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Zombie Gait

"How many times have I told you? Dead things don't move fast. You're a corpse, for Christ's sake! If you run that fast your ankles are going to snap off."
Jason Creed, Diary of the Dead.

Zombies usually shuffle around with both arms out in front of them, groaning "Braaaaaains" or something similar.note  Aside from the groaning, this is not unique to zombies. Mummies usually do this as well, and even Frankenstein's monster has been seen to lurch in this variety of the Unflinching Walk.

Although often portrayed this way in fiction (in fact, it was a fictitious sleepwalker who made this trope), sleepwalkers do not walk like this. They walk with their eyes open. If they did not, they would wake up with a nasty headache, or in the hall after they smack their heads on the nearest sharp corner. There have been accounts of sleepwalkers having held conversations, and sleepwalkers who do chores, get dressed, eat, have sex (an actual diagnosed condition, called 'sexsomnia', often mistaken for rape) and people have even been known to drive their cars while sleepwalking.

It has been speculated that holding out one's arms pointing forward while doing the Zombie Gait derives from the mysticism connected with hypnotism in the past and the fact that to get a person's arm to rise as if without their moving it themselves is one of the easiest suggestions to perform.

This is probably somewhat counter-productive, as moving slowly and announcing your presence is a brilliant way to scare off potential prey. (Although, if a Zombie virus needs a bite or scratch to infect, the best way to transmit that virus is to attract a mob of zombies from all directions. This does not apply to non-virus zombies or omnirevenant zombies however.)

Then again, may be justified as the undead's damaged muscles might make basic locomotion a chore. George Romero in a 2008 interview indicates his reasoning for why zombies are slow and cannot run. On top of that, since zombies can shrug off most things that would incapacitate a normal person and there's so damn many of them that even slow ones can be quite a threat to our plucky heroes (unless, of course, they have Bottomless Magazines).

Nevertheless, these zombies can often jump at protagonists from Behind the Black in a Deadly Lunge. See also and compare Marionette Motion, where a human body (shaped object) moves as if it were a puppet on a string. Similar in character but different in style is the hopping locomotion associated with Chinese Vampires.

The Technically Living Zombie frequently averts this.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Blassreiter, the zombies, called demoniacs, follow this trope straight until they start being aggressive. They then break this trope by running on all fours, run along walls, and to more extremes, merge with vehicles like cars, motorcycles, and later on, Typhoon jets, to go really, really fast.
  • Parodied in One Piece. Yes, they moan and groan like in the movie, but take this example:
    Usopp: We're alright. They just came up from the ground They can't dash after us. Zombies just move slow and groan. Even walking should be hard for them.
    (The zombie horde sprints towards them)
    Zombies: HOLD IT!
    Usopp: THEY'RE FAST!
    • And then they become out of breath... and call for a time out! More powerful zombies on Thriller Bark avert this trope, though.
  • The zombies in High School Of The Dead walk in this fashion. Possibly because they are blind.
  • The mannequin soldiers, the Xerxessian souls Father revives and later, Father himself approaching a defenceless Ed in Fullmetal Alchemist.
  • The undead created by the Mahou Shoujo in Mahou Shoujo of the End avert this violently. After resurrection, they have enhanced speed and a great deal of Super Strength.
  • In Dragon Ball, Yamcha is scheduled to fight a mummy. He assumes that he's got the match in the bag as long as he doesn't let the mummy hit or grab him. He's wrong, the mummy speed blitzes and utterly curb-stomps him, then mocks him for assuming he was slow.

    Comics 
  • Zombies in Blackest Night are not only fully mobile, they have superpowers!
  • Similarly, Marvel Zombies.
  • Played straight in The Walking Dead, where the zombies are fairly typical Romero-style walking corpses in various states of decay.

