At the height of its run, The Walking Dead was one of the biggest and most talked about shows on TV. The AMC series dominated the rating charts, with its most-watched episode, the Season 5 premiere, accumulating over 17 million U.S. viewers. But as the years went by, the storyline of The Walking Dead was stretched thin and audiences lost interest. In its final season, Season 11, The Walking Dead only cracked the 2 million mark in its premiere and finale. To say that the once unmissable series went out with a whimper would be an understatement.
It’s worth noting that across the show’s epic run, the TV landscape changed more than ever, with the introduction of streaming services and a general shift in demand for limited series rather than ongoing serials. The Walking Dead’s quiet death came as no surprise, as the series refused to shift itself into a TV format more in line with modern storytelling. That is, however, until the franchise expanded further, concluding the mother show and commissioning a whole wave of new spinoffs.
‘The Walking Dead’ Spinoffs Have a Shorter Episode Count
In 2023, the word “spinoff” does feel a little like a dirty word. With juggernaut franchises Marvel and Star Wars seemingly prioritizing quantity over quality, the thought of The Walking Dead universe expanding further was a little unsettling. Haven’t we exhausted our best walker stories already? As it turns out, Daryl Dixon’s France excursion, aptly titled The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Maggie’s (Lauren Cohan) Manhattan detour in The Walking Dead: Dead City have been incredible successes with both critics and audiences. Stemming from a clear attempt by AMC to deliver high-quality series more in tune with the current TV landscape, The Walking Dead feels relevant again and is certainly a rival to even the biggest streaming shows.
We can’t forget that The Walking Dead has had spinoffs for a long time, with its most notable series, Fear the Walking Dead, taking a page out of the original’s book with almost every season consisting of 16 episodes. Long gone are the days of successful series with high episode counts, with audiences now favoring limited series with higher production values instead. Better late than never, but AMC finally understood the assignment, culling the flagship series and splitting its characters up across three limited spinoffs. Filler episodes and redundant characters are harder to come by, though The Walking Dead: Dead City did fall back into the latter of those old habits. Despite this, Dead City gave audiences a significantly more focused story than the franchise had seen over the last few years. The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon has only improved on that trend, and has already been renewed for Season 2.
The shorter episode count comes as AMC attempts to follow the popular streaming model that has proved a huge success for streaming services over the last few years. After AMC launched a streaming service of its own, AMC+, this shift in storytelling was inevitable. The Walking Dead saw a budget stretched thin over many episodes, often resulting in some questionable VFX (far from the high standard that streaming hits like Stranger Things and The Boys were delivering) but with this new range of limited spinoffs, the re-imagined franchise can finally compete with the best in the business. The streaming model also allows for better-paced episodes, with less of a need to rush in a pre-commercial cliffhanger and letting the episodes run for however long, or short, they need to be. This comes as a sharp contrast to network TV, where episode lengths often have less than a minute of flexibility.
‘The Walking Dead’ Spinoffs Prioritize Character Development
The Walking Dead has had some great characters over the years, but as the flagship series went on, new characters struggled to live up to the hype of those that came before. The legacy characters that survived to the end of the series often fell to the background, lost in the cloud that was The Walking Dead’s massive ensemble cast. In order to stretch a story out across 16–20 episodes, the show’s writers needed to add a lot of characters, but with the new era’s reduced episode counts, this problem is seemingly a thing of the past.
With only six episodes each, The Walking Dead: Dead City and The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon have been able to focus entirely on each series’ main story, allowing for significantly tighter and more interesting character work. Both Maggie and Negan went on quite the journey across Dead City Season 1, as the series explored their troubled relationship and questioned that years later, perhaps these characters have become more similar than Maggie would ever like to believe. The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon is proving to continue this trend as the titular Daryl forms relationships with his misfit group on his European adventure. Beyond that, his co-stars have also been given room to stand out, with Sister Isabelle’s backstory being a franchise best. Fewer episodes mean a more coherent story, and The Walking Dead is far better for it.
‘The Walking Dead’s ‘Daryl Dixon’ and ‘Dead City’ Feel Completely Different
Once established, serialized TV shows generally have to stick to a similar tone as set up in their first season. Shows can change, but this is usually a gradual shift across a number of seasons. What’s great about this new wave of The Walking Dead spinoffs is that each series has its own unique vision. They all certainly feel like part of the Walker-infested universe, but each showrunner and director have been allowed to put their own spin on the franchise, allowing for each series to offer a new and exciting flavor. Dead City definitely feels like a more modern The Walking Dead, with visuals that pop and set pieces that satisfy. It’s a tone very reminiscent of what came before, which is a relatively safe, but effective way of launching the franchise into a new era.
Then The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon came along, a series that Norman Reedus has described as “art.” Surely, The Walking Dead wasn’t about to get that good, was it? It may not rival other acclaimed shows, but it’s definitely the boldest and best swing the franchise has taken since its early years. We’re only a few episodes in, but Daryl Dixon definitely has more of an artistic, sophisticated feel to it, trusting the audience to follow along with this slower-paced, character-driven spinoff.
The world of Daryl Dixon feels even more depressing and decayed than what came before, but surrounded by the monoliths of European architecture, there’s a layer of beauty hidden within it. It unashamedly draws from the tone and visuals of The Last of Us, but in doing that, it gives audiences their most unique slice of The Walking Dead to date, breathing life into a franchise that was succumbing to its own title. The Walking Dead has finally gotten with the times and after the success of the franchise’s first two spinoffs in this new era, the stage is set for AMC to have its cultural juggernaut back to its relevant best again. Let’s hope The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live raises the bar even higher.
The Big Picture
- The Walking Dead‘s decline in viewership can be attributed to the show’s failure to adapt to the changing TV landscape and preference for limited series over ongoing serials.
- The new spinoffs of The Walking Dead, such as The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon and The Walking Dead: Dead City, have been successful in delivering high-quality series more in line with the current TV landscape.
- The shorter episode count of the spinoffs allows for better-paced episodes, prioritizes character development, and offers a unique and exciting flavor to the franchise, breathing new life into the franchise.
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Khushi Patel is a science fiction author who lives in Austin, Texas. She has published three novels, and her work has been praised for its originality and imagination. Khushi is a graduate of Rice University, and she has worked as a software engineer. She is a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America, and her books have been nominated for several awards.