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Pretend We're Dead

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This took a lot of rehearsal.

"Ok, everyone, into sick formation!"

When characters are facing the Zombie Apocalypse and need to get from point A to point B and the only way is through a mob of hungry undead, what is the proper thing to do? Act like a zombie! Shuffle and moan with your arms outstretched, and if you've got access to some cosmetics, give yourself a pasty makeover. After all, there are No Zombie Cannibals so you'll be safe, right? Just hope that the zombies don't see through your disguise by being able to detect your delicious living flesh in other ways!

Typically, this is a sign that a work is closer to the "comedy" end of the Sliding Scale of Comedy and Horror, since most "serious" horror realizes this ploy is about as effective as putting a mustache on a hamburger. More horror-skewed variants do exist, but the method of disguise is usually far more grotesque and gory.

The Trope Namer is the song by L7, which was used in the trailer for Shaun of the Dead, despite the song having nothing to do with zombies. note 

Not to be confused with Faking the Dead. A Sub-Trope of both Dressing as the Enemy and Sham Supernatural. Compare with Pretend to Be Brainwashed in non-zombie-related contexts, such as situations where a group is surrounded by people who have been brainwashed, body snatched or assimilated into a Hive Mind. Compare with Mistaken for Undead, where it is unintentional.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Accidental example in the second My Hero Academia OVA. When All Might shows up to rescue Izuku, Shoto, Ochaco and Mina from the rest of the zombified Class 1-A and Isami Academy students, his time runs out and he transforms back into his depowered form (which is heavily emaciated due to a Game-Breaking Injury he sustained fighting his Arch-Enemy years before). Ochaco and Mina mistake him for a zombie and run away dragging Izuku, when the zombie horde comes at him, he briefly goes Oh, Crap! before the zombies give him a pat on his shoulder and leave him alone, mistaking him for one of them.

    Comic Books 
  • The Walking Dead is a rare example of this trope being used seriously. Rick and Glenn cover themselves in zombie muck to smell like zombies, effectively becoming invisible to them. They manage to clear out a gun store in the middle of a horde using the tactic. But then it starts raining and washing the scent off.
    • It is also possible Michonne used this tactic by wandering around the Dead States of America with her zombified boyfriend and friend roped to her. In the comic it is unclear if the two zombified sidekicks were able to retain a memory of Michonne so they would not attack her since their jaws were removed to prevent them from feeding.
      • When asked about it, Michonne claimed that she chopped their arms and jaws off as a precautionary measure and that due to their inability to attack her, they eventually gave up on trying.
    • Later in the series the survivors encounter a large nomadic community called the Whisperers who live among the undead by making disguises out of corpses and communicating by... you can probably guess.
  • One of a series of short zombie stories had a survivor act like a zombie to prevent himself from being eaten, including limping gait and dirty appearance. However, it is implied to have taken a serious toll on his sanity as he is not even allowed to engage in the most basic grooming and is forced to kill other survivors with the zombies to protect his cover.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW), when Ponyville is taken over by changelings, Pinkie Pie encourages the rest of the main characters to "clear their minds" and "act like zombies" in order to blend in among these monsters. They manage to sneak by successfully.
  • Judge Dredd: In Dominion, three colonists attempting to escape the zombie massacre perpetrated by the Dark Judges pretend to be one of their brainwashed acolytes to get inside the protected dome where the other survivors are holed up. They're spotted after a while, and only one of them makes it.
  • Crossed: This trope is brought up many times in a largely serious fashion, but varies in terms of effectiveness.
    • In the Psychopath arc, the surviving characters use this ploy to pit two hordes of Crossed against each other, although they smartly do not attempt this up close.
    • In The Fatal Englishman, Father Dennis plans to attempt this strategy to get the kids he is taking care of to safety. Harry and his men explain what he's doing is incredibly moronic and Harry says he has never seen this approach work in five years of survival.
    • In American Quitters, Frank burns the signature cross onto his face so he can make it through a horde of Crossed to kill Zeke the Geek and fulfill Errol's revenge. He manages to get to and kill Zeke but is set upon immediately afterwards.
    • In Quisling, the disrepency between the above is seemingly resolved-Oliver observes a man who survived a car crash make it a number of feet without getting attacked because his forehead is bleeding and the blood resembles the rash that gives the Crossed their name. When he makes the mistake of wiping his face off, the Crossed immediately set upon him. Oliver thus deduces you can fool the Crossed by replicating their rash, but only by using blood-this approach succeeds both times Oliver's group attempts it. Oliver notes that doing this is still highly risky however as if the blood comes from the corpse of someone who was infected but hadn't developed the face rash yet it would cause you to get infected in turn, though this does not occur in that arc.