    Film 
  • The Trope Maker is Cesare from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, although he can run when he needs to, and he is completely silent.
  • Most zombie movies. It would be easier to list exceptions:
    • 28 Days Later although they're actually "infected" and not the undead, but close enough...
      • Zombieland seems to run off a similar virus, albeit one that is a mutation of Mad Cow Disease rather than an experimental serum.
    • In [REC], the infected are extremely fast thanks to a virus that is part biological, part Demonic Possession.
    • And the sprinting zombies from the Dawn of the Dead (2004) remake.
      • What we now call "zombie movies" started with Night of the Living Dead. Before then, zombies mostly shuffled harmlessly around on Haitian sugar-plantations.
  • Most early mummy movies, subverted in The Mummy 1999.
    • The Mummy also plays it straight at points. Imhotep is fairly slow when first brought back, and only gets up to speed once he's been restored. Similarly, his mummy priests are slow. Otherwise averted, though.
    • In the Animated Adaptation of The Mummy, they perform a Lampshade Hanging. "I thought mummies were slow and dumb!" "Trust me, this one's fast and smart."
      • Doubles as a You Watch Too Much X, because the person who thought mummies were slow and dumb is a friend of Alex's who thought he knew what to do because of the books and comics he'd read. He didn't.
  • As the body of The Terminator begins to take on horrendous amounts of punishment, its gait becomes increasingly stiff and stilted, more befitting of the rods-pulleys-and-levers that it really is than the human that it tries to masquerade as.
  • Played straight in the Resident Evil movies until the third where Umbrella creates fast zombies.
    • Also the game-canon Resident Evil: Degeneration plays the trope out exactly like the older games. Except Leon specifically says "You can only kill them by shooting them in the brain" despite that rule was only enforced in the original game. All other games they die no matter where you shoot them.
  • Also been used as a Flanderization—Frankenstein's monster (who is made of corpse parts, but usually not thought of as undead) walks this way in the end of the The Ghost of Frankenstein and in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man because a botched operation has left him blind. Thereafter, it became a defining mark of the character, even though later movies returned his sight.
  • Near the end of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan Jason develops a Zombie Gait after getting toxic waste hurled into his face - he stumbles around bumping into walls in a pretty comical fashion.
    • Beginning with Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, Jason is in fact a zombie, and yet displays very few of the classic traits of the walking dead. He doesn't shamble, he's lethally intelligent, and while he rarely moves at more than a brisk walk, he is clearly capable of superior speed. The only true "zombie" traits he follows are the rotting flesh and extreme resistance to/ignorance of physical damage.
  • Played for fun in Shaun of the Dead, where the protagonists mimic zombie gait to fool other zombies. As well as joked in the beginning that before the Zombies arrived, everyone in town were already Zombie-like while trudging through their daily routines, that it takes quite a while before Shaun notices anything is wrong.
  • The Missing Link does it in Monsters vs. Aliens, but only because he had just been in the pool and his eyes were burning with chlorine.
    • Dr. Cockroach walks like this for a few seconds after his transformation in the General's video clip.
  • Sometimes played straight, sometimes not in Zombie Blood Bath. Some zombies can only stumble and shuffle around. Others can lightly jog, tackle people, and hop across small streams of water. The zombies acted like average citizens of Kansas City, Minnesota.
  • In Warm Bodies, the zombies generally move slowly (though they can lunge, from time to time...) but as they age into the skeleton-and-beef-jerky Bonies, strangely enough become faster.
    "God, we walk slow." *sigh* "This might take a while..."
  • Played for Laughs in Cockneys Vs Zombies when an eighty-three-year-old man with a walker is pursued by a zombie that can keep up with him because both of them are extremely slow.
  • Invisible Invaders: The dead are possessed by aliens and walk this way.

