The Restless Dead, Part 1
I'll open with a bold assertion. I like zombies more than you do. Something about the restless dead gets my creative juices running. The very first D&D session I DM'd in 1979, I achieved a TPK with way too many zombies, and it's been downhill from there ever since.
And who doesn't love mowing down zombies by the score? They're already dead. They're evil, mindless, and damned. They're hungry for your brain. They're a guilt-free hack-fest.
We're culturally programmed to automatically think of the walking dead as a blight to be destroyed, but it wasn't always that way. The roots of this concept lie in Zoroastrianism, the first major theological school of thought to teach that the dead rising before the End Time was forbidden by the Creator.
Today, this rule is broken deliberately by some writers to make a point. In his Xanth series, Piers Anthony features zombies as sympathetic characters. One zombie in particular is personified enough (and fresh enough) to serve as a love interest. Terry Pratchett goes a step further in his Discworld series, featuring protagonist zombies such as Reg Shoe.
Maybe these are not truly examples of zombies. Many sources consider zombies to be mindless by definition, whether under the thrall of their creator or driven to brutish action by baser needs (BRAINZ). Willful undead are frequently given different labels, such as revenant, wight, or lich. There's actually a very broad taxonomy of restless dead of all sorts from many folkloric traditions. They arrive in our modern culture through the lense of writers and film makers, such as Tolkien and Romero, who exercised a great deal of literary license with the original material.
In Part 2, I'll tackle a partial list of undead types from gaming and folklore, and in Part 3, I'll throw out a bunch of ideas about how to make video game zombies even more awesome.