It was written during the Cranberries' English Tour in 1993, in memory of two boys, Jonathan Ball and Tim Parry, who were killed in an IRA bombing in Warrington.
The Rough Guide to Rock identified the album No Need to Argue as "more of the same" as the Cranberries' debut album, except for the song "Zombie", which had an "angry grunge" sound and "aggressive" lyrics. The Cranberries played the song on their appearance on the U.S. show Saturday Night Live in 1995 in a performance which British author Dave Thompson calls "one of the most powerful performances that the show has ever seen".Greil Marcus wrote that Zombie created a "displacement" by reference to the 1916 Easter Rising, and that it was "bizarre" for a song of the pop genre to refer to events before the lifetime of the target audience. Allmusic said the song "trivialized" the events of the bombing, and that the "heavy rock" of the song did not play to the band's strengths.
"Zombie" was released as a music video in late 1994. The video was directed by Samuel Bayer, and produced by Doug Friedman and H.S.I. Productions. In the video Dolores O'Riordan is covered in gold makeup and appears in front of a cross. The video also includes clips of children playing, and of British soldiers from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (as evident from their thin red line tactical recognition flashes) on patrol in Northern Ireland. The unsuspecting troops were told that their footage was to be included in a documentary about the day to day operations of various peace keeping forces. The video was filmed in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
In late 1994, a cover version by Spanish mákina group Ororo was released in conjunction with the original version. This version reached number-one in Spain and number 16 in Austria.
In 1995, a Eurodance cover version by Italian quartet A.D.A.M. featuring Amy reached No. 16 in the UK singles chart, No. 20 in France and No. 35 in Belgium.
In 2005, the winner of the Super Girl singing contest in China performed the song in the final contest.
Andy Bernard sings a segment from the song "Zombie" in The Office episode The Return.
UFC fighter Chan Sung Jung, also known as "The Korean Zombie," enters the cage to "Zombie"
On their 2011 album Knife Man, folk punk band Andrew Jackson Jihad titled a track "Zombie By The Cranberries by Andrew Jackson Jihad". However, this is an ironic title of an original song, and not a cover of "Zombie".