The Walking Dead: Dead City” Season 1 Episode 01-03 – Escape to New York

SERIES REVIEW – With The Walking Dead over and Fear the Walking Dead closed, the franchise continues with Dead City, featuring the bloody adventures of Maggie and Negan. They team up for a six-episode mission in Manhattan, which – now, 15 (or more?) years after the saga’s zombocalypse – is in less than ideal condition. Dead City offers a better quality overall than either of the previous series gave us in a couple of years, but much of the key character development and interesting development of the two characters’ strange relationship with each other during the last season of The Walking Dead has been undone, and that somehow makes this series feel bland.


An interesting question is who the target audience of the Dead City might have been. Big fans of The Walking Dead? The completists? Specifically fans of Maggie and Negan? The casual viewer? Those who think the best years of the franchise are behind us and that the last half of The Walking Dead was a huge waste of time? Whoever this series is for, there’s not much new here and there are plenty of fresher, better zombie series on the market that have more elaborate, interesting, original content in their episodes.

On the other hand, it’s also worth pondering whether the backtracking on the Dead City relationship between Maggie and Negan is for old fans who missed season eleven of The Walking Dead, or whether they had to revisit their old antagonisms because the creators assumed that the only interesting dynamic between these two characters is when they are at each other’s throats until they get all the forgiveness they need again.

Because let’s remember: we left them “fine” with each other when Maggie invited Negan, his wife and unborn child to Hilltop. They were not friends, but they could live near each other… then Dead City picks up a few years later and shatters that to take us through this redemptive story arc again.



“New York, New York… and “The Croatian”…


On the plus side, the Dead City’s insistence that Maggie and Negan still need to sort things out – and, to the story’s credit, explanations here and there as to why Maggie returns to her attitude towards him at the end of season 10 – the adventures ahead offer an Escape from New York-style apocalyptic urban setting and a new, evil enemy in the person of Željko Ivan the “Croat”. A city crawling with zombies is nothing new to the genre, of course, but it’s relatively new to The Walking Dead (Atlanta was a long time ago, at least), so there are moments here that will make us feel exhilarated. As for the actors, and most notably the two leads, Lauren Cohan and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, they continue to work wonderfully together, despite once again having to play the conflicted, angry characters.

And what about zombies and the action sequences (also) associated with them? For example, the ‘walking’ undead are used as enemies in cage fights this time, but we also see hair-raising slides between buildings, new weapons, armour and a really new insight into a completely different world. A lot of the action takes place in darkness and shadow, sometimes to a frustrating degree (be prepared to have to turn up the brightness on your TV), but it’s still a nice contrast to the big, boring, repetitive aspect of the last few seasons of the main series. It’s the most dystopian The Walking Dead has ever felt, given that our characters are sneaking through a ruined metropolis (specifically midtown Manhattan). It’s possible to visit crumbling landmarks and a completely collapsed civilization.



Why Maggie and Negan?


If you think about it, Maggie and Negan didn’t get their own spinoff for no reason, right? The Walking Dead has carried the burden for years of having a large but underused cast that was overly attached, and many characters were underutilized. The Dead City could give these characters a new lease of life, giving them the opportunity to explore their personalities and motivations more deeply. This is of course particularly true for the characters of Maggie and Negan, who have been neglected in many previous series and are now in top form.

And the fact that Maggie learned to live with Negan – and not just let him live, which she did in season 8 when he spared her life – was a huge arc in a series where very little emotional change occurred (the characters’ paths generally went from innocent to dangerous or from threatening to kind). The fact that Dead City returns to their previous hateful counterparts also undoes the character development of Negan Walking Deades, which we got to know as a loving and responsible family man at the end. They do explain why this ended, but in a rather forced way.

Dead City draws from Maggie’s trauma and Negan’s position as the former founder/leader of the Saviors to explore a new niche corner of a devastated America (at least for the series), where Manhattan has become a truly isolated island thanks to the army blowing up bridges and tunnels, and as a crowded skyscraper graveyard, now ruled by a psychopath who comes from Negan’s past. Someone whose methods are reminiscent of the Saviors gang – even going so far as to torture Maggie again by kidnapping her teenage son Hershel (now played by Logan Kim) and hiding him in the concrete jungle. Thematically, this near-impossible rescue mission works well, but it pits Maggie and Negan against each other again, years after the events of The Walking Dead finale, missing an opportunity to build on what has already been established between these two beloved characters.



New characters


In terms of characters, the most striking new feature here is the casting of Mahina Napoleon as the young Ginny, a mute girl who is protected by Negan. It’s an almost too obvious attempt to get in on the “surrogate dad in the apocalypse” trend (yes, we’re thinking of The Last of Us.) Making Ginny mute is also a cheap solution, as it allows them to get away with fleshing out the character more. Granted, this is still less disturbing than the fact how little use this pairing is and the only reason it was needed was for the Last of Us knockoff.

Of course, in The Walking Dead, Negan had a previous relationship with a child, but his adult-child relationship with Judith, Rick’s daughter, was much more interesting and complex than here with Ginny.

Other new cast members include Gaius Charles, a lawman from a nearby town who is hunting Negan, Jonathan Higginbotham and Karina Ortiz as town survivors hiding from the Croatian, and, in a small role, Michelle Hurd from Star Trek: Picard. She’s mentioned because she’s fun to have in the universe, outside of the fact that her husband Garret Dillahunt also starred in Fear the Walking Dead for a few years.

The strongest new character, however, is the aforementioned Željko Ivanek as the “Croatian”, a real psychopath, but with a logic behind his actions. As the episodes slowly reveal the meaning of his actions and why he has launched this whole personal crusade, we get to know a real villain with big plans and ruthless foresight.



Tighter, more focused…


A great advantage of The Walking Dead: Dead City is that it allows for a tighter, more focused story. The fact that the plot is set in a ruined city also nicely transports the saga from the stale farms to the gruesome, dystopian ruins. The stars, Lauren Cohan and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, are here for a reason, and that is because the actors are completely immersed in these characters and work incredibly well together.

However, in the final season of The Walking Dead, too much of the healing and forgiveness in their relationship is taken back and undone, and Dead City may feel like a step backwards from the original series. The three episodes so far have made up for this in plot and action, so we’ll see what happens next…



The Walking Dead: Dead City

Direction - 7.2
Actors - 7.5
Story - 7.4
Visuels/Action - 8.2
Ambiance - 7.8



The Walking Dead: Dead City opens a new chapter in the franchise, with Maggie and Negan once again at the centre of the action as they follow their bloody adventures in Manhattan, a city plagued by zombies. The series offers a new setting, a darker atmosphere and fresh challenges, but also takes a step backwards in terms of the dynamics and relationships between the characters that have been developed in the past. This move may cause controversy among fans, as many would have liked to see further new relationships and development between the characters.

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BadSector is a seasoned journalist for more than twenty years. He communicates in English, Hungarian and French. He worked for several gaming magazines – including the Hungarian GameStar, where he worked 8 years as editor. (For our office address, email and phone number check out our impressum)

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