The Walking Dead Universe Might Outlive Even the Zombies

TV Features The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead Universe Might Outlive Even the Zombies

Trends come and go, but zombies are forever.

With The Walking Dead: Dead City’s recent premiere (and runaway success) after last year’s finale of the long, long-running O.G. The Walking Dead, in addition to the eighth season of Fear the Walking Dead making its rounds, it seems we simply can’t get enough of the undead. And just like the creatures that roam this one post-apocalyptic universe, it does seem like The Walking Dead will never die—nor does anyone particularly want it to.

And make no mistake: the former three are not the only iterations of the Kirkman Cinematic Universe, either. They just happen to be the biggest and most popular. (Other iterations have included World Beyond, Tales of The Walking Dead, and Dead in the Water, to name only a few.) AMC is dragging spin-offs from shallow graves at a faster pace than most zombies can walk. 

The harshest fans claim that, with all these spin-offs, AMC is just milking the cash cow for all it’s worth; that the real story, first birthed by Robert Kirkman in 2003 with his comics, was buried a while ago (perhaps with the death of Carl Grimes in Season 8, but likely long before). Yet, the way the shows approach its zombies—and, more importantly, its human characters and their relationships with each other—is what has given it a solid leg to stand on in the past, and for decades to come.

The horror genre has never been my favorite, but for some reason, I’m kind of obsessed with zombies—and if the Internet is any indication, I’m certainly not alone. Perhaps it’s because zombies were once humans, and the science behind zombification isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility. Yet while media like Zombieland, 28 Days Later, and now The Last of Us are all big players in the psychological minefield that is zombie media, there is something special about The Walking Dead universe.

TWD was by no means the first piece of zombie literature to grace our screensor pages, if you’re a fan of the comicswhen Rick Grimes first appeared on T.V. in 2010. Despite this, it has almost become its own sub-genre in the zombie zeitgeist at large. Dead City is its third, official full-length T.V. brainchild (others have been limited series or anthologies), and is set in New York City. This is a much different setting from the original streets of rural Georgia or FTWD’s L.A., which was criticized upon its release, because, save for its location, not much seemed different from the original. While this is somewhat true, FTWD worked because it takes place on the opposite side of the country, in a city—Los Angeles—where people are innately different than Southerners.

Unlike FTWD, however, which introduced entirely new characters upon its conception (until Morgan was introduced in later seasons), Dead City is doing something different that will surely pull in the most loyal fans, past criticisms be damned: fan favorites Maggie and Negan are the stars, paired up to navigate new obstacles. 

To those only tangentially familiar with either the show or the comics, this pairing seems a little jarring. After all, Negan is the one who brutally killed Maggie’s husband, Glenn Rhee, in Season 7—and given that Negan bashed Glenn in the head with a spiked baseball bat, no one would’ve blamed Maggie for not wanting anything to do with him. Yet these complexities of human relationships are what is at the heart of The Walking Dead. While the zombies may be the literal “walking dead,” Rick Grimes said it best in Season 6: “This is how we [humans] survive: We tell ourselves we are the walking dead.” 

This is why AMC could (and have already begun to) make three dozen more spin-offs, all set in different locations, and they would all still work. The Walking Dead has always been a show about humanity more than it is about zombies. While it’ll never stop being fascinating to imagine the different human reactions to the apocalypse, it’s especially gratifying to see where we come together at the end of the day when the world has abandoned us and we’re left with nothing but each other to contend with.

With Dead City, New York City finally has her time to shine. We’ve seen how NYC responds to alien attacks in Marvel movies, but it’s a great question of how tough New Yorkers would survive something like a zombie outbreak in a city as dense as that one. True to form, in Dead City, New Yorkers are doing what they do best: dealing with the insanity by going about business as usual. NYC may have been overrun by zombies, but that hasn’t stopped anyone from reopening dive bars with neon “OPEN” signs that draw not only its living clientele to the beacons of light under the cover of nighttime but likely its undead population along with it.

Dead City is also different from its siblings in its fundamental operation. It’s over a decade into the apocalypse; characters are rebuilding civilization, and zombies are no longer the most immediate concern. Maggie enlists Negan’s help to rescue Hershel—the son she had with Glenn—from a man called “The Croat” (not a super threatening villain name). Killing zombies every second of every episode got repetitive a while ago, so human conflicts like this are always welcome. While the kidnapping plot feels a little contrived, and this post-apocalyptic world has long since felt overwhelmingly scary, what makes these shows unique is the ever-present threat of zombies to further add to the dramas and tensions of the often more frightening human threat. 

The aforementioned unlikely team-ups and neon bar signs alighting the post-apocalyptic skyline of New York City are only a drop in the bucket of elements in the TWD universe that the harsher among us claim to be unrealistic. It wouldn’t be very fun to watch a realistic zombie show, though—whatever that might entail. If the recent world pandemic was any grim indicator of how humanity might react, then perhaps there’s something to be said about wanting to instead watch someone carrying around a katana as their main, very practical weapon of choice, or getting trapped in a military tank by a horde of zombies in the middle of downtown ATL. 

When it all comes down to it, The Walking Dead and its successors lend a weird and inexplicable semblance of comfort to its viewers. Perhaps this is because, the more we watch a show about a world that’s so scary, gory, and unimaginable, the more we believe it’s not so scary. We believe that, if it came down to it, we’d be able to navigate streets teeming with the undead. And in the end, it’s nice to know that in a world full of the walking dead, the scariest things are not the unfathomable creatures of horror stories, but other humans.

Gillian Bennett is a writer and editor who has been featured in Strike Magazine, Her Campus, and now Paste Magazine. She enjoys watching copious reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and fantasizing about living in London. You can find more of her neverending inner monologue and online diary on her Twitter or her blog.

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

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