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In Defence of a Zombie-Free Apocalypse – Part Two: The Rest!

And we’re back. Last time we explored how vampires, werewolves, and ghosts have so much more potential to create an exciting Apocalypse scenario than just rehashing all those rotten old zombie tropes.

Now it’s time to look at a bunch of the less obvious creatures to see if they’d be any good at bringing down human civilisation.

Mermaid Apocalypse

Ok, just go with me on this.

Stranger Tides Mermaid by Aaron McBrideNo, I don’t see The Little Mermaid as a danger to humankind. But Ursula the storm-summoning, curse-chucking, Sea-Witch could definitely have been a problem if she’d been more interested in the business of us two-legged types and less bothered about getting her revenge on King Triton. But then, the classic mermaid has started to evolve into something a little more dangerous than Ariel in recent years. The TV series Grimm had an episode about angry mermen committing honour killings against human men that dared to mess with merwomen. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides features seductive mermaids that turn into aggressive fanged monsters with a very literal penchant for man-eating. And in 2017 mermaids got their very own horror film – The Lure, in which one mermaid had fairly traditional motivations while her sister preferred to dine on the hearts of men.

So, mermaids can be frightening but are they really world-beaters? Couldn’t we just stay off the beaches until they all get bored and go away? Well, leaving aside the catastrophic effects that an end to international shipping would have on the global economy, mermaids have a ton of nasty tricks up their sleeves.

They are well known for being able to take on human form.
So, infiltration is entirely possible, not to mention the seduction and/or replacement of key military and political figures in the human world. Even if the merfolk themselves can’t do this without the help of a handy sea-witch they could always sub-contract the work out to selkies. Selkies can switch between seal-form and human-form at will and are known to be attractive and cunning.

Nuliajuk by betta-girlThey may be descendants of actual gods.
Various ancient Greek deities that were supposed to have pre-dated Zeus and his crew of Olympians sired thousands of sea nymphs, which is as good an explanation as any for where you get half-human half-fish people. And you wouldn’t believe how many other water deities from various cultures are clogging up the seas; there’s Arnakuagsak, Faumea, Mazu, Tiamat, (before she went off to become a D&D dragon goddess), and dozens more. It’s a wonder there’s any room left for conventional sea-life. So even if the population of the oceans didn’t have some divine heritage themselves they could at least call on their godly neighbours to whistle up a hurricane or two for them.

They probably keep sea-monsters as pets.
Think of all the gigantic monsters that are supposed to be lurking somewhere in the depths of the sea. Leviathan, Cthulhu, Jörmungandr, Ceta, Dagon and of course the almighty Kraken. Those guys know how to throw an Apocalypse!

They’re most likely friends with actual fish-people.
You know, those folk that have fish-like bodies but still manage to have two legs for some reason. H. P. Lovecraft’s Deep Ones, (who would have killed us all except that they apparently can’t be bothered), the Sea Devils from Doctor Who, Abe Sapien, D&D’s Kuo-Toa and even the creature from that The Shape of Water film everyone’s been swooning over. The ocean is vast and mostly unexplored and it’s entirely plausible that there are sunken cyclopean cities lurking in its depths which are stuffed full of monstrous regenerating fish-men wielding tridents and sea-lasers and elder gods’ know what else.

Deep One by EclectixxNone of this would really be necessary of course. We are messing up this planet; global warming is happening and the seas are rising. If a hidden queendom of sea-based magical beings decided to speed that process up by dislodging an ice shelf or two then is there really anything we could do to stop them? Could we even blame them? The seas are filling up with plastic and poison even as they slowly spread over the land. Any sentient creature that lived in it might be justified in trying to wipe out humanity before we could destroy their ancestral home completely, so at least someone would be left once the ocean washes human civilisation away.

The zombie Apocalypse has already taught us everything it’s going to. So as we tumble towards a true ecological disaster it’s probably time to start taking different end-of-the-world scenarios more seriously.

Giant Apocalypse

No, not an Apocalypse that’s bigger than usual. How would you even do that? A Sharknado the size of a galaxy maybe?

I mean an Apocalypse caused by actual giants, which used to be a fairly popular concept, at least in Norse mythology. It makes sense, human heroes have been slaying giants since time immemorial and if the descendants of those giants ever came back for revenge we’d all be in serious trouble. I don’t care how ripped you are; you ain’t wrestling no giant unless you’re Thor or Herakles or someone of that ilk.

Shrine of Storms by Tim Kaminski

That’s the great thing about giants; there’s no reasonable way for a normal human to fight them. Sure, you can imagine that you’d be able to find a heavy object and batter a couple of walking corpses to, (second) death. But if a giant saw you and decided to eat you then you’re going to get eaten. Now that is truly frightening.

