TV Review: The Walking Dead: Dead City – Series Premiere

Aaron Neuwirth reviews the effective enough series premiere of The Walking Dead: Dead City, the New York-set spin-off of AMC's The Walking Dead, featuring the characters Maggie and Negan forming an uneasy alliance as they head to Manhattan on a rescue mission.

At its best, The Walking Dead generally found its stride when focusing on smaller groups of its ensemble cast. With fewer characters to focus on, this ongoing story of the zombie apocalypse had its chance to focus and lean on characters with ideally more on their mind than the plot at hand or ways to communicate the nihilistic central theme of the series (with occasional mentions of hope). Well, now we have The Walking Dead: Dead City, the fourth spin-off from the original series, which is cashing in on the chemistry between Lauren Cohan and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as enemies forced to work together. In an exciting movie, this series is set in post-apocalyptic Manhattan, but don’t necessarily expect John Carpenter vibes to be in full force. For better or worse, this is an extension of the series you know, but hopefully, its prime focus allows for something a bit fresher than a rotting corpse.

Rather than build up to the big event, Dead City throws us right in. There’s been a jump in time since we last saw Maggie (Cohan), as her son, Hershel (Logan Kim), is now a teenager who has been kidnapped. We get the reasons why later, but Maggie knows her son is somewhere in New York City and will need help getting him back. Her solution: Find Negan (Morgan).

Based on what we see, society has evolved a bit to compensate for the time jump. Maggie drives around in a truck and stops at a bar with drinks, lights, a billiards table, and even a TV (but don’t ask me if anything was on it beyond static). This bar also has Negan and a girl he’s keeping close, Ginny (Mahina Napoleon), hiding out. After a quick scuffle, Maggie fights her way to Negan, who is not too happy seeing her again.

The first portion of The Walking Dead’s final season put a lot of emphasis on the uneasy alliance between Maggie and Negan. At its best, there was a unique tension to build scenes around. However, it could also feel repetitive at times. The prospect of a series relying on this team-up could play out well, but this first episode does have to reestablish a status quo, particularly for viewers that may not be entirely fresh on the previous series or the connection between these characters. As a result, it’s a bit over-the-top to watch these two act together again at first, which the series tries to explain away with some dialogue. Still, going forward, I can only hope the two are more or less settled on how intensely they should act around each other.

See Also: TV Review: The Walking Dead, 11×24, “Rest In Peace”

With that in mind, this is a series that seems to be relying on how Maggie has evolved as a leader and a mother. It’s also showing to what lengths Negan needs to go as one who is well aware of his evil deeds from the past but is now being called out for them by more than just the wife of the husband he murdered (RIP Glenn). Early on, it is made clear why Maggie needs Negan. In addition to being somehow connected to the man responsible for kidnapping young Hershel, Negan is also wanted by the Babylon Marshalls. Both parties have a bone to pick with Negan, which will amplify the search and rescue/chase story.

“The Croat” (Zeljko Ivanek) is a man in New York who shares a past with Negan, and we get his introduction at the end of the episode. There’s not much to know so far other than that he rules this section of the island with an iron fist, picks on smaller colonies for supplies, and isn’t against being theatrical with his threats and murders. Maggie recognized him by a Negan-like whistle he put out into the world, but I’m still curious how this relationship ended. I don’t foresee Negan meeting up with this man and sharing a beer, but maybe there’s more to it than I’m predicting.

As far as the Marshalls are concerned, this lawgiver group is led by Perlie Armstrong (Gaius Charles), who behaves as a no-nonsense cop more aligned with Judge Dredd than Rick Grimes. He reads out rules by the number and letter, applies punishments as he sees fit, and carries himself with great authority. I don’t know how the post-apocalyptic courts work regarding why Negan is now being brought up on charges, but Perlie will undoubtedly be a fly in the ointment for our heroes.

Once the characters arrive in New York, there’s fun had in the construction of a few setpieces. The arrival by boat, complete with bodies floating in the water, is as ominous as it gets. Maggie and Negan smartly arrive at night but are still quickly noticed. Not helping is the younger Marshall they took hostage, who is all kinds of clumsy. It leads to one especially gruesome sequence where walkers are tossed off some of the highrises, turning into zombie mortars to avoid. It’s a lot of bloody fun. Another sequence features thousands of cockroaches getting in the way of a hiding spot. I can’t wait to see what happens when Negan and Maggie dare to enter a bodega.

We’ll learn more about these circumstances and what Perlie has planned, having lost both of his men by the end of this episode. For the time being, it would appear this six-episode series is going to lean in on the troubled connection between Maggie and Negan, while others populating this world show just how much these two need to actually depend on each other when things get truly tough. With a clear objective in mind, that should be enough to make this trip to the Big Apple worthwhile. As a kick-off for this season, things are mostly in the right place.

Dead Bits:

  • Zombie Kill of the Week: Well, Maggie is pretty angry at the start when she demolishes that walker’s head. Don’t want to upset her more, so that wins.
  • I dig the intro titles and music well enough.
  • Acting-wise, both actors are up to the task so far. Cohan has always been fine without ascending to a next level on this show. Morgan really found a groove post-Savior days, and continues to be a highlight.
  • No word on what happened to Negan’s wife and kid so far, but it doesn’t sound good.
  • “Because you owe me.” – Maggie is calling in one hell of a favor in a world where she must have lots of great friends, but okay.
  • Those Glenn flashbacks provided a disturbing reminder of the past.
  • “How many husbands have you killed.” – Negan has a pretty good snapback here.
  • Unlike Judge Dredd, Perlie Armstrong does have a family and children (or at least so he claims) and is working for both the greater good and within what makes sense to him. Hoping he gets more humanized as we carry forward.
  • In response to all the consequences, Negan: “Nope.”
  • That walker with the rat coming out of its mouth – A+!
  • “The Croat” punished a guy because all he wanted to do was ride on the zipline all the time.
  • Who’s that woman with the candle? Time will tell…
  • Thanks for reading, and feel free to hear what me and a few other fans of the show have to say about the series on The Walking Dead TV Podcast.

The Waking Dead: Dead City airs on AMC and releases episodes a few days early on AMC+

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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