The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live review: Rick and Michonne's story makes for the best new spin-off yet

Andrew Lincoln as Rick in The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live
(Image: © AMC)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira have never been better than in The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live, which juggles intense, intimate character drama with truly thrilling action sequences.

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"Security and secrecy above all," is a mantra sworn by all those who live under the Civic Republic Military's rule in The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live. It’s hard to build a three-city wide, self-sufficient community in an apocalypse, and the only way the CRM knows how to protect it is to forbid its occupants from ever leaving – and revealing its existence, location, and other secrets.

I've been bound by a similar oath when it comes to the horror drama’s latest spin-off. I've been (politely) asked not to detail the structure of the episodes, mention specific settings, or even divulge whether central characters Rick Grimes and Michonne Hawthorne actually reunite in the four episodes released to critics, so as not to spoil the viewing experience for the fans. It's a shame, really, given the fact that the series so far is shaping up to be the best new spin-off yet.

So what can I gush about? Well… While The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon gave us a tiny taste of it (even if it didn’t see Daryl or Isabelle act on their obvious affections for one another), romance is something that’s been sorely lacking within the ongoing franchise. 

All's fair in love and war

The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live

(Image credit: AMC)

The Ones Who Live is far from a straightforward tale of star-crossed lovers, though. Since being brought to the CRM almost a decade ago, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) has staged numerous escape plans, and every failed breakout has slowly chipped away at his survivor spirit. In the present, he's different from the broken man we met briefly in the opener of The Walking Dead season 7 (after Abraham and Glenn were murdered), however: this Rick has surprisingly made peace with his fate. It's a refreshingly nuanced – albeit sorry – character development when you consider how frustratingly superhero-like and infallible The Walking Dead's leads became towards the end of the original show's run. Who'd have thought that the gun-toting deputy sheriff, who would rather die than bow to the likes of The Governor and Negan, would ever succumb to something akin to Stockholm syndrome? 

Rick's uncharacteristic surrender to his circumstances has as much to do with his desperation to protect those around him as it does with giving up. Drawn in by the optimistic ideas of haunted CRM radical Donald Okafor (Craig Tate), Rick has almost convinced himself that his own personal happiness – and burning need to get back to his family – is secondary to doing the right thing. It's all ripe material for a predictably great Lincoln, whose extraordinary work as Grimes has been woefully overlooked by major award bodies since 2010. 

As Rick wrestles with the idea that he might not even want to be found anymore, Michonne faces struggles of her own – from run-of-the-mill walker attacks to extreme guilt over leaving her and Rick's children, RJ and Judith, back in Alexandria. Unlike Rick, who's obviously known for a fact that he didn't die on that bridge all those years ago, Michonne has been desperately hoping that if and when she found him, he'd be alive, which sees her forced to navigate much more manic emotions than her somewhat subdued sweetheart. Here, Gurira imbues Michonne with a level of intensity we've not really seen since her onscreen introduction to explore all that, and it's so exciting. In those early days, Rick's group weren't sure whether they could trust the wild-eyed, katana-wielding warrior before they discovered her warm goofball side, and it's fun to hark back to that. 

Double trouble

Pollyanna McIntosh as Jadis in The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live

(Image credit: AMC)

While the likes of Matthew Jeffers (brilliant), Pollyanna McIntosh – who's back in full villain mode as the old selfish, flirty Jadis makes an unexpected comeback – and Lost's Terry O'Quinn as a morally murky general provide memorable supporting turns, there's no mistaking that this is Gurira and Lincoln's gig. Showrunner Scott Gimple has made no secret of the fact that the pair, who also act as executive producers, were heavily involved in the writing of The Ones Who Live, and it shows. Being franchise stalwarts, they know that The Walking Dead was so beloved because of its intimate character drama. Episode 1 may feature some delightful reimagined, rom-com-esque beginnings for our protagonists but episode 4, with its singular setting, is undoubtedly the standout of the chapters we saw in that regard, as it delivers 50 minutes of emotional, and sexy – it's about time! – dialogue-heavy domestic drama.

That's not to say that The Ones Who Live shrimps on action, though. The latest spin-off kicks off with Rick blasting through a horde of fire-singed zombies and later offers up helicopter crashes, bazooka battles, and even impromptu skydives. Some of the VFX is a little ropey in these more ambitious set-pieces but elsewhere, the gory practical effects are as good as ever.

To reveal more about The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live might land me in hot water, so I best wrap this review up here. While I've not divulged much in the way of specific plot points, I hope I've teased just enough to make you realize that the series' latest spin-off is well worth seeking out. It's been too long since we've spent time with the franchise's best characters on screen; I'm sure you'll enjoy the reunion.

The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live premieres on AMC and AMC+ on February 25. While we wait, check out our handy guide on how to watch The Walking Dead franchise in order or our list of the most exciting new TV shows heading our way.

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Amy West

I am an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering all things TV and film across our Total Film and SFX sections. Elsewhere, my words have been published by the likes of Digital Spy, SciFiNow, PinkNews, FANDOM, Radio Times, and Total Film magazine.