For all of the horror and apocalyptic elements that make up The Walking Dead and its creative skeleton, there’s a few tried and true fantasy tropes that similarly help construct the show’s DNA. The extensive world-building over the last few seasons is perhaps the biggest example of this, but it’s also prevalent in the smaller details, like the elaborate names for the zombies that terrorize and devour the living. Most commonly referred to as “walkers” by the main group, other survivors have adopted their own monikers for the zombies, ranging from “geeks” to “lamebrains.”
Interestingly enough, however, The Walking Dead characters have never once referred to the undead as “zombies” once throughout the show’s seven-season run. Robert Kirkman, who created the comic source material, recently reiterated why the show doesn’t make use of the term for the massively popular (though perhaps not as popular as it used to be) show.
During a recent interview with Conan O’Brien, Kirkman explained that the word “zombie” isn’t used in the show because the word doesn’t exist. This is explained by the fact that zombie pop culture never materialized in The Walking Dead’s fantasy (there’s that word again) world. Kirkman said:
"Zombie lore is very popular and we wanted to avoid the notion of, hey, why isn't that character just shooting that zombie in the head because of all those movies I saw? We wanted to give you a sense that the walking dead takes place in a universe where zombie fiction doesn't exist. No one has seen a Romero movie so they can't get the rules from that. We felt like having people not use that word would kind of separate and make it more clear."
This isn’t the first time Kirkman has expressed his thoughts on the usage of the word “zombie” and how it doesn’t fit in to The Walking Dead’s world, but it’s perhaps the most detailed account of why he chose to go a different route. It was probably a smart move, as it let the characters figure out the weaknesses of zombies in a more natural way, adding to the survival-against-zombies elements that dominated the early seasons. Using “walker” or any other name adds to the believability of that world, where zombie fiction never came to fruition.
While The Walking Dead may be bleeding viewers right now, these little touches of fantasy tropes could help the show reinvent itself as it moves on. While the world-building aspects clearly aren’t resonating with everyone, perhaps more time spent on other ways this world differentiates from ours could inject some life back into the show. The comic certainly never attempts this (the term “zombie” actually exists in the comic), but the show has never really been beholden to its source material and expanding outwards starts to feel like a necessary step after a while.
The Walking Dead returns Sunday with 'Hearts Still Beating' at 9pm on AMC.