A guide to the undead worlds created by Zack Snyder and George Romero


George Romero wasn’t the first zombie filmmaker, but he cemented the zombie movie as a quintessential horror standby in 1968 with his Night of the Living Dead. He went on to become a horror legend, directing and writing more than 20 movies, many featuring zombies and several growing the world he created in Night of the Living Dead. The second zombie movie in his series, 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, was a big hit, and later inspired a 2004 remake by Zack Snyder.

Snyder’s love for zombies and Romero’s horror-defining work comes through clearly in his version of Dawn of the Dead. He builds on that passion for his new Netflix movie Army of the Dead, a zombie heist thriller that fans have been waiting for since it was announced way back in 2007. The film stars Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick and Tig Notaro and more as a group of people venturing into a ruined Las Vegas during a zombie apocalypse, and Snyder already has a slate of spinoffs ready to rip.

So what does it mean that Snyder gave his film a “of the dead” suffix? Is he just paying homage to Romero, or is he saying that Army of the Dead literally takes place in Romero’s universe? While there are stark differences between Romero and Snyder’s takes on zombies, it’s clear the latter takes cues from the former. The zombies in Army of the Dead show the evolution of zombies from brainless and hunger-driven drones to alpha zombies (and possibly robot zombies) somehow capable of organized civilization.

So just how connected is Snyder’s new film to Romero’s classic flicks? Let’s take a closer look.

George Romero’s Zombieverse

There are more than 50 years between Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Snyder’s Vegas camp-fest. But Army of the Dead (and Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake) connects back to Romero’s early movies through easter eggs and themes of found family, loss, trauma, survival and mercenaries thriving under a new world order.

Night of the Living Dead defines the zombie genre by showing mass hysteria, confusion and campy gore as the world slowly becomes overrun by the undead. It follows a group of people who seek shelter in an abandoned farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania and struggle to fend off a small army of undead “ghouls.” Even 53 years later, the creeping terror and splatter gore (it’s chocolate syrup) in colorless 35 mm film is a Romero masterpiece.

A decade later, Dawn of the Dead continues the apocalypse but doesn’t include any characters or settings from Night of the Living Dead. Instead, it follows a different ragtag group of survivors who sequester themselves in a Philadelphia shopping mall, clearing the building of zombies and living a hedonistic lifestyle even as communications and society collapse.

The Zombie Snyderverse

Snyder’s 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead follows a similar storyline: zombie apocalypse survivors take refuge in an abandoned mall, this time in Milwaukee. In Snyder’s attempt to get modern audience excited about zombie movies, he includes plenty of gory terror, suspenseful horror and gun-filled action. There’s even a zombie baby, which is now a Snyder signature.

Then there’s the newly-arrived Army of the Dead, which again redefines zombie horror while paying homage to its predecessors and dropping references that build an unofficial Snyder-Romero undead universe.

There’s no mall or suburban setting in Army of the Dead. This time, the zombie outbreak is “caught” in time and confined to Las Vegas, where untold thousands are turned into undead cannibals. Army of the Dead isn’t about a group of people trying to survive and understand what’s causing the outbreak, but rather a group of highly skilled mercenaries who were part of a failed military intervention to try to save the city. They’re hired by a casino owner to go back inside the walls to retrieve $200 million from the man’s vault before the U.S. government nukes the city.

Like previous zombie films by Snyder and Romero, Army of the Dead has found families of survivors and gun-slinging fighters who thrive in this environment. And once again there’s a zombie baby, though the means by which this one was conceived will surprise you. Oh, to be in the room where Snyder’s is writing this stuff…

A shared Universe of the Dead

The most notable connections to previous Dead movies are the music, an inappropriately funny elevator scene, a headline about a situation in Milwaukee and a hint at the possible extraterrestrial origins of zombies. Towards the end of the movie, Scott Ward (Bautista) and the Coyote (Nora Arnezeder) flee into the safety of an elevator after an all-out gory battle against Alpha zombie Zeus’ army. Almost everyone else they came to Vegas with is dead, and they’re now just trying to make it out of the city before the nuclear missile hits. After the chaos of the battle with the undead, the casino elevator softly plays, “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?” by Culture Club.

A similar scene happens in Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake: the survivors just barely make it into an elevator in the mall as those eerily fast zombies chase them. In the quiet of the elevator, an instrumental version of Air Supply’s “I’m All Out of Love” plays.

Crooning cover artist Richard Cheese makes a return to Snyder’s movies, lending his vocal talents to a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas,” which plays over violent, bloody scenes of the undead taking over the city. Cheese famously recorded a lounge cover of Disturbed’s “Down With The Sickness” for Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead.

As for the Milwaukee connection, there’s a brief glimpse of a headline on a cellphone that reads “NEW INFORMATION RELEASE ABOUT ’04 ZOMBIE OUTBREAK IN MILWAUKEE.” Snyder has said that Army of the Dead is not a sequel to Dawn of the Dead, but rather a tribute to the zombie genre in general. Still, the Milwaukee headline is a fun easter egg for fans to hunt down.

Army of the Dead also gives a bit more credibility to the long-held fan theory of alien origins behind the undead. In Night of the Living Dead, government leaders and scientists say they believe radiation from a recently-returned Venus probe is causing the outbreak of “ghouls.” Army of the Dead kicks off by showing a military convoy carrying classified cargo from Area 51. When the convoy crashes, we find out the cargo is a near-sentient zombie that escapes and infects most of Las Vegas.

Are zombies from outer space? We’ll have to wait and find out in one of Snyder’s planned spinoffs, Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas.

Next. Zack Snyder cut zombie genitalia scene from Army of the Dead. dark

To stay up to date on everything fantasy, science fiction, and WiC, follow our all-encompassing Facebook page and sign up for our exclusive newsletter.

Get HBO, Starz, Showtime and MORE for FREE with a no-risk, 7-day free trial of Amazon Channels