There's a Romero-style zombie shambling around, but it's not a Zombie Apocalypse. So what's it doing here? Because zombies are cool. Whether it's to set up a Low Fantasy setting with necromantic Horrors, add an element of comedy, or simply to add variety, some works of fiction feature Zombies in a less than central position. It doesn't even have to have a reason. The zombie is there just because.
This is something of a popular advertising gimmick for games, MMORPG's, and Comic Books these days. Just like slapping Wolverine on the cover adds to sales, a "zombie invasion", "Halloween Episode", or other stunt can drive up sales and give a fun Breather Episode from more plot heavy story arcs.
This could also work if there actually is a Zombie Apocalypse, but it's not part of the main story. It's just thrown in there as a parody or homage with little lasting effect on the plot.
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Halloween specials and events used to mean a variety of monsters. Now it just means a zombie episode or zombies spawning in MMORPGs everywhere.
Sid Barret from Soul Eater; an awesome, blue zombie — with tattoos! Actually, he's only seen alive in one of the first three episodes where the series is running through its Debut Queue, after that he's killed and well... a zombie. He's not just slight comic relief with his "That's the man I used to be" lines, but he's also an extremely skilled fighter and weapon technician.
D.Gray-man has the Order Relocation Arc, which is started off with a faux Zombie Apocalypse when Mad Scientist Komui gives the Science Team members "Komuvitamin D". Komui created the Komuvitamin D, but it was the ghost that gave it to poor Arystar Krory and started the whole mess.
Book 2 of the series, Fire on the Water, has a whole ghostly fleet maned by undead as the last obstacle of the story, including zombie crewmates. Since this is just after Lone Wolf gains the Sommerswerd, the ultimate weapon against the living dead, they really aren't much of a threat.
Book 6, The Kingdoms of Terror, has evil lordling Roark raising zombies from a cemetary to try killing Lone Wolf, but he quickly lose control and they attack his men.
Book 17, The Deathlord of Ixia, is filled to the brink with undead, including Drakkarim Zombies. Unlike previous zombies in the series, those can be very tough, even with the Sommerswerd.
Zombies appear in Xanth, but they are simply undead instead of dangerous. They tend to be emotionally upsetting since they are ambulatory beings in a state of continuous rot, but the Power of Love can help them regain their humanity until they are indistinguishable from living persons.
And Brazil also saw its own version: classic novel The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas became The Undead Memoirs of Bras Cubas.
There IS a short story titled "Everything's Better with Zombies".
Discworld's zombies, seeing as they're basically the same person's mind and body, just... dead, aren't usually plot-central.
One member of the City Watch, Reg Shoe, is a zombie, for example, and a reasonably okay guy.
The only "bad" zombie is Mr. Slant, but that has more to do with him being an Amoral Attorney than a zombie.
The novel Reaper Man details an actual zombie apocalypse (or more precisely, an undead apocalypse... with zombies!) caused by Death being fired for taking too much of an interest in his work. Hilarity Ensues.
There's zombies in Monstrous Regiment as well, and they're the more classic variety, but still don't eat any brains, they're just restless dead followers of the Duchess. Reg Shoe, who's accompanying Vimes on a diplomatic mission, regards them as an embarrassment (although this is the same guy who gives lectures to graveyards).
Colt Regan: Demon Hunter contains a section where zombies show up, for almost no reason, which the author will tell you was in there because zombies rule.
The Inferi from Harry Potter are zombies in everything but name (with the Frankenstein monster's Pop Cultural Osmosis fear of fire).note It should be noted that Romero zombies are also scared of fire, as seen in Night of the Living Dead when they use fire to keep the ghouls from entering the house.
There's a Kelly Link short story called "The Hortlak" about a convenience store patronized by the undead; they're not actually carnivorous, but the clerks find them unsettling.
The Malloreon has a forest full of Raveners (again, zombies in all but name), which the heroes have to pass through.
"Dead Man's Party" has a mask that is making a bunch of people come back as homicidal zombies, which had no real relevance to the ongoing plot about Buffy returning after having run away from home. ("Look at my mask. Isn't it pretty? It raises the dead. Americans!")
In the episode "The Zeppo", Xander ran into a guy who somehow had the ability to reanimate dead people with a special charm. They still kept their intelligence, but they also kept their wounds.
In "Habeaus Corpses" an evil law firm is being destroyed by a terrible monster, and for no apparent reason most of the lawyers turned into zombies. It was a supernatural safeguard against unwelcome intruders. After all, Wolfram & Hart is led by very old demons who do not want to share their secrets. And fortunately for Gunn, they left out the "Bite makes a convert".
In the episode "Provider", there was also one guy who was a zombie, and all he wanted to do was hook up with his ex-girlfriend. It's unknown what exactly brought him to undeath. The girlfriend poisoned him. He died. He came back as a zombie. She forgave him for cheating. He forgave her for killing him. They kissed and made up.
In an earlier episode, "The Thin Dead Line", Angel and Kate discovered a police chief had raised all the dead cops in a particular bad area of LA as zombie policemen.
