The Walking Dead: Dead City TV Review

The Walking Dead: Dead City TV Review

The first sequel spin-off of The Walking Dead finds Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Lauren Cohan doing more of the same, only now in New York City.

Plot: Follows Maggie and Negan traveling into a post-apocalyptic Manhattan, long ago cut off from the mainland. The crumbling city is filled with the dead and denizens who have made New York City their own world full of anarchy, danger, beauty, and terror.

Review: After eleven years on the air, The Walking Dead aired its series finale just seven months ago. While the series wrapped up many storylines, it failed to feel like a finale as it laid the groundwork for not one or two but at least three spin-offs. While the Rick and Michonne series and the Daryl Dixon story won’t debut until later, Dead City is the first new title in The Walking Dead universe. Led by Lauren Cohan and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Maggie Rhee and Negan, Dead City finds the adversarial duo forced to team up to rescue Maggie’s son, Hershel, from a villain with a connection to Negan’s past. Despite featuring all-new geography to explore the walkers and living remnants of humanity. Dead City is very much like the flagship series in tone and style. What it does have in its favor is a limited length of just six episodes which keeps the story focused and tight for a more intense viewing experience.

Dead City wastes no time and jumps right into Maggie Rhee (Lauren Cohan) scoping out the zombie-infested shoreline of the island of Manhattan. She then tracks down Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who works small jobs and cares for a mute girl, Ginny (Mahina Napoleon). Maggie reveals to Negan that her son, Hershel (Logan Kim), has been kidnapped by The Croat (Zeljko Ivanek), who has also stolen all of the grain from The Hilltop. Because The Croat knows Negan, Maggie begrudgingly needs the help of the man who killed her husband. Negan reluctantly agrees, and the pair begin their quest while being pursued by Perlie Armstrong (Gaius Charles), a marshal from New Babylon, who is tasked with bringing Negan in for crimes he has committed. All of this is revealed in the first episode of Dead City, which takes Maggie and Negan from their familiar surroundings into the heart of the dilapidated remains of New York City.

Over the course of the six episodes of Dead City, Maggie, and Negan continue their tenuous relationship despite the finale of The Walking Dead showcasing a heartfelt apology from Negan for the brutal murder of Glen. While Maggie did not accept the apology, this series presents the strong, fan-favorite character as almost ignorant of that key scene. The exchanges between Maggie and Negan were highlights of the main series, and they spend so much time together in this series that we begin to see where they have more connection and respect one another. Lauren Cohan’s performance as Maggie began to feel one-note in the middle of The Walking Dead, but here she hones in on her primal need to save her son at any cost. On the flip side, Jeffrey Dean Morgan has so fully realized the angles of Negan that I was surprised to see him bring even more nuance to the character here. The challenge in transforming a diabolical and evil antagonist into an anti-hero is that you undermine the depravity of their villainous tendencies. I never liked the transformation of Negan into a protagonist, but Dead City does some interesting things with his arc.

Having seen the entire season of The Walking Dead: Dead City, I have some qualms about the overall narrative. None of these can be voiced here without spoiling the reveals through the season, but I can say that the few elements that worked for me include Zeljko Ivanek as The Croat and Logan Kim as Hershel. Ivanek has had a long career as a character actor and is one of the better villains that The Walking Dead has had, serving as a good counterbalance to Negan. Logan Kim, taking over his role from Kien Michael Spiller, is excellent as the son of Maggie and Glen. Unlike Rick’s daughter, Judith, Hershel is given a very different narrative in Dead City than I expected, which will have ramifications for this series should it move into a second season and beyond. The other main addition to this season is Gaius Charles as Perlie Armstrong, a lawman who speaks like an old west cowboy and follows the tenets of his profession as admirably as Rick Grimes. I am not sure if Perlie works as well in the context of Dead City as the writers wanted, but he does serve as a solid extension into the larger world of this universe.

Created by Eli Jorne, a producer of The Walking Dead as well as Heels and Dummy, Dead City is also very much focused on giving us the bloated, disgusting zombies many of us have come to expect from this franchise. Having the walkers confined to an island does not change their look or movements, but the special effects continue to reveal the gory possibilities of the undead. There are some brutal kills in Dead City as well as some intriguing creative designs that I appreciated seeing. Dead City, like The Walking Dead at large, uses zombies as a device rather than the focus, as the human characters are the key to these shows being popular. Jorne scripted four of the six episodes this season along with Keith Staskiewicz and Brenna Kouf. Directing duties were handled by Kevin Dowling and Loren Yaconelli, who used the urban landscape of a destitute New York City to their advantage. Since HBO’s The Last of Us has debuted, it is hard to feel like we are seeing anything new in this series, but that is a pitfall of carrying on the legacy of characters we have been watching for over ten years.

Even though it clocks in at less than half the length of the last ten seasons of The Walking Dead, Dead City still feels overlong. The story is tighter and more focused, but this tale could have been condensed into a standalone movie rather than a series. But Dead City is designed as an ongoing story rather than a limited series, and there is more setup in these chapters than resolution. Fans of The Walking Dead will likely enjoy the focus on just Maggie and Negan. However, I still remain skeptical that this show will amount to more than just another glimpse at the worst of humanity from a slightly different angle. It is hard to completely discount Dead City, thanks to the solid performances from Morgan and Cohan, but I cannot help but feel underwhelmed by the familiarity of it all.

The Walking Dead: Dead City premieres on June 18th on AMC.


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