The Walking Dead‘s long-running trope where different survivors come up with different nicknames for zombies is getting silly in Tales of the Walking Dead. Famously, no one in AMC’s The Walking Dead TV show ever uses the term “zombie” to describe the reanimated corpses lumbering around seeking flesh. Instead, every group develops their own cute nickname for the undead. Rick Grimes and his people adopt “walkers” – the most common term in The Walking Dead – but we’ve also heard “biters,” “empties,” “creepers,” “rotters,” “sickos,” “freaks,” the list goes on…
The Walking Dead‘s long list of zombie names is a brilliant example of fantasy world-building. Where communities are now isolated without any means of communication, they each develop their own vocabulary to describe new phenomena, and only when groups merge do they discover these differences. The Walking Dead is subtly commenting on how survivors without mass media or social structure lose their herd mentality – ironic given the whole zombie issue. Alas, Tales of the Walking Dead episode 1 finally strikes upon the zombie nickname trope’s inevitable drawback…
When Terry Crews’ Joe meets Olivia Munn’s Evie, she calls zombies “toe-tags” in reference to how corpses in a mortuary would traditionally have identity tags tied around their toes. Unique though this name may be, it’s contrived to the point of being distracting. The likes of “walker,” “biter,” and “rotter” are all intuitive, self-explanatory names for survivors to use when describing the undead. “Toe-tags” is the exact opposite. It doesn’t roll off the tongue, it takes a few seconds to figure out, and it definitely isn’t the first name anyone would come up with for a zombie. While Tales of the Walking Dead might argue that “toe-tags” matches Evie’s quirky personality, the name feels more like The Walking Dead working harder and harder to generate new, untouched zombie monikers. Surely, the only reason Evie isn’t using something less awkward like “rotter” or “stumbler” is because other characters already took those.
Why Does No One Say “Zombie” In The Walking Dead?
Wouldn’t The Walking Dead have an easier time if everyone just stopped avoiding the “Z” word? Unlike the live-action TV show, The Walking Dead‘s naming problem is addressed in Robert Kirkman’s original comic books. Rick and Glenn both describe the reanimated corpses roaming their world as “zombies” once or twice, and although characters mostly stick to other names throughout the series, the “Z” word is dropped.
In the Walking Dead‘s TV universe, the “zombie” label isn’t mentioned whatsoever. At 2012’s Chicago comic con, Lauren Cohan (Maggie actress) explained that classic zombie movies like Dawn of the Dead don’t exist in The Walking Dead‘s fictional canon, meaning the word never translated from Haitian culture into widespread usage. This explanation was later cosigned by original creator, Robert Kirkman. Unlike the audience, The Walking Dead characters simply lack a common reference point for what to call these hideous monsters rising from the dead.
Not saying “zombie” in The Walking Dead still works perfectly fine as a narrative device, but Evie coming out with “toe-tags” proves the barrel of alternate nicknames is almost dry. Rather than devising increasingly weird and wonderful titles that sound more like something a writer would write than an actual person would say, perhaps The Walking Dead should embrace the idea that most survivors would stick to names inspired by obvious physical traits like “roamer,” “biter,” or “freak.”