Supernatural didn't have a Romero-style zombie until the fifth season, although there was a second-season episode with a "classic necromancy" form of zombie. At one point Sam tricked Dean into going on a personal mission by claiming they had to go zombie-hunting, and Dean really seemed to be looking forward to it. Although the victims of the Croatoan virus are zombie-like.
In the story "The Web of Fear", the evil Great Intelligence operated chiefly through the body of Staff Sergeant Arnold, KIA early on in the emergency. Similarly a character in "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy" gets reanimated by the bad guys for no apparent reason except Rule Of Cool.
The Ninth Doctor, Rose and Charles Dickens teamed up to fight zombies in Victorian Cardiff on Christmas Eve in "The Unquiet Dead".
The Charmed Ones in Charmed have to fight against zombies created by a necromancer and Zankou.
In the 2010 Halloween episode of Community the students and staff of Greendale Community College had to deal with a mysterious fever that seemed very similar to that of a stereotypical zombie virus. Their memories were conveniently wiped at the end of the episode, and it will likely never be mentioned again.
House features zombies in a fantasy sequence during the seventh season episode "Bombshells". House kills zombie versions of Foreman, Chase, Taub and Masters with a cane that doubles as a shotgun and axe.
The first campaign in Warcraft 3 was about trying to stop a Zombie Apocalypse, the second had you playing the other side and continuing where the first one left off. Following campaigns also had you fighting against the undead. In the Frozen Throne Expansion the Night Elves campaign had a visit into a zombie-infested lands, Blood Elves campaign begun with trying to stop a massive wave of undead. And of course there was an Undead campaign in which you continued to crush the remaining bastions of humanity before first pausing for a civil war and later leaving for Northrend.
In World of Warcraft the free-willed zombies are one of the playable races for the Horde. There also were two zombie invasions. First one heralded the introduction of Naxxramas. The second unleashed the plague of undeath on the lands — you could become infected and, if not cured in time, transform into an evil*
not the normally playable one
zombie and spread The Virus further. The second invasion heralded the Wrath Of The Lich King expansion, in which the players task is to venture into the Northrend, infested with undead from top*
the ruins of arachnid's civilization, conquered and converted by the undead
StarCraft?: Wings of Liberty had a mission where you have to fight off colonists who were infested by the Zerg. They were zombies in all but name.
As did City of Heroes. In addition to the Zombie invasions in City of Heroes, there are zombies in pretty much every flavour wandering about as antagonists, or, if you're a villain, as minions. Nothing prevents you from stopping crime and protecting the innocent as a zombie hero either.
Nox has zombies as standard monsters mid-game (and they get upgraded later), but it is justified by the fact that the hero's primary enemies are necromancers.
Grand Theft Auto IV has a "viral" achievement called "Let Sleeping Rockstars Lie" which you get be killing someone who has it already (the developers started with it, so it spread from them). It unlocks the ability to play as a zombie in a speedo. No joke.
Mother 3 also had some zombies in the beginning of Duster's chapter, who were (coincidentally) Hinawa and Claus like. One of the zombies cranks the creepy Up to Eleven by commenting on how much Duster has grown since she knew him, then attacking anyways.
Fallout has ghouls, unfortunate folks who got a lethal dose of radiation and didn't die. Many of them are quite sane, if a little worse for wear, but are the new victims of bigotry in a world where human slavery is colorblind, and are often forced to eke out an existence separate from the rest of society. Why? Because at least some degenerate into the feral zombies that gives the civil ones such a bad name. The sad irony is, the isolation and forced habitation in radioactive areas are the very things that seem to accelerate the process. There is also a strain of plain old bigotry against different folks (the different, in this case, being sterile seemingly unaging people with rotting skin).
Apart from that rather infamous level, both games have zombies as fairly weak, slow opponents that are only really threatening in large numbers or small spaces. Apart from (in the second game) the fast ones. And the poison ones.
Notably, the creatures which cause the zombies are, in the sequel, loaded into artillery and used as offensive weapons.
The Dustmen in Planescape: Torment use zombies as laborers and offer people large amounts of money in exchange for use of their body after they die.
Diablo. Certain monsters can resurrect the undead. In Act V of the second game, Reanimated Horde-type monsters have a random probability of resurrecting themselves, and can do so up to three times.
Some of the Army Men games have zombies thrown in just for the hell of it.
Most of the baddies in the Doom games are demons, but there's no shortage of undead. Most of these are soldiers that can fire their guns at you, but 3 introduces the classic, flesh eating, slow shambling variety.
Soul Calibur's Cervantes is one, while Astaroth is a "Golem" (read: Frankenstein's Monster).
Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines has a cemetery level full of zombies at one point, in direct homage to Romero films. The exact reason for their appearance has never been explained, considering that no Gehenna actually happened. There are two other major zombie sequences in the game — one caused by a virus and the other caused by vampire necromancy. Despite the stark difference between the origins of the three zombie groups in the game, they all move, act, and are essentially the exact same things.
