Garfield: You buried me alive, you fat-shaming, loveless piece of milk toast!
Jon Arbuckle: But he killed our neighbor!
Liz Wilson: Classic case of the lasagna withdrawals. They cause short-term irritability.
When a character is believed to be dead for one reason or another only to reveal themselves to be alive and well, this goes in one of three ways. Either they are relieved that they are not dead, angry that they had to mourn them over nothing or (in a world of idiots or crazy people) everyone takes the Arkham's Razor approach and assume that they came back from the dead and intend to crack open their skulls and partake the gooey contents within. Vengeful Ghosts, ghouls, zombies, werewolves (if they looked like they were mauled half to death), Stringy-Haired Ghost Girls, any supernatural affliction to the body is acceptable.
It is especially bad when a Zombie Apocalypse is going around, so convincing your fellow survivors that you're alive without getting a bean-sized hunk of lead through your kidneys is much harder to sell.
Compare to Actually Not a Vampire, Mistaken for Aliens, Mistaken for Dying, Mistaken for Superpowered, Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated, and Sham Supernatural. Contrast with Technically Living Zombie and Not a Zombie. An inversion of Mistaken for Afterlife. See also Mistaken for Murderer, Mistaken for Own Murderer, Not Using the "Z" Word and Totally Not a Werewolf.
- In the My Hero Academia OVA "Training of the Dead", a student from a different school brought in for a training exercise has a Quirk that turns most of Class 1-A into zombies. All Might jumps in to save the day, only to run out of time and return to his emaciated form. Ochako and Mina confuse him for a zombified civilian and run away (dragging Midoriya and Todoroki along with them), and when the zombies surround him... one pats All Might on his shoulder reassuringly, having confused him for one of them as well.
- During One Piece's Thriller Bark arc, right after Luffy mistakes a zombie for a wounded old man, his crew run into a wounded old man that they mistake for a zombie.
- In Pokémon: The Series, the episode "Pokémon Shipwreck" had Ash's gang and Team Rocket working together to escape the sunken ship. Ash's friends all use water Pokémon to escape, while Team Rocket uses James' useless Magikarp and nearly drown. When Team Rocket washes up unconscious, Ash and co. believe they have drowned and are about to give them a water burial. However, Team Rocket awakens and are angry at almost being pushed in the water, while Ash and friends scream out "ZOMBIES!"
James: Who are you calling zombies?!
Jessie: We are not zombies!
- Happens a lot in Alpha Girl: in a world where many women have become zombiesnote , male characters usually ask whether a woman is a zombie or not... or just straightforwardly kill or capture them without confirmation. The Protagonist Judith, who is not a zombie, suffers from this regularly.
- Played with in Futurama comic: Professor Farnsworth meets his old crew who he thought had died in a vortex but really they survived. He thinks they're zombies but they confirm they are not. However, it turns out that three of them (Sheila, Sly, and Dr. Zoidberg the Second) were killed afterwards and replaced by holograms. Mender the robot, however, is real; in fact he's the one who killed them.
- In The Walking Dead comics (as well in the TV adaptation), the survivor protagonists sometimes disguise themselves as walkers (wearing their clothes and even covering themselves with blood and skin) in order to walk unnoticed among them. Then there's the "Whisperers", a nomadic group of survivors who are disguised as walkers all the time.
- In Zombies en la Moneda, El Kila, one of the protagonists, meets a group of Chilean neo-Nazis. When they see that he is covered in blood (someone else's blood), they believe he is infected and will become a zombie, so they attack him. At that moment a military patrol sees them, mistakes the neo-Nazis for zombies, and ends up killing them all and saving El Kila.
- In Infinity, Inc., when Norda Cantrell (Northwind) visits his grandmother on the hospital bed, she mistakes him for her son, whom she assumed was dead and has now come as an angel to take her to heaven.
- In the House fanfic "Iggy Pop Go The Zombies" (the House cast in Shaun of the Dead, basically) Wilson panics and mistakes Thirteen for a zombie.
