The Walking Dead: Dead City Takes Manhattan, and It Mostly Works

TV Reviews The Walking Dead: Dead City
The Walking Dead: Dead City Takes Manhattan, and It Mostly Works

AMC’s long-running hit The Walking Dead might technically be over, but the franchise is as alive as ever as we head into the summer of 2023. With the flagship series done, and original spinoff Fear the Walking Dead wrapping up its final season, the saga is now turning its eye toward further miniseries and spinoffs. What gets it started? The Walking Dead: Dead City.

Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes and Danai Gurira’s Michonne are set to return in a long-awaited event series sometime in the next year or so, but first we have the Manhattan-set warm-up of Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) teaming in the six-part Dead City series. The two are among the most popular stars left alive from the expansive Walking Dead ensemble, and they also famously don’t get along (remember when Negan killed Maggie’s husband Glenn in what feels like another lifetime, decades ago?) The two have come a long, long way since then—most notably Negan, who the mainline series turned into a main cast member anti-hero set on a redemption arc ever since Rick took down his fiefdom back in Season 8.

The project is unique for a few reasons, but mostly for its choice to finally take the undead action into a major metropolitan area—something the original shows largely avoided during their lengthy runs (which makes sense, as heading to a densely populated area doesn’t seem like the wisest move during a zombie outbreak). It’s obviously not an HBO budget, but this new series works hard to try and create the feel of scope and scale you’d sense in a zombie-filled New York City, and pulls together some clever world-building logic to figure out how folks might have survived all these years in zombie-infested boroughs bursting at the seams with undead-filled skyscrapers and few natural resources for growing crops or food. Plus, of course, they take full advantage of the new setting to create some terrifying and disgusting new zombie variants (one hint: It seems NYC’s rat and roach problems only got worse in the post-apocalypse).

As AMC looks to expand this franchise beyond the original series by spinning off key cast members (Norman Reedus’ Daryl Dixon is getting his own solo series, which finds him roaming the French countryside for some reason), taking the undead action into new, innovative locations is one key way to bring some fresh creativity and excitement to a series that is well over a decade into the apocalypse at this point. And zombies in New York? Yeah, there’s some appeal there.

Dead City finds post-apocalyptic Manhattan cut off from the rest of the world since the outbreak began. It turns out when the virus started, the military bombed the bridges and tunnels to try and stop the spread (spoiler alert: they failed). So New York has largely evolved on its own, with survivors carving out their own societies and the undead roaming in massive packs, or falling from the sky when they fall out of those myriad skyscrapers on occasion.

So what’s this show actually about? It would understandably take a pretty strong narrative cudgel to get Maggie and Negan working together, so Dead City goes big from the jump: Maggie’s son has been kidnapped by a Saviors-esque community in Manhattan, and Negan has a connection to the group’s leader. So, Maggie tracks down Negan to help her infiltrate New York and get her son back. To make matters a bit more complicated, Negan is now a fugitive being hunted by a marshal from a burgeoning community that is aiming to bring some frontier-style justice to the end of the world. So, while Maggie is trying to recruit Negan and get to this compound in New York, they’re also being pursued by a peace officer who just won’t quit (the marshal is played by Friday Night Lights and Grey’s Anatomy alum Gaius Charles, who makes for a solid new addition to this universe). 

The project is an interesting test case for the post-The Walking Dead (series) era of The Walking Dead (franchise), and not surprisingly, if you’re a fan of this world you’ll find a lot to like here. If you’re not a follower of this series and these characters already? Dead City probably isn’t going to create many new converts. But for the opening salvo of showing what this franchise will look like now that the flagship series has been retired? It’s not a bad start at all.

The mainline Walking Dead series often struggled under the weight of its massive ensemble cast, but parsing it down to focus on just two favorites makes for a refreshingly focused approach that we haven’t really seen all that often in this saga. There aren’t 50 different stories going on, and the narrative is relatively tight and focused. It also helps that Morgan and Cohan are great, and really carry all the twists and turns. Yes, there are new characters they meet across Manhattan, but don’t be fooled—this is Negan and Maggie’s story. We get to see Maggie continue to battle her demons, and Negan realize he has to rediscover a few of his if he plans to make it out alive.

The story itself is a bit uneven, but still an ambitious swing for a franchise that had fallen into its own tropes and cliches at times over the years. Veteran character actor Željko Ivanek (12 Monkeys, The Event)  channels his creepiest impulses as antagonist The Croat, though he could stand to be a bit more menacing on the whole. The Walking Dead set a high bar for psychopaths and villains, after all. But for the most part, it works. Which is good news, considering the fact that spinoffs seem to be where this undead ship is headed for the foreseeable future. 

For an undead adventure to the isle of Manhattan, Dead City is a trip worth taking for The Walking Dead fans, and kicks off an exciting—if still a bit too familiar—new chapter for our favorite survivors.

The Walking Dead: Dead City premieres Sunday, June 19th on AMC and AMC+

Trent Moore is a recovering print journalist, and freelance editor and writer with bylines at lots of places. He likes to find the sweet spot where pop culture crosses over with everything else. Follow him at @trentlmoore on Twitter.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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