Guild Wars has at least 2 different kinds of zombies (without including necromancer minions). There are about 3 major zombie armies, (the Orr zombies, the plague zombies and Joko's zombies) as well as numerous smaller groups. (Unless you count Joko's zombies as mummies.)
Mass Effect has husks — basically, cybernetic zombies created by devices known as "dragon's teeth" which are enormous spikes that bodies are impaled on. While impaled, cybernetic implants are put into the body to make it obey orders and give it one of several abilities, most commonly a large electrical explosion. In Mass Effect 2, new variants of the husks appear, including a version that consists of several bodies mashed together and equipped with a huge cannon, a massive amalgam of about thirty corpses turned into an enormous living, flying tank, and a form of husk that is on fire.
Dragon Age: Origins has corpses possessed by demons; what kind of monster they will be depends on the variety of demon. One corpse might want to simply bash your face in, another might want to chew it off, and still others might melt it off with fireballs. Party member Alistair collectively refers to them, however, as "brain-eaters."
Metal Slug 3 has a zombie level, featuring a contagious outbreak at a civilian crash site. Those who get infected die, get hit by lightning and come back to life as a zombie. If this happens to the player, they become less mobile and lose everything but their pistol, but it averts One Hitpoint Wonder unless they get hit with the substance again. Trying to use a grenade results in them vomiting large amounts of blood across the screen at everything in front of them, and it's VERY powerful, able to take down bosses in one hit. It can be cured with medicine that enemies drop, but why would you do that? And then the clones of your captured ally get infected during the final mission.
Every game in the Saints Row series has at least one homie who ends up dying in a cutscene, who you then have the option of bringing back as a zombie. The Third finally makes them part of the actual storyline when the Boss accidentally unleashes a virus over one of the islands of Steelport, resulting in the bridges to it being raised and everybody within becoming zombies for the rest of the game.
Mur Lafferty's audio drama The Takeover. It's like the American venison of The Office US but with zombies. And also funny. Oh, and there's a cameo by Johnathan Coulton in the last episode of season 1.
SCP Foundation: SCP-008. The world accessible through SCP-093 suffered what's essentially a Zombie Apocalypse under the application of a truly epic instance of Our Zombies Are Different. They fit the archetype of the endlessly hungry, seemingly-mindless hordes of the restless dead, but... well, when the smallest difference is that they're up to six stories tall, you know you're dealing with something weird here.
Gaia Online had its first Zombie Apocalypse on Halloween 2004. The zombie avatar skin was supposed to be temporary and was eventually wiped out altogether due to server problems, but the skin was so popular that in Halloween 2005 another race of zombies, the Grombies, were introduced. After a while, newer users who joined after the event complained that they couldn't get a zombie skin, so a Grombie knock-off skin was introduced via the Death Whisper evolving item, and later another zombie skin was introduced via the 2008 Halloween event. Gaia Online members really like zombies, it would seem. The zombies are not usually part of the plot during the rest of the year but the skins are still fairly common. The original zombie skin has been re-released as an equippable item.
In the official LOST podcast, a Running Gag was that after the show's finale in the sixth season, there would be a Season 7, "Lost: Zombies" with "everybody who we've killed off over the years coming back and trying to eat brains." The producers also released a fake script where Walt becomes a zombie.
If you can't beat' em... employ them! The League of S.T.E.A.M. have developed "domestication collars" in order to employ zombies as servants.
"Johnny Zombie Tea Party" had Porkbelly's founding fathers as zombies who don't eat brains but love iPods and TV. Although, they do threaten to lower the property value.
Zombies are one of the many bizarre creatures in Ugly Americans, with the protagonist's roommate Randall being the main example. They do like to eat brains, and there was a war against them in the '60s that may have been some kind of failed Zombie Apocalypse, but these days they're mostly just normal people. Randall finds the ones that still lurch around moaning annoyingly cliché.
On Invader Zim, Zim breaks into the mall to return a video tape, leading the security guard to release his zombie army. Played for Laughs in that the zombies just sort of stumble around aimlessly, mostly bumping into each other and ignoring Zim completely.
In Odd Job Jack, Leo creates an army of zombies to out-evil Jack, but the city accepts them, finding the swarm preferable to meter maids. Heck, many even find their presence an improvement!
In the first Halloween episode of South Park, Kenny becomes a zombie after morticians accidentally embalm him with Worcestershire sauce.
In Austin, TX, pranksters broke the locks on highway construction signs and altered them to read: THE END IS NEAR! ZOMBIES AHEAD! RUN! RUN TO COLD CLIMATES! NAZI ZOMBIES! Unfortunately, this happened once during a hurricane evacuation. Nobody panicked, thankfully, but it could have been a lot worse with the evacuees who were already under stress from the possibility of having lost most of their Earthly possessions.
In Portland, Oregon, a group of people dressed as zombies for a costume party got into a car accident. In a literal example of everything being deader with zombies, their costumes were so good that bystanders thought their injuries were much worse than they actually were.
There's even a book titled Theories of International Politics and Zombies by political scientist Dan Drezner, which studies real-life international politics through the lens of a Zombie Apocalypse—because why the hell not?