[Review] THE WALKING DEAD: DEAD CITY, Episode 1 – [2023]

You could almost hear the collective groan from naysayers when this spin-off to the massively popular AMC series was first announced. For a sector of horror fans – THE WALKING DEAD jumped the shark a few years back – and although the show remained popular through its final episode – the “must-see” aspect of the episodes faltered and ultimately grew quiet. Turns out horror fans as just as fickle as any other fan out there.

The main series had already spun off a couple of offshoots – FEAR THE WALKING DEAD finding traction – THE WALKING DEAD: WORLD BEYOND, seemed to flicker and die. So, with the main storyline coming to an end the word came out that the popular remaining characters Negan and Maggie would be heading out on their own adventure – with Daryl Dixon wandering into another lane. Daryl’s show won’t roll out till this fall but last night – we got the debut of THE WALKING DEAD: DEAD CITY – and we’re definitely heading down a violent, bloody path.

The premise is pretty simple – someone has kidnapped Maggie and Glenn’s son – taken him from Maggie’s home and is holding him hostage. Naturally, this is not sitting well with Mama Bear Maggie and it turns out that it’s an old protege of Negan’s that has committed this crime – the show opens with Maggie on the hunt for her once nemesis – and finding him in a dive bar outside of New York. Before she finds him though – she has a run-in with a zombie hoard that ends in a particularly gruesome head smashing that certainly sets the tone for what is to come.

The writers waste no time setting the stage – a handful of new characters are quickly introduced – a fun new one being Perlie Armstrong – a Marshall played wonderfully by Gaius Charles. Hoping he hangs around for a while. These “marshalls” are on the trail of Negan as well and show up at the same dive bar just after Negan and Maggie fight their way out – and we find out just how vicious these “marshalls” are.

Perlie also discovers some important evidence that spills the beans that Negan and Maggie are heading to NYC – and guess what? Now he is too.

The midpart of the pilot stalls a bit as attempts are made to resolve some backstory of the two – and to paint the two mains in a different light – and it works for the most part, but it certainly slows things down.

Not a lot of time is wasted on all that though and we quickly find ourselves on a boat crossing from Jersey into the Big Apple – and things really start kicking – and some surprises occur that actually make things a ton of fun.

The big bad in this show is The Croat – played by veteran actor Zeljko Ivanek and he is wonderfully demented in his brilliance and once all the principals are in place on the island – Negan and Maggie, the Marshall, and The Croat and his crew – it’s off to the races with each group having their own agenda and the life of Maggie and Glenn’s son hanging in the balance.

I found this pilot episode to be not only fresh and exciting but an actual opportunity for this long-running zombie drama to reinvent itself and maybe find a little bit of the magic that used to allow it to rule the genre.

It’s vicious, gritty, dirty, bloody, and most importantly – interesting.

It’s only been one episode but – I’m hanging around for a while and see where this leads – and for those of you who have sworn off the habit, you may want to reconsider. Dead City might just be full of life after all.

Dave Dreher
Co-Founder / Lead News Reporter at Gruesome Magazine
Dave is co-founder and lead news reporter for Gruesome. Dave has built his resume working for Diabolique Magazine, The Horror Channel, Horrornews.net, House of Horrors and Creature Corner. He has worked with Tom Savini on his official site since 1997 and is also co-host of the popular podcast Horror News Radio.