Attack on Titan by MichaelCTYThe highly successful and much beloved anime Attack On Titan (now in its third season), demonstrates just how brutal this kind of Apocalypse would be. In this story, humanity has been reduced to a fraction of its former population and forced to take refuge in a massive walled city while mindless titans roam the world outside. The very first episode of this hit series gave me one of the most visceral and disturbing experiences I’ve had with any horror franchise so far this decade. A character that I’d presumed would be getting a lot more screen-time was suddenly scooped up by a blank faced titan. She screamed, struggled and begged for her life; the titan didn’t even look at her, it just smiled stupidly as it bit her head off. The sheer, casual, unthinking brutality of that action stunned me. For a moment I forgot that this was just an anime and, in that moment, I hated that titan with every fibre of my being.

Now I’ve seen plenty of characters get bitten, eaten, or ripped apart by zombies but it’s been a very long time, if ever, since I’ve felt any real hostility towards the zombies themselves; they’re too much of a blank slate. You can’t relate to them enough to blame them for their actions. (Maybe that’s just me; the BFG gave me nightmares as a child after all. If you’d like your kids to have nightmares too then you can tell them about the incredibly stealthy giants that might pluck them out of their bedrooms at night and devour them.)

Giants by Greg Danton

But giants are, at least individuals; even the brainless ones can have their own distinctive visual style. There’s a whole bucket of different giant flavours; mountain giants, fire giants, frost giants, storm giants, flayed giants, bone giants, iron giants, and even man-shark-horse giants, (if that last one sounds interesting then you might want to check out an RPG book called Broodmother SkyFortress). You could have a whole Apocalypse full of giants and never meet the same abomination twice. And somehow, it’s much easier to hate a single monster than it is to hate a shambling, samey, horde of the undead.

Plus, big monsters are classic showboaters; they just love posing for the camera as they stomp on a city or climb the Empire State Building, they’re cinema gold. Get on that Hollywood. Let Godzilla and King Kong retire and make us some new giants to fear.

Kaiju Apocalypse

No. I said giants, not kaiju. Kaiju have had their chance. They might not be as common as zombies, at least outside of Japan, but frankly it’d be more interesting at this point to have a kaiju film which isn’t about the end of the world and/or certain parts of the world.

Kaiju by TheRisingSoul

Anyway, the Kaiju Apocalypse was cancelled by Idris Elba. Move along, nothing to see here. At least not until Pacific Rim Uprising comes out, which should be any day now!

Orc Apocalypse

orc by ramsesmelendeze

I mean, they’re still more interesting than zombies but, meh.

Orcs in popular culture have evolved from their unhallowed beginnings into ferocious-yet-honourable green-skinned warriors, which is fine for epic fantasy. But if we’re talking horror then I’d want to go back to the twisted pseudo-science genetic experiments that Tolkien was playing around with. The creatures with uncomfortable overtones of eugenics and directed evolution. A load of different breeds that keep mixing with each other and with humans to produce new kinds of killer.

Lord of the Rings Conquest by Per HaagensenAnd that sort of orc loves guns. Mary Gentle made that very clear in her dark comedy novel Grunts! They could definitely fight us on our own terms and still eat us afterwards.

Of course, being bitten by an orc doesn’t traditionally turn you into an orc but if it’s a Tolkienesque orc then you’d probably get tetanus or rabies or lockjaw or something equally unhelpful in an Apocalypse scenario.

So yeah, there’s potential there but let’s not dwell on it.

Angel/Demon Apocalypse

Actually, that’s been done quite a lot. It’s probably best to leave that for a whole separate article sometime.

Wendigo Apocalypse

Now, to my knowledge this has never been done. But it would be glorious.

wendigo by johann corgiéIn case you haven’t heard of them; wendigoag, (wendigo is the singular term apparently), are cannibalistic monsters from the legends of various native peoples who live in the frozen northlands of the USA and Canada. They’ve been depicted as being werewolf-like creatures by Marvel Comics. White Wolf went one step further and created a whole tribe of werewolves called The Wendigo.

Of course, we’ve done the Werewolf Apocalypse already so it’s fortunate that both Marvel and White Wolf are almost totally wrong about wendigoag. Ok, there are some accounts of -wendigoag having matted hair or glowing eyes but, as far as I’ve been able to discover, they’re not depicted as beast-men in the original folklore.