- My Huntsman Academia
- In the sidestory "Ghostly Activity", Ruby is snooping around late at night while trying to figure out who keeps raiding her hidden cookie stash. She ends up poking her head into a dark room and sees a vaguely humanoid figure that glowed gold and was staring directly at her with neon green eyes. She ends up bolting right there. It turns out that Izuku was just meditating and practicing with One For All.
- In "A Nightmare Before Solstice", Pyrrha is woken up by the sound of movement in the dead of night while a fierce snowstorm was raging outside. When she goes to investigate, she encounters a skeletal figure with nearly translucent skin, loose, flabby coverings, and coughed up blood. She quickly runs off screaming into the night. It turns out it was just Toshinori who had just come back from a long night of heroing.
- Ingo in Metro Master installs himself as the titular Metro Master of Kalos, and due to a pileup of circumstances becomes known as "L'esprit malfaisant du train," the ghost of the dead Unovan Subway Boss who drags people to the underworld for subway-related crimes. Specifically, dragging the previous Metro Master to hell for neglecting the metro.
- The Metro Master only speaks the extinct Hisuian dialect of Ranseigo (Japanese), and so is thought to have died centuries ago. Ingo never learned Kalosian (French) and lost his native Galarian (English) to atrophy. The language barrier does not impede his ability to run a successful subway.
- Nobody knows who the Metro Master is, not even his name. Due to a combination of the language barrier and amnesia, Ingo is unable to tell anyone.
- The Metro Master is known for never leaving the metro, and it is said to be his tether. In reality, Ingo can't afford an apartment in the city, so he sleeps in his office.
- The Metro Master's office is at freezing point year-round. Ingo lived in the coldest regions of Hisui for years, and set the AC to freezing out of comfort.
- When Astrid walks in the great hall in Prodigal Son after everyone believed her to be dead via shipwreck, Snotlout is quick to point to her and call her a draugr.
- In the Pokémon fanfic Travels of the Trifecta, when Conway returns to Reggie's house to find shelter after multiple traumatic experiences on Route 216, Maylene (who is taking care of things while Reggie is gone) thinks he's a ghost at first because his "death" got reported in the news since he fell out of a helicopter and it was assumed that No One Could Survive That!.
- In Blue Au-niverse, Blue Diamond's presence in Ocean Town created an urban legend of her being a ghostly waif who died of heartbreak (and drowning at the beach).
- Plan 7 of 9 from Outer Space. Used to parody the Dull Surprise acting of Robert Beltran on Star Trek: Voyager.
"Oh no! You've been assimilated too!"
"What are you talking about?" 'Chuck' Kotay monotoned. "I'm the same way I've always been."
- Ghostbusters (1984): Justified in one scene where the Ghostbusters see movement and think it's a ghost, but it turns out to be a cleaning lady, since they know the hotel is indeed haunted.
Woman: "What the hell are you doing?!"Ray: "Sorry, we thought you were someone else."
- In Hot Bot, Huffy and Nard accidentally run down the Sexbot Bardot with their car. Because she looks and feels human but has no life signs, they assume they have killed her and take her back to Huffy's house to conceal her while they work out how to dispose of the body. When she reboots and gets up, they assume she is a zombie and Nard fetches a chainsaw to attempt to dispatch her.
- In the Harold Lloyd comedy Hot Water, the main character believes that he's accidentally killed his mother-in-law. When she starts Sleepwalking, he thinks it's her ghost.
- Invoked in Muppet Treasure Island: Long John Silver sets Captain Smollett's First Mate Mr Arrow adrift in a leaking lifeboat and tells the rest of the crew he drowned, then leads them in a mutiny against Smollett. When Mr Arrow returns, the members of the crew who stayed loyal to Smollett cover him in seaweed and make him pretend to be his own Vengeful Ghost, terrifying the mutineers into fleeing Smollett's ship without a fight.
- The main character in Night of the Living Dead (1968), after spending a horrible night defending himself and a houseful of other people from the zombies, is unfortunately mistaken for a zombie by a military unit and killed at the end of the film.
