The ubiquitous "gotta shoot 'em in the head" scenario. For many different reasons, The Undead throughout fiction are vulnerable only to Boom, Headshot!. Kinda like how (many) vampires are only vulnerable to getting stabbed in the heart. Fortunately, removal of the head also works on people who are not a member of the walking dead, so you don't have to worry about it going out of fashion as a killing method. This may have a somewhat scientific basis: first, a zombie would have a lowered to nonexistent pain response, and would most likely not stop attacking until its nervous system has been effectively severed since it is dead, pettier issues like "missing organs" or "blood loss" won't be as effective as they would be on the living. Second, mindless though they may seem, zombies logically have to still need brains to command to their muscles to walk, to analyze what their eyes send them and thus know that there is a human to be eaten in front of them, etcetera.
This trope is a consequence of a Cranial Processing Unit. Accepting this rule is often a part of suspension of disbelief.
Subtrope of Decapitation Required. Sister trope to Boom, Headshot! and Attack Its Weak Point but distinct from them; Boom, Headshot! is when a headshot is the most efficient way to kill something, whereas this trope is where Boom, Headshot! is the only way to kill something, period. Related to the Chunky Salsa Rule.
Most songs about zombies tend to lampshade this trope.
- Played completely straight with Highschool of the Dead. Despite believing the entire situation to be insane, like something out of the movies, the characters rapidly adapt. Or get eaten in sometimes disturbingly sensual manners.
- Claymore. Due to Yoma's amazing Healing Factor, a quick kill is absolutely necessary, and even then, it's preferred to completely tear their corpses to bits. Ophelia lampshades this, telling the Awakened who breaks her neck that you need to behead Claymores to be sure.
- In Mermaid Saga, some people who eat mermaid flesh turn into zombie-like monsters and some become immortal. In either case though, the only way to permanently kill them is to decapitate them.
- This is how you kill vampires in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure - the mystical artifact that creates them does so by altering their brains, making destruction of the head the only way not involving sunlight or Hamon to get rid of them. (Decapitation just creates a pissed-off vampiric head, so you have to destroy the head entirely.)
- Played mostly straight in Hellsing. Ghouls will only stop going if they're shot in the head, with which the power of the guns the characters are using, usually destroys the head completely. It's been stated that they will stop if shot in the heart, but we only see it with the vampires controlling the ghouls. Killing them this way is seen as preferable; the victims who become like this had no choice in the matter and are brainless, flesh-eating machines.
- However, piercing his heart, cutting off his head, and sticking a holy blade through his brain still isn't enough to slay Alucard.
- Subverted in Fullmetal Alchemist with the zombie-like "mannequin" homunculi. While destroying their heads does keep them from biting, they stay alive and it's much easier to disable them by injuring their legs.
- Not exactly true decapitation, but the Titans in Attack on Titan can only be killed when they are slashed on the nape of their necks. The Rogue Titan usually decapitates titans with its powerful fists and then stomps on their necks in order to kill them. Later played straight in that slicing out the nape actually decapitates what's left of the human pilot inside.
- Naruto gave us Hidan who, despite being human, uses a forbidden jutsu that makes him immortal and the only way to even slow him down is to decapitate him. This won't necessarily defeat him permanently, as his head can still be reattached by Kakuzu (and possibly other methods). Since Shikamaru left his body in pieces buried in a ditch in the middle of nowhere, his severed head is shouting obscenities until he eventually starves to death.
- In Bleach, cutting off a Soul Reaper's or Hollow's head is about the only way to guarantee quick and certain death for the opponent in question. While weaker opponents can be dispatched with "just" badly mangling them, ones with sufficiently high spiritual power can survive having their entire sides and internal organs blown away as long as they get medical treatment fast enough.
- In Shiki the most effective way to kill the vampires running around is to somehow disable their circulatory system. This means that the best way to make sure they stay dead is either a stake to the heart or severing the head.
- Wen from Cowboy Bebop could only be killed by being shot through the head with a gem that was part of the accident that gave him Complete Immortality in the first place.
- The Ctarl Ctarl from Outlaw Star are Nigh Invulnerable and one of the few ways to kill them is to crush their skulls.
