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Fearless Undead

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"I don't know who to pity more: those who flee from my presence or the damned who can withstand it."

Being dead sucks. On this most people agree. However, there are perks and this particular perk derives from the fact that there is very little imaginable that can happen to you that has not already happened. In works of fiction, The Undead are usually depicted as being without fear and immune to supernatural attempts to inflict it. Other works justify it by having certain undead types being mindless meat automatons, so they have no will of their own. For undead who are intelligent and capable of independent operation, it might just be the realization that "I am already dead/know what dying feels like — what anyone could anyone possibly do or threaten to do to me that is worse than that?"

Turn Undead, however, tends to be a way to get around this.

See also Immortal Life Is Cheap. Contrast Fearless Fool, where a mortal character acts without fear in cases where they really should be afraid. For when this manifests itself as physical immunity instead of a psychological one, see You Can't Kill What's Already Dead.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • This is Ayumu's view on his unlife in Is This A Zombie?. Eu will simply patch him up after action, what's to worry?
  • The Ghosts in Sgt. Frog aren't particularly shocked when they come across the alien frogs. In one case, they come across the spirit of a dead pilot and the wreck of his plane, and they just sit down and make pleasant conversation for the rest of the night.
  • The girls of Zombie Land Saga regularly reassure themselves when undertaking risky action that they're already dead so it's not like they'll be any worse off if things don't work out.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Dogma, Rufus (the 13th Apostle) states that the dead have few things to worry about besides decay and necrophiliacs.
  • One of the things that makes George A. Romero's zombies from Night of the Living Dead (1968) and its sequels a threat is that despite being slow and having very poor reaction time, the zombies aren't capable of anything other than mindless hunger, and will relentlessly keep going after human prey, no matter how many of them are killed. When there are no humans around, the zombies will simply wander around aimlessly until they find more. Like in World War Z below, the zombies only became a real threat because the humans' idiotic reaction to an unconventional enemy.

  • In The Death Gate Cycle, there are two kinds of undead — Cadavers (who are unable to properly perceive anything) and lazar (which are sentient). Both are completely fearless — cadavers because they are barely aware of what's going on around them, and lazar because they are aware of the agony of their undead condition and know for a fact that nothing is worse. Fireballs, sword thrusts, decapitation, arrows through the heart — none of it matters to something that's that far beyond our meager understanding of "pain".
  • Reg Shoe and many other undead from Discworld, along with the Igors. Although if Night Watch is any indication, Reg was pretty fearless while alive, too. He does complain about this idea in Jingo though. Just because the ship sinking doesn't kill him doesn't mean he's not worried by it. Especially if a shark decides to eat him. The recently deceased, after a brief moment of disorientation, are usually rather calm and optimistic about what lies before them. Partly this is because they left their glands with their bodies, and without all those panic-inducing hormones it's easy to see things rationally. And partly it's because the worst has already happened — things can only go up from here (the exceptions usually deserved it).
  • The Cauldron-Born in Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain have no emotions at all, including fear.
  • The High Seekers in the Emberverse are an odd case. When they are killed, they are possessed by a fearless dark power until such time as the bodies are no longer useful — but then again, when they're alive, they're possessed pretty regularly too, to similar results.
  • World War Z:
    • This becomes a plot point because, as one of the interviewed soldiers points out, normal human warfare isn't about killing every last one of the enemy, it's about breaking the enemy's will to continue fighting. Zombies never get scared however, so at the Battle Of Yonkers, when the US Air Force lets loose some Death from Above that would make any normal enemy run for the hills and the millions of zombies streaming out of New York City just keep coming, it begins breaking the will of the human troops on the ground instead. That, combined with other difficulties and ammunition shortages, winds up turning the battle into a rout and massacre of the army.