- Ophelia: When Gertrude comes to see Mechtild at her hovel and instead finds Ophelia - who she thought she had seen die only hours ago - she is horrified and believes her to be a ghost come back to haunt her, begging her forgiveness. In fairness, Ophelia faked her death rather convincingly and looks rather like a Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl at the time. It's not until Ophelia tells her to take her hand that Gertrude realizes she's actually there in the flesh.
- In Zombieland, it is revealed that Bill Murray has survived the Zombie Apocalypse by using his skills at acting and make-up to make himself look like a zombie, allowing himself to thrive in Hollywood unmolested by Flesh-Eating Zombies. Unfortunately it works a little too well, since he gets heavily bruised by Tallahassee and Wichita when he walks in on them and then later fatally shot by Columbus.
- In the Acts of the Apostles in The Bible, an angel miraculously rescues Peter from prison the night before he's supposed to be executed. Peter goes to a house where the church is gathered praying for him, but amusingly they don't believe at first that it's really him, saying "It must be his angel!"
- Subverted in the Andy Griffiths' Just Series book "Just Tricking" in the story "Playing Dead". Andy plays dead to get out of going to school and doing a test he didn't study for, and his parents act like they're going to bury him. When he reveals that he's alive, his mother acts like she thinks he's a zombie, but it's revealed that she's only kidding and both of them knew all along that he was alive.
- In a Biff and Chip book, Biff, Chip, and Kipper mistake their grandmother in a white nightie for a ghost due to being on-edge after playing a board game called Haunted House.
- In The Cow Said Boo, the cow is mistaken for a ghost because she got caught in a bedsheet, and because (due to a cold) she mispronounces "moo" as "boo".
- In Desperaux, the eponymous mouse is thought to be dead by his parents, so when he comes back, his mother points to him and shouts, "A ghost!".
- Dirty Bertie: In "Zombie!", Bertie, Darren, and Eugene have a sleepover and they observe Eugene wandering around aimlessly at night. Remembering that he ate a type of orange called a "blood" orange before going to bed, they believe it contained zombie blood and turned him into a zombie. In actual fact, however, he was just Sleepwalking.
- In a Doctor Who Expanded Universe story, "The Somerton Fetch", the Third Doctor follows the trail of a crude time machine. He eventually discovers its pilot is a young girl, and after an incident with a maid in the past, he concludes the girl's primitive Perception Filter costume malfunctioned. The Doctor and the girl materialize several times, intangible to the world around them, until he manages to send her home. He returns to the present to find the girl's suit was working correctly — all those people running away screaming their heads off were doing so at the sight of the Doctor, who's become enshrined in local folklore as the eponymous ghost.
- Heidi: When the eponymous girl sleepwalks, she is initially mistaken for a ghost due to her white nightie.
- In the Lockwood & Co. book "The Creeping Shadow", Quill Kipps tries out a pair of goggles that allow adults to see ghosts and mistakes the elderly Reverend Skinner for one.
- In the Rugrats book The Rugrats and the Zombies, due to believing Angelica's lie that a Zombie Apocalypse is nigh, when the babies' parents act spacey and lethargic due to Sleep Deprivation, they believe they've turned into zombies.
- The Amazing Stories episode "Mummy Daddy" is about one poor actor being trapped in his restrictive mummy costume and being chased by a band of murderous redneck hicks.
- In The Brittas Empire episode "Back From The Dead", Brittas is presumed to have been killed in Bulgaria. Naturally, he later turns up alive and well, but a series of misunderstandings lead Carole and Colin to believe that he is a bodiless spirit and that he is trying to get back to the land of the living by taking Carole's body. Later, Carole believes that he's trying her son Ben's body for eternal youth, leading to her trying to crush Brittas' car with him inside it.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer contains two examples in the third season. In one episode, it is played out humorously when a Willow, who is a vampire, is brought into the known world through a magical portal. There she meets Xander and hugs him, happy that he's alive (in her world he was also a vampire and was killed by Buffy). Eventually, disappointed, she breaks away from him, repeating that he is alive, meaning he is a human.
