The Walking Dead: Dead City takes a bite out of the Big Apple

Zombie fans are getting a fresh bite at undead horror with new spinoff series The Walking Dead: Dead City. Daniel Rutledge takes a look at what to expect from the new show, which refreshingly takes place in built-up New York rather than the now-familiar countryside.

Just two minutes into the first episode, this TV series shows us a zombie having its head absolutely demolished in the sort of graphic detail that originally got me into watching zombie movies a few decades ago. After the animated corpse’s skull has been savagely crushed and that skull’s innards are all nicely squished we even get a little of the resulting mush moving about as the perpetrator’s hand passes through it. Then the title card comes up pronouncing The Walking Dead: Dead City.

Well that’s a hell of a way to kick off this spin-off.

Over the many years the main series of The Walking Dead was on, it had many ups and downs, but it often managed to provide the primal attraction to the genre that is watching a living person slaying an undead ghoul. It’s a simple pleasure that of course isn’t enough on its own to make something worth watching. But then some zombie movies or TV shows—including The Walking Dead at times—skimp on the splatter, so you don’t even get the basic requirement, let alone any other good stuff on top. It’s nice that this show announces loud and clear in its opening scene that it is bringing the gore.

Although a lot of folks fell out of love with The Walking Dead as it got more and more difficult to tolerate its shortcomings, Dead City is an attractive reset for two major reasons: the characters and the setting. Lauren Cohan as Maggie and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan are clearly two of the more interesting characters of the franchise, played by two of its actors who are more enjoyable than many of the others to spend time with. As a pair, they got off on the wrong foot about as brutally as two characters in anything ever have, but despite not wanting to kill each other now, still have a lot to work through while working together.

As for the setting, New York is generally great and movies about characters going to New York can be particularly fun, as I catalogued to celebrate the release of Scream VI earlier this year. It’s one of the world’s most iconic cities and seeing its recognisable buildings decayed and falling apart in this post-apocalypse is very enticing. It’s a nice contrast to the forests, farms, railroads, prisons and suburbs The Walking Dead has mostly taken place in, which often have large open sections with no zombies. There’s so much promise in this setting as cities have a great track record with this genre and indeed both of my favourite zombie movies of all time are set in, or at least feature, cities.

Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters (aka Zombi 2) starts and ends in none other than New York City. The bulk of the film takes place on a Caribbean island, but its awesome opening scene has cops versus a zombie on a boat in New York Harbor, while the iconic final shot is zombies walking over Brooklyn Bridge toward Manhattan.

George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead spends much of its time in a large shopping mall, which is brilliant because of the fantasy it presents, the practicality of it as a location for survivors in a zombie-infested world and the social commentary it elicits about consumerism. But even before we get to the mall there’s a bunch of great urban zombie action set in Philadelphia, including the iconic shotgun-induced head explosion.

They’re far from the only great zombie movies set in urban environments. A year after Zombi 2, Fulci released City of the Living Dead, a trippy, gory, nasty zombie movie that doesn’t actually show much of the titular city but is still super cool. Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, written by James Gunn, was way better than it had any right to be. While it doesn’t stand up as well now, it’s still a solid zombie film whose urban environments are a key part of its success.

And whatever hardcore zombie purists may think about 28 Days Later, you can’t deny how effective the deserted London scenes are in that film. Danny Boyle is a skilled filmmaker and did a great job of setting the desolation against such a recognisable backdrop—it was so much more impactful than yet another bunch of zombies shuffling about in some forest.

And don’t worry about the whole New York thing being a tease. The Walking Dead: Dead City isn’t like Jurassic World: Dominion, which promised dinosaurs roaming over the whole world and never properly delivered it.

Instead, Negan and Maggie are in the Big Apple fighting zombies before the first episode has ended. And very quickly it takes advantage of that setting by having zombies fall from skyscrapers and smash onto the street around the protagonists shortly after they arrive as a terrifying welcome.

It’s not just the undead they have to worry about, either. A determined set of Babylon Marshalls are desperate to bring Negan to justice for one of his many crimes, while the whole reason these two are heading to New York is to rescue Maggie’s son from a particularly nasty scumbag called The Croat.

The city is absolutely packed with zombies and there’s a community of survivors living on the rooftops Maggie and Negan have to deal with as well. This deep into the franchise, the showrunners should have a good idea of what worked and what didn’t work with characters thus far. Now that we’re free of all of the old cast bar these two, we could get some really interesting new characters. That will be in addition to Maggie and Negan working through all their shit with each other, which promises to be interesting. And look, I’m definitely sticking around to check out more of this show to see just how well it exploits the amazing setting potential of New York.

Oh, and because I know it delivers on the all-important zombie gore, too. Mmmm, brains!