The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live Review / Mediocrity to the Extremes & Copycat of The Last of Us + Zombie Apocalypse Tropes

The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live Review / Mediocrity to the Extremes & Copycat of The Last of Us + Zombie Apocalypse Tropes

This article contains spoilers

As a regular The Walking Dead fan, who, whoever, didn’t ever finish the series because it was dragging on too long—I stopped some time around the Neagan arc, after Daryl’s escape, when I saw the series was going nowhere in particular—I curiously clicked on the YouTube recommendation of an apparently new instalment in The Walking Dead franchise, dubbed The Ones Who Live and featuring fan favourites Rick Grimes and Michonne Hawthorne. I know I didn’t particularly care about Rick beyond him being the protagonist, but Michonne, as portrayed in the TV series, was definitely an unbridled badass. And she was so by sheer strength of character, and evaded the fatal narrative mistake of trying too hard to overhaul the programming of “women are weak”, by having ridiculous and failed scenes of faux women empowerment. Michonne was genuinely empowered, because stereotypes for her didn’t exist. Also, the katana and revered references towards Japanese culture that Westerners oh so loved helped.

The new spin-off’s pilot was uploaded for free in its entirety on YouTube, which, in my opinion, was a smart choice, because I’d otherwise have never heard of it… as there clearly wasn’t a lot of marketing done around the series, and I as well as a good chunk of viewers lost track of it way back in the days.

However, and while I didn’t have a lot of expectations, I was disappointed.


The original The Walking Dead how had a lot going on for himself, not the least of which were characters with enough solidity and substance that even though you didn’t particularly care about them on a personal level, you could give a shit narratively about whether they lived or die. I know I was upset when Shane died, when Lorie died, when that little girl’s whose name I forgot died, definitely was struck when Glen died, and the list goes on. I was concerned when Daryl was taken captive, and while I couldn’t have cared any less for Rick’s son, I was relieved for him when he escaped Neagan’s lair.

But the characters of The Ones Who Live are mediocrity incarnate. The only ones who hold their own are Lincoln’s Grimes and Gurira’s Michonne.

To understand this, we need to put the show in its context of the new Hollywood selection, which is the newer, younger generation of people to make it to Hollywood, who clearly either haven’t been to drama school enough or don’t have a speck of natural talent to nurture. These people are bland, and don’t understand acting requirements, of needing to exaggerate and go over the top with acting, and drama, for emotions to be sufficiently and properly conveyed on screen. I’m thinking, for instance, of The Consultant, where the writing was on par with its mediocre cast. And where Christoph Waltz’s talent were rather wasted despite him doing a good job, but the surrounding cast had the exact symptom I’m referring to of not knowing how to act. And, for potential comments of dissent, I hope that in your potential terrible offence at my words, you won’t try to defend mediocrity by claiming that all these actors are either new at acting, or young. Because we’ve had actors who were both at one point in their journey, and yet who were infinitely more skilled and talented. Quality knows itself, and the world of entertainment is trying to pass off this mediocrity as tolerable or acceptable, or as a new standard for acting. It isn’t either of these things.

So all the side characters of The Ones Who Live are bland and uninteresting. It bothered me that, here and there, the show tried to make them look relevant—they weren’t. When a certain unmemorable character screamed at Rick at around the 40 minutes mark, I cringed, because there was no psychological essence behind it. No substance, no real emotional place he was supposedly tapping into, and that was overflowing on the outside to the point of eliciting reactions in the viewers. Not only was this character truly useless, apart from representing some narratively weak obstacle that the protagonist would soon circumvent, but he had no soul. It makes me want to ask, who wrote this? Who wrote these characters, who designed them? Who poured what into them? The lowliest, most uninteresting side characters of another similar show, The Last of Us, had more psychological substance and solidity than any of the side characters here.

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Copycats of the Apocalypse genre

It baffles me to say that The Walking Dead, with its The Ones Who Live, has somehow turned into a copycat of another series: The Last of Us. TWD itself used to sit into a very specific sub-genre of zombie apocalypse stories, the one where the entire planet is decimated leading to a civilisation collapse, with groups of nomads banding together to somehow survive. This subgenre was characterised by few humans, more zombies than living people, and an absence of modern civilisation as we know it in the 21st century. Other apocalypse zombie movies include for instance prominent movie franchise Resident Evil, (very) loosely based off a video game franchise with the same name—the games themselves, in fact, fit into the second category we're about to describe.

But The Last of Us helped revolutionise the genre when it introduced the element of re-building society as a main trope. In TLOU, civilisation has collapsed, as we know it. But that doesn't mean it collapsed entirely, and in fact, as soon as the cataclysm starts, society immediately re-structures itself, just differently than before. The dynamics are shifted, because instead of an apocalypse, we have a cataclysm or a collapse, and instead of a loss or destruction of civilisation, we have a re-structuring of the powers that be. Different dynamics, looking at the subject from two different angles, and wanting to extract a different feel out of it.

And TLOU had its success both in video games form and in TV format. I've written two psychological and narrative analyses of the series, if you'd like to take a look. So it helped redefine the zombie apocalypse genre because of its success.

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And The Ones Who Live is definitely riding that wave in a timely manner. It wasn't a dumb choice because TWD already had spin-offs before this, so we can't accuse it of straight up copying off of another's success. It could just be that the writers are still gaga over their own show, like they were last time they were asked when they ever planned on ending it, and they responded with “wanting to continue it for as long as they could”. That's how it could be interpreted. But TWD had a very distinctive feeling that, similar to Resident Evil and other creations of its times (let's remember TWD first began to air in 2010), was about the first type of apocalypse. The lonely, 10% living left, the rest zombies, type of feel. That feeling, is specifically overhauled and scraped off, to fit into the newer, newly introduced type of zombie apocalypse stories. And it doesn't work. It doesn't fit. It isn't an original move done because the show had more to tell, it's just a move done to keep up with the latest trends. That ascribes copycat impressions on The Ones Who Live. It tries to imitate its success. I even find the word balance, and how it rolls off the tongue, between both titles, interesting: The Last of Us, The Ones Who Live. A four words title, that evoke the exact same concepts and almost complement each other, capturing the type of despair meant to be evoked from the idea of being the final survivors in this decimated world.


On a final note, I must make an obligatory comment towards representation done right. I often complain about it when done wrong, and mention it when done right.

I mentioned above that Michonne doesn't fit into the stereotype of the forcefully badass female character to compensate for what used to be the widely spread bad beliefs and misconception that “girls are weak”. That's because Michonne exists as a character without being connected to any of these ideas—which, is the ONLY way to transcend them: understand they don't exist to begin with.

And I feel that the show is doing the same thing with Rick and Michonne being in a relationship, and with them being a mixed-ethnicity couple. The most prominent feel of their relationship is that they're a pair of badasses. To put it plainly and probably ineloquently, they're cool. And that's great. There's no "let's have the black character do something because they're black" or "let's have them together to check a quota." While I doubt they're the most compelling relationship in the TWD universe, it's 100% due to the relationship's substance, which is truly free of any biases and cliches. And that, is what good writing is all about.


Beyond this, long story short, The Ones Who Live's pilot is a letdown of mediocrity and copycat tendencies. Slightly better than The Witcher's second season, kind of on more or less equal footing with its first season, when Henry Cavill still did us the honour of pulling the show forward with his dedication and love for the story. My guess is that this spin-off will lose its breath and stamina rather quickly, and fall away to be viewed mainly by fans of the franchise; letting us and the rest of the world focus on HBO's up-coming House of the Dragon...

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