Wrestling Has Always Been About Zombies, Whether You Like It Or Not

Wrestling Has Always Been About Zombies, Whether You Like It Or Not
Image: WWE

After zombies crowded the ring at WWE’s recent Backlash pay-per-view, fans recoiled at the “cringe” inclusion that saw The Miz and John Morrison savaged and eaten. It was as a tie-in for the release of Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead (in which former WWE wrestler Dave Bautista stars), but the outcry labelled it as a travesty and a betrayal of wrestling. AEW’s Chris Jericho even claimed the Zombies Lumberjack Match “set wrestling back 30 years”. But criticisms for the event fail to acknowledge that professional wrestling, including in WWE, has always taken place in a fantasy world.

While recent WWE programming has attempted to buff out the “realism” of wrestling by focussing on athleticism, it’s hard to avoid the fact that wrestling naturally exists in an entertainment bubble somewhere between sci-fi and fantasy.

That’s even before you start discussing WWE’s long history with necromancers, vampires, yetis and zombies.

The rabbit hole gets deeper the more you think about it — but it starts with the existence of “alternate” reality shows like Total Divas and Total Bellas, which exist in opposition to and alongside WWE Raw and Smackdown.

While these shows were originally created to be throwaway reality shows that platformed WWE’s women in a time when they barely got airtime, they quickly evolved into intriguing (and usually entertaining) mini-documentaries that reveal a behind-the-scenes look at the world of wrestling.

But while early seasons of Total Divas focussed on the ‘reality’ behind the scenes and included wrestlers like Naomi (aka Trinity) going by their real life names, later seasons expanded on Raw and Smackdown by exploring how staged WWE angles bled into the ‘real world’ despite their scripted nature.

In one episode of season nine, wrestler Nia Jax gets angry at Ronda Rousey for coming into a wrestling ring and delivering a speech about being the best women’s wrestler around. The speech, like much of WWE’s show, is scripted.

But this episode of Total Divas is presented as reality.

ronda rousey wwe fantasy
Image: WWE

In later scenes, Carmella and Corey Graves discuss the bullying and resentment caused by their relationship, and Carmella breaks down over how she’s being treated on social media. So while Jax is reacting to “fake” events, Carmella is reacting to “real” events.

It’s wrestling, right? You’re not supposed to think about it too hard. But if you do, the ‘realism’ in WWE unravels pretty fast. The only way every WWE show can exist in harmony is to assume they take place in alternate worlds. It’s a stretch, but it’s also the only explanation for how WWE can accomodate worlds where zombies are real and fake at the same time.

It’s on this weird cusp of reality that WWE operates, and why we get things like zombies, demons and vampires alongside relationship drama and hair-pulling.

To complain that WWE Backlash was “too over-the-top” or that the zombie lumberjacks were “cringe” is to deny WWE a huge part of their history, and what makes the shows so fun. Sure, WWE has presented its wrestling as more realistic over the last decade — but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for supernatural shenanigans.

The Undertaker, one of WWE’s most iconic wrestlers, is canonically a zombie who returns from the dead again and again. Breakout character The Fiend is a demonic split-personality of another wrestler named Bray Wyatt. Alexa Bliss has recently been possessed by an evil spirit and has the ability to shoot fire from her palms.

alexa bliss wwe
Image: WWE

Even Randy Orton, a wrestler with a fairly generic “good wrestler” gimmick, has somehow returned from the dead after being burned alive.

Zombies are frankly the least of the issues WWE’s wrestlers face on a daily basis, and there’s far darker beings lurking in the shadows. In this strange, alternate reality, anything is possible.

Were the zombies at WWE Backlash a little bit silly? Sure. But are they setting wrestling back by 30 years? Absolutely not.

Modern professional wrestling shows have never been about wrestling. They’ve been about silly antics, flimsy feuds and (sometimes) heartfelt narratives. They’ve also been about zombies, ghostly possessions, and people having their houses burned down.

It’s time to embrace wrestling as the silly fantasy drama it’s always been, and to enjoy everything that comes along with that — even when it’s zombies. Trust me, it’s much more fun when you learn to let go.


  • “Chris Jericho even claimed the Zombies Lumberjack Match “set wrestling back 30 years”” this is the basis of the article and it was a tongue in cheek joke from Jericho as it was claimed WWE said AEW’s Blood and Guts event “set wrestling back 30 years”.

    Also the main complaint about the zombies is that it was completely promotional, and there was no tie-in to a story that would involve them. It was just a regular match and zombies appeared.

    • I get what Jericho’s comment was in reference to, but he was voicing complaints made by multiple people on Twitter, even if it was sarcastic. You only have to search the WWE Backlash hashtag to find them.

      Also – why not have zombies suddenly appear? That’s a pretty regular occurrence in WWE. I don’t see why it caused such a fuss.

      • Yes it is not the first time zombies have appeared, however there is no explanation, story or character to give reason to them.

        For example if you were watching a Batman movie and zombies appeared while yes there are zombies in the Batman universe there is however no reason or relevance for them appearing during a fight between Batman and The Riddler characters that don’t rely on supernatural story plots.

        • That’s a fair point to make! I guess I’ve just long given up on WWE making much sense – and that makes it a lot more fun to enjoy for me.

  • As someone who has been watching wrestling long before you were even born, It being a pure cross promotion gimmick, something that has NEVER really gotten over with fans, is why its gotten such a response, EVEN BY the former wrestler who is in the movie its promoting…Especially when the last time WWE did an actual zombie gimmick, See the ECW zombie, it was paying out on how stupid the idea was in WWEs eyes.
    And Divas, to any poor soul who watched that and thinks its reality and not still having a lot of kayfabe elements in the show, well….

    • Hey, don’t knock Total Divas – it may not be to your tastes but it’s still a very entertaining show that introduced a lot of people to wrestling and you can glean a lot of behind-the-scenes info from it, even if it is semi-scripted.

      Those early seasons are a bunch of fun, and I’m speaking as someone who generally dislikes reality TV.

      • As someone who really disliked the bella twins and the majority of the talent in the early seasons (pre womens revolution) as well as reality tv in general, The only bits of those early seasons i enjoyed is when it was more comedic and allowing the wrestlers show off their sense of humoir rather than the semi scripted drama and it was just too much pain for me to get to those good nuggets….which is what i could say about Wrestling over the last 5 or so years too i suppose.

    • Yeah, I don’t agree that cross promotion never goes over well. The Muppets crossover was kind of awesome. It’s only the badly executed crossovers that annoy people.

      And I agree completely with Leah on zombies being perfectly OK for the WWE universe (although they could have been executed better). Let’s face it, some of the best angles have been from the supernatural… Gangrel, Christian & Edge were so brilliant as vampires, Sting was so much better in his “crow” persona, and well… The Undertaker.

  • As someone who hasn’t actually watched wrestling in a long time, but still enjoys the discourse around it, I’d argue that the zombies aren’t the problem, it’s short term stunt booking.

    I can suspend my belief that a person who: runs people over, sets them on fire and assaults them with a sledgehammer gets rewarded with title shots as opposed to arrested, because the internal “settle it in the ring” logic.

    Zombies randomly turning up and attacking two wrestlers, only for them to be fine the next week is what breaks the logic and breaks the illusion.

    It would have made more sense to have Bray Wyatt or someone come down with a zombie brigade to terrorise someone only for them to turn on him and drag him off. It follows the internal logic that he’s “a bit spooky” and that sort of stuff attaches itself to him.

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