      You don't have to be Sun freakin Tzu to know that real fighting isn't about killing or even hurting the other guy, it's about scaring him enough to call it a day. ..."Shock and Awe"? Perfect name, "Shock and Awe"! But what if the enemy can't be shocked and awed? Not just won't, but biologically can't? That's what happened that day outside New York City, that's the failure that almost lost us the whole damn war. The fact that we couldn't shock and awe Zack boomeranged right back in our faces and actually allowed Zack to shock and awe us! They're not afraid! No matter what we do, no matter how many we kill, they will never, ever be afraid!
    • Later, this is used against the zombies. When the Army changes tactics, they lure zombies into a prearranged kill zone and calmly mow them down one after another. The zombies, unable to be deterred by the fact that thousands upon thousands of their fellow creatures have been killed without even getting close to the troops, keep coming, and keep getting mowed down. Essentially, the Army turned them into Fearless Fools, and made them pay the price for it.
    • By extension, this is a constant theme in The Zombie Survival Guide, by the same author (which features the exact same kind of zombies and describes the same universe World War Z is set in). In this book, most defense, escape, and combat advise and tactics revolve around zombies not feeling any fear (or any emotion, for that matter) at all. Things that would at least somewhat intimidate humans, like gunfire or loud noises, just attract the attention of more zombies. Potential survivors are advised to be as silent as possible at all times, restrict the use of guns to situations when the alternative is certain death, and to make every shot count (which means full automatic fire, which in real life battlefields is used to choke the movement of enemies, is to be avoided entirely).
  • Downplayed by Black Tide Rising. The Technically Living Zombies Zerg Rush armed soldiers because they're too brain-damaged to make the connection between gunshots and their fellow zombies falling down. But run over a few dozen with a tank, and the rest of the zombies in the area will de-ass the area with the quickness.
  • Subverted in The Dracula Tape, in which the Count indeed claims to be literally fearless (if, as he also admits, not necessarily brave)...but gives credit for that to simply having already used up a lifetime's supply of fear while in Turkish captivity in his still-breathing youth, not to his later undead status.
  • This is stated to be one of the advantages of Hallendren's army of Lifeless in Warbreaker. Lifeless are no stronger or tougher or more skilled than living soldiers, but being fearless in battle is nevertheless a huge advantage against living soldiers.
  • Feral humans in Janitors Of The Post Apocalypse are Technically Living Zombies that cannot feel pain, are almost unkilleable, and are generally not intelligent enough to evaluate a situation, though loud noises may spook them. Cured humans, while they have some of their intelligence back, still don't really feel pain and are very hard to kill. Fearfulness varies from individual to individual but their reputation as shock troops emphasizes a lack of it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Being Human:
    • It often has the ghost character, Annie, reminding herself or others that she is a ghost and thus has no reason to be afraid of any physical danger.
      Annie: [terrified while exploring a creepy hospital wing] I'm already dead. I'm already dead. I'm already dead...
    • Later seasons show that ghosts do have things to fear, namely exorcisms or being forced into Hell. Annie remains trapped in a rather frightening (if uneventful) afterlife temporarily, after an evil priest banishes her.
  • On Deadliest Warrior, this was actually listed as an X Factor in the Vampires vs. Zombies episode. The Zombies received the higher number due to being physically incapable of fear (unlike vampires).
  • Game of Thrones: This trope is put painfully on display when the Night King marches his undead army south and the cast initially attempts to fight them as if they were a normal army: Crushing them under a huge cavalry charge. The main strength of horses is that it makes your enemy afraid to get trampled, (see more under Mounted Combat) so while this might have broken the ranks of a conventional army, the mounted soldiers of the Westeros Alliance essentially tried to plough their horses right into a sea of rotting flesh, hungering mouths, and swords pointed directly at them, with predictable results.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Parodied in Juggalo Championship Wrestling (the Insane Clown Posse-owned wrestling federation), where one of the commentators notes about wrestling dead guy Evil Dead:
    "Evil Dead is just that guys, he's dead. But the benefits to death are as follows: Nothing hurts him, nothing scares him, he's dead."
  • The Undertaker, especially during his earliest days. One thing that made him so dangerous to fight was that it was impossible to intimidate him or make him lose focus. He didnt respond to anything other than direct force, and even then all it did was make him mad.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons, to a varying degree in different editions.
