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Scott D. Pierce: The new ‘Walking Dead’ is about love. And gross zombies.

‘The Last of Us’ was fresh. ‘The Ones Who Live’ is not.

(Gene Page | AMC) Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes in "The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live."

Eleven months ago, HBO’s “The Last of Us” proved that the zombie apocalypse genre can be fresh and entertaining, as it wrapped up its first season with a visit to post-apocalyptic Salt Lake City.

And on Sunday, Feb. 25, AMC goes back to the “Walking Dead” well — again — with a new series that doesn’t really try to do anything different. It’s a six-episode sequel to/continuation of the original “Walking Dead” series, which signed off in November 2022 after 11 seasons and 177 episodes.

What, exactly, makes the latest “Walking Dead” spinoff different from the four series that have come before?

Love. Really.

According to AMC Entertainment President Dan McDermott, “Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live” is “an epic love story.” It answers the question of where Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) has been and if Michonne (Danai Gurira) will find him.

Lincoln also described “The Ones Who Live” as “an epic love story.” Gurira said it’s “an epic love story.” It probably won’t surprise you that co-star Lesley-Ann Brandt described it as “an epic love story.”

Ah, love among the zombies. It’s not a spoiler to tell you she does. Eventually. But not right away.

This spinoff is sort of zombie back to the future. When viewers last saw Michonne, she set off to find Rick. When viewers last saw Rick, he was being flown off by unidentified people in an unidentified helicopter.

Executive producer/showrunner Scott Gimple describe Rick and MIchonne as “two people who are soul mates, but their souls have been a little beaten up by the world, and a lot of time has passed. And they had to find each other, but they also had to find themselves.”

And they are madly, passionately in love.

“We watched a lot of ‘Bridgerton’ for this,” Lincoln joked. “This has been a long time coming, this story, and I love this character.”

(Gene Page | AMC) Danai Gurira as Michonne in "The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live."

For him, it was “remarkably easy putting the cowboy boots back on. But I think in the writers’ room there was a real intention to place Rick in an environment and in a mindset that he’d not been in before.” And that was “quite key” because Rick had been “pushed and pulled and stretched and pummeled and abused” and “traumatized” so much on the original series that finding something different wasn’t easy, but giving him a “new adventure … made it very, very exciting and appealing.”

Although his “knees hurt a bit more” at age 50, “it was great to be the sheriff again. I missed it. And I missed the people. And I missed the culture of the show.”

“The Ones Who Live” is “a bit more operatic” than the original series, he said, which is “a beautiful thing. … I love this story.”

“The Ones Who Live” is the seventh “Walking Dead” series, and “the idea of the epic love story aspect is what distinguishes it,” Gurira said. “And it was very much something that we didn’t get to … really explore a ton on the mothership. There’s just no space for it. So this was really honing in on — OK, well, when love is the driving force, when it’s the propelling thing in a show, when it’s actually the thing that’s making the plot move, what does that look like?”

“It’s an apocalyptic, epic love narrative.”

“The Walking Dead: Those Who Live” debuts Sunday, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m. on Dish and DirecTV and 10 p.m. on Comcast.

Art or commerce?

“The Ones Who Live” is following in the footsteps of the original “The Walking Dead” (2010-22), “Fear the Walking Dead” (2015-23), “The Walking Dead; World Beyond” (2020-21), “Tales of the Walking Dead” (2022), “Dead City” (2023-) and “Darryl Dixon” (2023-). McDermott and the producers of the various series want us to believe that they’re still trying to get more mileage out of the franchise because it’s such rich material that so widely loved. Maybe they’re right.

The alternate explanation is that AMC — although it has other original, scripted series — doesn’t have enough new ideas so it’s stuck regurgitating the same ol’ zombie stuff again and again, trying to recapture the ratings magic of a decade ago.

I’m leaning toward the second theory.

Is this the end?

Is this the final chapter in Rick and Michonne’s story, or could the characters return in another miniseries?

“Can’t answer that,” Gurira said. And Lincoln added, “Well, I die in the last episode.” (He was kidding. I think.)

Gimple said that “even if Rick dies in the last episode, anything is possible. We’re focused on this one right now, but this one came together in a really amazing way where there were all sorts of plans, and the world changed, and we altered those plans, and we wound up with something we really liked.”

Don’t hold your breath

If you’re wondering when Season 2 of HBO’s “The Last of Us” will arrive, it’s going to be a while. According to HBO, the show is scheduled to go back into production sometime this spring.

It’s not expected to be on the air until sometime in 2025.

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