- In the same episode, she reveals herself to be a vampire, and Xander, Buffy, and Giles are sad because Willow is now a vampire, which means Buffy has to kill her. When they then see the Willow from their world, they mistake her for a vampire and Xander tries to fend her off with a cross, whereupon Willow worriedly asks him if he and the others were on drugs.
- It is tragically played in another episode. Buffy and Faith fight a group of vampires. The deputy mayor approaches them and Faith, mistaking him for a vampire, kills him with a wooden stake. Thus begins Faith's Start of Darkness.
- Mimpi Metropolitan:
- In episode 5, Heri's photo and name is used for a tombstone when a soap opera crew wants to shoot a scene in a graveyard. Bambang, Alan and Prima think Heri is actually dead and run away in fear when they see Heri again since they think he's a ghost, much to his confusion. Hypocritically, Heri then mistakes a completely normal guy for a ghost too.
- Subverted in episode 57 by a crew member of Ada Azab Dalam Cerita who only thought Juna is a pocong for a brief moment until he realizes Juna is just an actor in a costume. Played straight after Juna is accidentally left behind by the crew and he asks for help from bystanders. The motorcycle taxi driver whom he called drives away in horror and the food seller he met faints (twice).
- The Rise of Phoenixes: Noble Consort Chang sees what she thinks is Ya Le's ghost. It's actually Zhi Wei pretending to be Ya Le's ghost.
- Scrubs: After having spent the most of the day trying to get away from work after Dr Cox pettily has him pulled from his day off, in revenge for his days as an intern, JD attempts to leave the hospital in a bodybag, scaring mortician Doug.
JD: (From inside bodybag) Can you press lobby, please?
(Doug screams and begins hitting JD with a fire extinguisher.)
JD: (Shouts in pain and bursts out of bag) Doug!? Why are you hitting me?!
Doug: (Panicked) Cuz I thought you were a dead guy coming back to life.
JD: (Beat) Then why were you hitting me?!
Doug: Dead people should be dead.
- In The Walking Dead pilot, 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.
- In season 2, episode 5, Daryl is mistaken for a zombie when he returns to the farm from his search for Sophia, bloody and limping. Those who approach him realize it's just Daryl, but he is sniped by Andrea.
- The Bible: In Acts chapter 12, Peter the apostle, who was held in custody by King Herod Agrippa and later freed by God's angel, went to the home of John Mark and knocked on the gate to get somebody to answer. Rhoda answers the door but doesn't let Peter in, telling the others inside who is at the door. They first think she is crazy, then later, assuming that Peter was killed in jail, they said that it must be "his angel". Eventually they open the gate and found out that Peter was alive and well.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- Several old "gotcha" monsters are designed like this. Dusanu look like moldy walking skeletons, except they're not animated by necromantic energy, but the fungal colony itself — for an added "screw you," bludgeoning weapons, usually the go-to damage type to crack skeletons, are ineffective against a dusanu's rubbery bones. A death linen meanwhile looks like a Bedsheet Ghost, but it's actually just bedsheets animated by psychic energy, so attempts to Turn Undead won't do anything (though holy water will at least soak and slow one).
- Formerly-living organic material can be used to craft various magical constructs, from bone golems and flesh golems to the serpentine necrophidius. In fact, this trope seems to have been Invoked by the creators of the shadesteel golem, a fantastic SkeleBot 9000 that looks like a shadowy undead creature, but which actually speeds up and becomes more dangerous when exposed to Turn Undead or Holy Hand Grenade attacks.
- In Fire Emblem: Three Houses, in the Blue Lions route, after Byleth falls off a cliff and goes into a coma for five years, when Byleth reunites with Dimitri, he initially believes that Byleth is a ghost, there to haunt him because he had thought he had let Byleth die.
- Plants vs. Zombies: The almanac entry for Zomboni mentions that he isn't really a zombie, but some kind of a space-ogre.
