Zombies have long been a staple of the horror genre. From the slow-moving creatures popularized by George A. Romero in Night of the Living Dead to the feral, speedy creatures found in movies like 28 Days Later and Train to Busan, zombies are typically fearsome humanoids that crave flesh and blood. Even though there are lots of variations among “traditional” zombies like those mentioned above regarding the cause of the outbreak and the behavior of the undead creatures, these TV shows have pushed the envelope even further to create some of the most unique, non-traditional depictions of zombies in pop-culture.
Zombie Butts – Doom Patrol
Yes my friends, you read that heading correctly – this entry is about zombie butts. In the third season of the wonderfully weird Doom Patrol, the superhero group finds themselves in the underworld caught between life and death. During their escape, they are attacked by a servant of Death, who vomits an unknown goo on them that later turns them into zombies. Before the Doom Patrol is cured of their zombieism, they are forced to fight a horde of monstrous butts created by the Bureau of Normalcy as a potential weapon. They come out of the fight victorious, but unknowingly turn a couple of the butts into zombies in the process.
At the beginning of season 4, the crew finds themselves in a post-apocalyptic future caused by the spread of the zombie butts. These creatures are both hilarious and terrifying at the same time. The butts already have incredible agility and a bloodthirsty nature before becoming zombified. Add in their two rows of razor-sharp teeth, and these bizarre little creatures are deadly even without the gnawing urge to consume brains. As zombies, this violent nature is amplified and it’s no wonder the world succumbed to them.
But as scary as they are, they are also living, breathing human butts with legs and hands and everything. Doom Patrol has always done an incredible job of balancing high-stake scenarios with the most insane premises possible, and the zombie butt apocalypse, or buttpocalypse as it’s not-so-affectionately called by the Doom Patrol, is no different.
Resurrected Stormtroopers – Ahsoka
The Nightsisters of Dathomir are witchy force-wielders that were first introduced in canon in Star Wars: The Clone Wars before making their live-action debut in Ahsoka. Using their magick, Nightsisters can teleport, create illusions, influence minds, and even raise the dead. The season finale of Ahsoka isn’t the first time we’ve seen the Nightsisters resurrect the dead to fight for them, but it is the first time we’ve seen an entire army of stormtroopers brought back to life, which is an undeniably cool thing to see.
These stormtroopers are part of Grand Admiral Thrawn’s Night Trooper force, and believe in his cause so wholeheartedly that they volunteered themselves to be killed so that the Great Mothers could bring them back to life. Until Ahsoka, I truly never thought I would get to see zombies in live-action Star Wars, and their connection to the more supernatural side of the Force opens up so many new possibilities for the franchise to explore.
Cordyceps Infection – The Last of Us
While there are many different ways that zombies can be created, viral or bacterial infections tend to be the most popular cause, whether man-made or otherwise. Fungal infections, however, are still a rarity in the genre. The Cordyceps Infection in The Last of Us is terrifying not only because it creates some genuinely horrific creatures, but because the illness feels more realistic than other outbreaks.
For starters, the Cordyceps fungus is a very real parasitic fungus that infects ant colonies and forces them to spread its spores as much as possible. In The Last of Us, the fungus mutates because of increasing global temperatures and is able to survive and thrive in the human body after infiltrating the world’s flour supply. Unlike a lot of zombie viruses, the Cordyceps infection doesn’t kill and resurrect its host. Instead, the fungus feeds on the body of its host and slowly replaces its flesh with fungal plating until the human is no longer recognizable.
The Cordyceps infection also has multiple variations and stages that get increasingly deadly. Those in the first stage still look mostly human, but after years of being infected, the host transforms in a Clicker – a blind creature that uses echolocation to find its prey – and then a Bloater – a towering hunk of barely humanoid fungus that can hurl spore and split a person in two with its bare hands.
Tainted Rations – Community
One of Community’s best parody episodes is “Epidemiology,” a season 2 episode that pays homage to zombie movies, Aliens, and ABBA. Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) tries to save money on the campus-wide Halloween party by purchasing discounted military rations for snacks. The military rations turn out to be tainted and infect the party-goers with a rabies-like illness that seems to turn them into zombies.
While the infection can be spread further by biting, this virus can be killed easily by exposing those infected to cold temperatures. And it doesn’t even take an extreme arctic-like cold to do so. All it takes to cure the infected before they’re lost forever is a community college air conditioner and Troy (Donald Glover) fighting his way through the horde to the controls, wearing an Aliens-inspired costume while the ABBA hit “Mamma Mia” plays in the background.
