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One of the protagonists has a friend or loved one infected with The Virus during a Zombie Apocalypse or similar situation. In a fit of loyalty, they attempt to keep the poor victim alive and the infection secret, despite the fact that it has been confirmed irreversible by authoritative, bespectacled, labcoat-wearing scientists across the surviving globe.

The victim eventually fully virus-izes, occasionally taking out some of the supporting cast along the way, and the character has a heart-clenching moment where they have to take the victim out like Old Yeller.

It's most commonly the mother, or at least a family member, for Freudian reasons, but don't worry; they don't have anything to do with Oedipus Rex. Generally, there is no one more familiar than the mother figure, so the disappearance of that familiarity - "She's not your mother anymore!" - is a perfect example of the Freudian uncanny (or unheimlich, as he would put it, speaking German and everything). Since the horror of zombies rests already largely in the uncanny (they walk like the living but are otherwise dead), this trope is a perfect fit for the Zombie Apocalypse.

Used only on the cynical side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism.

Compare with Et Tu, Brute? Also see Tragic Monster.

Examples of What Happened to Mommy include:

Anime and Manga

  • In the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion Eva units 01 and 02 have the souls of Shinji and Asuka's mothers in them, leading to the 300% sync ratio between Asuka and unit 02 and Shinji being able to sync instantly with Eva unit 01
  • In the manga Parasyte, the hero hesitates to such a degree that the creature that took his mother is able to stab him through the heart. Good thing he can heal...
  • In the Waita Uziga story You After the Rain, a man is unable to part with his zombified girlfriend and keeps her chained up in his apartment. He feeds her raw meat from a nearby grocery store, but soon finds that he's running out. In his desperation, he unchains his girlfriend and allows her to eat him... while he has sex with her. After he dies, zombie girlfriend leaves the apartment to find more prey, having no memory of who the man was and what he did for her.

Comic Books

  • In the zombie apocalypse comic book The Walking Dead, the protagonists meet a farmer who has been keeping zombies (including one of his sons) locked in his barn, believing they can be saved. Eventually, the zombies break out, and in the ensuing fracas, they kill two more of the farmer's kids. His life sucks: he has eight kids pre-apocalypse and eventually gets down to two.
  • Subverted horrifically in the comic book Pieces for Mom. A couple of brothers are taking care of their undead mother after a zombie apocalypse. They both assume that their father is dead, since he disappeared when he went on the supply run that got their mother zombified, but the younger brother comes across him and a new family, well-stocked and taken care of when he goes on a supply run of his own. Outraged, he shoots both his dad and his dad's new family, butchers them and takes them home to feed to his mom.


  • In the original Night of the Living Dead the unlovable character refuses to shoot his zombified daughter (one of many ways in which he fails the heroes).
  • Shaun of the Dead had the literal example of this trope happen, when Shaun's mother becomes a zombie. Possibly the only thing played completely straight. An unexpectedly heartbreaking scene, too.
    • Even more heartbreaking (and heartwarming) was when Ed was bitten painfully across the neck, and Shaun bravely shouts "You leave him alone!" and charges to his defence.
    • The DVD extras also had a short called "Remembering Z Day" which included an advert for a child who had to "fight off his entire zombified family".
  • The first Resident Evil movie also had this happen with Rain, who turns at the absolute worst moment.
    • Admittedly, though, in this version there was a cure, and it had been administered on Rain. It was just given to her too late.
    • There was also a priest in Resident Evil Apocalypse whose sister had been bitten. His solution was tying her up so she couldn't hurt him, and then killing people to feed and nourish her. By the third movie, we find out the bit where he fed her was pointless as zombies don't actually require the meat they devour. Of course, how was he supposed to know that?
  • Braindead/Dead Alive has Lionel's mother be the first zombie to turn... and plays it for all the black humour it possibly can. Peter Jackson was twisted before The Lord of the Rings.
  • In The Evil Dead, Ash has to kill zombified versions of his girlfriend, his sister, and two other friends. By Army of Darkness, he's gotten completely used to it ("Baby, you got real ugly."). Then again, the girl in Army of Darkness is magically okay at the end of the movie anyway, probably as a consequence of the series moving from straight horror toward comedy.
  • The 2004 Dawn of the Dead 2004 remake has Andre keep his heavily pregnant infected wife Luda tied to a bed and kept a secret from the rest. She dies in childbirth. Andre delivers the baby. When the others finally discover the truth, Andre kills Barb to protect his baby after the former shoots Luda. Anne has to deliver the coup de grace to the zombie infant.
    • In Diary of the Dead, we see YouTube footage of a S.W.A.T. team raiding a house. The elderly owners beg them not to open the bedroom door because (you guessed it), they are keeping their zombified family there. One bites the team leader, who becomes enraged and kills the old couple but deliberately avoids headshots so they will "wake up dead."
  • A cruel subversion occurs in the Australian comedy-horror movie Undead. Towards the end of the film, it is revealed there actually is a cure for the zombie outbreak (distributed by friendly aliens via rainwater), and cured, human-again former zombies even end up dying from the gunshots they sustained from the protagonists during the film. However, the cure misses a single infected man, who ends up starting the zombie outbreak all over again. The film ends with the protagonist forced to round up the zombie villagers in a large outdoor pen and shepherd over them in the hopes the aliens will return with the cure again (which is unlikely to happen, since they have no way of knowing a second outbreak occurred).
  • 28 Weeks Later: In this case mom was a carrier, she had a gene that allowed her to remain sane while infected with The Virus, unfortunately when her husband broke into quarantine and kissed her he became infected and not only killed her but also infected almost everyone else.
    • Let's face it, everything in that film could have been avoided by shooting those stupid children at the beginning.
    • Or by having security measures that wouldn't have ensured maximum slaughter with minimal effort - the movie's biggest head against wall moment was the way emergencies were responded in the colony.
  • Subverted in "The Case", the Amateur Film Within A Film from Super Eight. When the detective's wife becomes a zombie, he manages to inject her with an antidote and cure her without being bitten or forced to shoot her.


