"What? I could have sworn that was a tacky pirate zombie
This is Real Life
. Everyone knows zombies are make-believe creatures, they're only "real" in the movies. If you see a "zombie", odds are it's one of your friends with poor taste who insist on scaring you, or someone who has been in an accident of some kind. So when a zombie outbreak
starts, it's unsurprising that most people will chafe when confronted with something that — well, only exists "in fiction". Still, you'd think most people have the presence of mind to back away from a smelly, shambling corpse of a man who is missing limbs and moaning for braaaains!
That is rarely
here. There will always be one person who misidentifies the living-impaired
as a regular, if badly hurt, human. There's two variants of this, with differing levels of idiocy involved
Rule of Perception
- Someone is walking through the deserted area, when they see a moaning, pale-looking body lying face down on the floor. Said body may already be bleeding or even missing large, fairly visible chunks of flesh, and may already be ghost white or putrefying green, but the character in question will never notice (or ignore it). Instead, they will run right up to the body, put aside whatever weapon they're carrying, and promptly try to hoist up the apparently distressed individual (often accompanied by dialogue like, "Are you alright?" or "Don't worry, I'll get you out of here."). Hilarity Ensues when the putrefying face of the obviously-a-zombie is revealed, and promptly tries to eat the character's head. This is generally (well, hopefully) the first zombie that the character encounters, so they tend to survive.
- Someone (usually a law enforcement official), points a gun at a zombie and orders them to freeze, or threatens them with pepper spray or arrest or something if they come towards them. They usually fail to notice the fairly obvious fact that the shambling mess of entrails in front of them doesn't have anything like a rational mind left to respond to commands, and assume they're not threatened by the gun (technically true). In general, this is a situation somewhat peculiar to zombie movies involving both Genre Blindness and a lack of common sense, when a character simply doesn't notice extremely obvious signs of something being deeply amiss with the people they are dealing with, up to and including, shambling, moaning, cannibalism and rotten flesh.
Depending on the officer/character's learning curve, they might fire a warning shot, notice no effect, shoot the zombie, notice no effect, then get suitably freaked out and do one of three things: hightail it out of there, use "lethal" force, or get eaten by refusing to believe it's a zombie. In real life, officers are rather constrained in this scenario by being trained to use "escalating force" when facing an "unarmed civilian". Bear in mind that even if they do go for the "lethal force" option, they're extremely unlikely to go for the necessary head shot — aiming for the center of mass stops most humans just as well, and the risk of missing (potentially hitting a bystander) is greatly reduced. A shot to the center of mass will generally not stop a zombie, unless the officer in mind plans on using extreme cases of overkill and restocking on ammo.
This is further complicated by the existence in real life of living people who dress up as and pretend to be zombies, often in sizable hordes. Expect this to start coming into play in fiction now.
is strongly tied to the trope, since the horrific stench you would expect a reanimated corpse to give off almost never comes into play, even in situations where the smell should by all rights be quite overpowering.
This is often easily survivable with Slow Zombies, as you've got a minute or two to realize something's up. Fast Zombies are not so forgiving, and probably only main characters will get away with this.
Generally, any character who thinks a zombie is Not a Zombie is also prone to having Zombie Infectee behaviour
or becoming one
. If he doesn't accept that the creatures outside are zombies
, he can't very well become one after being bitten, now, can he?
Contrast: Most Definitely Not a Villain
, Paper-Thin Disguise
. Not to be confused with Not Using the Z Word
, where everyone acknowledges that the zombies are undead, they just don't want to use the usual term for them; and Totally Not a Werewolf
, where a non-human of one type (let's say a Jiang Shi
) gets mistaken for another similar one (a zombie) rather than for a living human.
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Anime & Manga
Films — Animation
- Resident Evil: Degeneration has both examples. Angela and the security guard in the airport at the beginning of the movie all try ordering the shambling corpses away from them to no avail. Before her stint at the "inefficient force" approach, the fantastically dimwitted Angela also slings a gray, moaning and clearly undead man over her shoulder to carry him to safety— not ten minutes after Leon has told her about zombies. Greg doesn't bother with the "warn the zombies not to approach before shooting them with nonlethal force" bit, blasting them square in mid-torso with his machine gun without the slightest hesitation, but ignores Leon's instructions to aim for the head, so all he succeeds in doing is wasting ammunition. Degeneration also plays with the trope by prefacing it with an instance where the aggressor is just a man in a zombie mask. This does give the victim a small bit of credit when it turns out that the next one is the real deal.
