Which Pop Culture Zombie Apocalypse Could You Survive?

Over the years, many zombie outbreaks have broken out across pop culture. The fascination with these brain-devouring, undead monsters continues to spread throughout fandoms. Of course, as media evolves, so do the creatures and the unique storytelling ideas surrounding their inception. Dawn of the Dead, for example, created the blueprint for the slow zombie. Likewise, Nightmare City and 28 Days Later showed us the fearsome faster kind.

So how has the zombie grown? And more importantly, how do these changes impact the type of apocalypse our protagonists find themselves in? Below, we’re breaking down the differences between major pop culture apocalypses. Plus, we’ll discuss the chances of survival in each.

The Last of Us

This video game-turned television series makes great use of fungal horror. Instead of rising from the dead, the Infected are beset by a killer fungus: cordyceps. Usually only found in ants, the virus has evolved to live within humans. It takes over their nervous systems until their bodies are more malevolent mushroom than man. Most notably, there are various stages of this infection, which makes for different enemy types within the game and show. And all you need to get infected is a single bite.

These Clickers, Runners, Bloaters, and Shamblers aren’t the only things to watch out for, however. Society collapses rapidly as the infection spreads in The Last of Us. People form factions, cults, and cannibalistic groups. Unless you have a lot of survival skills and/or a large group of friends, plus a place to hide out, chances of survival are pretty slim.

Marvel’s What If … Zombies?!

Marvel takes a multiversal approach to zombies in the animated series What If…?. Traveling into the Quantum Realm, the super hero Ant-Man (Hank Pym) rescues his wife Janet only to discover that she has some sort of quantum virus. When the Avengers arrive, they themselves are infected. Thus begins a worldwide super-spreader event made far worse by their superhuman abilities. Like, who could avoid getting attacked by an undead Scarlet Witch, who is extremely deadly even without an innate desire to kill?

Here’s the thing. If you’re also a super hero or villain, you have a good chance of beating this like Zombie Hunter Spidey does. People with access to technology and spaceships are also going to make it out intact. Or, you could at least make it out as a floating head in a science experiment gone so right it’s wrong. But you’ve surely got a fighting chance in this animated apocalypse.

Resident Evil

Resident Evil is another beloved horror video game franchise. In it, zombies are present throughout the series as repeated antagonists who evolve and change over time because of Umbrella Corporation’s experimentation. Of course, the Umbrella Corporation started it all with a single, immoral idea: the Tyrant Virus bioweapon. Originally created for the purpose of eugenics and culling target populations, the research shifted toward a virus that could mutate carriers into stronger beings and, eventually, sentient weapons of mass destruction.

While the virus is spread through traditional means, the creatures are anything but. Like most viruses, the t-Virus mutates. It evolves. Thus we end up with antagonists such as the Licker and zombie animals. There’s a small possibility you could endure — about 10% of the population in Resident Evil is naturally immune to the t-Virus. However, pesky Umbrella keeps creating alternate strains. Highly trained S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics and Rescue Service) agents have an advantage in combat when traversing the infected cities, but the viral nature of the infection is hard to avoid.

The Walking Dead

First a long-running comic book series, then a hit television show, The Walking Dead closely follows survivors across years of the apocalypse as society deteriorates — and is rebuilt in unexpected ways. In the show, government laboratory experiments are to blame for Walkers. The comics don’t delve into the origin so much as the impact. Of course, similarities between the two are still going strong, especially in regard to the Walkers’ transmission and reanimation aspects.

Unlike many other viral zombies, TWD‘s Walkers do not mutate and evolve. They are slow and shambling, quite like the Romero era of mindless zombies without acute motor skills. They are more dangerous in large numbers. Ultimately, however, humans are far scarier in this series. Survival depends on scavenging abilities, stealth, and how many people you have on your side.


Pontypool is a Canadian horror film set entirely within a radio station. Although it is unspecified within the film itself, the outbreak is likely related to radio broadcasts. Since part of the virus deals in repetition, any repeated broadcasts would trigger the spread. Because, get this — memetic language turns people into mumbling, ravenous zombies called Conversationalists. No biting required. It’s a totally unique take on the genre that impresses at every turn.

Interestingly, Pontypool’s zombie virus is attached exclusively to the English language. Citizens speak French and Armenian to avoid infection. It is also spread through auditory processing, which means someone who is deaf might not be able to contract it — though that isn’t explored in-world. So, could you survive? Maybe you could beat the monsters themselves, as they are essentially just really violent, brainless individuals. But language is so intrinsically linked to our everyday lives that you would need to find a very quick solution.

Train to Busan

In the South Korean horror film Train to Busan, zombie-ism is referred to as a nationwide epidemic. While the monsters are pretty typical — fast, flesh-hungry, and lacking free will — they are still terrifying. The disease is spread through bites. Things get bloody and the bodies pile up. Selfish humans prioritize themselves, while others must learn to adapt and ally, or perish.

What is most extraordinary about Train to Busan is that we experience the apocalypse in a contained setting. Passengers find themselves aboard a train filled with ill humans who quickly turn murderous. In a lot of other zombie media, the characters have places to run and hide. When your options are limited to connected train cars or an overrun train station, the situation starts to look grim pretty fast.

Which zombie apocalypse do you think you could survive? Share your picks with other horror fans at side.show/geekgroup, and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!