The McPoyles – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
After traveling outside of Philly to attend Maureen Ponderosa’s wedding in season 8, the Always Sunny gang finds themselves stuck in the middle of nowhere as the McPoyle family that Maureen is marrying into starts to turn feral and violent. Thinking they have a zombie apocalypse on their hands, Mac (Rob McElhenney) and Charlie (Charlie Day) immediately go into panic mode and try to run away.
As the survivors recount the events of the night to detectives, it’s hard to tell what to believe at first. Surely the McPoyles aren’t really zombies right? Even for a show as hilariously bizarre as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, a real zombie apocalypse feels a little too out of character for the series. Thankfully Dee (Kaitlin Olson) is eventually able to shed some light on the situation, and reveals that it wasn’t an undead curse on the McPoyles or the wedding ceremony that caused the family to lose their minds – everyone was just tripping hard on bath salts that were slipped into the milk served in the reception hall. Milk and bath salts sounds like a terrible combination on a good day, but throw in an already strange and incestuous family and it’s no wonder that Mac and Charlie thought they had a zombie outbreak on their hands.
White Walker Wights – Game of Thrones
The White Walkers from Game of Thrones are already formidable enemies on their own, but their ability to add any dead creature to their army of the undead make them even more terrifying. White Walkers are able to resurrect any creature from humans to giants to horses to freaking dragons as an undead creature known as a wight. Wights are zombie-like with no real thoughts or desires of their own and an inability to really speak. They are connected to each other and the White Walkers through a hive-mind, which means that if one wight sees you, then there’s a pretty good chance that other wights and White Walkers will know where you are.
Wights are also fairly indestructible and aren’t taken down easily. Cutting off their head doesn’t kill them (or re-kill them), though they are incredibly susceptible to fire. Like the menial laborers from What We Do in the Shadows, wights are created via necromancy, but they are far more dangerous and deadly. The wights in Game of Thrones are a great example of how to mesh fantasy with horror and the supernatural, and do it well.
Tina’s Zombie Boyfriends – Bob’s Burgers
Tina’s zombie fetish has become a running joke in Bob’s Burgers, and she frequently talks about how watching Night of the Living Dead has inspired some unique fantasies as she discovers her sexuality. This includes an erotic “friend fiction” story that she tells in the season 4 episode “The Frond Files.” In Tina’s story, the entire basketball team is turned into zombies after receiving a vaccine for jock itch.
While she initially runs away from them, Tina eventually learns that she can control them through awkward seductive dancing and flirtatious hair flips, so of course they all become her zombie boyfriends. Instead of attacking humans for their brains or craving the taste of human flesh, these zombies end up solely focused on maintaining Tina’s affection. Zombies aren’t typically seen as sexy supernatural creatures, especially compared to vampires and werewolves, but that doesn’t stop Tina from living her best undead fantasies.
Plant Zombies – Harley Quinn
It’s no secret that the death of his parents had a long and lasting effect on Bruce Wayne. It’s the reason he devoted himself to becoming Batman and trying to wipe out crime in Gotham. Harley Quinn, however, takes his trauma one step further and shows Bruce working to resurrect his parents using Ivy’s plant, Frank and his ability to resurrect dead plants. He’s successful in the episode “Climax as Jazzapajizza,” but accidentally resurrects every corpse in Gotham in the process.
These aren’t regular resurrected corpses though. Because of their connection to Frank and the mysterious plant life-force known as The Green, these zombies appear to be plant-based with trees and vines growing from their limbs. Their vomit causes greenery and plant life to sprout up from thin air, and can also transform regular people into tree zombies. It’s not uncommon for a zombie apocalypse to totally destroy a city, but terraforming it is another story.
Ghoulies – Daybreak
The unfortunately short-lived Netflix series Daybreak, based on the comic series of the same name, is set in a world where a nuclear bioweapon has turned nearly all adults into zombie-like creatures called ghoulies. Most ghoulies aren’t very intelligent and instinctively bite whatever they come into contact with, human or otherwise. While a zombie outbreak caused by a virus is far from a rare occurrence, it is rare that said virus only targets a particular age group.
Zombie viruses usually affect people indiscriminately, unless a character happens to be naturally immune for plot purposes. In Daybreak, however, the virus that causes the outbreak is thought to be a mutated strain of HPV, something that most youth have already been vaccinated against. Vaccines have been created to combat a zombie outbreak after the fact, but it’s not common for a vaccine to preemptively protect a group of people from infection. Ghoulies aren’t the scariest zombies, but their creation and evolution is an intriguing mystery that makes them stand out from other versions of the undead.