“Doma Smo,” the title of The Walking Dead: Dead City
’s final episode, means “We are home” in Croatian, and the episode finds all the characters back home, either literally or figuratively. Hershel (Logan Kim) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) return to the Bricks, Perlie Armstrong (Gaius Charles) goes back to New Babylon, and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) becomes, for the second time in his life, the leader of a group of survivors. The Croat (Željko Ivanek), introducing the Dama (Lisa Emery) and Negan to each other, says it is like “mommy and daddy coming together,” and thus he, too, finds himself “home.”
At San Diego Comic Con on July 21, a second season of Dead City
was announced, and when I watched the finale some weeks ago, there was no mistaking the creator’s intention that the series continue.
The episode is a collection of open ends, the season itself revealed as a kind of prologue to a show in which Negan becomes the swaggering, sarcastic king of New York, giving Morgan the opportunity to do what he does best in the role. But the character’s redemption, systematically and at times clumsily reinforced during Dead City
’s first season, remains intact. Negan is visibly repelled by the Croat’s recollections of their days together in the Saviors, and he responds uncooperatively to the Dama when they meet…until she gives him the keys to a box containing one of Hershel’s toes, sliced off by the Croat on her command. The boy grew close to her during his captivity, it seems, and he told her about Negan killing his father. “I could sense in the rest of this story,” she informs Negan, “what he himself couldn’t: that his father’s killer might feel remorseful, responsible, for the boy whose family he destroyed.” If Negan will not work for her running New York, she indicates, she will further harm the boy. She has read him correctly: unable to tolerate that idea, he appears to concede to her demand.
Thus, Eli Jorné sets up the series for a future in which he can have his cake and eat it too: a second season in which Morgan will likely embody Negan’s earliest and most compelling persona, but do so without really
being a villain, since he is driven by pure and noble aims to become whatever monster the Dama requires. I applaud this effort, at least because it recognizes that Negan the Redeemed is, in fact, quite dull. Lest we forget what an exciting character The Walking Dead
’s season 7 Negan was, the Dama recalls his most recent, violent theater for the Burazi in the bank, praising his “confidence, fearlessness, charisma” and talent for political “performance.”
Meanwhile, Maggie, having been gripped by conflicting emotions as she trades Negan for her son, is greeted by resentment and ingratitude on Hershel’s part as he accuses her of making his kidnapping all about her desire to avenge Glenn. “It’s like you’re obsessed with Negan, with what he did, with getting him back,” Hershel tells her. “It’s like my whole life you’ve been looking over my shoulder, watching for him, waiting for him.” He is not wrong, although he is a brat, and the fault for both of those lies squarely at the feet of Eli Jorné, who has made Maggie - as I have said before - a prop in Negan’s story. To have her son turn on her after she has risked so much to save him is a particularly cruel choice, and one which, unfortunately, does not warm the viewer’s heart towards Hershel.
The performances of the lead actors in this episode are their best for the entire season. Ivanek, it should be said, has been consistently outstanding throughout, with enjoyably varied material. In the finale, Maggie is at last permitted to feel something other than constipated rage, and Lauren Cohan brings a vulnerability and uncertainty to her scenes that I have missed for much of the previous five episodes. Beset by suspicion that he is being betrayed by Maggie, Negan is by turns hostile, and compassionate in a way that seems more convincing opposite Cohan’s clear emotion than it did when Maggie was stiffer and more restrained.
There are other hints as to what a second season might involve, apart from the obvious set-up of Negan working for the Dama. Back in New Babylon, Perlie Armstrong is coerced into telling the leaders there about the Croat’s methane supply. As the Dama points out, people struggling to sustain a community will try to seize any abundant natural resource, and it is apparent that the New Babylonians intend to wage war on the Island for that reason. Maggie admits to her son that it is time she finishes “this thing with Negan” so she can put it behind her. I confess I guffawed at this point in the episode, because viewers doubtlessly hoped that season one of Dead City
would allow her to do exactly that. Alas, it did not. She remains, as her ill-mannered son points out, endlessly hobbled by her husband’s murderer, their fates intertwined to an increasingly unconvincing degree.
In an interview promoting Dead City
before it premiered, creator Eli Jorné promised that “[the Dead City
] universe is going to tell the story of what happens when you lose someone [to murder]. Not just for the person who lost him, but the person who did it.”1
What, come the finale, has the show told us about this? Nothing very encouraging, I’m afraid. Maggie couldn’t move past Glenn’s death in the premiere and still can’t by the finale, and Negan affirms her inability to do so in “Doma Smo,” saying, “You can’t get over it, and you shouldn’t.” She is stuck in a perpetual cycle of trauma and revenge, her motivations and focus unchanged by the events of the show. Negan, on the other hand, seems to be dealing with his criminal past just fine, although he displays some distaste during the Croat’s more graphic reminiscences of Negan teaching him how to smash someone’s head in. When you lose someone to murder, Jorné suggests, it will dominate your thoughts and behavior indefinitely, to the detriment of everyone else in your life. And when you’re the murderer, you’ll…feel guilty.
Perhaps, come season two, the character of the Dama will allow Jorné to harness the potential of the women in The Walking Dead: Dead City
for something other than propping up the male protagonist. Perhaps Ginny (Mahina Napoleon, angry with Negan now that she knows he killed her father, will develop a personality beyond “mute foster child of benevolent ex-villain.” Perhaps Maggie will discover a way of being - and a home - that are not overshadowed by her husband’s killer. I have my doubts, however; Maggie seems destined to forever be a character in the Book of Negan and not much more. “You and I together, we make one helluva badass team,” Negan says to her as they finish their last, beautifully choreographed fight. “But you know that, don’t you?”
1 comicbook.com interview with Eli Jorné, May 2023