- Marvel Zombies can only be killed by destroying their brains. Decapitation just usually leaves an irritated head and a lifeless body (as shown by Zombie Wasp and Headpool), sometimes a headless body walking around (as shown with Earth-Z's Electro).
- In an X-Men storyline, it's revealed that Professor X had a set of "worst case scenario" protocols to take down any member of the X-Men should they go rogue. The protocol for Wolverine is to use a long-range attack to decapitate him, then separate his head and body to ensure he can't just heal back up. Years later Wolverine kills his arch-rival Sabretooth, who also has regenerative powers, by cutting off his head.
- The best way to put down chupacabra (a race of cannibal demons) in Wynonna Earp is to shoot them in the head.
- In IDW's run of The Transformers comics, destruction of the head or Spark Chamber are generally necessary to permanently kill a Transformer. And sometimes, even that's not enough.
- In the Naruto fanfic Time and Again Naruto fights a rogue ninja with incredible regenerative powers. He's able to take him out of action by cutting off his head, but is savvy enough to watch it for a few minutes afterwards and sees the flesh of the neck wriggling as it begins to try and grow a new body, so he pulverizes the brain, which finally kills his opponent once and for all.
- In Harmony Theory, Nightmare Umbra's undead minions can only be destroyed by crushing their skulls. They regenerate from anything else, including decapitation.
- In Resident Evil: Degeneration, Leon warns the two specialists accompanying him to the hot zone to shoot the infected in the head. Twice. They never listen, and it gets one of them killed.
- George A. Romero's Living Dead Series of zombie movies. The (superficially, anyway) Trope Namer is a newsman who can't believe he actually has to say this in a news report. At least in Night of the Living Dead (1968), the only other option, according to a medical examiner being interviewed in-universe, is to dispose of "all persons who die during this crisis from whatever cause" in funeral pyres within minutes of their deaths. Ironically, the zombies in his films are only immobilised by decapitation. It's debatable whether the heads themselves actually die if the brain isn't destroyed, and as demonstrated in Day of the Dead (1985) it's possible to partially reanimate a severed head.
- Shaun of the Dead is the actual Trope Namer, inspired quote from the Romero movie, right down to the I Can't Believe I'm Saying This, and even actually quotes the trope verbatim:
Jeremy Thompson: It's not something you ever really expect to say, is it? "Removing the head or destroying the brain."
- While not a zombie, the villain in the video nasty Absurd can only be killed this way. All other attempts to stop him just make a mess.
- Subverted in The Return of the Living Dead. The characters assume that they can kill the zombies by destroying the brain, just like in Night of the Living Dead (1968). Nope.
"You mean the movie lied?!"
- Resident Evil. The zombies can only be killed by severing the top of the spinal column or massive trauma to the brain.
- Taught to children at an early age in Fido:
"In the brain and not the chest. Headshots are the very best!"
- Played with in Scream 3. The killer is wearing a bulletproof vest under his Ghost Face costume, so Dewey has to shoot him in the head to kill him. This is after Sydney stabbed him in the chest with a stiletto, giving you a rather interesting take on the "stake-through-the-heart-and-cut-off-the-head" method of killing a vampire. Lampshaded earlier in the movie when Randy, in his postmortem trilogy rules video explains that the killer is going to be supernatural this time around, requiring some special means to deal with him.
- Averted in Outpost. The mercenaries are watching a film from World War II and realise the Nazi commander shown is their Sole Survivor. One of the mercs immediately walks into his cell and puts a bullet in his brain. "Is he dead?" / "His brains are all over the wall. That's good enough for me." Cue Mass "Oh, Crap!" when the 'dead' Nazi lifts his head to look at them and the lights go out.
- In Jason X, Jason is finally put down by having his head blown apart. Unfortunately, they had the misfortune of shooting him into an Auto Doc first, and the damaged machine fixed him up better than new.
- Averted in The Dead Next Door, where both decapitation and headshots have no effect on zombies, and the US government is searching for the way to kill them permanently.
- From all of the Transformers films, you could count every Cybertronian who DOESN'T die by suffering a cranial injury on one hand. It's gotten to the point where it signifies "dead for real", as Optimus and Megatron both came back from other grievous injuries.
- Cutting off their heads is the only way to kill immortals in the Highlander franchise.
- Mythica: Thane instructs his soldiers how to kill zombies, which includes this and burning them.