    Gamebooks 

    Literature 
  • Lampshaded in Max Brooks' novel World War Z - the groan of a zombie attracts other zombies to living humans - who, once they hear the groaning and sense the presence of living humans, also begin to groan, thus attracting more. This can have the effect of attracting hundreds, thousands or even millions of zombies to one position, depending how the chain-reaction of groaning travels and how many zombies are in the vicinity and able to pick up on it. Despite their traditional slow-moving walk, this also has the result of effectively destroying the morale of any defenders and causing complete panic; you might deal with the zombies right in front of you, but there could be the zombified converts of a city's population right behind them.
    • The same applies in Mira Grant's Feed. The "zombies" moan deliberately in order to draw more zombies to the "meal".
  • Also in the Newsflesh universe, in prequel novella The Day the Dead Came to Show and Tell, the protagonist sees silhouettes through a frosted window and realizes they're zombies by the way they move. Her internal monologue mentions learning to recognize this as one of the "stranger" tests she had to learn to pass to become a teacher.
  • When Windle Poons becomes a zombie (an intelligent one) in Reaper Man, he just feels like walking with his arms out in front of him, though he doesn't know why. It is explained why he walks with a slow, shuffling gait though: all the things his body used to do automatically he now has to control consciously, including his leg muscles.
    • Reg Shoe from the City Watch sub-series, whose debut appearance was also in Reaper Man, is implied to be a little stiff but otherwise capable of a fair turn of speed when needed; we eventually learn in Night Watch that he's had some thirty to forty years to get a handle on the same problem Windle was grappling with. note  Mr Slant is never described a moving quickly but that's a matter of choice rather than capability. As one of Ankh-Morpok's three most senior lawyers (the other two are vampires), other people wait for his convenience.
  • Used with plant zombies in The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. The eponymous creepy, flesh-eating plants not only walk with a slow, shuffling movement, but have a sort of stick-and-drum arrangement capable of producing a rattling noise... which, you guessed it, calls hordes of other Triffids.
  • Diario de un Zombi has this as both a good and bad thing. Good for the humans, but bad for Erico, a thinking zombie whose trying to ferry said humans out of Barcelona.
  • Done both ways in Day by Day Armageddon. Normal zombies are the typical, Romeroesque shuffling ghouls. Then the joggers show up: zombies that were radiated by nuclear fallout. Joggers can move faster, are smarter, can use weapons, and worst of all: they case radiation poisoning in anyone they make contact with. Good job, US Government.
  • Explicitly defied in The Dresden Files. Zombies created by a skilled necromancer are stronger and faster than a living person, albeit still mindless. The best way to counter the undead is with better undead like meeting a horde of human zombies with a zombie T. Rex.

    Live Action TV 
  • Zombies in the horror/comedy series Death Valley move fast shortly after they've become infected, but they develop a slow gait the more their bodies decay. There are corpulent zombies in the series who shuffle at a snail's pace.
  • While not exactly zombies, the Borg of Star Trek fame play by many of the rules of zombies, including continuing to walk slowly no matter how many of them get shot, never using weapons other than their Virus nature, and ignoring the good guys until they take at least one drone out.
    • Averted in the Elite Force games, in which the Borg attack without provocation, move much more quickly, and shoot (at least in some missions), and their Assimilation Tubes of Doom don't follow the Virus trope.
    • The Borg were originally conceived as being more insectoid than anything else. When budgetary restraints dictated that they be played by humans in costume, a different way to make them scary and "inhuman" was needed, so the writers settled on zombie behavior.
    • At least one fan says that Borg are more like vampires than anything else, given that they produce "bite marks" on the necks of their victims (from the Assimilation Tubes of Doom) and all die if the "head vampire" (Borg Queen) is killed. Ironically, both of these characteristics were introduced in First Contact, in which Lily (in a Critical Lampshade Failure) refers to them as "those bionic zombies". Also ironically, this was when the Borg's appearance was changed from looking pale but young and healthy (like a vampire) to looking discolored and gross (like a rotting zombie).
  • Done with Vampires in the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Lampshaded in the director's commentary on the DVD.
  • A suspect in Law & Order: Criminal Intent started to walk like a zombie just before he died. In fact, witnesses described it as walking like a zombie. Also, the detectives were investigating a woman who practices voodoo.
  • In Deadliest Warrior [Vampire vs Zombie] the Zombie's slow speed [2ft per second to 3mph] was a serious disadvantage to the Vampire's superhuman speed [about 100ft per second]. Because of this, the Zombies had to outnumber the Vampires 63-1 to make a fair fight. The fight scene showed that in lesser numbers, the Vampire would not be overwhelmed by the Zombies and would kill them one at a time with great ease and speed.
  • The Walking Dead, being a show about zombies plays with this. While an average zombie can only shuffle or, at most, break out at a disjointed jog, and therefore be outrun, the main problem is they do not get tired. In late season 2, Andrea is overcome with exhaustion and jumped by a single walker, after being forced to fight and flee for hours on end.
  • In (the original) Land of the Lost, the Sleestak do this, though they're lizard-people rather than zombies. They were only really a menace in numbers and/or the close quarters of the tunnels under the Lost City; otherwise, the Marshalls could have simply outwalked them.

