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TV review: 'Dead City' slightly improves 'Walking Dead' formula

Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) must team up in "The Walking Dead: Dead City." Photo courtesy of AMC
1 of 5 | Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) must team up in "The Walking Dead: Dead City." Photo courtesy of AMC

LOS ANGELES, June 13 (UPI) -- For many who gave up on The Walking Dead long before it ended after 11 seasons, Dead City is unlikely to win them back.

However. the spinoff, premiering Sunday on AMC and AMC+, does refocus on its central characters and avoids much of the repetition that made the original series tiresome.

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Fans know that Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) killed Maggie's (Lauren Cohan) boyfriend, Glenn. So when Maggie comes looking for Negan, she must be desperate to rely on him.

Maggie's son, Herschel, has been kidnapped by a warlord known as The Croat (Željko Ivanek) and taken to New York City. Since Negan knew The Croat, Maggie wants Negan to lead her to him and her son.

Negan has been caretaking the mute girl, Ginny (Mahina Napoleon), but he's also wanted by the New Babylon Marshals, so heading to New York works for him, too, despite the company.

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Reducing the cast to two main characters is the smartest decision a Walking Dead spinoff could make. Characters they meet in New York, and the ones pursuing Negan, are significant, but Dead City doesn't have to balance multiple subplots.

Enemies forced to work together is the best kind of drama, though Dead City is a bit slow to get there. The premiere begins with Negan and Maggie exchanging threats and tough talk cliches.

By Episode 2, they start to have a real conversation. Negan opens up to her about what drove him to be the villain they first encountered on The Walking Dead, and even expresses some regret.

Showing a zombified New York is ambitious. Dead City makes use of the city's skyscrapers, although tall buildings also make night scenes even harder to see with buildings blocking the moonlight.

At least they're not still in Georgia, with all the cicada sounds that made it difficult to suspend disbelief that the characters were ever traveling to new places.

New York survivors get around via zip lines across buildings, so they don't have to risk running into zombies on the ground. The show still takes place mostly inside and underground, but those New York elements give Dead City a new flavor.

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Flashbacks fill in some of the time in between The Walking Dead and Dead City, and even some times before the original show. Of course, other survivors can be as deadly, or deadlier, than the zombies.

The zombie makeup is up to the standard of the Walking Dead franchise. Dead City is sure to force Maggie and Negan to graphically kill some of them every episode.

Ultimately, Dead City is still just another Walking Dead subplot in which Maggie and Negan have to traverse the zombie apocalypse to get somewhere and save someone from someone else.

At least it gets to the point in six episodes rather than dragging it out further.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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