- In Avengers: Infinity War, Thanoss only true weak point is apparently his head/brain. The Avengers/Guardians came closest to defeating him when Mantis essentially hypnotizes him. Once Star Lord breaks Mantiss control of his mind, Thanos is able to defeat the entire team all by himself. And later, Thanos directly tells Thor that he should have gone for the head.
- In Starship Troopers, the Arachnids can be riddled with automatic fire and have limbs blown off but still be able to fight effectively, but a single shot to the "primary nerve cluster" will put them down for good. This cluster is actually at the base of their "heads". They're Starfish Aliens, what can you do.
- Overlord (2018): In keeping with the usual zombie portrayal, this appears to be the only way of killing supersoldiers except for being burned or blow apart-they shrug off anything less.
- Shooting It through the head seems to be the only way to stop the monster from It Follows. Though Word of God says it survived.
- Zombies from The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z are vulnerable only to headshots because the virus causes radical mutation, making everything but the brain completely vestigial.
- Partly averted. Removing the head renders the zombie harmless, but not destroyed. The head is still 'alive' and can still bite. In fact, the Record Attacks comics recount a rite of passage involving spending the night locked in a room full of moaning zombie heads (the author does note that it's impossible for them to moan if they lack a torso, although it has been suggested the moaning is psychosomatic; it's expected, so it's fervently imagined to happen).
- A soldier also recounts in World War Z how it is entirely possible to shoot the skull but miss the brain and, thus, need more than one headshot to finish the zombie. The author includes this as a warning for people not to panic that the zombie is invincible if one shot doesn't do it... unlike the men in the soldier's squad that day...
- Late in the war the United States developed and mass-produced very simple, and thus cheap and reliable, rifles designed from the ground up to be good at headshots, along with ammo that burns out the brain. Individual soldiers using them rack up kill counts in the thousands.
- Some Warhammer novels dealing with The Undead-and indeed, the Vampire Counts Army Book- state that only a headshot dissipates the Black Magic animating the corpses. You'd think that'd affect your chance to wound them...
- The Vampire Counts book, however, suggests that when you "wound" a zombie, you're actually smashing it into enough pieces that it can't do anything - which, given the state of decay involved in one of these things (they're literally held together with fence posts and nails), is easier than you might think.
- Decapitation is actually the only way to kill a vampire in Bram Stoker's original Dracula. (Buffy-style staking is kind of a Plot Tumor of the Dracula-derived vampire mythos; driving a stake through the heart is used to immobilize the vamps in Dracula so it's easier to take the head off.)
- In the even earlier vampire novel Carmilla they took it a step further and cremated the vampire's remains after impaling and decapitating her, then scattered the ashes in running water.
- Lampshaded in Brains: A Zombie Memoir.
- In Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire, Kenspeckle Grouse mentions that decapitation is one of the few methods of killing a vampire that is effective and not pure fiction - he then adds that, in fairness, decapitation is effective against most things. Surprisingly, it's shown three books later that cutting off a zombie's head will not kill it. The body will stop working, but the head can last and keep talking for years.
- Averted in Counselors and Kings- it's explicitly stated that removing the head does not destroy a zombie, though it does blind and deafen it (since the now-headless undead has no eyes or ears). Magic or completely destroying the corpse (through dismemberment or fire) is what kills it).
- In The Forest of Hands and Teeth, zombies can only be killed by chopping off their head.
- Averted in A Song of Ice and Fire: the only way to destroy a wight is to chop them into little pieces (just dismembering them is not enough, the severed limbs will come after you) or burn them.
- Not a zombie, but in Galaxy of Fear, Ultimate Life Form Super Soldier Eppon, which was developed with a zombie-making project among others, has a Healing Factor that lets it shrug off any wounds... except the bomb in its head. The Stinger at the end suggests that even that isn't enough.
- The earlier zombies weren't even slowed down by a barrage of blaster fire, presumably including some headshots, only thing that could kill them was a compound designed to counteract the reanimation serum.
- In Warm Bodies, any human not "debrained" comes back as a zombie. Brains are, however, a zombie's favorite part, so humans that rise from zombie bites require the attacker to be somehow prevented from doing so.
