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Monday, June 19, 2023

The Walking Dead: Dead City Review Slow Start for NYC Spinoff Shows Promise for an Intriguing Future

AMC’s “The Walking Dead” has crawled back out of its shallow grave following the series finale that aired back in November with “The Walking Dead: Dead City. The first of many spin-offs on the horizon, “Dead City” follows Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) as they venture into a walker-infested New York City to rescue Maggie and Glenn’s son Hershel who has been kidnapped by a former-Savior. 

Set a few years after the flagship series’ strong finale, Maggie and Negan have gone their separate ways since their intensive conversation in the final episode. Maggie continues to float between Hilltop and other adjacent communities. Negan has taken a nomad approach to life, getting into all sorts of trouble around the post-apocalyptic wasteland. After a no-good group of baddies begins demanding resources monthly from one of Maggie’s communities, they take young Hershel as a collateral hostage. Meanwhile, Negan happens to be a “Wanted Man” and is on the run from the “New Babylon Federation,” which is an established network of various survivor settlements overseen by Marshall Perlie Armstrong (Gaius Charles). 

The episode starts with a lone Maggie observing the hordes of undead shambling around Manhattan. Strong cinematography showcases Maggie amongst the sunlit shores, alone and isolated from her son. The visuals immediately evoke a different aesthetic than that of the flagship series. Maggie is forced to deal with a particularly bloaty creature (once again showcasing the always amazing practical makeup effects the series is known for). After a brief tussle, Maggie brutally demolishes its face with a telescope. With each hit that Maggie swings down, blood splatters onto her face as she continues to react in an embattled rage. The violent imagery eerily calls back to that of Negan’s bat swinging in Season 7 of the series. It’s an interesting callback and certainly emphasizes how vicious Maggie can truly get when her son is in danger.

Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee – The Walking Dead: Dead City _ Season 1 – Photo Credit: Peter Kramer/AMC

While looking for Negan at a nearby motel, the residents accuse Maggie of being sent to snoop by one of their rivals. They try to violently remove her nose but an incredibly rad reveal of a knife hidden in the toe of Maggie’s boots (think “Assassin’s Creed” but out of the foot not the wrist) allows her to evade the situation, just as Negan walks into the chaos. After the situation settles, Maggie relays to Negan why she needs him, citing that when the raiders came for her son they whistled the same melody that Negan once did during that fateful line-up in the Season 6 finale. 

“That rings a bell doesn’t it? It did for me. That’s the last thing I heard before I met you,” she quips. 

Turns out, the man responsible for Hershel’s kidnapping was once in Negan’s Savior ranks. Negan is traveling with a young girl named Ginny (Mahina Napoleon) who hasn’t uttered a word since her father was brutally killed by the Marshalls. Once again representing Negan’s soft-spot for children (fans will remember he showed quite a lot of sympathy towards Judith and Carl in the main series), Maggie agrees to put up Ginny in one of her communities, as long as Negan tags along and helps rescue Hershel. And there we have our set-up for why Negan of all people would team up with Maggie on her quest. 

Cohan and Dean Morgan are still exceptionally skilled at bringing life into these characters. Much like Andrew Lincoln and Rick Grimes, these two have become so accustomed to playing these roles that it simply never comes off as artificial. While Negan and Maggie are at much different times in their life than we last saw them, their original personalities and performances continue to shine through despite the refreshed circumstances.

Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan – The Walking Dead: Dead City _ Season 1, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Peter Kramer/AMC

In “The Walking Dead: Dead City,” Maggie comes across as more hard around the edges, locked in and determined to rescue her son and seek vengeance. Negan has been through Hell and back, consistently getting wrapped up in situations where someone is trying to kill him, and he’s weathered by the state of the undead world. The evolution and exploration of the Negan character is one of the most impressive things the flagship series pulled off and “Dead City” serves as an extension or even an epilogue of that character’s journey. 

