Marvel’s ‘What If…?’: What Comic Series Inspired the Zombie Episode?

Marvel’s What If…? has thrown the Avengers into a number of bonkers scenarios, but perhaps none as wild as the zombie apocalypse. Episode 5, “What If… Zombies?!,” shows what would happen if the Marvel Cinematic Universe were overrun by the undead — and well, it’s not a pretty picture. Those watching the episode for the first time might find themselves wondering if the creators were inspired by The Walking Dead. However, there’s also a Marvel Comics series that tackles the zombie concept — and What If…? Episode 5 draws heavily from it.

‘What If…?’ Episode 5 dips into the horror genre

The poster for Marvel's 'What If...?' It shows Peggy Carter dressed as Captain Carter in the front, with T'Challa standing behind her. Zombie Avengers are on her left.
Marvel’s ‘What If…?’ | Marvel Studios

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While the first three episodes of What If…? reimagine major events of the MCU, they do so in a mostly lighthearted manner. Even episode 3, which sees Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) trying to track down who’s killing the Avengers, doesn’t take itself too seriously. However, episodes 4 and 5 push more heavily into the horror genre.

The end of “What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” underscores the terrors that emerge from messing with time and space — something we’ll likely see more of in Spider-Man: No Way Home. However, What If…? Episode 5 dives fully into the horror concept, throwing the MCU’s beloved characters right in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.

It’s a premise that’s as fun as it is gruesome, and it raises the stakes for the franchise’s heroes. And those engrossed in this week’s installment might want to pick up the comics that inspired it.

The zombie episode of ‘What If…?’ draws directly from Marvel Comics

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While the idea of blending the MCU with the zombie apocalypse may sound far-fetched, it’s not the first time Marvel has explored this concept. The 2005 limited comic series Marvel Zombies tackles the same premise — and was popular enough to bring about multiple follow-ups.

During a conversation with io9, What If…? writer A.C. Bradley confirmed that the show’s zombie episode draws more from Marvel Comics than any other installment:

““The fun part of Marvel Zombies, at least for me, was to delve into that initial run. Probably more than any other what episode. We drew directly from the comic for inspiration and for actual specific scenes, because it is so good and less from the movies.”

Given where episode 5 ended things, it seems What If…? will spend another week on this topic. However, those wishing for a more in-depth perspective on how the Avengers would respond to the zombie apocalypse can take their adventures from the screen to the page.

Where can you read ‘Marvel Zombies’?

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Physical copies of Marvel Zombies can be difficult to track down, but those looking to read the comics that inspired What If…? Episode 5 can locate them on Comixology.

Comixology offers single issues and complete collections of Marvel Comics’ popular series. Readers can purchase individual copies, subscribe to specific series, or subscribe to gain unlimited access to the site.

Of course, those who’d rather keep watching the zombie apocalypse on-screen can simply revisit the latest episode of Marvel’s newest series. Episode 5 of What If…? is currently streaming on Disney+.