marcoasalazarm
    Think we could also add A House Divided to the description of the Trope. After all, about 80 to 90% of the people that go crazy and try to kill everybody in a Zombie Apocalypse or post-apocalyptic movie are part of the group.
  • July 15, 2014
    Arivne
  • July 15, 2014
    TwoGunAngel
    The Living Are Worse Than The Dead would be good for a redirect.
  • August 11, 2014
    Hero_Gal_2347
    Bump.
  • August 12, 2014
    Mozgwsloiku
    the D&D supplement for Myth Drannor ( a fallen elven city destroyed by a fiend invasion and covered by a powerful spell that was supposed to protect it, but got warped over the years and now traps many monsters inside, while providing enough nourishment to support More Predators Than Prey ) mentions that one of the greatest threats to treasure hunters are other adventuring parties.
  • September 29, 2014
    TyeDyeWildebeest
    1) What work is the above example from?

    2) Wow, when the hell did I get five hats for this?
  • September 29, 2014
    SolipSchism
    The Humans Are The Real Monsters is a bit of a Sink Hole, in my opinion. It's such a central part of the trope that it should be explicitly mentioned as a Super Trope to this one, not merely Sink Holed into a sentence.

    EDIT: Although... I also feel compelled to point out that this seems like Humans Are The Real Monsters But More Specific With Zombies, unless there's some subtle distinction I'm missing.
  • September 29, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ Here, humans may not be real monsters. They're just potentially more dangerous and happens to be antagonistic. Humans Are The Real Monsters is about assumption of humans as a whole. Not here.
  • September 29, 2014
    PaulA
    • 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.

    (plant monsters instead of zombies, but I think Tropes Are Flexible enough to include both)
  • September 30, 2014
    nielas
    Tabletop Games
    • 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.
  • September 30, 2014
    SolipSchism
    DAN 004, that's fair enough... except that the very first example on Humans Are The Real Monsters is basically a compressed description of this exact trope.

    On a wider note, very few works actually feature the Humans Are The Real Monsters Aesop in the sense of all humans categorically being horrible. It's about the capacity for evil, e.g., implying that humans have a greater capacity for evil than anything a mindless, shambling zombie (or any other given creature, sentient or otherwise depending on the work) can do.
  • September 30, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ here, it's more like Humans Are More Dangerous. The focus is important here.
  • October 1, 2014
    SolipSchism
    "Having a greater capacity for evil" is more or less a fancy way of saying "being more dangerous".
  • October 1, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ Tell that to Humans Are Warriors
  • October 3, 2014
    TyeDyeWildebeest
    It appears we're at an impasse here.

    I suppose I could add, "Compare Humans Are The Real Monsters" at the end of the description. Would that be an adequate compromise?
  • October 3, 2014
    SolipSchism
    Well, I still think it's The Same But More Specific, but like I mentioned above, I could just be failing to pick up on some subtle aspect of it. Plus, I am hardly the end-all-be-all decision maker. You don't need my permission to launch or make edits. :p
  • October 3, 2014
    marcoasalazarm
    Think it's ok.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=fwjjwdjozmur71k03024fj67