‘The Walking Dead: Dead City’ Combines The Old And The New For A Thrilling Throwback

Back in Season 9 of The Walking Dead, Rick Grimes had the worst day ever. He took his final, ill-fated horse ride, ended up being impaled, took a few moments to blow up a bridge and save his community, got carted off by the helicopter people, and ended up in CRM custody. From there, the zombie-franchise meant to put Andrew Lincoln’s character into a movie trilogy, yet shortly thereafter, a different kind of virus wreaked havoc on real life. Years later, the TV and movie landscape has largely shifted to streaming, and few projects can motivate people to leave their home TV set up. AMC must have seen those signs and decided that Rick would be better off in spinoff land, and the same goes for other enduringly popular TWD characters, too.

As we speak, Fear The Walking Dead is currently wrapping up its final reinvention, and AMC has paved the way for at least three new spinoffs. This includes Rick, yes, who will co-headline his show with Michonne. We’ll get to see Daryl Dixon inexplicably wash ashore in France for Daryl In Paris, where someone will hopefully convince him to bathe before going to the Louvre and wandering through the catacombs, as one does. Before that happens, Maggie and Negan will make a complicated team in The Walking Dead: Dead City.

Actually, these two are a nightmare together, but since Maggie justifiably loathes Negan, plenty of fruit for conflict exists. Both Lauren Cohan and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are also beloved by Walking Dead fans, even if people still have issues with the latter’s so-called “redemption” arc. They must now rescue Hershel Rhees, son of Maggie and the late Glenn, who of course died when Negan bashed his brains out with a baseball hat. (Awkward.) To do so, the pair must *gulp* head into Manhattan.

Obviously, this is a bad idea on its face. For the most part, The Walking Dead avoided cities since the first time that Rick was dumb enough to hop onto a horse. Still, if characters’ bad decisions led to Dead City existing, then so be it. Don’t expect a quick in-and-out trip, either. The first season runs six episodes, which end with a clear intent to keep the story going, and the show succeeds at blending the past and present of TWD in a few ways.

The undead are overwhelmingly dangerous again: TWD only occasionally made walkers the main threat, but it’s a nice shift of pace to return there (and away from the politics that consume humans) for the visceral hell of it. And yes, there are baddie humans in NYC, but they’re initially dwarfed by Manhattan’s status as a sealed-off-from-the-mainland time capsule. Millions of walkers endlessly roam in the city that never sleeps. The hoards are bigger than we’ve ever seen, much more so than in the TWD finale that bid RIP to Rosita. These “new” zombies are also presumably a well-fed bunch, unlike those Season 7 TWD stragglers, all decaying and weakened, right before Jesus slammed into Rick. That arrival had widened the show’s breadth and should have made it more interesting through long-ass seasons.

Yet even Jesus got bored. He felt “over it” after repeatedly being elected Hilltop leader, so the show conjured up more soap operatics. And when The Whisperers showed up while shuffling alongside walkers, this only reinforced that humans were the main villains as the series continued… for eleven long seasons that contained much padding filled with people-on-people conflict.

What I’m saying is this: Dead City is leaner and meaner and takes the franchise back to its gory brass tacks with a gruesome new playground while the leading duo deals with walkers falling from the sky and whatnot. The danger is constant, so the show never downshifts in intensity, which is nice during a compact season and more like an action movie than a zombie soap opera.

Showrunner Eli Jorne also promised that we’d see some of the “most awesome, disgusting, terrifying walkers” ever on this series, and yep, he delivers. Also, don’t forget about good old-fashioned NYC cockroaches.

A New Spin On That “Truce”: By the end of TWD, Maggie and Negan had agreed to some form of peace, but I think we all knew that couldn’t last. Yet in Dead City, Negan is the only person who can help her on this mission. He doesn’t even want to help, but for reasons I won’t spoil, he has no choice. And that leverage from Maggie is a good way for the show to roast Negan’s previous redemption arc, which always felt forced on TWD. It also felt obvious that the show kept Negan around because Jeffrey Dean Morgan is such a charismatic actor, and the show had already lost several originals, including Rick. So, Negan endlessly toiled towards impossible redemption, yet Dead City drags him enough to make it almost funny.

Granted, this is no comedy, and Negan did change in TWD. That’s partially the case because he had to adapt in order to remain in Alexandria. Although he did take some bullets for the team, it’s nuts that Dwight was exiled and sent to FTWD land whereas Negan got to stick around — not only after the baseball-bat madness but many other terrible Negan deeds, which included taking a harem of “wives,” sometimes by force, and disfiguring their husbands.

In this spinoff, he’s not let off the hook so easily, and I love to see it. Maggie makes him work his ass off and never gives him an inch. Yes, there’s been some promotional talk of the “Old Negan” coming back, and there are slight shades of the Saviors leader that return. And that’s kinda fun, even while the show dives deeper into Maggie’s trauma and how it has shaped her to grow ever more hardened. All of the Old Negan parts do serve a purpose, too, so the show earns those moments.

So, we do get to see Negan let loose with that bravado once more, but there’s no glorification for what he’s done in the past. That also allows for a more textured take on this dynamic other than “Negan is such a swell guy now” and “Maggie is 100% good.” Let’s just say that this show does not forget that most characters have done terrible things to survive in this world. And in a way, Dead City feels like redemption for the redemption arc.

The two halves make a whole: Maggie and Negan’s relative strengths and weaknesses actually do add up to an effective team, and the show’s blending of past and present themes make Dead City as watchable as the better TWD seasons. We also get to see the duo throw down in a completely different environment — obviously a grime-soaked, more potentially lethal one — where they must fight harder than they ever have to stay alive.

Speaking of which, physically, Maggie has never been stronger, but otherwise? This spinoff explores that, too. Anyone who’s lived through the horror of watching their husband be brutally murdered is naturally going to have some issues in life. Yet there’s a certain point where both the show and Maggie must also decide whether they will be defined by Negan’s misdeeds. And it’s that exploration that makes Dead City worth watching beyond the spectacle of the undead huddled masses, yearning to be free to eat human flesh. This is all so gross, I agree. If you could stomach The Walking Dead, you will dig what you see on Dead City.

AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead: Dead City’ will premiere on April 18.