This The Walking Dead: Dead City review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead: Dead City Episode 2
Making New York City the setting for The Walking Dead: Dead City is nothing if not a bold move. It’s such a familiar environment for anyone who watches movies or television; you might have never been to the five boroughs, but New York is one of the most iconic pop culture locations in media history. As such, there’s a lot of baggage to be brought along for the ride, but Dead City‘s first real look into The Walking Dead‘s version of the Big Apple seems to take that into account.
There have already been rats and roaches aplenty, thanks to New York City’s signature giant piles of garbage bags. There are also construction scaffolds and tall buildings aplenty. But it’s out first meeting with Tommaso (Jonathan Higginbotham) and Amaia (Karina Ortiz) that really makes the location feel authentic. Their first instinct when confronted with the outsiders Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) isn’t to drag them back to a holding cell and figure out what to do with them, it’s to yell at one another loudly and publicly. I’ve never lived in New York City; I’ve only visited several times. However, I’ve been around enough New Yorkers to know that even when they’re being nice to out-of-towners, they’re still loud. It’s a big city with attitude to spare, even when it’s full of motorcycle gangs and toothy corpses.
In and of itself, the society of people who get around by taking zip lines and climbing through elevator shafts is interesting enough; it turns entire blocks into fortresses without having to court the dangers on city streets and underground. However, it’s nice for Maggie and Negan not to be the dysfunctional people fighting with one another. Certainly, Tommaso and Amaia get along better than our heroes by and large, but rather than passive aggressive glares and sniping, it’s just raw, expressed emotion. Emotion that immediately puts Maggie on the defensive and forces her to start lying prior to taking a page from Negan’s helpful play book and sharing real information about herself.
If nothing else, it allows for the episode to be an effective exposition dump all the way around. We learn what it’s like hiding among the ruins of the city being pursued by the Croat (Željko Ivanek). Tommaso and Amaia talk about what life was like during the fall of New York (and why the sewers are a no-go for getting into Madison Square Garden), and we learn a lot about the Croat and his previous relationship with Negan. Nothing terribly exciting, but necessary to establish just how this world works, and what it means going forward.
Exposition only works if the actors are good enough to sell it, no matter how well-crafted it is in Eli Jorne’s script. This sort of story time dialog dump is old hat to Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who continues to find new ways to explore and broaden the character of Negan without taking away from the impact of his deeds. Watching Negan get into character to confront the Buraz is impressive enough, but watching him take that character off after doing something so horrible even Maggie is taken aback is doubly impressive. We’ve seen Negan do worse, but that was only because he was doing it to a beloved character; had we known who the young Buraz (Croatian for “brother”) was, it might have been more emotionally impactful and less of a cool special effects show-reel.
“Who’s There?” is structured in a pretty simple way. We slow down to talk speed up to fight, then repeat that until the episode is over. There’s a lot of action in between the information, and director Loren Yaconelli does a good job of milking the tension of Ginny’s escape from New Babylon and Negan and Maggie’s pursuit of Esther (Eleanor Reissa) at the very beginning. There’s less you can do with two characters chained up in a bathroom, but it’s never a bad idea to lean on the strength of your actors’ ability to play off one another. If nothing else, it allows Maggie to get an insight into Negan’s mindset and just why he was able to reintegrate to normal society after spending so much time as, essentially, a cult leader. Like Ezekiel, he was putting on and taking off a character; The Croat, apparently, is the real deal.
There’s a difference between going after someone putting on an act or someone who, as Dean Learner might say, is putting on the truth. There’s a danger in truth that no mask can replicate. The cunning operators have always tended to be the ones who got to the top, from The Governor to Negan to Pamela Milton, with their tertiary figures being the crazy and unpredictable ones. (Anyone remember the great Steven Ogg as Simon, the scariest of the Saviors?) They may not have stayed totally sane, but they at least started there.
This time, the loosest cannon is also the one calling the shots. As Amaia tells Maggie at the end of this episode, “So you want to get the psycho? That we can help you with, if you’re looking to die.”