- In the Web Serial Novel The Zombie Knight, it is stated that the zombified protagonist's weak point is his brain. He doesn't stay dead, because at least for him, Death Is Cheap, but in practice, reviving costs time and there are may be other tragic consequences.
- Interestingly enough, to actually get rid of a servant, you have to avert this trope. No matter how thoroughly you kill them, as long as their reaper is alive, a servant can always regenerate. Aside from taking out the reaper, the only way to disable a servant permanently is to put the servant's Brain in a Jar so the reaper can't regrow their body or respawn them someplace else. It also has the added benefit of the servant being unable to communicate with their reaper and tell them their position.
- In Undead on Arrival, it's a specific part of the brain. They don't think, so they don't need the front, they don't remember so they don't need the top, but they can bite. So to kill that zombie variant, you have to destroy the reptile part: the medulla.
- The Sandman Slim novel Kill the Dead has a variant. Permanently killing a zombie requires the removal of the entire central nervous system.
- Those infected with the Shaod in Elantris can only be killed by removing or destroying the head.
- In The Golgotha Series, the Tainted can shrug off most wounds; one of the only ways to put them down is a gunshot to the head.
- In the Ciaphas Cain novella "Old Soldiers Never Die", the revenants created by the Plague of Unbelief keep going until/unless their spinal column is severed. (Or the whole body is destroyed by flamers.) Justified in-universe in that the Chaos-tainted virus is able to electrically stimulate the brainstem ... but can't remote-control a body that's been detached from its head.
- Eden Green plays with this by making head/brain destruction the most effective way to take out a needle-symbiote-infected human... temporarily. When their brain grows back, they may be docile and amnesiac for a time, but once they learn what was done to them, they won't be happy.
- Those are the only ways to kill undead in Sergey Lukyanenko's Quazi. This applies to both the Risen (mindless zombies) and the Quazi (those Risen, who have managed to restore their sanity and become thinking beings again). Both types of undead are extremely tough, although a bullet to the head or a complete head removal will work. Breaking the neck will only slow them down for a minute before their Healing Factor repairs the damage. The protagonist habitually carries a machete along with his sidearm and has grown adept at cleanly removing Risen heads with a single blow.
- The Stormlight Archive: In a rare non-undead example, a Knight Radiant can only be killed by a blow to the head. Anything else, up to and including being stabbed through the heart or having part of their soul cut off, they can recover from with sufficient Stormlight.
- Geeks in The Walking Dead; downplayed when the group cuts the head off a walker, but the head is still alive. Daryl comes along and shoots the head and comments that only a headshot through the brain will put them down. This is also true in the Graphic Novel series it's based on. This occasionally crops up later in the series where a severed Walker head is still "alive", but as a disembodied head isn't a threat it can be ignored.
- Later on in the series, Philip Blake finds himself having to explain this to someone who doesn't understand why shooting them in the chest hasn't been working for her.
- In Supernatural, you kill a vampire by beheading it. Leviathans can be incapacitated through decapitation, although the head must be kept away from the body, lest it reattach.
- Some demons in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Vampires can be killed this way, but they are usually staked in the heart and can also be offed by sunlight or holy water. Dracula is the exception among vampires that plays this trope straight: he is able to reconstitute from the ashes after being dusted, but in the comic continuation it's revealed the only way to permanently kill him is by decapitating him and burning the head and body separately.
- The Community episode "Epidemiology" has an outbreak of zombies. Chang shouts "You have to destroy the brain!" after Rich and Britta turn into zombies while in their safe area. Unfortunately, his attempts to follow his own advice directly lead to a broken window (breeching their own defenses) and allowing the zombies to grab and infect Annie.
- In the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "Beginning of the End", Garrett helpfully points out that he isn't dead yet since Mike Peterson didn't cut off his head. While Garrett is gloating about how invincible he is, Coulson uses a disintegrator ray to destroy Garrett's brain, along with the rest of him.
- The Hand has the ability to resurrect people from the dead. As people like Nobu from Daredevil (2015) and Harold Meachum in Iron Fist (2017) show, Hand zombies can only be permanently killed off by decapitation.
- Averted in Torchwood: Miracle Day. The premise of the mini-series is that no-one is dying, anywhere in the world. A suicide bomber is still alive despite being, well, exploded. Jack Harkness suggests that they cut off the head to see if it'll still live. They do so, and it looks like the bomber is finally dead... And His Eyes Open.
