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“The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live” Review: Love in the time of Captivity

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AMC finally reanimated a long dangling plot point in its Walking Dead catalogue on Sunday night, the awkwardly titled The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live. Fans of the series have been patiently waiting 6 years and one fiery bridge incident to find out exactly happened to Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and if he might be eventually reunited with Michonne (Danai Gurira) at some point.

The new series (spanning only 6 episodes in total, which honestly feels like a relief after all the spin-offs) catches us up pretty succinctly. Rick has been taken in by the Civic Republic, has tried several times to escape and send messages back to his family, and even resorts to cutting his own hand off in order to escape his tether. The scene is both horrific and a poignant throwback to the original comic book series in which The Governor chops Rick’s appendage. Had the TV show followed the comic series more closely, Rick would have lost his hand somewhere back in season 3.

The act is a bold one, and born of desperation, with Rick steeling himself for the task by repeating “This is how,” in order to force himself to go through with it. That his terrible sacrifice comes to naught (Rick is promptly recaptured) illustrates two things — Rick’s determination to be free (He’s an ‘A’ not a ‘B’ dammit!), and the Civic Republic’s determination to put a man with his mindset to good use.

Craig Tate as Donald Okafor, Lesley-Ann Brandt as Thorne, Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes – The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live _ Season 1, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Rick begins the episode as a lowly consignee working in Philadelphia’s outskirts taking care of Walkers, but quickly attracts the eye of Lieutenant Colonel Donald Okafor (Craig Tate), who wants him to join the Civic Republic Military, or CRM. Okafor has grand plans to reshape the Republic, and a man like Rick may be just who he needs to shake things up from the inside.

Rick plays along, dreaming of escape, and dreaming of Michonne. We are treated to a series of beautifully ordinary fantasies in which Rick plays out meeting Michonne for the first time in a world untouched by the apocalypse. She’s sitting on a park bench. He’s lost and asks for directions. They talk. Then flirt. He vows to come back the next day. She’s outwardly noncommittal, but turns up anyway. He promises pizza, and a wedding ring.

However, as time progresses, and Rick gets deeper into the CRM and Okafor’s trust, he begins to feel his opportunity for escape slipping. He plans one last ditch attempt — a complicated plan involving dressing a dead Walker in his CRM uniform, planting his dog tags on the body, causing a fiery explosion (What? Again?), and slipping away down a sewer drain to maybe freedom.

However, Rick’s grand plan is foiled by the sudden appearance of a human child mingling with the Walkers, and has to ditch his grenade down the drain. The muffled explosion brings Walkers his way. To make matters worse, his ever grumpy CRM buddy Thorne (Lucifer’s Lesley-Ann Brandt) has witnessed his bungled efforts. Thorne uncharacteristically covers for Rick when the plan goes sideways, but lets him know it’s a one time thing.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes – The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live _ Season 1, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: AMC

Realizing now that escape will never be part of his reality, Rick gives up, and decides to kill himself. However, after a stirring speech from Thorne about him being a good man who can still do great good in the world, a devastated Rick decides he’s still going to die — by finally shelving the part of himself that hoped to one day be reunited with Michonne, and instead becoming the dedicated CRM soldier that Okafor needs. Rick pens a last beautiful goodbye letter to Michonne, then burns it along with every last memory of her.

This might have been where an episode of The Walking Dead would end things, but this mini-series still has loose ends to wrap up.

We see more time passing. Rick learns to fly a chopper, and accepts his new life and position of power and command in the CRM. When Okafor puts him in charge of a forward operating base Rick flies his team out to begin work. However, their chopper is struck by a missile that takes Okafor out and sends the craft spinning towards the ground. Rick and his team crash land, and tumble out. His men are quickly dispatched by an unknown assailant with a sword (you can see where this is going, right?). Ironically, it’s Rick’s metal hand that saves him from a killing blow by his attacker, who then pulls off his mask.

Rick locks eyes with Michonne. Roll credits.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes – The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live _ Season 1, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: AMC

Overall, despite a narrative-heavy first episode, there is much to like in The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live. Reuniting Rick with Michonne in the first episode is a good, fan patience-preserving move, and with episode 2 looking to show Michonne’s journey painted in similar brushstrokes, we know the series is going to do justice by its most popular characters.

That The Ones Who Live doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel is also a comforting thought. The show (and all of its various spin-offs) works best with a handful of clearly drawn characters struggling for scraps, or power, or ideas, against the backdrop of the Zombie Apocalypse. Whatever temptation creator Scott M. Gimple may have had to go bigger or creatively more aspirational was thankfully quashed giving audiences what they have come to expect and love instead.

The unabashed love story is just gravy.

The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live continues Sundays on AMC.

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