Films — Live-Action
- In The Zombie Haiku Book, the writer notices one of his coworkers eating spaghetti in her car. The poem after that is him realizing A) that's not spaghetti, and B) there's something very, very, wrong with his coworker.
- In World War Z, "The Great Panic", in which the growing zombie pandemic overwhelms the ability of governments worldwide to cope with it and results in the deaths of two-thirds of the human race, occurs in part because few people were able to cope with the idea that the walking dead were just that. The word "zombie" is also extremely rarely used, even once it's clear that's what they're up against. Slang terms like "Zack" or "Zed Head" are used, and occasionally "the living dead", but never "zombie".
- This was actually a major plot point in Obsidian Butterfly, the last Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter novel: the apparently comatose skinning victims in the hospital were actually all inert zombies. Although in this case, it wasn't because people didn't believe in zombies, it was just that these zombies had been so well made that they still had all their vital signs.
- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has this happen to Charlotte. Elizabeth is the only one who notices this, and that's only because she already knew. This is despite several fairly revolting scenes such as the dinner at Rosings, where Charlotte eats her own bloody pus.
- In Galaxy of Fear: City of the Dead, Zak's new friend Kairn is killed and then quickly made into a zombie. Zak has been dreaming of and was menaced by some decayed specimens, and thinks Kairn is different — and he is, he recognizes Zak, speaks to him, doesn't stagger, and smiles. Even though his friend is slowed and dulled, twitches at intervals, is sallow-skinned and unhealthy looking, and oh yes admits to Zak that he is dead, Zak doesn't really believe him and is surprised when Kairn leads him into a trap.
- Justified in the second Resident Evil novelization when Leon encounters zombies for the first time. He realizes quite quickly that they are zombies, but continues to aim his weapon and order them to freeze because the realization that he's caught in a Zombie Apocalypse scenario is sending him into a panic. Unlike what usually happens in visual media like games and movies, Leon does notice the horrible smell given off by zombies before he actually sees any, which helps to clue him in that something is rotten in the city of Raccoon.
- In the second and third books of the Old Kingdom series, Nicholas Sayre believes that all the dead and reanimated people a necromancer helped him find to work on his science experiment are merely suffering from some sort of leprosy.
- In Community, when military "taco meat" turns party guests into zombies en masse, this trope is played straight, as characters assume the zombies to be simply people on some kind of drug — until Troy averts it with "Holy crap, Leonard's a zombie!". The Dean threatens Troy with pepper spray later, thinking he is a zombie.
- In Dead Set, a group of people stop and pick up a person who is being attacked by a zombie. Of course, nobody seems to care that a human being was eating him and are totally shocked when he starts biting them.
- Lampshaded humorously on Supernatural in the episode "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid", in which part of a small town cemetery (namely the most recent) are brought back from the dead as seemingly normal humans. Naturally, however, the brothers are suspicious and while visiting one of the first to pop back up, Sam (alone), finds the said woman alone in the house, laying on a bed, pasty green, and whispering, motioning for him to come closer. Sam, genre savvy, sighs and moves slightly closer. She continues to motion for him to come closer and he asks sarcastically if she can just "tell him from over there." Well, she continues to motion for him to come closer and he gets right up next to her, and sure enough, she wants him to put his ear by her mouth, whispering hoarsely. He sighs and says aloud "I know I am going to regret this," and leans in, and shizzam! She goes full on apeshit zombie on him and tries to eat him. However, he was expecting all this and shoots her in the head. Oh, and during the struggle he lands next to the badly mutilated corpse of her husband.
- The Walking Dead
- In the intro for the pilot episode, while looking beneath a car Rick sees a little girl's feet shuffling along. However, once he sees her fully after standing up and she turns to his voice, he realizes she's a zombie, and promptly blows her head off.
- Inverted later on in the episode, where Rick is initially mistaken for a zombie and gets whacked in the head with a shovel. A few moments later, it's noted that as Rick was talking before being knocked unconscious, he's unlikely to be a walker, as they don't talk.
- Castle did a zombie episode. Turns out, the murder was not committed by a zombie, but by a member of NY's zombie subculture, which Castle was upset to learn existed and he didn't even know about it!
- In Death Valley, following this trope is briefly standard police protocol as part of an effort to make sure only real zombies and Zombie Infectees are put down by the police. Protocol is changed after Deputy Chief Ribbings, the man who made the policy, becomes infected while following it.
- Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare plays the "law enforcement" part straight except, of course, John Marston isn't a lawman. John first calls the zombie on its unruly behavior before incapacitating it with a tap on the head. He then grabs his gun and starts shouting commands to stop. When gameplay resumes the objective is to blow the thing's head off. Justified to a terrifying level in that no one at the time the game is set in would have even a vague concept of what a Romero style zombie is.
- Resident Evil
- Resident Evil has played the second type throughout the series. However it's averted in the first game when the Player Character realizes that the zombie isn't human (the fact it's encountered killing and eating a former colleague helps, of course).
- Resident Evil 2 reproduces both examples word for word, with Claire (the civilian, Type 1) and Leon (the cop, Type 2) meeting their first zombies in the opening cutscenes.
- It's a big subversion in Resident Evil 4 when Leon (who knows all about zombie outbreaks) takes down his first enemy and realizes, despite not appearing or acting like a normal human, "It's not a zombie!"
- Resident Evil 5: Chris Redfield, you IDIOT. Sheva presumably has an excuse, but Chris does the whole type-1 thing (possibly excused by the fact that hosts of Las Plagas look and behave nothing like a traditional zombie, and Chris had never dealt with them face-to-face prior to this).
- Something like this happens when the player first runs into a Despoiled in Wolfenstein. BJ blows up the Nazis' Black Sun machine, causing it to release a shockwave that vaporizes everyone in the room except himself and one particular Gestapo officer. The guy stands in place for a few moments, writhing in apparent pain, and BJ walks right up to him, presumably to force him to surrender. Imagine his (and the player's) surprise when the Nazi suddenly turns around and roars, revealing his skeletal face.
- If you didn't know there were Zombies in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, then the first time some loner comes stumbling towards you aimlessly, you might just pass it off as some random drunk Stalker. It doesn't help they can still fire their weapons. Plus, if you were unaware of their presence in the game, you'll be very, very surprised when you run into a random Stalker that can absorb half a magazine to the torso without flinching. Sure, A-Team Firing is in effect, but it's still unnerving when an enemy you've been able to knock off like popcorn suddenly refuses to go down and you have no idea why.
- When Mark first encounters the zombies in Real Life in Weregeek, he doesn't believe in them, assuming they are a follow-up RPG to the vampire coven to which he's been just introduced. He is partly right: these are not real zombies but they also have nothing to do with role-playing.
- Subverted during the "Zombie Ninjas" storyline in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja: when the town has just gotten over a zombie outbreak, the Doc casually stabs an old man in the face after assuming him to be a zombie, only for the old man's granddaughter to run up and cry about how the doctor killed her grandfather. Double-subverted with the revelation that he was a zombie after all. He had died of natural causes shortly before the zombies rose from their graves, and the incident leads the Doc to realize the zombies aren't reanimating to seek revenge as he previously suspected.
- Played with (and Played for Laughs) in Hanna Is Not a Boy's Name. While most folks tend to pick up, at the very least, that there's something off about Zombie (the greenish-grey skin and stitches are probably a good tip-off), a trenchcoat and fedora appear to be all he needs to move around freely, without suspicion. Since Zombie has no desire to eat people though, nobody really suffers from overlooking him.
- South Park
Doctor: Well, your temperature is only 55 degrees, you have no pulse, no heartbeat, and your eyes are all puffy and sticky...
Mortician: Oh no! You mean...?
Doctor: Yeah, I'm afraid the two of you have pinkeye.
- The episode "Marjorine" inverts this — Butters really isn't a zombie, but his parents won't believe it.
- The Simpsons: "Homer, you shot the zombie Flanders!" "He was a zombie?"
- In Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, Fred at first assumes that the zombies are just people in costumes and rattles off potential suspects as he tries to pull off a captured zombie's "mask". In his defense, this was the case for every one of the dozens of other supernatural creatures he and the other Scooby-Doo characters have encountered over the years, so it was a reasonable assumption. However, once the zombie's head comes off in his hands, he insists that it must be animatronic and Velma and Daphne tell him he's in denial.
- In Gravity Falls, despite his slow gait, his slurred speech, his odd skin color, the "jam" on his face, and other details, when Dipper has evidence that zombies may exist in Gravity Falls, Mabel writes off the possibility of "Normal Man"- er, Norman being a zombie. She's right. He's a bunch of gnomes standing on each other's shoulders in a bad costume.
- Later, we DO get real ones. Thanks Dipper!