Imagine a soaking wet sponge. Now imagine a pair of hands spending 13 years wringing that sponge for every last possible tiny drop of water — that’s kinda how AMC has creatively handled its former mega-hit The Walking Dead, a post-apocalyptic drama that went from being the biggest series on TV a decade ago to seeming more like one of its weary undead shamblers, being forced to march on and on for 177 episodes amid cast exits and a diminishing audience (284 episodes if you count spin-off Fear the Walking Dead).
Yet AMC’s latest effort to spin off the series, The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon, is earning early praise from critics as the best Walking Dead in years.
The official premise: “Daryl (Norman Reedus) washes ashore in France and struggles to piece together how he got there and why. The series tracks his journey across a broken but resilient France as he hopes to find a way back home. As he makes the journey, though, the connections he forms along the way complicate his ultimate plan.”
Now here’s an unofficial description, which you’ll notice is a bit more clear and hook-y: “Daryl must escort a young girl who might be humanity’s savior across a treacherous zombie-filled landscape in France.”
Which is also the plot of HBO’s The Last of Us, something that led to the EW headline “Are Daryl Dixon and The Last of Us the Same Show?” Says executive producer Greg Nicotero, “I remember watching the first episode of The Last of Us and going, ‘Ummm… guys? … [But] we were already deep into production when The Last of Us came out.”
Of course, the hugely successful The Last of Us game came out in 2013, and it’s tough to imagine a team of creatives working on a zombie TV show over so many years were entirely unaware of its storyline, but OK — there are probably a limited number of truly great post-apocalyptic zombie story tropes and, after nearly 200 episodes, the Walking Dead team might have literally used up all the other ones.
The early reviews are very good for the show’s six-episode debut season (and a second season has been ordered). Right now there are only five reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, but they’re all positive. Some samples:
The Wrap: “Can it resuscitate a franchise many feel has long-since died? The jury is still out. But as a standalone entry, The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon is a surprisingly gorgeous, soul-stirring, and riveting watch. Norman Reedus said they were making art with this show. And you know what? He wasn’t lying.”
Total Film: “With its spin-offs, the franchise has carved out an opportunity to start afresh, to streamline itself and revert back to its glory days. Well, The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon doesn’t quite achieve that, but it comes much closer than its predecessor The Walking Dead: Dead City – and close enough, really, to make it worth your while.”
Digital Spy: “If anything, the move [to France] has inspired a much-needed boost of creativity with some of the best set pieces The Walking Dead has ever seen…. And beyond just Daryl’s own story, this spinoff in particular also has us excited for this franchise’s future in general, more than we have been for quite some time.”
ComicBook: Daryl Dixon is epic and entertaining as it expands the Walking Dead mythology with rich world-building. France feels like a lived-in, dramatically different corner of the Walking Dead Universe, populated by an intriguing cast of new characters …. Norman Reedus is magnifique, reenergized by what is destined to become event television. Already renewed for a second season, the new series delivers what Walking Dead fans want — and something entirely unexpected.”
Collider: “Does it feel like an approximation of other apocalyptic storytelling like the aforementioned The Last of Us? More than a little. Is it as compelling? Not really. Is it still on the higher end of what we’ve come to expect from The Walking Dead? Absolutely, but there is still a long road ahead for it to be truly essential television once more … For the first time in a long time, Daryl Dixon feels alive, like there are layers to his character beyond just that he can shoot a crossbow really well. Wherever he goes next in this new story, even with all its flaws, both the character and the spin-off series manage to stand on their own two feet within the vast Walking Dead universe.”
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