    • Undead are typically immune to all fear spells, and if morale is a factor, undead are unshakable. The only thing that will set undead running for the hills is holy power, such as that unleashed by the Cleric's ability to Turn Undead.
    • It is also averted as far as intelligent undead are perfectly capable of a Tactical Withdrawal, and indeed will do so when a battle turns against them since they know firsthand just how much their situation beats the Nothing After Death. They just can't be forced to by anything short of Turn Undead. Even then, many undead, such as vampires, liches, or ghosts, are extremely hard to kill permanently and have no problem with fighting to the last so long as their coffin or Soul Jar is safe.
    • Also averted in the fourth edition. Undead are immune to things that specifically affect only living creatures and don't need to breathe or sleep, but that's it; the blanket immunity against mind-affecting spells and effects from previous editions is gone. (In fact, two undead of the exact same type equipped with charm or fear powers might plausibly affect each other with them if those powers aren't specifically limited to working only on the living. A mummy's despair aura comes to mind.)
  • Averted in Exalted, where the undead have fear normally (although Mindless Necrotech automatons don't). Abyssal exalted have fear and so on too, but the virtues (including Valour) are warped by their association with the Neverborn.
  • In another White Wolf example, this is steadily averted in both Vampire: The Masquerade games. Vampires have the Beast, the predatory half of their vampiric nature that has a tendency to hijack their bodies in certain circumstances. One of those is mortal fear (such as when sunlight or fire make an appearance), in which case the Beast might grab hold and make the vampire run screaming into the night.
  • In GURPS, the templates for most undead include Unfazeable and Indomitable, making them disregard all reaction rolls and fear effects.
  • Referenced in Magic: The Gathering, where several black creatures (many of which are undead) have the fear ability, which prevents creatures other than black creatures and artifact creatures (i.e. robots) from blocking them. Another great example is the black spell Terror, which instantly destroys a creature, provided they are not black or an artifact.
  • Undead in Pathfinder are immune to all morale effects, including magical fear and attempts to demoralize them through intimidation. Intelligent undead are not blind to threats and might well flee when Fear Is the Appropriate Response, but it is a logical rather than an emotional reaction when they do.
  • In Warhammer, undead units never have to make leadership tests. The undead mooks don't feel anything at all (including fear). No emotions means the Chaos gods can't control them, which is why one Well-Intentioned Extremist vampire count's plan was to convert the entire world population into zombies, starving the Ruinous Powers. Strangely enough, most people not even associated with Chaos objected to this plan.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Averted with the Necrons, who are basically Zombie Robots:
      • The old fluff explains that while they do ignore fear (comes with having your soul eaten by your gods and your entire body transferred into a machine), they can still judge when it would be advantageous to flee if in presence of a stronger enemy, and so must still take morale tests.
      • The later fluff says they can still feel fear: While their Brain Uploading, of varying quality depending on rank, eroded their ability to feel emotions, it didn't completely remove it. Lords can feel the whole range the Necrontyr of old could (such as anger), whereas for mooks, fear is the only emotion strong enough to sometimes break through the haze.
    • Played straight with the Plague Marines, who are described as being so rotten they can barely sense what's going on around them and are completely immune to pain. Perfectly represented on the tabletop in that they're far more durable than the standard marines, have the actual Feel No Pain rule, is slower than the average marines, and is completely and utterly fearless. Small wonder why they're one of the best units in the book.

    Video Games 
  • In the Heroes of Might and Magic games, undead are immune to both good and bad morale.
  • Averted in World of Warcraft. While The Forsaken Undead gain a bonus against fear abilities, it is implied to be willpower rather than an innate ability. Played straight with the rest of the Undead Scourge.
    • This is something of Gameplay and Story Segregation. In the original alpha, forsaken were treated as undead and had all the benefits that came with, including immunity to fear. They also had the downsides, which allowed priests and paladins(then exclusive to the opposing faction, the Alliance) to utterly dominate them. In Warcraft's tabletop rpg companion, they're treated as undead and are immune to fear.