- In Heroes, it's the only way to kill someone with Rapid Cell Regeneration, unless you can De-Power them. If impaled through the brain, they'll stay dead until the impaling object is removed and shooting them through the head kills them permanently.
- In Altered Carbon, nearly everyone has their memories and personality stored in a stack in the back of their neck and can be transferred into a new body after death as long as the stack isn't damaged. Though the super rich have their memories beamed up to a satellite every 48 hours.
- In the Doctor Who episode, The Magician's Apprentice, Missy suggests that the best way to kill her so that she doesn't regenerate, is getting three snipers to shoot both hearts and her brain stem at the same time.
- In iZombie, destroying the brain is just about the only way zombies can be killed.
- Creature Feature's "Aim for the Head".
With a loaded gun
And a steady hand
We can make it through this
If you kill the brain
Then you kill the ghoul
And its motor functions
- IZA has a song with the same title and premise.
- "Kill the Zombies (By Shooting Them in the Head)" by Songs to Wear Pants To.
- "Go Zombie" by Zombie Girl repeatedly suggests you do this.
- "If You Shoot The Head You Kill The Ghoul" by Jeffrey Lewis.
- In Bleak Expectations, Victorian schoolchildren apparently have a nursery rhyme on the subject;
Ripely: "Undead Georgie felt no pain,'Til Isabella destroyed his brain!"
- In Dungeons & Dragons:
- Averted in the first three editions, where undead (including zombies) are immune to the bonus damage from Critical Hits, since they are sustained by supernatural forces and don't rely on any particular body parts to function. This even applies if they suffer automatic decapitation from a Vorpal Blade.
- In 4th Edition, a critical against a zombie is a One-Hit Kill, in a nod to this trope. The increasing prevalence of zombies in popular culture in the time between 3rd and 4th Editions was very likely the influence for the change.
- In Vampire: The Requiem, vampires' Healing Factor can restore them from anything short of Final Death (which usually takes fire, sunlight, or a lot of punishment), but decapitation is instantly lethal. One vampire comments on the oddity of being vulnerable to decapitation even though she functions just fine without her brain.
- In Red Markets Vectors can be killed in any of the same ways as an uninfected person, but if their brain is left intact the Blight forms a new neural nexus in it and reanimates the corpse as a Casualty in a couple days. Casualties do need a headshot but at least theyre slow.
- The Resident Evil games zig-zags the trope, but until a certain point, it's played straight with T-Virus zombies (there's even a note in one of the mansion's rooms explaining this, adding that incineration is another way to keep the zombies down). Shooting them or their crimson heads "evolutions" anywhere else on their bodies does take them out of the fight for a good while, but only until they mutate to the next form. The crimson head's next form, the Licker, averts it quite spectacularly, in the sense that its (fully exposed) brain isn't even a weak spot - its (also exposed) heart is.
- In Resident Evil 2, Chief Irons calls this trope out nearly word-for-word in regards to the mayor's daughter, an apparent zombie victim killed by Irons himself; he just blamed the zombies.
- This actually gets subverted in Resident Evil 4 and 5. The "zombies" of the game, the Ganados/Majini can often be stunned by shooting them in the head, but doing so brings risks. Namely, destroying their heads may release difficult to kill Las Plaga, some of which can kill the hero in one hitnote . The best option is to shoot them in the body, legs or head once to stun them, then use melee attacks.
- Headshots aren't the only way to kill the Molded in Resident Evil 7: biohazard, but it's definitely the best and most ammo-efficient way, as they can take a surprising amount of lead to the body before succumbing (think one shotgun shell to the head vs. five or six to the torso).
- Actually defied in the Resident Evil 2 2019 remake or at least what we've seen so far from the demo. Shooting a zombie's head with a handgun is no longer a One-Hit Kill; the shotgun produces more reliable results but even then it isn't a guarantee.
- Headshots CAN still instakill a zombie in the remake. However, for this to happen you have to get a lucky critical hit. This can happen with any weapon, even the basic handgun, but more powerful guns have a higher chance. Anything short of the entire head exploding does no more damage than a body shot. The best way to deal with zombies in the remake is by shooting them in the legs. Blowing off a leg makes them unable to walk, they can only crawl pitifully slowly, making them easy to finish off with a knife. They can't attack you if they're on the ground and you're behind them.
