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‘The Walking Dead: Dead City’ combines the old and the new for a thrilling return

‘The Walking Dead: Dead City’ combines the old and the new for a thrilling return

Back in season 9 of The Walking Dead, Rick Grimes had the worst day of his life. He went on his last ill-fated horseback ride, ended up being impaled, took a few moments to blow up a bridge and save his community, was taken away by the helicopters and ended up in the custody of the CRM. From there, the zombie franchise aimed to put Andrew Lincoln’s character in a movie trilogy, but soon another kind of virus wreaked havoc in real life. Years later, the television and film landscape has largely shifted to streaming, and few projects can motivate people to leave their home televisions. AMC must have seen these signs and decided that Rick would be better off in the spin-off lands, and the same goes for other ever-popular ones. TWD characters too.

At this moment, Fear the living dead is wrapping up its final reimagining, and AMC has paved the way for at least three new spinoffs. That includes Rick, yes, who will co-headline his show with Michonne. We will see Daryl Dixon inexplicably stranded in France for Daryl in Paris, where someone will hopefully convince him to bathe before going to the Louvre and wandering around the catacombs, like we do. Before that happens, Maggie and Negan will form a complicated team in The Walking Dead: The Dead City.

In fact, these two are a nightmare together, but since Maggie rightly hates Negan, there’s plenty of fruit for the conflict. Lauren Cohan and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are also loved by Walking Dead fans, even though people are still having 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 hit his brains out with a baseball cap. (Awkward.) To do this, the pair must *swallow* head to Manhattan.

Obviously, this is a bad idea on its face. For the majority, The Walking Dead avoided cities since the first time Rick was dumb enough to jump on a horse. However, if the bad decisions of the characters lead to ghost town existing, so be it. Don’t expect a quick round trip either. The first season has six episodes, which end with a clear intention to continue the story, and the series manages to blend the past and present of TWD in a few ways.

Undead are once again extremely dangerous: TWD only occasionally made walkers the main threat, but it’s a nice change of pace to get back out there (and away from the politics that consume humans) for visceral hell. And yes, there are evil humans in New York, but they’re initially overshadowed by Manhattan’s status as a time capsule isolated from the mainland. Millions of walkers wander endlessly through the city that never sleeps. The hordes are bigger than we have ever seen, much bigger than in the TWD finale that offered RIP to Rosita. These “new” zombies are also presumably a well-fed bunch, unlike those in season 7. TWD stragglers, all rotting and weakened, just before Jesus crashes into Rick. This arrival had expanded the scope of the series and should have made it more interesting over the course of long seasons.

Yet even Jesus was bored. He felt “on it” after being elected head of Hilltop several times, so the show conjured more soap operas. And when The Whisperers appeared hanging out alongside the walkers, it only reinforced that humans were the main villains as the show went on…for eleven long seasons that contained plenty of padding filled with interpersonal conflict.

What I’m saying is this: ghost town is leaner and meaner and takes the franchise back to its gory brass stuff with a ghastly new playground as the lead duo deal with walkers falling from the sky and so on. The danger is constant, so the show never wanes in intensity, which is nice during a compact season and feels more like an action movie than a zombie soap opera.

Showrunner Eli Jorne also promised we’d see some of the “most awesome, gross, and terrifying walkers” in this series, and yes, he delivers. Don’t forget the good old New York cockroaches either.

A new twist on this “truce”: At 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 ghost town, Negan is the only person who can help him in this mission. He doesn’t even want to help, but for reasons I won’t reveal, he has no choice. And this leverage from Maggie is a good way for the show to roast Negan’s previous redemption arc, which always felt forced. TWD. It also seemed obvious that the show was keeping Negan around because Jeffrey Dean Morgan is such a charismatic actor and the show had already lost several originals, including Rick. So Negan worked endlessly towards an impossible redemption, but ghost town drags it enough to make it almost funny.

Admittedly, this is not a comedy, and Negan did to change TWD. This is partly the case because it had adapt to stay in Alexandria. Although he took a few bullets for the team, it’s crazy that Dwight was exiled and sent to FTWD land while Negan was able to stay – not only after the baseball bat madness, but many other terrible acts by Negan, including taking on a harem of “wives”, sometimes by force, and disfiguring their husbands.

In this spin-off, he doesn’t get off so easily, and I love seeing him. Maggie makes him work his ass and never gives him a thumbs up. Yes, there’s been some promotional talk about the return of “Old Negan,” and there are slight nuances of the returning Saviors frontman. And it’s kind of fun, even as the show delves deeper into Maggie’s trauma and how it shaped her to become more and more hardened. Every part of Old Negan also has a purpose, so the show earns those moments.

So we see Negan go wild with that bravado again, but there’s no glorification for what he’s done in the past. It also allows for a more textured approach to this dynamic other than “Negan is such a great guy now” and “Maggie is 100% good”. Let’s just say this series doesn’t forget that most of the characters have done terrible things to survive in this world. And somehow, ghost town feels like redemption for the redemption arc.

The two halves form a whole: Maggie and Negan’s relative strengths and weaknesses make for an effective team, and the show’s blend of past and present themes makes ghost town as watchable as better TWD seasons. We also see the duo throw themselves into a completely different environment – obviously a grime-soaked, more life-threatening one – where they have to fight harder than they ever had to stay alive.

Speaking of which, physically Maggie has never been stronger, but otherwise? This spin-off explores that too. Anyone who has experienced the horror of seeing their husband brutally murdered is naturally going to have problems in life. Yet there is a certain point where the show and Maggie must also decide if they will be defined by Negan’s misdeeds. And it is this exploration that makes ghost town worth looking beyond the spectacle of the huddled masses of undead, yearning to be free to eat human flesh. This is all so rude, I agree. If you could digest The Walking Deadyou will dig what you see on ghost town.

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

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