    • The Will Of The Forsaken racial ability that all Undead players get is essentially this trope in ability form. Activate it and it will negate any Fear, Charm or Sleep debuff the player is currently suffering from (it's not immunity per se, as it needs to be activated by the player, and then you won't be able to do it again until it's cooled down).
    • As mentioned, this is still played straight with the undead mobs, which is immune to most fears. (Pallies can still turn them, through.)
  • Ace Attorney ghosts can fear loved ones coming to harm but don't need to worry about any repercussions of their own, something Dahlia Hawthorne uses quite skillfully.
  • Battle Nations the Black nanopod units (basically zombies) have a bravery rating of 500, which is the absolute highest value in the game at two-and-a-half times the next highest bravery rating of 200, which belongs to the Hero Unit Sgt. Ramsey. In game terms, that means they'll never get the suppressed debuff, which decreases accuracy.
  • Skeletons in Dungeon Keeper 2 are immune to fear traps and will never retreat in battle... which can cause them to show Suicidal Overconfidence against vastly stronger opponents. They also suffer Permadeath rather than the usual Non-Lethal K.O. for living creatures. Fortunately, they're implicitly free Cannon Fodder.
  • Bizarrely averted in Gladius. Undead aren't immune to any stats effects. Skeletons can bizarrely be effected by the "bleeding" condition.
  • Most undead in Dominions have a morale of 50, a purely symbolic value meaning that they are completely unbreakable.
  • Dragon Quest:
    • Dragon Quest III: After being killed off by the Hero, Baramos' skeleton is reanimated by Zoma to fight the Party for the last time. Baramos' bones have zero Defense and no special skills whatsoever, much less any defensive or supportive ones. All they do is attack repeatedly until you strike them down.
    • The Undead monster family in one of two types (machine is the other) that cannot be intimidated in Dragon Quest VIII.
  • The Secret World features this heavily in Säid, who not only spends his off-hours lounging around at a ghoul-infested hotel, but responds to a gun pointed at his face by insulting the wielder and nonchalantly pushing it out of the way. Lore entries state that this is pretty common when it comes to Säid's faction, the Kingdom, who freely do business with just about anyone regardless of the risk to themselves, knowing that there's not much more that can befall them, given that You Can't Kill What's Already Dead.
  • Averted in Dawn of War, where the Necrons have morale bars like everyone else, and become less effective in combat if broken (except the Pariahs, who are immune). The in-game explanation is that while they don't feel fear, they can still recognize when the situation is against them, and when to run and regroup.
  • Mordheim: City of the Damned: One schtick of the Undead faction is that all of their units (minus the Dreg and the Necromancer) are immune to Fear, Terror and All Alone effects. Zombies can bog down enemy heroes for round after round, while Vampires and Vampire Thralls stare down enemy Impressives and overwhelm them.
  • Varies in Warhammer: Dark Omen. Zombies are easy to throw into panic, and doing so breaks the necromancer's hold over them and return them to the grave. Ghouls no longer fall apart but they are still quite cowardly. Wights, wraiths and mummies can theoretically be scared, but good luck with that. "True" skeletons are not only completely fearless but also strike fear into the hearts of their enemies.
  • In Total War: Warhammer undead are immune to fear and terror effects, and never flee from combat unless the player orders them to retreat. In spite of this, attacking the morale of an undead army is highly effective and a major concern for undead players. Undead units that are reduced to low leadership that would cause living enemies to break and flee (through damage, flanking, spells, etc.) will begin to crumble, taking damage over time as the spells that hold them together fail. If reduced to low enough leadership that living units would shatter (flee and never rally) they will disintegrate, taking damage so fast only the battle ending within moments can save them. Where heavily damaged living units often flee but survive the battle, undead units tend to be entirely destroyed, so non-expendable undead need to be kept well protected by their more easily replaced allies.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • Averted with High Five Ghost in Regular Show. While he can pass through things and cannot die, he is still very much afraid of things that can risk losing his job or his friends.