    Comic Strips 
  • Played with in Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin the Zombie is one of his many alter egos, this one created for the purpose that the undead don't need to do homework. Eventually, Hobbes decides to join in, saying "When in Rome..."

    Films — Animation 
  • Coco: In order to blend in with the Land of the Dead, Miguel has Héctor paint his face to look like a skeleton. Unfortunately for him, it wears off after falling into the swimming pool and he has to be rescued by Ernesto.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Shaun of the Dead has the heroes pretending to be zombies in order to get to the pub. Their cover is blown when Ed gets a phone call. And answers it.
  • In the low-budget movie The Dead Hate The Living, two characters even make themselves up with stage makeup to try to pass off as the undead.
  • In Zombieland, Bill Murray pretends to be a zombie (complete with professional makeup) so that he can play golf, and he uses his disguise to scare and play around with the main characters. His disguise ultimately works a little too well, as Columbus mistakes him for a zombie and shoots him. It's a little strange that the ploy works given the nature of the zombies involved...
  • Happens twice in Dance of the Dead... with poor results.
  • In Serenity, the ship gets a Reaver makeover so it can pass through Reaver-infested space. In this case it works, until they deliberately blow their cover to draw the Reavers after them.
  • In The Mummy (1999), Jonathan tries to blend in with the crowd of mind-controlled minions by walking in lockstep with them and chanting "Imhotep! Imhotep!" unconvincingly. It not only works, but even calms down their possessed rage somewhat.
  • The '56, '78, '93 and '07 versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The alien pod people (who have killed and replaced many humans) never show any emotions. When the protagonists need to mingle with them, they act emotionless as well in order to blend in.
  • In House of the Dead II: Dead Aim (which was made for TV), zombies are revealed to hunt by scent. One of the main characters soaks his clothes in zombie blood to get rid of his scent, and then proceeds to walk slowly through a zombie filled room, trying not to do anything distinctly un-zombie.
  • In Scooby-Doo (2002), Shaggy and Scooby do this to blend in with the possessed tourists during a ritual.
  • In Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D., Tom the constable does a laughably-bad demonstration of this trope, trying to blend in with a group of Robomen who act in unison and constantly falling out of step. Luckily, the Robomen are so severely brainwashed by the Daleks that they don't notice.
  • In the film adaptation of Warm Bodies, lead character R, a zombie, tells his love interest Julie to do this while escaping their hideout. Later on, it's inverted when R has to go through the humans' camp to reach the leader, Julie's dad, without cluing people in on the fact that he's a zombie. Julie and Nora have to put heavy makeup on him in order to cover up his decay.
  • Inverted in the Evil Dead films, which often have Deadites, zombies created through Demonic Possession who retain their intelligence and memories, pretending to be Fighting from the Inside in order to fool the human characters and lure them in.

  • Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? has a group of Zombie Walk participants disguise their smells and attempt to escape the city this way. It seems to be working... at least until one person panics, runs, and gives them all away.

  • In Cell, a one-scene character tells the protagonists about witnessing an attempt by a "normal" to evade a group of "phoners" by trying to imitate their body language. Sadly for her, it doesn't work because the phoners are a telepathic Hive Mind and apparently realized this individual wasn't part of the flock.
  • Dead City: The final exam to become an Omega is passing as a zombie in a gathering of them. An easier task than many examples, because most zombies in this world act like living humans. Also inverted, many zombies disguise as the living.
  • In The Little Vampire, Anton frequently disguises himself as a vampire to be able to attend the festivities of his vampire friends.
  • Played straight and inverted in Warm Bodies where Julie pretends being a zombie while covered by zombie blood that covers her smell and when R the zombie has to pretend being alive inside a human settlement.
  • Subverted in World War Z, where the Quislings (people driven insane by the Zombie Apocalypse who have come to believe that they are zombies, and moan and shamble accordingly) are attacked by the zombies along with everyone else.
  • In Galaxy of Fear a Pseudo-Crisis is formed when people dressed as and pretending to be zombies come at our protagonists, freaking some out.
  • In Doom series:
    • In Knee Deep In The Dead, Fly is caught in the wall to wall Room Full of Zombies and he slowly shambles his way through them unnoticed.
    • In Hell on Earth, the gang establishes that the dumb zombies distinguish living people mostly by smell. They then smear a ton of rotten lemons over themselves, because zombies smell like sour lemon, and safely take a ride on a train choke full of zombies. Well, safely, until one stupid zombie shoots another one, starting grand monster infighting and forcing heroes to escape by roof. Later, Jill the teenager, risks breaking cover with her exaggerated Zombie Gait because she stretches her arms stiff in front of her.
  • The Shadow Over Innsmouth: During his escape, the protagonist briefly imitates the shambling gait of the tainted Innsmouth residents while crossing a portion of town that's too well lit to provide any hiding places. Justified in that the area is mostly vacant and the act is only intended to fool someone who might see him from a distance.

