The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live Marches On

Charlie von Peterffy ‘24 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Spoilers ahead.

“One life. One unstoppable life.”

The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live is a bombastic, cheesy, and substantial recenter on The Walking Dead (TWD) Universe’s primary protagonists. After years of waiting—with a mixed bag of intriguing continuation, bland filler, and offensive dullness in Walking Dead TV to fill the time—TWD‘s original revolver-slinging protagonist Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) finally, finally, FINALLY returns. More than a decade after blowing up a bridge where a horde of zombies slowly trudged toward his family’s home in season 9 of TWD, seemingly sacrificing himself in its destruction, Rick’s tough-as-nails girlfriend and, unbeknownst to him, baby mama Michonne (Danai Gurira) finds him. She discovers a heavily armed militia force called the Civic Republic Military (CRM) in Pennsylvania kidnapped him the day he blew up the bridge, now memorialized literally as “The Bridge.” Since then, he’s tried escaping four times to no avail at great personal costs. Though she goes through a harrowing journey to find him, she discovers his deep-seated trauma both from the CRM and surviving in the original show for so long restricts him from leaving. Therefore, she must show him the power of their love, and force him to remember their power when together.

If anything in the above sounds corny, it’s because it is. This newest TWD spinoff is by and large the best yet, though it’s not without its faults. The story reaches great heights, with compelling character moments from both old and new faces to reveal a globally destructive force within the franchise, analyzing themes of trauma and love. The show centers around Rick and Michonne’s love for each other, the corrosive effects trauma can produce, and how the pair’s love is supposedly an “unstoppable force” even in the face of an apocalyptically trained militia. This premise works when there’s sufficient dialogue and more substance than meets the eye, but oftentimes the show falls back on a lot of malnourished Walking Dead tropes. For longtime fans it’ll feel like a run of episodes from the original show’s middle seasons; a lot of good ideas, narratives, action, and acting paired with bloated writing. “Because I didn’t give up. I didn’t give ME up like you did! Where is he?” Michonne demands hollowly in the middle of a sword fight with a soldier in an acid-gassed field surrounded by dozens of walkers. It’s filled with lines like these where characters either pause to say inorganic and unnecessary one-liners or similarly hammy monologues. For newcomers, it’s just hollow. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen too often, especially in the first three episodes, leaving plenty of room for gritty heartbreak and compelling thematic exploration.

The cast, conversely, is The Ones Who Live’s strongest component. While a lot can be said about all co-stars—Donald Okafor (Craig Tate) and Nat (Matthew Jeffers) are charismatic brief additions, Major General Jonathan Beale (Terry O’Quinn) and General Thorne (Lesley Ann-Brandt) are conniving and erratic as new antagonists, and Rick’s kidnapper and other former Walking Dead star Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) returns with tragic grace—but the central duo deserves the most praise.

Michonne is a badass through and through, and Gurira knows how to switch between sentiment and strength with ease. She would waver in the most subtly demanding explosions of emotion, but for the most part, she’s caring and tough. Rick is phenomenal. In the original series, Lincoln succeeded in bringing Rick to life because he was subliminal, hard-hitting, and shatteringly vulnerable when tragedy struck. Here, Rick is destroyed; though his survival instincts remain strong, his flame dies when he is ripped from his family and forced into military service. Lincoln reprises this updated version of the character with irresistible dedication, not only bringing the same man back to screens after years of absence but also a new, intense moroseness to Rick’s emotional lows. The two together also have a newfound chemistry that was arguably nonexistent beforehand, making their relationship—and this show’s actual premise—feel realistic and necessary.

The visual scope and sound design of the show are solid, which even the original series lacked at various points. The action is tight, the explosions are shaky, and the dialogue is crisp. Now, as the most expensive TWD show ever produced at $82 million an episode, these efforts paid off at least for the sites and sounds of everything.

Overall, The Ones Who Live is an explosive return to The Walking Dead Universe. Old tropes and flawed writing weigh it down from reaching the same qualitative heights as the franchise’s earliest years, but its dedicated cast and refreshing return to the original storyline makes this a compellingly fun TV show. For old fans and newcomers alike, there’s plenty to chew on.

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