The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live review: The one you’ve been waiting for

The Rick and Michonne reunion series is an early contender for show of the year.

The Ones Who Live Key Art
The Ones Who Live Key Art /
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The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live, as the kids say, absolutely rips. But AMC’s long-awaited, highly anticipated Walking Dead spinoff series focusing on Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) isn’t just a good TWD series… It’s also one of the most exciting, emotionally charged shows coming to TV this year.

Despite being arguably the most continuity-tied series in the Walking Dead franchise, the plot of The Ones Who Live is relatively simple. Years ago – 2018 in our world – Rick Grimes was seemingly killed after a bridge explosion where he saved the burgeoning civilization of Alexandria. He didn’t die – instead, he was taken by helicopter by a woman named Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) to another civilization run by the CRM (Civic Republic Military), ostensibly to help save his life.

That’s (almost) the last we saw of Rick Grimes, but in the intervening years it became clear to his wife, Michonne, that he was possibly not dead. And so she left her daughter Judith (Cailey Fleming) and son R.J. (Antony Azor) to head off to find him. That, by the way, was in 2020 our time.

Both characters have been off-screen until the very end of The Walking Dead series finale, where they showed up in new situations searching for each other… A way of working them into the show they were on for a very long time, but also to tee up this very series.

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Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes - The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live _ Season 1 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC /

So in short, the plot of The Ones Who Live is that Rick and Michonne are trying to find each other, and in the middle is CRM – an organization that has been fleshed out considerably in spinoff series Fear the Walking Dead and The Walking Dead: World Beyond. But all you really need to know going into this is that CRM is an unstoppable military force standing in the way of the reunion between two characters who are desperately in love.

That’s one of the many joys of this series, that these characters and situations clearly carry great weight for fans, and the four episodes provided for critics are littered with Easter eggs and references to their history, and nearly every show in the extended franchise. But at the same time, great care has been given to make sure this is a completely accessible series whether you’ve religiously watched everything Walking Dead AMC has to offer, or this is your first time jumping into the universe.

Credit is clearly due to the care and time clearly put into crafting the series by Walking Dead Universe head and former showrunner Scott M. Gimple, as well as Lincoln and Gurira, who are credited as executive producers for the series, as well as helping develop or write the story for certain episodes of the six-episode run.

In some form, The Ones Who Live started as an idea for a trilogy of Rick Grimes-focused theatrical films back in 2018, announced right after Lincoln left the series. But rather than feeling like a pared-down version of that, instead Gimple, Lincoln and Gurira have made sure the show leans into being an episodic TV series, versus “more of a six-hour movie.” Each episode has its own feel, its own rhythm, and focus, and more often than not ends with a cliffhanger that will have you hollering at your screen.

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Danai Gurira as Michonne - The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live _ Season 1, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC /

But the stand-out of the run (so far) is the fourth episode, written by Danai Gurira, which brings her playwriting chops to the forefront. (Her play Eclipse was nominated for multiple Tony Awards, and won one, in case you didn’t know.) It’s a barn burner of an hour of television that easily ranks as one of the best episodes The Walking Dead has ever broadcast. While Walking Dead has never been nominated for a non-technical award at the Emmys and hasn’t garnered any nominations since 2017, AMC would be smart to submit this one for writing, at the very least, if not acting and directing as well. It’s the sort of hour that fans will be talking about for years to come.

At the same time as this leans into being TV (complimentary), The Ones Who Live doesn’t sacrifice any of the scale you’d expect from a big-budget feature film. This is, in a word, epic. Though it doesn’t shy away from intimate, emotional moments – and there are plenty – the action in this show is enormous, the threat real and powerful. Credit there is due in part to the directing team of Bert & Bertie, who tackle the first two episodes and bring pacing, angling, and focus to the opening hours that feel unlike anything we’ve ever seen from the franchise. These episodes move. Even your tried and true sequences of plowing down hordes of zombies, or scenes where characters bond over their pasts and whether they have futures – something on both counts have come to often feel de rigueur in the franchise – feel fresh, and new, and palpable.

Of course, none of this would work without Lincoln and Gurira. Individually, they are two meticulous actors who know these roles inside and out and command the screen. Together, they have powerhouse romantic chemistry, know how to light up the screen and make you feel every single moment they inhabit. We won’t get into spoilers or specifics here, but suffice to say that each brings their own energy to this project, and whether they reunite or not (again, no spoilers) helps this show transcend to another level entirely.

In case this hasn’t been emphasized enough. This show is romantic, epically so. You will scream, and cry, and sob your heart out at points – as well as cheer and yell at your screen. Most, if not all of this is down to Lincoln and Gurira allowing the viewer into every intimate moment they’re feeling. They are actors who welcome you into the very personal moments Rick and Michonne are going through, even in the midst of calamitous circumstances.

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Pollyanna McIntosh as Jadis - The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live _ Season 1 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC /

The other actors in the cast ain’t too bad, either. McIntosh continues to bring her bizarre intensity to the forefront as returning character Jadis, aka Anne, who we last saw as an antagonist on World Beyond. Lesley Ann-Brandt, a newcomer to the franchise, fits right in with an intriguing backstory and direction of her own, as well as exhibiting some surprising chemistry with Lincoln.Terry O’Quinn, too, brings his usual off-kilter energy to the project; the man gets a lot out of staring at other people.

But the real stand-out of the episodes seen from the supporting cast is Matthew August Jeffers as Nat, who will instantly make you fall in love with his character. Again, we can’t offer any spoilers here but suffice it to say Nat is a refreshingly fascinating character given the openness and honesty of Jeffers' performance, his backstory is engrossing, and he will instantly make you yearn to see more interaction with other characters in the TWD universe.

Two last shout-outs are necessary here: Greg Nicotero and his team for the effects; and Sam Ewing for the score. Both are long-standing parts of the franchise, and both bring their work to another level here. While Nicotero continues to find new ways of making the zombies look  (no pun intended) fresh, it’s still impressive when you see a riff you’ve never seen before, or the makeup looks particularly gruesome after all this time. And Ewing, who started as co-composer with Bear McCreary on Season 5 on The Walking Dead has crafted a stunning, majestically romantic score for The Ones Who Live that incorporates themes and winks from the parent show, while standing on its own as a beautiful encapsulation of the yearning Rick and Michonne feel to get back to each other.

Overall, AMC has been on a roll with these Walking Dead short-run miniseries. Dead City brought a shlock ‘80s sci-fi sensibility to the franchise, focusing on Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Daryl Dixon took the surprising turn of sending Norman Reedus’ beloved character to France and succeeded by letting Daryl do what he does best (aka glower and kill things).

But The Ones Who Live is far and away the best of the bunch. It’s filled with shocking moments that fans have been waiting for, for years. It has a scope, danger, and focus on storytelling we may have never seen before from The Walking Dead. And in the center of it all are Lincoln and Gurira as Rick and Michonne, two lovers separated by time and space, who want nothing more but to get back to each other.

Whether you love The Walking Dead or not. Whether you’re into romance or action, or just some damn good directing, acting, and writing… The Ones Who Live is the one you’ve been waiting for.

The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live premieres Sunday, February 25 at 9/8c on AMC and AMC+.

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