Negan, the formidable figure in leather attire, exudes an air of confidence as he effortlessly dispatches both zombies and humans alike. However, his true nature has gradually unfolded since his introduction in Season 6 of The Walking Dead. The layers beneath his tilted demeanor and witty banter unveil a complex man concealing genuine emotions and insecurities. The series The Walking Dead: Dead City delves deeper into this aspect, offering Jeffrey Dean Morgan a richer character portrayal beyond surface-level coolness.
On the contrary, Maggie embarks on a journey that leads her in the opposite direction. We have become familiar with Maggie’s evolution, witnessing Lauren Cohan‘s portrayal of her transformation from a resilient farm girl to a capable leader. Maggie refuses to be subjugated and is willing to go to great lengths to secure resources for her people and herself. This was evident in the previous season of The Walking Dead, and Dead City further reinforces it through impactful flashback moments. Director Gandja Monteiro effectively utilizes the entire ensemble cast, particularly Maggie and Perlie, to explore their inner struggles and motivations.
The premise of Maggie hunting down Negan is indeed genuine. However, what The Croat (Zeljko Ivanek) desires from her is a fabrication. Ginny’s trip down memory lane reveals that The Croat’s true objective has always been Negan. Surprisingly, it appears that someone else, a figure lurking in the shadows, is the true power behind the throne, instilling fear and commanding The Croat’s obedience. This unexpected twist adds a refreshing element to the narrative, as the show predominantly featured villains who were clearly in charge, with their subordinates holding subordinate roles. This revelation shakes the established dynamics.
The setting of New York City, known for its surprises, sets the stage for the story. Brenna Kouf’s script prominently features a major revelation: one of Maggie’s allies is a traitor. Although the traitor offers a convincing explanation for their actions, the revelation fails to resonate with the intended audience—the other characters. Those of us who have followed The Walking Dead since the comic book era have encountered similar arguments before, which often go unheard. Ironically, the place presented as an escape option is the same location The Croat threatened to involve Maggie in his reckless quest. The traitor believes it offers safety and security behind its fortified walls. However, the fact that the buraz managed to infiltrate it and force one of the community’s leaders into a perilous mission to Manhattan suggests otherwise.
Clearly, safety cannot be guaranteed when dealing with a determined adversary. Meanwhile, the party in search of Negan operates fearlessly on an island overrun by zombies, even using them as a source of energy. The Croat and his men display no fear of walkers, even when they come in large numbers, unlike outsiders such as Negan, Maggie, and Perlie. The groups the Croat considers significant are far larger than any horde the survivors in Alexandria have faced. New York City poses threats on a massive scale, both above and below ground, including the treacherous sewers teeming with relentless crowds of walkers.
The claustrophobic nature of the sewers intensifies the horror. This is particularly true for Manhattan’s sewers, which have witnessed their fair share of terrifying tales, from CHUD and Gator to Mimic and the conclusion of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. The corridors congested with zombie corpses are horrifying enough, but Maggie’s exposure to methane gas poisoning takes it to another level. As if that weren’t repulsive enough, a fatberg obstructs one of their escape routes.
To make matters worse, a new breed of zombie, unique to New York, emerges. These are not the airborne walkers seen previously, easily avoided by staying away from tall buildings. This repugnant walker is the king zombie. Comparable to the concept of a rat king (a group of rats stuck together, often by frozen urine or entangled tails), the zombie king is a shocking sight. Multiple zombies fused by decay and putrefaction work in unison, creating an abomination that poses a formidable challenge for Maggie.
This horrifying spectacle not only offers excellent visual horror but also showcases the impressive work of KNB FX, continually pushing the boundaries of grotesque imagery. Whether or not the release of the film Evil Dead Rise coincided with the development of Dead City is uncertain, but there is a spiritual similarity that works in its favor. As someone who fondly remembers Evil Dead 2, I appreciated the monster in Evil Dead Rise, and I similarly admire the rat king zombie attacking Maggie. It provides chaotic and gruesome body horror that diverges from her usual predictable foes. When in doubt, the Walking Dead franchise embraces grossness to evoke fear—an established approach.
This episode is solid, featuring tense scenes and engaging cat-and-mouse pursuits between various characters and walkers. However, the emotional moments involving Amaia and Tommaso fall flat, whereas the characters expected to continue into the second season achieve more compelling engagement. Their departure from the show feels somewhat contrived, which has become a recurring pattern in The Walking Dead’s structure.
In this universe, everyone has a potential exit strategy, from main characters to minor ones. Departures are seldom pleasant (except for Lauren Cohan), but they are an inherent reality for those without plot armor. The fact that anyone, apart from those listed in the opening credits, managed to escape The Croat’s trap is surprising, especially considering one of the escapees was the betrayer—the proverbial Judas goat.
Covering superheroes, anything dark, horror, and more! Lead writer for Fan Fest