- Stalfos in The Legend of Zelda games. However, in some games, the only way to kill Stalfos is by using bombs (in order to shatter their bones).
- The zombies in Cold Fear. The Exocell parasite nests in the cranium, feeding on the brain.
- Dead Space:
- Subverted with most of the Necromorphs: a headshot alone will not kill one unless you've cut off at least one other limb, and on harder difficulties, not even then. One of the gameplay features is called "strategic dismemberment", where removing or destroying certain parts has different consequences, depending on the Necromorph. For all intents and purposes the head counts as another limb you can dismember, and it has an effect: the monster will lose all sight and attack blindly.
- Played straight with certain Necromorphs, who either counts dismembering the head as enough "limbs" to cause it to drop dead, or it's head is the only piece that you can dismember safely (the Infector and Crawler respectively).
- In Dead Space 3 there's a new enemy called the Creeper, which is a disembodied zombie head that pilots a dead space marine body. These are one of the few neromorphs who consider the head as a One-Hit Kill.
- The zombies from the Half-Life franchise are best dealt with this way. Although damage to the body will severely wound them, they never truly are down until their Headcrab parasites are bleeding yellow.
- Minor zombies in the House of the Dead series can be taken out like this. Bosses have their own weak points (although some are in the head).
- Touted by some humans in Fallout 3 on how to kill ghouls ("zombie" being used as a slur for ghouls), even though they die from normal damage just like any other creature would. One particular ghoul wants you to kill certain anti-ghoul humans, and will pay you more for killing them with a head shot.
- Invoked in Eternal Darkness with Ulyaoth-aligned Zombies. One has to decapitate them or they will start singing and explode]]. However, zombies of all four Ancients will still fight without their heads (and will be momentarily stunned, comically patting their neck stump as if to say "Oi, who turned off the lights?"). Chattur'gha zombies will eventually regenerate their head and Xel'lotath's zombie will instantly produce a ghostly head in the original's place; that said, aiming for the noggin is a guaranteed way to deal good damage to them.
- Used in the final boss battle in the Marine storyline for Aliens vs. Predator (2010). The boss is a Synth and you're in a Quick Draw duel against him; shooting him anywhere except the head won't kill him before he blows your brains out.
- Triple Subverted in Plants vs. Zombies. Zombies, when decapitated, need one more shot to kill them... or just a few seconds, and then the body falls down by itself.
- Not a zombie example, but in Star Trek: Bridge Commander, destroying another ship's bridge (which can be considered a brain), will cause the entire ship to explode, even if the rest of the ship was fully intact. This is subverted with Klingon ships, as it's very easy to blow off the front of it and would be game-breakingly easy to defeat them. Though you have to wonder who's flying the thing...
- In the first game, getting a headshot is necessary to kill zombies. Get a bodyshot and they'll just come back to life a few seconds later. Averted in multiplayer mode, where every enemy can be unlocked and played as, but are mechanically identical.
- In Time Splitters 2, the quickest way to kill a zombie is to shoot off its head.
- Subverted in the second and third games' multiplayer modes. Zombie characters have the unique ability to continue fighting without their heads if they still have health remaining, and lose their head after a single headshot from any weapon. Headshotting a zombie character with a low powered weapon on multiplayer can make them tougher to kill.
- Zig-Zagged in Halo with regard to the Flood Combat Forms. After becoming Flood, the head is useless and they can lose it with no real problem. But the vital zone is their chest, where the Infection Form is. After having their chest destroyed, the Combat Form is effectively killed... until another Infection Form comes along and reanimates it. The only way to ensure no reanimation is to destroy the corpse (most efficient way is to burn it, but continually shooting/meleeing it also works).
- That said, a headshot to a fallen Flood Combat Form in the first game was the quickest way to make sure a 'dead' Combat Form wouldn't rise back up to attack the player from behind.
- Invoked in Urban Dead; zombies killed by headshot take a 5 AP penalty to their "Stand Up" ability.
- Invoked in the Borderlands DLC "The Zombie Island of Doctor Ned". True to their humanoid shape, the zombies' weak point is the noggin. Granted, this is also true of every human enemy.