    Music Videos 
  • The zombies of Jonathan Coulton's "Re: Your Brains" are well-spoken and intelligent, but are still quite insistent about eating your brains. (There is at least one zombie groaning and mumbling in traditional fashion during the chorus, but even he manages to keep in tune.)
  • Fridge Brilliance on LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem" video, which presents the band's song infecting people a la a zombie apocalypse. Every day, they are shufflin'!
  • The dance for 2PM's song "Heartbeat" combines Zombie Gait with Marionette Motion.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin starts imitating a zombie, lurching around with outstretched arms and gaping mouth and messily disemboweling a PBJ sandwich. Hobbes sees Calvin and gets into the gait too. They then look at each other and burst out laughing.

    Pinball 
  • The Premium Limited Edition tables of James Cameron's Avatar includes additional Na'vi action figures decorating the playfield. This trope can occur if the Na'vi action figures are carelessly positioned.
  • Naturally, the zombies in The Pinball Of The Dead have this walk when they wander the playfield.

    Tabletop RPG 
  • Walkin' Dead in Deadlands RPG are smarter than they look (being demons from hell animating corpses). So they pose as slow, stupid zombies... And then they eat your brain out.
    • Voodoo Zombies, though, play this trope straight.
  • The last time rules for zombies appeared in Warhammer 40,000, the zombies would always move as if they were going through difficult ground to represent this gait.
  • In older editions of Dungeons & Dragons, zombies (but not most other undead) tended to be specifically slower than living beings, which was reflected in such zombie-specific rules as always losing initiative or only getting partial actions each turn. Even in Fourth Edition, which mostly does away with these special-case rules, humanoid zombies tend to have a lower base ground speed than the living — though for example the gravehound from the Monster Manual, a zombie dog, still runs just as fast as a living dog or wolf.
  • In Feng Shui, most supernatural creatures (except for ghosts) explicitly appear to shamble, lurch or hop along slowly, but can actually move at their full speed. It's referred to as "deceptive speed."
  • Zig Zagged Trope in Zombicide. Walkers, Fatties and the Abomination are slow. Runner zombies, on the other hand... Well, they run.

