The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live Review – Back On The Main Quest
7 mins read

The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live Review – Back On The Main Quest

Of the three Walking Dead spin-offs to debut following the main series’ finale in 2022, surely The Ones Who Live had the most interest around it, and it’s easy to see why. It is, after all, the “one with Rick and Michonne.” While Maggie and Negan’s Dead City and the simply titled Daryl Dixon each had their own conceptual merits, this is the one that has the most mass appeal and could pull lapsed fans back into The Walking Dead Universe (TWDU), as AMC calls it. But it would need to be high-quality, too. Fortunately, it is good–in the four episodes I’ve seen anyway.

The Ones Who Live has a lot of catching up to do given the multiple time-jumps this series has undergone since Rick, and later Michonne, departed the main series, and it smartly uses the early portion of its six-episode season to do just that. The burning question on my mind has long been, “What could possibly have kept Rick from getting home?” Michonne went looking for him, so naturally she won’t return empty-handed, but for Rick to stay away from his loved ones for so long strained credulity given how he’s been characterized for over a decade on the show. As it turns out, this is the crux of the first season of this spin-off.

As soon as the opening scene, it’s obvious why Rick hasn’t been back home, and that conflict sets up an intriguing drama for the star-crossed lovers that really lets Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira soak up their iconic roles once more. They’re excellent actors, and their presence in this world has been sorely missed. As a longtime viewer, it’s great to have them back, but it’s even better that they return with a compelling rift driving them apart.

The Ones Who Live makes a point to resolve many of the series' lingering mysteries.
The Ones Who Live makes a point to resolve many of the series’ lingering mysteries.

This season is not so much Rick and Michonne being unstoppable like they have been in the past. It’s about them trying to find one another again emotionally, not just physically. The long-awaited recoupling of the heroic pair is thwarted by formidable powers beyond their control, making the season wisely more complicated than a “Richonne” walker kills highlight reel fit for YouTube.

Like other TWD spin-offs, The Ones Who Live feels determined to expand its world of lore, leaning into some angles that were barely covered in the main series, but those which series obsessives will know well, such as the Civil Republic Military (CRM), the strongest organizing body we’ve seen to date and one which makes the Commonwealth look like a high school’s mock government club. Whereas the Commonwealth depicted injustice through an oligarchy that sneakily maintained power by turning its working class against itself, the CRM is more unabashedly ironfisted, and combining those impulses with the geographical reach at its disposal leaves virtually everyone else at its severely limited mercy. The might-makes-right CRM is The Walking Dead’s evil empire finally given its starring role after years of suggestion and moral grey areas, right down to how they stand at attention as a sea of faceless uniformed soldiers as their leader rallies the troops for their next violent mission.

That would make their Darth Vader one Major General Beale, played by the legendary Terry O’Quinn (Lost, The Stepfather). My biggest gripe with the first two-thirds of this season is that O’Quinn isn’t in it enough. Whenever he’s on screen, he steals the scene, just like he always did on Lost, too. Though I’d not want him to be forced into the show just for the sake of screen time, there’s a particularly long stretch of philosophical back-and-forth in a later episode that feels like it should’ve been broken up with more insight into the CRM’s activity, thereby being a great spot to showcase the brilliant character actor.

Each of these recent spin-offs has sought to repaint the series in new colors, figurative and literal. Following Manhattan and the French countryside, The Walking Dead’s latest escape is to a more setpiece- and action-oriented setting, wherever it may be in any particular scene. Though Michonne and Rick each get plenty of time to work to deliver long bouts of character work, there’s clearly a lot more going on here in terms of explosive, over-the-top action than ever before.

Terry O'Quinn shines in his role, but what else is new?
Terry O’Quinn shines in his role, but what else is new?

When these scenes would unfold, they’d remind me that this was once meant to be a movie trilogy before COVID and other factors altered the project’s future. Plenty of past TWD episodes dealt with gunfights, of course, but The Ones Who Live supplements the typical militaristic skirmishes and undead head-smushing with things like helicopter crashes and explosions. It feels like some of that movie money managed to find its way to the new series. For years, the main series simply set things in nondescript woods of the eastern US, so it feels like the infamously thrifty AMC has finally loosened its purse strings a bit. Still, when things aren’t blowing up or crashing down around them, Rick and Michonne still bring an important heart to the story, including multiple scenes about their kids that had me, a parent, a little glossy-eyed.

The Ones Who Live doesn’t undo some of the series’ longest-held issues, such as some confounding combat sequences when the undead are involved that nearly betray the fact that anyone alive a decade and a half after zombies showed up surely mustn’t be inept (right?). And I hesitate to give this series an endorsement stronger than that which I gave Daryl Dixon, which felt remarkably different, whereas this one, for all its strengths, does feel like we are getting back to some familiar, albeit more explosive, territory.

I’ve seen Michonne and Rick wrestle with selfishness versus selflessness many times over by now. But I guess that’s the assignment; I want to see them back together again. I want to see them get home to their family and friends. So I’m in it for the long haul, we’re back on the critical path, and if they happen to bite out the throats of a few fascists along the way, maybe it’s okay that I’ve seen them do that before.

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