Tales of the Walking Dead Turns the Franchise into an Ambitious, Mixed-Bag Twilight ZonePhoto Courtesy of AMC TV Reviews Tales of the Walking Dead
With the flagship series coming to an end this year, AMC is pulling out all the stops to make sure there will still be plenty of The Walking Dead to go around in the future. Tales of the Walking Dead marks the latest spinoff, and aims to use the post-apocalyptic setting as the jumping-off point for an anthology.
Admittedly, plenty of The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead episodes have put their own spin on the concept over the years, using episodes to tell largely standalone stories that only tangentially connect to those show’s larger narratives; but this is a full-on anthology format. That means new characters, new settings, A-list stars (a staple of recent anthologies like Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone), and a few familiar faces filling in some never-told origin stories.
The first four episodes available for review feel like a good sample of what The Walking Dead franchise mastermind Scott Gimple has in store for the six-episode debut season. As has been reported before, stars like Terry Crews, Olivia Munn, Parker Posey, and The Walking Dead vet Samantha Morton (who played The Whisperers leader Alpha) pop up with their own tales.
No spoilers here, but Tales of the Walking Dead takes some big swings within the franchise format, which is commendable. If it only served to keep telling random stories about random survivors facing pretty much the same challenges over and over, that would get old fast (and is likely a reason why the flagship series is finally wrapping up). But with the right execution, you can see the potential here to mine some unique corners. At times, Tales even plays into some of the big sci-fi tropes of the genre, which can be both incredibly fun and incredibly off-brand all at the same time.
The new series being part of a long-running mega-successful franchise can be both a blessing and a curse. Sure, it’s a big world—but like it or not, these anthology stories can be hamstrung by a decade of continuity, world-building, and “rules” that have been established over hundreds of hours of television.
As for the stories themselves, the majority of the episodes available for review fall into much the same tone and vibe fans will recognize (except for Episode 2, “Blair; Gina,” which is just every kind of bonkers). Stories of isolation, survival, found family and of course the bleakness of the apocalypse are all on display.
Put simply: if you still like The Walking Dead, you’ll likely still enjoy Tales of the Walking Dead just fine. But if you’re looking for something transcendently smart like Black Mirror, or even just off the wall weird and unexpected like Shudder’s Creepshow, you won’t find that here.
Tales of the Walking Dead feels more like a bigger budget take on those Walking Dead webisodes AMC experimented with during the earlier seasons of the show (remember those?), which expanded the world but sometimes didn’t do all that much to enrich it. There are some fun ideas here, and some of them tell smart stories about how different people interpret and cope with the end of the world. But like most anthologies, mileage varies greatly episode to episode based on the story being told and the stars bringing it to life.
One of the standout episodes is, not surprisingly, Samantha Morton’s story recounting a formative experience from the early days of how Alpha (aka “Dee”) became Alpha. It’s a character we’d already spent a lot of time with over the years, and this chapter from her past helps bring more depth to why she believes what she believes, and the journey that took her to a place where she was an advocate of wearing zombie skin and hanging out with the walkers. And yet, that episode also could have just as easily been an episode of The Walking Dead from a few seasons ago. And heck, arguably might’ve worked better that way, bringing that dimension to the character when she was still alive and a part of the narrative.
Tales of the Walking Dead is mostly just an extended runway to tell stories in this world, and with spinoff series based on Norman Reedus’ Daryl, Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira back for a Rick and Michonne series, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Lauren Cohan taking Negan and Maggie to Manhattan for the Isle of the Dead, there’s no shortage of new material on the way. If the goal of Tales is to simply provide some nice supplemental material to fill in the gaps for fans, it could certainly serve that role admirably (and arguably for years to come).
But there’s little doubt this zombie franchise is starting to shamble a bit slower more than a decade in, and the anthology misses the urgency and looming inevitability that has made the final season countdown kinda fun again. If you’re just looking for more tales? Tales capably checks the box. But it’s still firmly looking at the past, and doesn’t feel like the future of the franchise.
That said, it still gave us Terry Crews and Olivia Munn road-tripping the apocalypse, and Parker Posey being, well, Parker Posey in a zombie outbreak. So it certainly has its value.
Tales of the Walking Dead premieres Sunday, August 14th on AMC and AMC+.
Trent Moore is a recovering print journalist, and freelance editor and writer with bylines at lots of places. He likes to find the sweet spot where pop culture crosses over with everything else. Follow him at @trentlmoore on Twitter.
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.