Until recently I had absolutely no question in my mind as to why the TV series 'The Walking Dead' was titled exactly that - because of the zombies, you know, corpses that have come back to life and all.

However recently I've started to doubt this. The 'walking dead' when used in a general sense is used to refer to someone who it actually alive... but doomed.

For example saying "he's a walking dead man" would mean that the person is currently alive, but has signed his death wish in some way.

Similarly the phrase "dead man walking" on Wiktionary has the meaning

A condemned prisoner walking to a death chamber or other place of execution. Someone who is soon to die. Someone who is about to face an unavoidable loss (though the person may not realize it)

So could is be that 'The Walking Dead' is in fact referring to the main characters, and reflecting the dire situation that they are in? - Rather than simply refering to the zombies.


5 Answers 5


Actually, the answer to this is probably found in the words of Rick Grimes himself, in 2015, the episode named Them.

[there's a long pause as the storm thunders over them]

Rick Grimes: When I was a kid... I asked my grandpa once if he ever killed any Germans in the war. He wouldn't answer. He said that was grown-up stuff. So... so I asked if the Germans ever tried to kill him. But he got real quiet. He said he was dead the minute he stepped in to enemy territory. Every day he woke up and told himself, rest in peace. Now get up and go to war. And then after a few years of pretending he was dead... he made it out alive. That's the trick of it, I think. We do what we need to do and then, we get to live. But no matter what we find in DC, I know we'll be okay. Because this is how we survive. We tell ourselves... that we are the walking dead.

Daryl Dixon: We ain't them.

Rick Grimes: We're not them. Hey. We're not.

Daryl Dixon: We ain't them.

(italics are mine)

See also this interview with Andrew Lincoln.

In addition, the topic is clearly referenced in Issue 24 of the graphic novel upon which the series is based, as seen in this image.

We are the walking dead!

There is also "the fact that the title clearly refers to both the zombies and the survivors. The zombies are literally dead bodies that walk around (and eat people); the survivors are living on borrowed time, and are therefore, as the saying goes, "dead men [and women] walking"."

[Wad Cheber graciously contributed his time, comments, images and links to improve this post.]

  • 6
    I was going to answer this, but I could only add one minor point to your answer, so I'll let you have it: Rick saying the same thing in issue 24 of the comics upon which the show is based
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 22:22
  • 2
    Well, two things - the picture I linked above, and the fact that the title clearly refers to both the zombies and the survivors. The zombies are literally dead bodies that walk around (and eat people); the survivors are living on borrowed time, and are therefore, as the saying goes, "dead men [and women] walking".
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 22:26
  • @WadCheber With all those elaborations that might still be worth an additional answer, though.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 23:18
  • @NapoleonWilson - He can add it to his answer if he wants to. If not, maybe I'll add an answer of my own.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 23:40
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    @WadCheber I added your image and comments with accreditation. If you want to to open/edit and stick your hoof print on it feel free. Thanks! Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 22:59

Yes. But it's also referring to the zombies.

It's an example of dramatic irony of the most classic type that the title refers in a very obvious way to the fact that there is a bunch of dead people literally walking about the place, but in another sense applies to the people who are not (yet) in that state.

By issue 24 of the comic the writers got tired of being subtle about it and pointed it out. Unfortunately this led to people not getting the irony in the opposite way; one can often read that the "real" referent of the title is the characters, because the over-emphasis on "what is the canon answer about what happened here" is being applied not just to plot points, but to choices of words, as if there is some law that writers are allowed to only mean one thing at a time. (I'm reminded of the story of Joyce being asked by a critic why Ulysses had so many trivial puns, to which he replied in mock shock "what about the quadrivial puns?")


The comics address this very directly, at the end of issue 24 (no spoilers for TV, as I think this is still the prison saga).

At the end of this particular issue, Rick very plainly states "WE are the walking dead", after a brief, hopeless monologue discussing their current situation. He's clearly making a comparison between the survivors and the zombies, as he feels the survivors are similarly doomed and also endlessly seeking something out of their control (in their case, mere survival).

  • 1
    As a side-note, I remember this specifically because it made me put the comics down. I really don't need an author to explain a double entendre by having a character look directly at me and state it...
    – and0
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 18:20
  • You may want to add a summary of what is written in the page you linked.
    – mattiav27
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 18:32
  • Or a screen cap of the panel
    – cde
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 20:04
  • Added summary. Is a screep cap of a copyright work kosher?
    – and0
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 20:07

The title has a double meaning, as the writers and Kirkman have hinted at, and flat out said, numerous times.

On the surface, it's about the "walkers" aka "zombies" "biters" "geeks" etc.

As far as the theme of the series, both show and comic, it's a bit deeper. The title references they (Rick & crew) are the ones who survive amidst all the death around them, knowing that any of them at any time could be next, but they keep going on.

Just like the user above showed, there's two thematic tentpoles in the comics (only one in the show so far) where Rick says "WE are the walking dead" where he explains just that. Then later, he says "We are NOT the walking dead" as the series comes to its conclusion.

It's part of the reason why I liked the show and the comics, after avoiding them for years because I thought it was "just a zombie show". It's more than that, which is why it's a standout piece of modern fiction.


The phrase "walking dead" is also used in S3 E15 of Supernatural, and refers specifically to zombies. The episode aired May 8, 2008-long BEFORE TWD began on October 31 of 2010. Perhaps TWD writers were fans, and decided to use it?

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