As the original The Walking Dead series gears up for its 11th and final season commencing October 2, fans have been inundated with announcements of new and upcoming spinoffs to keep the franchise alive. The most recent is the six-episode anthology series Tales of the Walking Dead. What’s most surprising about this series, which aired its six-episode first season on AMC in mid-August through to late September, is that, unlike others such as Fear the Walking Dead and Walking Dead: World Beyond, you don’t need to watch the original to truly appreciate the show and understand what’s going on. These are standalone, compartmentalized stories with no continuity or crossovers with the original beyond the dystopian state of the world…and the team behind it.
Like the other Walking Dead series, the undead roam the streets, looking to satiate their voracious appetites for human flesh. But the characters and stories are completely unique not only from the main show, but from one another as well. Each episode has its own distinct look and feel, fitting into different genres that will make you laugh, cry, wince, and jump out of your seat. Since there are no connections, you can watch them in any order as well.
Each episode features a single or pair of protagonists, each of whom comes to a specific revelation about themselves in the end. You’ll still find the usual zombies, gore, and extreme conditions testing survival skills. But the show goes much deeper and does so in genre-bending ways that make Tales of the Walking Dead different from anything else you might have seen on TV before.
The Walking Dead and its initial spinoffs have been laser-focused on survival and fighting off enemies, both human and undead. Conversely, some of the episodes in Tales of the Walking Dead provide a lighter, more comedic tone that hasn’t previously been explored beyond the odd sarcastic joke from Glenn or snarky quip from Negan. Multiple sub-genres are beautifully woven into each character-driven episode as well, so they serve like mini-movies.
The first episode “Evie/Joe” presents like a buddy cop film, with Joe (Terry Crews) meeting Evie (Olivia Munn) by happenstance. Despite a violent first meeting and different viewpoints on life, the two reluctantly venture off together on a road trip, belting out country tunes as they motor along the highway to reach a faraway destination.
The episode switches tone by the end, however, as the story takes on a corny slasher horror movie vibe only to flip back to something more akin to a twisted anti-rom-com.
Moving on to episode 2, while the underlying situation is dire with Blair (Parker Posey) and Gina (Jillian Bell) in “Blair/Gina,” there are moments reminiscent of female-led comedies like Bridesmaids combined with classic cartoons like Road Runner. The pair face death time and time again, trying desperately to end a frustrating time loop that always ends in their brutal demise. You’ll get Groundhog Day meets Office Space vibes with this one.
Not every episode injects comedy, however: Episode 3, featuring the backstory of Alpha (Samantha Morton, who originated the role in the main series) called “Dee,” is heart-wrenching, devastating, and emotional. It returns to a look, feel, and tone that fans of the franchise are used to.
There’s a fresh perspective about a character who fans came to know and loathe, seeing the person she was prior to when she became the vicious leader of the Whisperers. Even without knowing her as Alpha, though, it’s a compelling mother-daughter story about fractured relationships, class disparity, and mental health.
You’ll get a very different feel in the fourth episode, “Amy/Dr. Everett,” following the reclusive Dr. Everett (Anthony Edwards) as he trudges through the wasteland, documenting and researching his findings about the “homo mortuus,” his name for walkers. Donning his jacket made of walker skin, it’s an episode that initially comes across like an adventure survivalist wildlife documentary.
To him, it’s all about science and an opportunity to research and learn. When he meets a young, effervescent woman named Amy (Poppy Liu) with a thirst for the beauty in life, nature, and human connection, however, she tests his patience by urging him to question his outlook and what truly matters.
The vibe then shifts to a terrifying neo-noir/psychological thriller in Davon. Suffering from a debilitating head wound and an amputated lower leg, Davon (Jessie T. Usher) can’t remember anything before his accident nor shake his hallucinations and a walking dead ghost that keeps calling him a murderer. There are elements of ritualistic sacrifice, cults, and even political undertones that touch on racial tensions and herd mentalities.
In “La Dona,” the look and feel stick with the terrifying to closely resemble the style of a traditional horror movie. A young couple, Idalia (Daniella Pineda) and Eric (Danny Ramirez) are effectively trapped in a haunted house of horrors. You’ll get satisfying bumps in the night as the couple is tormented by ghosts and strange and supernatural happenings, all part of dealing with the moral repercussions of the difficult decisions they have made to get them to this point.
The anthology nature of Tales of the Walking Dead makes this back-and-forth work. The stories never feel disjointed because each has its own beginning, middle, and end that wraps things up neatly within the hour. In some cases, this leaves you wanting more. With the Alpha-centric episode “Dee,” fans are left curious about the events between Alpha first meeting the Whisperers and taking over the group. The final episode, “La Dona,” ends in a way that has fans itching to learn more about the backstory of the mysterious homeowner.
By and large, however, each episode ends in a satisfying way. Critics agree, calling the one-off stories an “interesting” addition to the “well-trodden Walking Dead dystopia” and referring to the episodes as both “entertaining” and “bizarre.”
While Tales of the Walking Dead will appeal to anyone interested in unique and clever storytelling within the dystopian drama genre, die-hard Walking Dead fans are rewarded with a few tidbits that they’ll appreciate, too. “Dee” provides deeper insight into the trauma Lydia endured as a little girl and some background on Alpha and her life prior to joining the Whisperers. There’s also a reveal of the origin of The Whisperers and how Alpha came to be part of them (and how high the stakes were before she did).
Another fun Easter egg: Keen-eyed viewers will notice in “Davon” that when the title character is holding a photo of his family, he has a card with “PPP” written on it in his wallet. It’s identical to the one Heath had before he mysteriously disappeared on The Walking Dead. The subtle callback could prove to have meaning at some point down the line within one (or more) of the many upcoming spinoffs.
The characters in this series might refer to the walking corpses by their own creative names: homo mortuus, chompers, toe tags, sleepwalkers, and sonambulo (which translates to sleepwalk). But they’re all the same walkers fans have come to know and fear from The Walking Dead universe. Just like in the original series, the zombies aren’t the biggest threats to humans: It’s their own human nature and personal demons that pose the biggest hindrance to survival.
You’ll find that at the heart of every episode is relationships, from new friendships to romantic relationships being put to the test, finding closure and saying goodbye, exploring familial bonds, and odd pairings. An overarching theme is the importance of having people you can trust by your side, particularly in a situation like the apocalypse. It’s possible to go at it alone, but it’s far more rewarding to have something, or someone, to fight for.
Tales of the Walking Dead is a wonderful way to honor a franchise that refuses to die. Producers, writers, and showrunners are exploring every angle imaginable, throwing them at the wall, and seeing what sticks. This spinoff breathes new life into the potential-for-getting-stale stories not only by introducing new characters, but by telling the stories themselves in non-formulaic, creative, and exciting ways.
The best part is that Tales of the Walking Dead is just as much for long-time fans as it is for those who are completely new to The Walking Dead world.
All six episodes of Tales of the Walking Dead are currently available to stream on AMC+.