    Video Games 
  • Course the zombies in Dead Rising feature this. But Frank can also do this to keep zombies from bothering him. It slows him down and doesn't work on human enemies.
    • In Dead Rising 2: Off the Record, Frank includes a completely deadpan "Brains, gimme brains."
  • The Resident Evil series plays this trope completely straight... up until Resident Evil 4. Los Ganados can run, use weaponry, and speak in complete sentences, and are much more interested in killing Leon than eating his flesh. Justified in that Los Ganados are not actual zombies, but parasite-infected villagers controlled by the leader of an evil cult.
    • Also, the first Crimson Head the players encounter in REmake, which also scatters the powered-up zombies about Crimson Heads are made if the zombie was disabled but not killed. Only headshots with a shotgun or lighting a zombie's body on fire will prevent a Crimson Head from forming.
    • A few of the zombies in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis can move at a brisk pace.
  • In Urban Dead, zombie characters walk only half as fast as human characters until they buy the Lurching Gait skill. Feeding Groan is a purchasable skill that can only be used while in the same room as human characters, and is heard farther away when more humans are present. The most common use of it is to alert other zombies as to the whereabouts of juicy brains.
  • The ReDeads of Zelda franchise (most notably The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and their reincarnations, Gibdos, in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask) walk slow as molasses, usually accompanied by a low kind of thrum sound, and then they SHRIEK and as you're paralyzed, they reach and set about apparently RAPING you.
  • Ordinary Sims allow commands to walk, run or skip to a certain location. In The Sims 2: University, Sims that have been brought Back from the Dead as zombies can only "shamble."
    • Same with The Sims 3 "Supernatural expansion" though it becomes Nightmare Retardant as said zombies tend to pull out umbrellas when it rains, or leave your property by taxi. Even moreso if you have the Plants vs. Zombies DLC note  and have Peashooters attacking them as they try to eat your plants.
  • Half-Life's zombies follow this trope; in HL2 however they do have fast zombies along with the slower types.
  • In the zombie invasion event leading up to the release of World of Warcraft's Wrath of the Lich King expansion, players infected by the virus become zombies... who move very, very slowly. However, they do have an ability, "Lurch!" that removes snares and other movement-speed reducing effects, and allows you to run for a short period of time. Additionally, they have "Zombie Groan!" which draws near-by NPC zombies to you, as long as they are not in combat.
  • In Left 4 Dead, zombies can run at considerable speed, which varies from just slower than players to slightly faster than them. Unnerving with the regular hordes sprinting at you too fast to outrun, and pants-wettingly terrifying when a muscle-bound Tank gallops your way at the same speed you can run when healthy, knocking over several vehicles en route and possibly sending them to hit you for an instant incapacitation. Again, though, these are Infected, not undead. If you observe an Infected that hasn't spotted you yet, however, they do shuffle around like traditional zombies up until the moment they make a dash for your face. If you watch them shuffle around long enough before they spot you, some will just lie down and die, right there.
  • The zombified Stalkers in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - Shadow of Chernobyl are slow, but still remember how to use their assault rifles and are annoyingly accurate with them.
  • The ghosts of people you killed in Metal Gear Solid 3 during the Sorrow's battle do this.
  • All three Diablo games feature varying classes of zombies that fit the trope perfectly. In Diablo II, some of them will poison the player with each hit and/or release a cloud of poison gas upon death, though this poison will not turn the player or his/her minions into zombies.
  • Doom 3 features a wide array of zombies, most of which fit this trope perfectly (minus the "braaaains"). A few are faster than the rest (speed shambling) and usually either wield chainsaws or have been set on fire, but otherwise exhibit similar behavior. Zombie Commandos move quickly (no shambling), don't moan or grunt, and often wield guns and hide behind cover; however, they're closer to actual demons than zombies, given that they burn away after dying.
  • Played generally straight in Plants vs. Zombies, with a few exceptions. Many zombies would rather rely on trickery than speed, such as pole-vaulting over your defenses or riding on dolphins. Others prefer brute force, like the giant zombie who smashes defenses flat with his road sign/powerline pole/other zombie or the Zomboni, who as his name implies, runs over your plants with a magic zamboni that leaves a trail of solid ice behind him that cannot be planted upon and summons a zombie bobsled team.
  • Zombies, shambling with arms outstretched, appear in some of the Army Men games.
  • Used in Fort Zombie extensively. Most zombies have an awkward shuffle that you can outdo with a jog — besides these, there's football player zombies that can manage a brief tackling charge, and "fast" zombies in tracksuits that can manage roughly a jog. They also can't get over obstacles nearly as well as your character. It's highly recommended you use this to your advantage, especially in the early game before you have many weapons or other survivors.
  • Both played straight and averted in Guild Wars 2 with the Risen. Brutes and bigger variants of the Risen generally plays this straight, being lumbering undeads or at least just slow on the feet. Averted with normal Risen. Not only can they walk and run normally, but they can actually outrun living people. Combine this with the Risen's love of inflicting you with conditions that slows you down or stops you dead in your track, and it's guaranteed that you won't get to escape a group of them in one piece.
  • While they're not actually zombies, in The Cat Lady, the cannabalistic wife of the pest control guy has a zombie walk, as does anyone who is on drugs.
  • Would you believe this makes zombies harder to kill in Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army? They never stop moving and their heads bob as they shuffle around, making it hard to get a bead on them with your rifle even if they're coming right at you.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • The zombies in I Am Not Infected exhibited the traditional Zombie Gait until recently, which stopped them from being threatening. Lately they've learned to run.
  • Mocked in Unskippable during the Left 4 Dead 2 cutscenes
    I like that, just as in old zombie moves, the only way to make slow zombies viable is to pit them against the stupidest, most lethargic humans ever.

     Western Animation 
  • In an episode of Mr Meaty, a horde of zombies advance on the eponymous fast food restaurant, substituting "meat" for "brains". The same scene also parodies this.
    Hippie Zombie: Tofuuuu... I mean, meeeat...
  • The Terrorcon zombies in Transformers Prime are generally shambling, non-transforming husks. This gets lampshaded in "Shadowzone"; when the human kids have to deal with one, speed is one of their few advantages. When one of its arms gets blown off, however...
    Miko: How can a zombie arm move faster than the actual zombie?
  • Mocked in Gravity Falls when Dipper and Wendy are watching zombie movie;
    Wendy: They're slow! Just power walk away from them!

    Real Life 
  • People have been known to organize "Zombie Walks" for charity and/or fun, where people dress up as zombies and shamble through the streets.
  • Averted in the tag/LARP-combo game Humans vs. Zombies, where the "zombies" are just as agile as the humans they hunt. Nevertheless, zombies who've been hunting nonstop will often exhibit this trope fairly straightly as exhaustion and leg straining catches up with them.


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alternative title(s): Zombies Are Slow
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