One of the most surprising sequences in the episode comes from a nightmare that Maggie has while sleeping in her truck. The moment Negan brutally murdered her husband Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) is ghoulishly replayed over and over again – emphasizing the splash of blood that splatters from Negan’s bat and the final disfigured look that Glenn gives Maggie before he succumbs to the pain. For a show that received a fair share of flack from this sequence (and even admitted they would tone down the violence in light of it), it was quite shocking to see such focus on this specific moment that divided the fan base back in the day. 

The twisted nightmare is inter-cut with scenes of young Hershel Greene being kidnapped, showcasing that the same rage that fueled Maggie during that critical moment has now returned in her quest to rescue her son. As Maggie shoots up from her sleep in fear, it’s revealed that Negan is also sleeping in the back of the truck. Negan tells a story from his childhood about how his dad always promised him he’d show him the Statue of Liberty, but as per usual, “something came up.” This moment comes across as quite macabre considering Maggie was only just revisiting the painful memory of Negan killing the father of her son, only for him to now be chiming in with a story about his own father. 

The endless dynamic of Negan and Maggie being at each other’s toes since the brutal slaying in the Season 7 premiere continues to be an emotional narrative thread that rears its ugly head frequently amongst the dynamic of the two survivors. 

Trey Santiago-Hudson as Jano, Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan – The Walking Dead: Dead City _ Season 1, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Peter Kramer/AMC

“What I don’t get is after all of these years you still think I’m the bad guy. I’m not. No one is. You know what Maggie? Maybe everyone is. Ask yourself one question, how many husbands and fathers have you killed?” Negan asks at one point in the episode. 

“What you did. You don’t ever put something like that to bed,” Maggie fires back.

Many fans have debated the ethics of both Rick and Negan’s groups throughout the “All Out War” story arc (adapted from the comic series) back in Seasons 7 and 8 of the main series. Both groups attacked and killed several survivors on both sides, yet Negan is consistently framed as the worse of two evils. With Negan’s line about everyone being the bad guy, he pushes that controversial perspective against Maggie’s continued judgment. In Maggie’s mind (and the audience’s), nothing Rick Grimes did to the Saviors will ever compare to how Negan murdered Maggie’s husband right before her eyes. 

While much of the survivor vs. survivor drama that follows Negan and Maggie as they evade the enforcers of the New Babylon Federation feels very much like tried and true “Walking Dead,” “Dead City” does have some exciting and ghoulish tricks up its sleeve. One sequence finds Maggie and Negan evading walkers that are tumbling down from New York City skyscrapers. It literally rains walkers as they fly in from off screen and splatter on the concrete right in front of the duo. The sequence is just as gnarly and macabre as one would expect. 

– The Walking Dead: Dead City _ Season 1 – Photo Credit: Peter Kramer/AMC

In another fun bit, one of the New Babylon characters is tackled to the ground by a walker, whose mouth then opens to reveal a classic New York City rat crawling out of its throat. Another instance finds Maggie and Negan covered in gross cockroaches as they attempt to take cover nearby a pile of trash bags. The boat-ride Maggie and Negan take into the city itself is filled with bloated walker corpses scattered in the water. All of these moments help make up the DNA of “Dead City,” using New York City’s classic elements and giving them a “Walking Dead” spin. 

It’s not until Negan and Maggie actually arrive in New York City itself when the potential of “Dead City” becomes clear. Much of the pre-NYC arrival feels like a retread of the same survivor vs. survivor shenanigans which plagued the flagship show in its later seasons. While Negan and Maggie are compelling characters, how much more of this dynamic is there left to explore? The real draw of the show seems to come from the setting itself – taking the rules and world of ‘The Walking Dead’ fans already know and applying it to the incredibly unique location of New York City. 

New episodes of “The Walking Dead: Dead City” air Sunday nights on AMC.

3 skulls out of 5

The post “The Walking Dead: Dead City” Review – Slow Start for NYC Spinoff Shows Promise for an Intriguing Future appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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