In the seemingly ever-expanding universe of the long-running story of The living Dead, whose original series enters the second half of its eleventh and final season, spin-offs continue to sprout. There is Fear of the walking dead and The Walking Dead: World Beyond, both of which have taken their relatively different stories in different directions with mixed results. Then there’s the coming Island of the Dead as well as an as-yet-untitled Rick and Michonne series that will both expand beyond the current main show once it ends this fall. If this sounds like it’s going a bit too far for you, then it’s understandable why you could easily write off the six-episode spin-off. Stories of the Walking Dead. However, if you were to do this, you’d be missing out on the franchise at its craziest yet.
While it can be a hit from episode to episode in terms of overall quality, this latest series still manages to make the most of its narrative potential in a way that’s as surprising as it is silly. With a variety of genres, tones and timelines, storytelling is best when it gets almost playful as it explores unseen parts of the world without being too limited by any allegiance to what has come before.
Of the three episodes shared with critics, all relied on a similar story pattern where two vastly different characters are brought together by circumstances. What separates them is the way each takes its premise and basically runs in completely opposite directions from each other. One sees Terry Crews play a lone survivor of the end of the world ending in the equivalent of a buddy road trip. Another follows Parker Posey and Jillian Bell as two unlikely companions who get caught up in quite a few pickles. The other puts us in the shoes of an isolated scientist who believes he can somehow study and understand the walkers when no one else can.
The highlight of all these episodes is definitely the second with Posey and Bell, as both bring some much-needed comedic chops to their increasingly chaotic story. Without spoiling its reveal, this story takes us back to when no one knew a zombie apocalypse was about to consume the world. Posey’s Blair oversees her team of insurance salespeople with an iron fist, putting a grim twist on the potential dangers looming by saying it will mean business is good for all of them. She also goes after one of them, Bell’s Gina, over petty worries before leaving them all behind to essentially escape herself. When both women are reunited at a gas station with a line of cars backing up and seemingly going nowhere, they’ll find that escaping isn’t as easy as they’d hoped. The way this episode sends you for a loop is both upbeat and crazy, making the zombies feel almost subservient to what’s really going on. It can get a little too serious for its own good, but not in a way that takes away from the joy it can take from embracing its own eccentricities. If there’s one episode worth watching, it’s definitely this one, for how absurd it is.
The other episodes, the one with Crews that follows and the science-centered one that follows, unfortunately don’t have the same sense of flair. They do have their moments when it seems like they’re having fun, enough to entertain them sporadically, though they can’t hold a candle to the heights the second reaches. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine anything in the remaining three episodes succeeding. The sweet spot of silliness that Posey and Bell bring us is just the right mix of crazy and quirky to make it work. It certainly won’t be for those looking for a more gritty and grounded story, even if there are moments of blood sprinkled throughout. That said, the multiple other series have more than covered that over the many seasons we’ve already gotten.
It’s almost refreshing to see an anthology like this that can go its own way and make big swings without holding back. Those big swings don’t always align, even though the characters continue to shatter skulls left and right, though it’s still a sense of fun to watch the show crack at it. This willingness to act weird without reservation is what shows like this should rely on. If you have episodes that aren’t tied to the existing story, except one that’s set to bring back a familiar face, then you can run free to the fantastic. At least the show would have benefited from pursuing that sense of freedom more fully. Both big and small, these glimpses are what make Stories of the Walking Dead just nice enough to smooth out the remaining rough spots.
Whether you should have seen the original series or spin-offs before watching this, the answer probably isn’t. Conversely, don’t expect these episodes to go back to the main story that much. Although there are times when you may remember when the original Walking Dead Back in its heyday and the unifying thematic fabric of zombie storytelling, this spin-off is mostly content with telling standalone stories. This makes it all feel disposable in a way where the joys outweigh the gloom. It feels like creative catharsis when placed alongside the crushing main story slog that lost all sense of engagement several seasons ago. Sometimes it can just be fun to see characters play weird tricks, without all the clunky baggage that has bogged down other entries in this franchise. While the show certainly won’t convince everyone and might even be a little too strange for many tastes, that sensibility is exactly what makes it stand out. If you’re really going to make an anthology show, you should use it as an opportunity to make bizarre and daring choices. For all its flaws, Stories of the Walking Dead is the first time in a long time that the show has been truly unexpected and inventive.
You can watch the first two episodes of Stories of the Walking Dead from August 14 on AMC+ and the other four episodes will be released weekly.