    Live-Action TV 

    Music Videos 
  • In the video version of LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem" Redfoo & SkyBlu have to pretend to be party rock zombies in order to not become party rock zombies. It doesn't work.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Some spells (notably shroud of undeath and undead mask in 3rd Edition) can give any living subject a negative energy aura, which makes all undead perceive him or her as another undead. Nonintelligent undead such as zombies will thus completely ignore said subject unless attacked first. Intelligent undead are initially fooled too, but if no further disguise or pretense is used those can still put two plus two together.
    • The Book of Vile Darkness has the "Lichloved" feat, where, through repeated necrophilia and worse things, you begin to resemble one of the undead. Nonintelligent undead will ignore you completely, while intelligent undead view you in a better light than most breathing creatures.
    • One Planescape module included in the Planes of Chaos boxed set states that if the Player Characters attempt to fool Cerberus this way to sneak past him into the Underworld, it's guaranteed to fail, saying he can smell the living. (Getting past him in order to get in requires a great deal of bargaining, and getting out past him is impossible — he tells them if they manage it that he will not let them — but if they complete their mission, there are other options.)

    Video Games 
  • In Dead Rising, you get an ability to "zombie walk", which allows you to move through the crowds of zombies ignored and unhindered. Later in the final sections of the game, a pheromone is developed that effectively masks Frank and Isabella's scent and from the zombies and repels them. They manage to wade through an entire tunnel filled with them before the stuff runs out.
  • In Dragalia Lost, the 2020 Halloween Episode, "Postmortem Panic," has a magically induced zombie apocalypse from soldiers risen from the Dyrenell Empire. Melsa, dressed up like a zombie for Halloween, finds out by accident they didn't react to her, allowing her to blend in with them despite being a pink-haired bunny girl.
  • Ghouls in Fallout 3 are actually pretty spry, and some are just as lucid as normal humans, so the Lone Wander doesn't even have to act any differently than usual when wearing the Ghoul Mask to fool feral ghouls.
  • You do this at the start of the mall level in Monster Madness, where you have to lead certain zombies back to a leprechaun in order to get the key to the maintenance room. Afterwards, you can do this at will to slip past zombies (although other monsters still attack you).
  • Completing the trifecta, you end up doing this in each season of The Walking Dead (Telltale) as well once you learn that covering yourself in walker guts makes you effectively invisible to them.
    • Lee and Clementine do this in Season 1, Episode 5 in Savannah.
    • Clem and AJ at the end of Season 2, if they are on their own, in a field.
    • Javier does this in Season 3, Episode 5 to get to a generator, so that the noise could distract the walkers, enabling the group to access the vehicles.
    • Clem, AJ and Louis/Violet in Season 4, Episode 3 (whoever you saved at the end of Episode 2) do this as well, to slip through James' herd of walkers and reach the Delta's ship.

  • In The Order of the Stick, Celia has to pose as a Necromancer, which involves Belkar switching from posing as a corpse to posing as a zombie. One of the goblin guards they are trying to fool suspects something — resulting in Belkar stabbing him to death before asking if anyone else feels like questioning what he is. The remaining goblin wisely decides to not ask further questions.
  • In the webcomic Unlife Is Unfair, a character caught by a zombie pretends to be a zombie herself and overdoes the charm a bit, ending up being stalked by the zombie for different reasons now.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: In the Treehouse of Horror III sketch "Dial Z for Zombie", Homer spots Barney eating an arm and exclaims "Barney, you're a zombie too!" to which Barney replies "Naah, but when in Rome..."
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "A Canterlot Wedding Part 2", Fluttershy is approached by a gang of changelings disguised as her, and blends in by mimicking their aggressive behavior.
  • T.U.F.F. Puppy: In a Halloween Episode, Dudley pretends to be a zombie to follow real ones towards the place where Snaptrap, Birdbrain, and Chameleon are hiding all the candy and toilet paper. He befriends two zombies who tell him where the bad guys are hidden.
  • In an episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender, there's a tamer version of this. Team Avatar gets some pentapi (tiny octopi with five arms instead of eight) to leave sucker marks on their necks and faces. To get out of the Fire Nation-infested Omashu, they have to act like they're infected with a virus, persuading the guards to let them out.
  • The Secret Show: In "Zombie Attack", Professor Professor, Yummy Yummy Says My Tummy, Victor, and Anita all do this to get past various U.Z.Z. agents turned into zombies.

    Real Life 
  • Many cities stage annual "Zombie Walks" where people walk like zombies across town.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Pretend That Were Dead


Just Do What I Do

Professor Professor, Yummy Yummy Says My Tummy, Victor, and Anita all pretend to be zombies to get past various U.Z.Z. agents who have actually been turned into zombies.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / PretendWereDead

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