Honestly wendigoag are their own special creations but they have more in common with vampires, ghouls, and even ogres than they do with werewolves. They’re near-skeletal walking corpses, (or at least they look like corpses), with an insatiable hunger, a literal heart of ice and a taste for human flesh. Long tongues, pale flesh and sharp, or jagged fangs are also common features. I’ve heard that they also have Frozen-style powers to command ice, wind, and snow but I’m not sure whether or not that’s something that’s been added by modern urban fantasy writers. What is certain is that hunger is the wendigo’s most defining trait, they often chew off their own lips in a desperate attempt to sate that hunger.

Some myths offer a partial explain for why the wendigo never gets full; it grows bigger and taller every time it eats so that there’s never any meat left to fill its aching belly.

wendigo by Lisa SteinbergSo, not just undead cannibals but giant undead cannibals that keep getting bigger. You can’t tell me that’s not cool. And it makes for a great escalating threat even if you don’t give the creatures the power to infect others.

There seem to be different stories about how one actually becomes a wendigo. Some accounts I’ve heard seem to suggest that they’re like yetis; a separate species from us altogether. Others say that the wendigo itself is a spirit that possesses a hapless human body and crafts it into the wendigo’s trademark, skin-stretched-over-bone form. There are spells, curses, and dreams which might turn the target into a wendigo and one story even tells of a deal with the devil which led to the same terrible transformation. My favourite explanation is that any human who is caught out in the depths of winter and turns to cannibalism to survive, will be doomed to become a wendigo.

If you want to dispose of a wendigo you have to go for the heart. But, unlike vampires, a single wooden stake isn’t going to get the job done. No, you need to take a lot of wood and make a nice big fire, then lie the wendigo down on the fire and keep it there until its icy heart melts and it dies for good.

(How you get a cannibal giant which may have ice powers to lie down on a fire for any length of time is your problem. It certainly makes for an interesting challenge, you could try fighting them with blow torches, petrol bombs, or even flamethrowers I guess. Good luck with that, champ.)

wendigo by IrenHorrorsLike mermaids, wendigoag aren’t suited for every environment. Unlike the Others from Game of Thrones they don’t have the advantage of a world with winters that last for years and, I’m guessing, their cold hearts probably wouldn’t survive a tropical summer. But that’s nothing that a little bit of catastrophic climate change or nuclear winter couldn’t fix.

So maybe humans destroy the world, (which is frighteningly possible), and wendigoag just take advantage of the situation, or are born from the starving survivors of the unnatural winter, then get on with the job of finishing what we started.

One problem is that wendigoag are, apparently, known for killing each other on sight. Which would reduce their effectiveness as a world-beater. But then if zombies are allowed to gloss over the fact that they’d clearly try to eat each other, why not give wendigoag the same privilege?

Equal opportunity apocalyptic shenanigans I say.

Faery Apocalypse

Titania by Matt DixonStop sniggering at the back there. You know I’m not talking about the cute little creatures that flit about at the end of the garden, smelling flowers, and sprinkling pixie dust on things. (Although, beings like that did defeat Jack Harkness in the Torchwood episode “Small Worlds”. He tried to stop them from taking a little girl away from her mother and they threatened to destroy the world if he didn’t give up. Now Jack knows a few things about world-ending situations; he used to roll with The Doctor after all. So any beings that can defeat him are clearly a force to be reckoned with.)

But no really. Let’s talk proper faeries. The shapeshifting, illusion-throwing, deceptive, immortal, amoral, certifiably insane people who aren’t quite ghosts and aren’t quite gods. Redcaps, Cat Sidhe, rusalka, black dogs, Sidhe, the Sluagh, the Wild Hunt, Titania and Oberon, and The Man with the Thistledown Hair. Those people who think that giving a man the head of a donkey is a funny joke and that dancing with a beautiful maiden while slowly drawing all of her blood out through her skin is a great way to spend a Saturday night. These people are hard-core. Never mind vampires; if you want a fresh, stylish take on the Apocalypse then you need to talk to the Fey.

And I know just how they’d do it too.

Changing by Benita WincklerImagine you’re at home alone. Everything around you should be comforting and familiar but instead it looks creepy and out of place. You’ve been on edge all evening and now, when you try to pin that feeling down, all that you can think is that something in the air tonight feels out of place somehow; the whole world is electric, unhinged and sparking with possibility.

You blink and the world changes. You’re not sure how; it’s probably just your imagination. You wonder if you’ve always lived on the ground floor of your building.

You blink again and this time you know that something’s different. Were those trees so close to your window a moment ago? Did there even used to be trees on your street at all? You can’t remember.

Frightened, perhaps even angry, you stare hard through your window at the trees, daring them to shift or grow while you watch. They are quite, quite still. But you can hear the rustle of their leaves, even though you shouldn’t be able to hear anything so quiet through the walls of your home.

Your eyes burn, tears are beginning to trickle down your cheeks.

Tangle by John Avon

You have to close your eyes.

