This The Walking Dead: Dead City review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead: Dead City Episode 3
My initial comparison between The Walking Dead: Dead City and Escape from New York was, at first glance, only surface level. There are similarities, clearly, but I had no idea that The Croat (Zeljko Ivanek) was having gladiator fights in a non-union store-brand equivalent of the Octagon. Now it’s clear that Dead City is a riff on Escape from New York, and as far as things to pattern your show after, you could do worse than John Carpenter. He’s the master of genre flicks, after all; for all the emphasis on human drama and soap opera emotions, The Walking Dead universe is a survival horror universe at its very core, and touches like this show a willingness to embrace that.
Of course, you have to have something in between all the special effects and action sequences. Naturally, those gaps can be filled in with back story, be it Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Ginny (Mahina Napoleon) working out a communication system and looking for her lost dinosaur toy, Negan detailing what happened to Annie and his child, or The Croat explaining what’s keeping all of his electric lights on in between lectures about bacteria transmission. That’s not to say it’s bad, but it is wordy, and there’s a lot of it.
At a certain point, we get two sets of back story happening in the same scene, but as far as character development goes, it works. Maggie (Lauren Cohan) talks about the last time she saw Hershel (Logan Kim) prior to his kidnapping, detailing the fight the two of them had. Negan responds in kind, explaining just why Annie has been written out of this spinoff, what happened to her, and why he’s wanted by the New Babylon authorities. That it all punctuates with a pretty solid joke from Keith Staskiewicz’s script is a nice button on the scene. Both characters opened up and shared a little bit, but Maggie had to get that last little dig in at Negan to prove her superiority, and Negan had to smile and take it, because it was pretty funny and he seems to appreciate a little push back from the people around him.
All of these various explanation scenes work well, with Perlie (Gaius Charles) and The Croat being the most interesting. It’s the charismatic warlord and the enigmatic lawman squaring off; one of the things that’s worked best about The Walking Dead over the years is scenes in which the good guy and the bad guy have a stare down. The first season of Dead City has a short run and a lot of world to build; given the ratings and the dearth of other programming on AMC, I’m sure it will take this solid foundation and expand upon it further.
But until then, action sequences! Both Negan’s fight with Luther (Michael Anthony, but not the one from Van Halen) and Perlie’s fight with the walkers in the cage are very well done, and a credit to second unit director Christopher Place. He works around the special effects gimmicks well, and the fights have an appropriate sense of brutality to them that works. By this point, there aren’t many people left who can’t handle themselves in a fight, and the winner of most of these brawls is determined mostly by good fortune and efficient brutality. In Negan’s case, that lucky find of a grater in an abandoned kitchen. In Perlie’s case, making use of his handcuffs as a weapon, rather than a hindrance. Quick thinking and a willingness to make a mess keep people alive in a world of the dead.
Hence, Maggie’s quickness to dispose of Ginny’s dinosaur toy when she finds it among the gathered goodies brought in by one of the scavengers. She knows that if Negan sees that, he’ll shrug off the mission and go hunt down Ginny since she’s clearly decided to embrace her inner Muppet and take Manhattan. There’s clearly hesitance on Maggie’s face, knowing what she knows about the Negan and Ginny relationship, and director Kevin Dowling makes sure to play that up heavily towards the end of the episode. Maggie knows that this might be a bridge she can’t unburnt, but her desperation makes her consider it even knowing how much Ginny and Negan mean to one another. She hesitates, which might be a good thing. Maggie isn’t so far gone she’s willing to casually throw away other people, especially when Negan is basically her only supporter (aside from Amaia and Tommaso, who are throwing their lot in with her primarily out of a lack of other options).
Fort Madison Square Garden will be a tough nut to crack, even with local help. The Croat’s teams have been gathering all the walkers they can find and dragging them to form a living barrier around their headquarters, in addition to all their traps, blocked-off streets, and the extensive collection of gas-huffing armed guards. Getting in with bait like Negan will be easy; The Croat clearly hasn’t forgotten his face when shown the wanted poster.
Getting out alive is another story. Maggie, at one time, would have cheerfully handed Negan over to anyone willing to off him. Now, it seems like they might have actually started building some sort of cordial relationship, what with all the time spent in the sharing circle. Ruthlessness keeps people alive in this world, but some people aren’t the sort that will uphold a bargain once they get what they want.