- In some installments of Castlevania, Dracula(s first form) has to be hit in the head to cause damage.
- Averted in Doom 3. Headshots do cause a good amount of extra hurt on everything, including zombies. However, body shots work just fine, and some zombies don't even really have heads to begin with.
- This is notably not required in Left 4 Dead or Left 4 Dead 2, unless you active the Nintendo Hard "Realism Mode" where only headshots kill. This makes sense because the Infected are Technically Living Zombies.
- In the Fallout: New Vegas DLC Dead Money, the Ghost People do not die unless one limb is destroyed; it doesn't have to be the head, though it's undeniably convenient. If not killed in this manner, they just revive with full health within a minute. Fortunately, you can still amputate during this period. If you have the super-mutant Dog with you, he can eat them instead, which is also a permanent death, and can teach you to kill them without needing to take a limb. Amusingly, the "Bloody Mess" perk, which greatly increases the chance of Ludicrous Gibs and is usually just a cosmetic effect (aside from a small damage boost), becomes highly useful in Dead Money since its triggering will put down a Ghost Person permanently.
- In Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army, if a zombie isn't killed by a headshot, it has a chance of rising again after a few seconds. Headshots are also instant kills on the most common enemies, so it's in your best interest to aim for the head as much as possible so as to conserve ammo. There are also minibosses and bosses who can only be hurt by headshots; naturally, they take a whole lot of headshots to kill.
- Dwarf Fortress undead need to be beheaded or bisected to kill them.
- The zombies in Postal 2: Apocalypse Weekend will live as long as their head is not destroyed by the sledgehammer or the shotgun. Comedically, the game is very specific that the head must be destroyed. If you simply chop it off with a bladed weapon, the zombie body will still be walking around and attacking just fine while the head rolls around on the ground.
- The Zombie Horde boss in Dawn of the Dragons has the individual zombies moan "brains" at you. When your character asks The Necromancer who is currently guest-starring if they want to eat your brains, she explains that zombies are actually Apologetic Attackers and that they're trying to tell you "destroy our brains".
- In Contagion, taking a headshot from a bullet or charged melee weapon will drop anyone, zombie or not. Headshots are critical since zombies take an impractically large amount of torso shots to bring down.
- Downplayed in The Last of Us; the Infected are most vulnerable in their heads, since the fungus that takes over and sprouts from their brains renders their skulls somewhat fragile, but enough shots to centre mass will do the trick as well. Most of Joel's mêlée takedowns on Infected have him either bashing their heads open against a hard surface (or with his weapon if he's holding one) or stomping on them. It seems as though gunshots to any part of the body can kill an Infected, but anyone hoping to take one out with a mêlée weapon or bare hands needs to aim for the head.
- Zigzagged in Plague Inc.. Necroa cannot reanimate headless corpses until you evolve Cranial Metastasis; which causes brain tissue to develop in the chest cavity. Another symptom causes the skull to thicken, making it harder for survivors and Z-Com/ Blackwater soldiers to kill them by headshot.
- Destroying the brain is the only way to kill a walker in The Walking Dead. The only way; not even the other half of the trope will suffice, as you'll find out if you look inside the Stranger's duffel bag after his death in Episode 5 of Season 1
- In Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, an Uruk Nemesis has a chance to "cheat death" and come back to torment you unless you decapitate them (and decapitation is the only way to make sure a Nemesis with the title "the Unkillable" stays dead). In the sequel Middle-earth: Shadow of War, even this might not stop them, as they can come back as Frankenstein's monster-like beasts with their heads stitched back on, or as the undead.
- Both lampshaded and averted in The Adventures of Wiglaf and Mordred. One character (Gawain) is a Revenant, an intelligent zombie. The first thing that happens to him is a headshot. Arthur, who witnessed the event then calls foul claiming Gawain can not possibly be a zombie — only to be corrected:
Arthur: You're not a zombie. Everyone knows you take them out with a shot to the head. And you're still standing.
Gawain: Have you ever killed a zombie?
Gawain: Met one?
Gawain: Then, how exactly do you know that actually works?
- In Stand Still, Stay Silent the only sure way to kill troll, beast or giant is to destroy it's brain. Then again, Viral Transformation makes it problematic to say where the brain is, and giants are Bodies Of Bodies...
