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Dead Man Walking

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"I removed as much shrapnel from your chest as I could, but there are still some pieces left. I've seen plenty of injuries like that. In my village we call those casualties 'the walking dead,' because they take about a week to reach your heart."
Ho Yinsen, Iron Man

As an idiom, the phrase "dead man walking" is most infamous as a call-out once traditional in American prisons; when the wardens would lead a man on Death Row down the hall, declaring "Dead man walking! Dead man walking here!" Dead Man Walking means Your Days Are Numbered and you and/or the people around you know it. Now that prison wardens no longer use it (least not where they can be noticed), modern use of the term broadened somewhat to other types of doom, even benign "doom" such as losing a job (which may actually be the original meaning, but so far no one's been able to trace it conclusively).


Sometimes, when the police are investigating a "murder" without a body, they find the so-called "victim" alive and well and the police utter "Dead Man Walking?"

Does not have anything to do with The Undead but is often used that way Just for Pun. Compare Your Days Are Numbered, Whodunnit to Me?, Incurable Cough of Death, Doomy Dooms of Doom.

Invoked by Dead Star Walking. Sometimes used to describe a state in a game that's Unwinnable by Design. Not to be confused with Dead Character Walking, which describes a video game glitch where the player still has control over a dead character.



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  • Dead Man Walking, obviously.
  • As a dog is being led away to be put down at the pound that Lucky's taken to in the Eddie Murphy film version of Dr. Dolittle, one of the dogs comments "dead dog walking."
  • There's a chilling scene in Lady and the Tramp at the pound in which some of the dogs obliquely reference this trope when a dog is taken by a human into a back room, hinting that the dog will be put to sleep.
  • In Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Daffy gets fired from Warner Bros. Studios and is led out of the office by Kate and Bugs calls out "Dead duck walking!"
  • In Night of the Comet, the Technically Living Zombies are doomed to dissolve into dust if they go too long without drinking human blood, and by the end of the film, they've all crumbled into nothingness from starvation.
  • In the first Iron Man-movie, Yinsen describes a type of bomb victim he and the people in his village refer to as "The Walking Dead"note . These people walk around with bomb shrapnel in their bloodstream, and live for about a week before their organs are torn to shreds. This happens to main character Tony Stark as well, who only survives by having an electromagnet implanted into his chest to keep the shrapnel from tearing his heart to ribbons.


     Live Action TV  
  • On Mythbusters, the Narrator often intones the phrase jokingly when referring to the (inanimate) victim of the day's experiment - usually Buster the crash test dummy but there's been "Dead Car Driving!" and others.
  • An NCIS episode titled "Dead Man Walking" involves a victim who has gotten radiation poisoning and the team has to figure out whodunit before he dies.
    • This premise gets reused in the NCIS: New Orleans episode "The Walking Dead."
    • NCIS also brings it up in the episode "Forced Entry," after McGee is tricked into drinking Gibbs' coffee:
    Marine Sgt. Hegarty: You never mess with a Marine's coffee, if you want to live, Agent DiNozzo.
    Tony DiNozzo: [laughs] That's right. Dead man walking!
    • Also comes up after everyone on the team learns about McGee's novel Deep Six, which has characters based on him and his co-workers. Including an Expy of Gibbs named "L. J. Tibbs."
    DiNozzo: Where is LJ, Dead Agent Walking?
  • The Thick of It episode "The Rise of the Nutters", to a politician who self-destructed on television:
    Malcolm Tucker: [Ben enters a party] Oh, here he is. Dead man walking.
  • In the third episode of Stargate Atlantis, Rodney, who is starving because an Ancient device won't allow him to feed, abuses this phrase and its variants.
  • An episode of Torchwood is titled "Dead Man Walking". In which Jack tries to resurrect someone with a magic resurrection gauntlet against the warning of his companions.
  • In the Episode "Bridesmaids Revisited" from Gilmore Girls Rory and Logan are at the wedding of Logan's sister. They encounter the groom in the hallway, and Logan has to help him get ready for the ceremony. He grabs his shoulder and calls out that phrase as they walk to his room.
  • In The IT Crowd, after Roy finds out via an online quiz that he will die tomorrow, he tells everyone to ignore it and that everything will be fine. Then, as he is walking to his desk, Moss yells out "Dead man walking!"

     New Media  
  • There's a website with a feature called Dead Bro Walking, that focuses on the Black Dude Dies First trope.

     Professional Wrestling  
  • The Undertaker, in 2002 started using theme music with ominous bells and the phrase "Dead Man Walking". Fans remember it as the year he beat Hulk Hogan.

     Video Games  
  • In Max Payne part two there is a minigame called Dead Man Walking in which you fight infinitely respawning enemies, trying to take as many as you can with you.
  • Dragon Age: Origins. All Grey Wardens, due to the Taint. Also, Wynne and, more figuratively speaking, the Legion Of The Dead. Their initiation is a dwarven funeral rite. Since they are already dead, they have nothing to fear.
  • In Crysis, everyone who puts on a Nanosuit. And more literally, Alcatraz, the Player Character in the second game.
    Hargreave: This isn't a war ordinary men can win! This is the future, death's an inconvenience now, nothing more. We are all dead men walking.
  • Thane Krios from Mass Effect 2. He has an incurable disease that slowly destroys his ability to breathe, and all the doctors say he'll be dead in less than a year. If he survives Mass Effect 2's Suicide Mission, then when you meet him again in Mass Effect 3, he tells you that the doctors say he'll be dead in around three months...and he last talked to them nine months ago. Later on, he manages to drive off Kai Leng from the salarian Councilor despite his disease, leaving him barely able to breathe.
  • In Yakuza: Dead Souls, Goro Majima gets bit by a zombie. By the next chapter of the game, he is falling ill and his eye is turning red. He goes to a sauna in a last-ditch effort to cure himself. Ultimately subverted: the zombie that bit him wore dentures and never actually infected him. The sickness and the redness in his eye? Just allergies.
  • In Red Dead Redemption II, Arthur Morgan becomes this as early as in Chapter 2 due to being coughed on by a sickly debtor, unintentionally causing Arthur to contract Tuberculosis, which ultimately kills him by the end of his story.

     Visual Novels  

     Web Comics  
  • In an issue of Tales Of Zenith a gallon of milk in a store wants to sneak to the front of the display case. The reason is, his expiration date is yesterday, which means he'll be burst and dumped down the sewer if he can't escape by being bought. The cottage cheese and sour cream notice this, and they call out Dead Milk Walking!

     Western Animation  


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