Just for a moment.


The window doesn’t break. There’s no crack or crash, no gentle tinkle of shattered glass. But when you open your eyes again the window frame is wrapped around a branch and crystalline shards are embedded in the looming tree trunk that was once the wall of your building. It feels as though you should run, but you are stuck to the floor.


Three bluebirds fly past your head. They are singing a high, sad song in the voices of the children from down the road.

forest guard by Alcove

You try to blink again but your eyelids are frozen open. You try to scream but your lungs have dried out and cracked and your tongue has become a long, fat worm that tumbles out of your head and crawls away.

You feel yourself rising, your arms stretching and splitting and entwining with the arms of your brethren. Your dig your toes deeper and deeper into the rich, loamy earth, seeking nourishment. Once you were human; you had thoughts and feelings and memories. Now you are barely even aware of what has happened to you. Caught in a moment of silent terror.

Trapped for all eternity.

Just another tree in the Faerie Queen’s forest.

Dragon Apocalypse

It’s bound to happen eventually.

Dragons have been wrecking up fantasy worlds since the time of Tolkien and they show no signs of stopping any time soon. D&D is named after them and has a whole setting, Dragonlance, devoted to the idea of dragons repeatedly attempting to conquer or crush the world. They’re a major plot point in A Song of Ice and Fire, AKA Game of Thrones, too. And let’s face it, anyone who’s been reading or watching fantasy series for any great length of time can probably remember at least one occasion where a dragon destroyed a city, an army, a country, the moon, or something else.

Dragon's Breath by Greg Rutkowski

This is a popular problem in video games too. Dragons are both the big bad and a constant nuisance in Skyrim, one of them reshaped the whole of the World of Warcraft with a single rampage and some other dragons periodically wake up and give the world of Guild Wars Online a jolly good stomping into the bargain. And that’s just off the top of my head.

And it’s not as though dragons (usually dragons that can turn into humans or humans that can turn into dragons) haven’t joined the flood of creatures from epic fantasy that have emigrated into urban fantasy. There’s The Dragon with the Girl Tattoo, The Invisible Library series, Dragon Bound, Dragon Kin, and of course the Ben Garston series, which was mentioned in Fantasy-Faction’s favourite novels of 2017. (There are plenty more but we only have so much time and there’s an Apocalypse to plan.)

Red Dragon by sandara

So it’s a bit disappointing that the only dragon Apocalypse movie set on Earth that ever generated any buzz was Reign of Fire. And although that was a perfectly decent action film it missed a trick really. Reign’s dragons were just flying, fire-breathing dinosaurs. Yes, that’s a fairly epic idea in itself but not as epic as dragons can be.

Dragons should really have personalities. Whether they’re diabolical geniuses, misunderstood anti-heroes, or elemental personifications of greed and sloth, there’s nothing like having a polite conversation with a dragon before they try to eat you. (Zombies don’t even bother with hello before they get all up in your personal space.)

Dragons of Red Rocks Canyon by AaronMillerAnd they should have magic. They can’t possibly heave themselves into the air without some bending of reality so why not go the whole hog? Allow your dragons to have added a few spell-books to their treasure hoards and taught themselves some new tricks over the long centuries of their existence. Now you have magical, intelligent, motivated, shapeshifting dragons who can still do the whole flying and fire-breathing thing if it ever comes up.

How would they go about destroying the world?

Fake a missile attack or bombing run to entice one of the world’s more trigger-happy nations into starting an all-out nuclear war? Eat and then replace a few key heads of state and work from there? Call up a gigantic mega-storm to tear apart every human population centre they can find? Not all European dragons could do that but the East Asian ones certainly could!

Just start attacking air-bases until they’ve wiped out all of humanity’s warplanes and then start burning and eating things at their leisure? Or summon an army of dark beings like vampires, werewolves, wendigoag, giants, and freaking mermaids to do the bulk of the work for them while they perch on the burnt-out husks of historic monuments and count their treasure?

Houston We have a problem by sandara

However they do it, it’s going to be awesome. And the end of the world deserves to be awesome!

– – –

That’s it, we’re done. I’m all out of monsters.

I hope that I’ve given you some ideas about how we can freshen up the Apocalypse and maybe give it a few new themes or at least a fresh coat of paint. Because if you try hard enough then you absolutely can take a zombie Apocalypse and make it into something new and clever and exciting. But with all the other horrors out there, begging for a chance to be let off the leash, why would you bother? Why go back to the theme of monsters that have been totally stripped of all humanity and all personality when there are so many ways that monsters can reflect our own twisted desires and fears back on us?

Be brave, embrace complexity, and accept no limits.

Make the Apocalypse your own.

Title image by VampirePrincess007.


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