- In the SNES Shadowrun game, Jake Armitage wakes up in a morgue after surviving an attempted hit, and promptly terrifies two morgue workers who mistake him for a zombie.
- Web Animation Etra Chan Saw It has Yuri being seen pushing a doll in a stroller after dropping off her daughter at daycare, while sick being pregnant. Somehow, she started an urban legend.
- In the Homestar Runner Halloween Episode "I Killed Pom Pom", after Homestar thinks he killed Pom Pom, Pom Pom tries to prank him by appearing as a ghost that's come to haunt him. Unfortunately, Homestar decides to fight back and pops Pom Pom, killing him for real. Pom Pom later comes back as a patchwork zombie, eager for revenge.
- The Spanish-spoken channel Patico De Hule has the Halloween series, children tales about three friends who goes to ask candies disguised as monsters, but they found real monsters (usually being their imagination, but sometimes they're real). One of the tales is "The Attack of the Zombie", in which the three kids get a short cut for the graveyard after getting full of candy. Then they divise a silhouette and they thought it was a zombie after them (in the end it was the graveyard keeper who helps them when one of them get trapped in a hole).
- A Running Gag in the story segments of Terrible Writing Advice has the Ancient Conspirator appear to the characters using his hologram technology, only for everyone to shout and call him a ghost. This annoys him greatly, especially when he had already corrected the characters in a previous video beforehand and the characters are from a Science Fiction setting.
- In a Boy and Dog strip, Rowan gets told a story where a man thinks some villagers are skeletons because they're so malnourished.
- Inverted in Irregular Webcomic!. Paris is a ghost in a Science Fiction setting, so is sometimes mistaken for a hologram. In a subplot in which the ship's power went out, apparently even most of the readers had forgotten about Paris's true nature, as there were heated debates in the fandom about how Paris's hologram could still be on, to the author's irritation. Paris's official character profile currently specifies that she's "Not a hologram, a ghost. Got it?"
- In this creepypasta, what the protagonist thought was an undead monster was actually a terribly injured person that they could have saved.
- Neopets: On the 2022 Festival of Neggs, several Neggs (egg-like fruit) had been drained dry, and there were footsteps, fur, destruction, and luminescent goo everywhere. Several characters wondered if this was the work of a ghost (understandable, since the woods are explicitly haunted), but it was actually a newly-discovered petpet.
- In the Chowder episode "Chowder's Babysitter", a series of events leads to Gazpacho (who was babysitting Chowder at the time) to think that Chowder accidentally landed in Mung Dal's extra-large meat-grinder and that the Chowder that walks and talks perfectly fine before him then and there is actually his restless spirit. They decide that the only way that he could pass on is for him to be flushed down the toilet like a goldfish, Endive's super toilet the only toilet big enough for him to be flushed into.
- Family Guy: In "Boy (Dog) Meets Girl (Dog)", Peter and Lois lead Chris into believing he witnessed the "death" of Arthur Valentine (an imaginary figure they made up for him when he was little), but when it sends Chris into a state of emotional catatonia, Peter tries to convince him that Arthur came back to life by dressing up as him. It works... but now Chris thinks "Arthur" is a zombie and tries to kill him.
- Gravity Falls:
- The pilot ends with Dipper and Mabel freaking out when they come home to find their Grunkle Stan lurching about, moaning about brains, with red stuff around his mouth. It turns out he ate a strawberry ice-pop too fast and got brain freeze, then bumped his shin on the coffee table.
- The plot of the first episode revolves around Dipper becoming convinced that Mabel's new boyfriend, Norman Mann, is a zombie. He's actually a bunch of gnomes in a Totem Pole Trench.
- In the Hey Arnold! episode "Dino Checks Out", Dino Spumoni fakes his death to boost record sales while hiding at Arnold's boarding house and having him collect the royalties. When the rest of the boarders find him, they think he's a ghost and Dino rolls with it. By the end of the episode, he regrets faking his death and comes clean to the entire city.
