The Walking Dead, at its core, has always been about the people. Robert Kirkman, creator of the original comic book series, made this very clear in the introduction to the very first volume: “With The Walking Dead I want to explore how people deal with extreme situations and how these events CHANGE them.” But with the show’s numerous spin-offs being greenlit, we have to ask; how many more stories do we need?
Last year, AMC’s beloved television adaption of Kirkman’s series ended garnering an average of 2.27 million viewers for its finale. This may seem like a lot, but it doesn’t come remotely close to the show’s excellent numbers throughout the first few seasons. Perhaps it was the gruesome death of fan favourite Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) that caused many to switch it off, or maybe people were fatigued with the recycled formula: another season, another set of encounters, another group to worry about. Unfortunately, the show’s first sequel series, Dead City, follows this same formula but with less compelling characters.
Dead City, created by Eli Jorné (who wrote and produced a few episodes of the original show), takes place a few years after its predecessor, focusing on original characters Maggie Rhee (Lauren Cohan) and the ruthless Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Maggie’s son Hershel Jr. (Logan Kim) is kidnapped by a vicious man called “The Croat” (Željko Ivanek), who shares a past with Negan. Maggie forms an alliance with the former Saviors leader to travel to Manhattan and get her son back.
The Manhattan setting of Dead City is a solid contrast from the original series’ rural Georgia, but the urban location feels slightly underutilised in this series, its visuals falling short on portraying a ghastly city. The show is not very visually captivating, though it is fair to say that The Walking Dead wasn’t a series known for its cinematography. It did, however, portray the walker-ridden city of Atlanta during its first season with a sense of dread. Manhattan serves as a character in Dead City but is instead shown through darkness or tight locations that don’t allow the setting to breathe.
Not only does the setting feel underused, but so do many of the characters. As expected from the franchises’ other shows and even video games, The Walking Dead has always focused on the humans. The dead remain in the foreground and the apocalypse has exacerbated the emotions of the living. The tension between Maggie and Negan continues into this series and the two do have some good moments – Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Lauren Cohan’s chemistry works – but the tension between them has barely progressed since the original show and they continue to do the same song and dance.
Maggie feels almost silent in her own story. The show opens up with her smashing a walker’s head and it’s evident she still holds an anger inside, hardened since Glenn’s death. However, her character is barely explored despite the show grappling with the theme of morality. Instead, it’s Negan who is the centerpiece. The show spends a lot of time arguing that his past actions were necessary for survival. “How many husbands and fathers have you killed?” he asks Maggie at one point. It’s a conversation that has already happened on the original show and, here, it feels repetitive.
The supporting characters mostly serve as plot devices. The Croat isn’t the most menacing of villains and sometimes comes off as gimmicky, but he does have an interesting backstory. Negan has the character of Ginny (Mahina Napoleon) by his side to show that he may be a softened man, but her character serves no other purpose than to do exactly that. Negan and Maggie stumble upon Tommaso (Jonathan Higginbotham) and Amaia (Karina Ortiz), who serve their time mostly giving exposition. In fact, the show spends a lot of its time having characters spew out expository dialogue. Negan and Maggie often recount what happened to themselves during the time jump between the original show and this one, which becomes tedious. It’s Perlie Armstrong (Gaius Charles) who is perhaps the most compelling new character — a marshal from a community in New York. He serves as the character of judge, jury and executioner and must come to terms with what is black and white — good or evil.
For another entry into this franchise, Dead City doesn’t bring anything fresh. Fans of the show may be excited to see two originals back for more action, but the formula remains the same. The reach to the climax and eventual resolution isn’t satisfying, the action is barely exciting, and the characters are not fleshed out enough for audiences to care. The show fails to put a new spin on The Walking Dead franchise, despite its new setting and new set of characters.
All episodes of The Walking Dead: Dead City are available to stream on AMC+.