Maybe it comes from being a New Yorker for over 20 years, but I was much more creeped out by the immortal rats and cockroaches that littered the streets of an abandoned Manhattan than by the ever-present zombies that populate it. The Walking Dead: Dead Citybeen-there, screamed-that horror franchise spin-off that has seen better days.
It’s obviously scary every time the characters descend into infested subway or sewer tunnels, and turning an iconic arena into a staging ground for post-apocalyptic mayhem is an inspired touch. (If you haven’t seen it Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.) What the Dead City lacks is a compelling human element.
Even though I suppose I’d follow fierce warrior Maggie (Lauren Cohan) anywhere, her conflict with the reformed Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) — or him? – the scoundrel who butchered her beloved husband Glenn back in the day, got awfully tired. And yet, that rematch is at the heart of this made-up sequel, the first to air since the pilot series ended last November. The story opens a few years later, with Maggie watching fugitive Negan is her only hope to save her son Hershel, who has been kidnapped and used as leverage by the latest Big Bad, known only as “the Croat” (Željko Ivanek, printer).
They meet a tribe of survivors who gather to rebel against the “Croats”, but don’t bother to learn their names. The entire supporting cast might as well be wearing red shirts.
I wish I could get mad at another human ogre darkening the lives of our heroes and anti-heroes with their megalomaniac greed. But my tolerance for this device ended with Negan, who seems to be going on a redemption tour in this latest chapter. Pursued by a law enforcement officer (Gaius Charles, scowling) who recklessly follows the rescue team into the isolated metropolis, Negan plays the role of surrogate father to a mute orphan of tragedy.
He tries to convince anyone who will listen, “I was only a monster when I had to be, when I had to put on a show to protect my people.” If you buy this, there’s a bridge to Manhattan I’d like to sell you.
The Walking Dead: Dead CitySeries premiere Sunday, June 18, 9/8c, AMC