- Lolita Lolita: In one episode, a burglar breaks into Lolita's house at night while she's sleeping. She wakes up and sees him, and tries to hide from him by putting her blanket over her body. The burglar looks at Lolita and gets frightened, thinking that she's a ghost. The episode ends with him flying out of Lolita's house in terror.
- Martha Speaks: In "Martha Gets Spooked", when Martha the talking dog calls out, "It's me, Martha!" in the neighbours' house, the woman hears her and believes it's the ghost of her great-aunt, who was coincidentally also named Martha and who lived in the house prior to her death.
- In The Penguins of Madagascar episode "I Was a Penguin Zombie", Skipper breaks his wing and is sent to the vet, who puts a green numbing cream on it. Later, Skipper tries to escape, but his body is too numb, and he falls on some talcum powder and gets tangled in gauze. At the same time, the other penguins try to break him out and overhear a medical drama on TV, making them think that Skipper has died. When they then see Skipper limping, with slurred speech and ghostly pale greenish complexion, they think he has become a zombie and run for their lives.
- The Simpsons:
- In the Treehouse of Horror episode "I Know What You Diddly-Did", Marge runs over her neighbor Ned and everyone thinks that he died, but later, he comes back. They ask if he's a zombie and he replies that he isn't. Unfortunately, he's a werewolf. Luckily, the Treehouse of Horror episodes are non-canon.
- Comically subverted in "Lisa the Tree Hugger": Lisa is assumed to have died when lightning hit a giant tree she set up camp on. When she reveals she left that night to stay at home, Comic Book Guy points at her and seemingly stutters out "ghost"... except he was actually just calling her a "girl".
- In the South Park episode "Marjorine", when Butters comes back to his parents after faking his death, they assume he's a Flesh-Eating Zombie. The episode ends with him chained up in the basement as his parents kill a salesperson for him to feed on.
Butters: Can I just have some Spaghetti-O's?
- SpongeBob SquarePants:
- In "Squidward the Unfriendly Ghost", Spongebob and Patrick believe that they had killed Squidward (when really it was just a wax model of himself that he had made), so when he emerges from his bath — robed, covered in talcum powder in a bath of steam — they think that he is his own ghost. While at first annoyed, he goes along with it when they agree to be his servants to appease him.
- In "The Nasty Patty", SpongeBob and Mr. Krabs think they have killed the health inspector and try to hide the body. However, the health inspector was just unconscious from almost swallowing a fly, and when he wakes up, the police think he's a zombie and attack him. He passes the Krusty Krab out of fear of getting hit again. He's then accidentally hit by a door.
- In "Once Bitten", when Gary the snail bites some fish, everyone believes the bitten fish are zombies due to thinking Gary has contracted "Mad Snail Disease". However, the disease is just a myth and their symptoms were all psychosomatic; the reason Gary was biting was because he had a splinter.
- Played with in Steven Universe: Lars early in season 5 genuinely comes Back from the Dead, slightly altered, and starts thinking they've become a zombie. Steven insist they haven't, because they can talk and have a (drastically lowered) heartbeat.
- Total Drama Pahkitew Island: Shawn, who thinks the Zombie Apocalypse is due any day now, does this twice. The first time, he flees from a swamp creature that turns out to be Amy covered in algae. The second time, the other contestants had eaten food that expired thirty years ago, leaving them with food poisoning that made them look and act like zombies.
- Our legends about the undead are this trope being Truth in Television. Some illnesses and poisonings can leave the victim barely alive, and seemingly dead (which is why wakes and vigils were invented). If the comatose victim recovers with brain damage or delirious (as with a high fever), they can fit the description of stereotypical zombies. In fact, this is how the legend of the revenant got started: plague victims who survived and dragged themselves out of the mass graves they were interred in.
- The very term "zombie" comes from a bit of Caribbean folklore where an unethical priest or sorcerer can poison a person with blowfish toxin, putting them in a coma and slowing their breathing and heart rate to make them appear dead. The grieving relatives bury them, the sorcerer comes along and dig them up, administers the antidote, and keeps the now brain-damaged victim as a slave.