- In Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures, when Lorenda asks Abel and Jyrras what they know about the undead.
- Cyanide & Happiness made a joke about killing Zombie Jesus this way.
- In The Zombie Hunters, this is accepted zombie-killing procedure. Justified since the Zombie Apocalypse has been going on for several years now.
- Averted in the "Special Halloween episode"note for Blade of Toshubi.
- The zombie wranglers of Zombie Ranch declare the front part of the brain "don't matter", but that destroying the rest is a sure way to put a zombie down or prevent an infected person from turning. If you stay away from the brain you can kill an infected person and they'll still rise again later, which leads to this fateful decision.
- Subverted in The Order of the Stick, when Roy decapitates an undead dragon. Xykon points out that he controls it with his mind and it doesn't need eyes, ears or a brain to follow his commands. In fact, the main thing Xykon is annoyed by is that the dragon no longer has teeth to bite with.
- In El Goonish Shive, Grace's plan for dealing with zombies is to decapitate them with a 4ft claymore.
- While a Wooden Stake or wooden shafted arrow through the heart also works to take down vampires most of the hunters in Here There Be Monsters prefer this method of dealing with them since it allows them to use guns.
- Subverted in Baskets of Guts, since The Undead cannot be really killed again, save for killing the one who raised it. This is a nasty surprise for those who rely on this trope.
- In Heartcore, the brain is one of a demon's two weak points, the other being their heartcore. Destruction of either organ is the only way for a demon to truly die.
- Invoked in Tasakeru. During a fight with a Made of Iron Revenant, Commander Nadeshiko wonders how invincible he'll be with a split skull. She doesn't get a chance to find out.
- Discussed almost like a mantra in After Hours when the gang discuss zombies. Subverted by Katy, who's apparently unfamiliar with the rule and mumbles something ending with "... extract Brian."
- In this Imgur post, entitled "For Any Aliens Out There..." humans are said to be able to keep fighting though gunshot wounds and severed limbs, and to always go for the head, citing Heroes and the Black Knight as a reference.
- "Wendigoes" in The Cartographer's Handbook (it's set near the end of the American Civil War, so "zombies" aren't the first thing to come to mind) can be killed by shooting them a whole bunch elsewhere, but since The Virus is spread so very readily (and induces insane violence in its victims), Cartographers prefer head or heart shots
- Episode 2 of Missing Reel, "Zombies!", since it emphasizes how Night of the Living Dead (1968) established the "aim for the head" method of killing zombies.
- Mophir's tips for dealing with Demonic Possession by an Artifact of Doom in Justice League:
The Flash: How do we fight it, or them?
Mophir: Two ways. Pure light from Mophir's gem drives evil spirits back into Dark Heart.
The Flash: Great. What's the second way?
Mophir: Separate host head from body.
- He is rather fond of method #2.
- Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Frylock is forced to decapitate a zombified Shake.
Frylock: I'm sorry you had to see that, Meatwad. But in order to kill a zombie, you have to separate the brain from the spine.
Headless Shake: Hey I just heard, like, a pop. Did you guys hear that?
Frylock: (throws away axe) Goddamn Wikipedia!
- Transformers: Prime: After accidentally creating a vampire/robot/zombie, Knock Out suggests this to Starscream, since he has seen human horror movies. However, since the Decepticons are not organic, it doesn't work.
- In one episode of The Cleveland Show, Cleveland Jr. acknowledges that he'll have to do one of these in the event that his birth mother Loretta comes back as a zombie.
- With one exceptionnote , either of these methods will kill any animal you could possibly encounter in real life note . (Effect may be delayed in some insects and crustaceans.)
- Interestingly, in some insects, such as the cockroach, the only reason decapitation eventually kills them is that they eventually starve to death. No head means no mouth.
- This is because insects have a distributed nervous system. Rather than a single brain, the nervous system of insects uses ganglia which are distributed throughout the body. Effectively a number of subprocessors working in concert rather than a single CPU, it means that damage to any one ganglion, even the one in the head, isn't sufficient to cause a catastrophic shutdown right away, an extremely useful survival adaptation. note
- While effective against animals, this is sometimes inadvisable; for example, shooting a rabid animal in the head creates a risk of exposure to the virus via airborne brain tissue.