  • In Pet Sematary by Stephen King, the hero discovers that dead animals can come back to life if they are buried in the field behind the pet cemetery (the field actually being a Mi'kmaq burial ground) near his house. He tries this when his very young son is hit by a truck and killed. The boy returns as a demonic monster, and then kills the mother. The father kills the zombabie, but apparently hasn't learned, because he then buries his dead wife in the field, too...
    • The thing is that the protagonist is in a trap from the start, there are supernatural forces at play which he makes the mistake of underestimating from the start. His wife has an irrational fear of death (by which I mean she can't even stand to think about it because of childhood trauma), but the protagonist is likewise too scientific about it, too rational, which is the weak spot the Wendigo plays to. By the time he buries his wife, even knowing the danger, he's insane and he even knows that he is is insane. Seeing what his reanimated son did to his mother snapped him.
  • In the novel World War Z, it's implied that this was one of the contributing factors for the quick spread of the zombie virus, often with refugees from Third World countries taking their infected loved ones with them in the hopes of finding a non-existent cure in the more industrialized / wealthier First World nations.
    • Less "implied" and more "openly suspected by one of the interviewees," really.

 Interviewer: The low-income areas?

Nury Televaldi: If that's what you want to call them. What better place to hide than among that portion of society that no one else even wants to acknowledge? How else could so many outbreaks have started in so many First World ghettos? (They're talking about people who paid to have themselves smuggled out of China and into any other country they could get to. Nury dealt mainly with land transportation.)

Live-Action TV

  • Ianto's cyber-girlfriend in Torchwood.
  • Subverted in Dollhouse, where the main characters, in the midst of an apocalypse where people can have their personalities erased and replaced with more violent identities, run across a young girl and her father. The man has clearly had his mind wiped, and it's argued over how they're going to explain to the girl that they have to kill her father, made worse when some of them are attacked. Turns out, the little girl had been wiped and given a violent, older personality, and she'd been playing this trope to her favor to blame the man.

Video Games

  • Likewise, the fourth (technically third) Resident Evil installment Code: Veronica has a scene where Steve can't bring himself to shoot his father, who's become a zombie. Luckily, he snaps out of it and guns down his own zombie-dad just as he's about to sink his teeth into Claire's neck.
    • And Sherry Birkin's story in Resident Evil 2 basically boils down to What Happened To Daddy.
      • He was gunned down by Umbrella goons, injected himself with his own G-Virus, and turned into a giant mutated blob of flesh. Which we then shot, burned, and blew to pieces. Sorry, sweetie.
      • Don't forget that, prior to all of that, he was stalking her across the city with the singleminded purpose of doing something to her that is unpleasantly close to rape. And in one particular scenario, he succeeded.
    • And in the REmake version of Resident Evil 1, we have Lisa Trevor, who spent over a decade being used as the guinea pig for every viral weapon and mutagenic compound that Umbrella could come up with, a situation that her mother was also placed in... for a while. She planned to escape, but succumbed to the first incarnation of the virus (Type-A) and was "disposed of" by Umbrella. Lisa wasn't fooled by the body-doubles of her parents Umbrella sent to placate her, tearing off their faces to give them back to her real mother, wearing them in an insane show of devotion. She spent the rest of her life shambling around the mansion and the grounds, looking for her mother. Near the end, the player uncovers Lisa's mother's remains for her, and she gives a strange show of closure before dropping out of sight.
  • In Baldur's Gate II, Valygar Corthala mentions that he had to kill both of his parents when they turned themselves into ghouls. Valygar is a very bitter man, understandably enough.
  • Tomb Raider: Underworld reveals that Amelia, Lara's mother has suffered this fate.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask a little girl locks her father in a cupboard after he's partially transformed into a zombie-like Gibdo.
    • Subverted in that Link plays the Song of Healing and heals him.
  • In Dragon Age, possible with Tamlen (for a Dalish Warden) and Danyla respectively from the taint and Witherfang's curse, although the Warden isn't familiar with the latter and neither is shown turning - they're run into when they're already beyond help.

Western Animation

  • Subverted in one of The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror Halloween episodes. Zombie Flanders walks over to Homer's house, presumably to eat him. Homer guns him down without hesitation.

 Bart: Dad, you killed the zombie Flanders!

Homer: He was a zombie?

    • A similar occurrence in the next season's Treehouse of Horror when the family discovers Bart-turned-vampire about to attack Lisa. Grampa Simpson immediately bursts in with a stake and garlic.

 Grampa: Quick! We must kill the boy!

Marge: How did you know he was a vampire?

Grampa: He's a vampire!? AAAAAH! *runs away*

  • Spoofed in the South Park episode "Marjorine": To steal from the girls a "Cootie Catcher" they assume can really tell the future, the boys fake Butters' death so they can insert him as a cross-dressing undercover agent. Mr. Stotch digs up the pig carcass that was buried as Butters' body and reburies it in the old Indian Burial Ground. When Butters shows up again his parents naturally assume he is a "demon spawn."
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