Tales of the Walking Dead Breaks the TWD Universe Wide Open

An anthology format livens up Tales of the Walking Dead and makes the future of Walking Dead spinoffs seem brighter.

Terry Crews as Joe, Olivia Munn as Evie - Tales of the Walking Dead _ Season 1, Episode 1
Photo: Curtis Bonds Baker | AMC

This Tales of the Walking Dead article contains no spoilers.

The bevy of spinoffs announced in the wake of the final season of The Walking Dead has been the subject of everything from excitement to exasperation among audiences. For anyone who checked out with the death of Abraham and Glenn at the onset of season 7, it could seem that the franchise is trying to get blood from a turnip.

For many fans, however, placing a greater emphasis on the ensemble cast while allowing the structural hierarchy of the early seasons to slip away has created a renewed interest in the show. With its newest entry, Tales of the Walking Dead, opening up the franchise in ways that the main series never could, it seems that now more than ever, the sky could be the limit for The Walking Dead.

Premiering Aug. 14, 2022 on AMC (and three days before on AMC+), Tales is an anthology series that combines the character-driven nature of The Walking Dead with a more compressed horror short story format hailing back to the early days of EC horror comics and the many homages thereof. Keeping things fast and loose on the story development side, the first season is set to run six episodes, each of which intentionally cultivates a different look and feel.

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Opening with a surprisingly hopeful episode of two seeming opposites brought together by chance, the second episode then drops us in the middle of a workplace drama exploring the tension between a perfectionist and her long-suffering receptionist. The third episode fleshes out the gory backstory of TWD antagonist Alpha and her Whisperers before the fourth takes us behind the scenes with a scientist attempting to document the migration patterns of walkers.

Traveling from rom-com to sci-fi sendoff to villain origin story to nature documentary within a handful of episodes is a major shift in tone for a series that spent its first eight seasons firmly entrenched in one man’s story. Keeping things short and sweet while exploring the many possibilities of the zombie apocalypse is the exact thing to enliven a show that has long depended on slow-burn reveals and lengthy character arcs. Not replacing but accentuating the main series, Tales also gives longtime fans the tantalizing possibility of revisiting beloved deceased characters like Sasha, Andrea, Lori, the Greene family, and yes, maybe even Glenn.

Though there were always auxiliary players that made TWD great, having a main character inherently meant limiting the story possibility outside of that narrative. Though Rick and his surviving family remain a major draw for many fans, giving a side series to explore the shifts in his and Michonne’s relationship over their years apart while allowing space for other characters to take center stage in their own ongoing dramas is a stroke of genius when it comes to keeping interest in the series going strong despite its pending finale. Yet, the character expansion of the final seasons of the main series and the addition of Tales are far from the first time the series has branched out into unexplored realms.

Fear the Walking Dead was the first among the TWD spinoffs, kicking off in 2015 and fully developing its own corner of the universe. First running as a prequel series that showed much of the foundational story of the zombie apocalypse, it gave a glimpse into a historical moment that Rick had quite literally slept through due to his time in a coma. With season 4, the show brought in Rick’s friend Morgan as a lead, shifting to a continuation of his story alongside its other ongoing plot threads. Keeping much in line with other spinoffs, there has been little direct crossover between Fear and the main series. However, its interest in creating a larger narrative for Morgan, whose storyline so often hinged on his relationship with Rick, has proven to be one of the franchise’s best moves.

Meanwhile, though it was more or less a blip on the radar for the main series, World Beyond remains one of the more tightly-plotted and intriguing TWD arcs. Focusing on two sisters who leave the relative safety of their home to search for their father, the series combined YA sensibilities with the general brutality of the zombie apocalypse to create something that remains unique in genre TV. Introducing an intriguing cast of characters, complete with complicated villains that defied easy moral expectations, this 20-episode saga was one glimpse at the potential that opening up the series to a more wide-ranging demographic would create.

AMC has also aired a handful of web series to help flesh out the universe, including Torn Apart, Cold Storage, Red Machete, and The Oath, alongside Fear web series Flight 462, Passage, The Althea Tapes, and Dead in the Water. Though generally a bit on the short side, these all worked to fill in some blanks in the greater story of TWD, making them a lot of fun to watch for completionists or anyone who just plain wants to see more of what was happening in the world while Rick and his crew were joining up.

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In addition to Tales, and a final season of Fear yet to come, the announcement of spinoffs like Isle of the Dead, set to focus on the complicated dynamic between Maggie and Negan, an unnamed Daryl-centric series, and a six-episode miniseries continuing the adventures of Michonne and Rick all combine to provide both the ability to carry through as-yet unresolved plot points for fan favorites while exploring new avenues for the franchise. Nowhere is that potential more clear than in the anthology format of Tales, which will allow several stories that never could have fit within the paradigm of the other shows to bask in the sun.

With many characters long relegated to supporting roles stepping into the spotlight and an interest in developing the series as a true ensemble cast without the leadership hierarchy of its early seasons, The Walking Dead franchise has opened countless new doors while closing relatively few. Though many may still hold a grudge against the franchise for the many vicious, occasionally shock value deaths of its many years on the air, it’s put itself in a position to do great things going forward, making Tales of the Walking Dead the best “jumping on” moment for new viewers that the series has seen since its early days on the air.

Tales of the Walking Dead premieres new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC. Episode 1 is available to stream on AMC+ now.