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When Does ‘Ones Who Live’ Happen?

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Think of spinoffs The Ones Who Live (center), Daryl Dixon (right), and Dead City (left) as the A, B, and C story lines of Walking Dead season 12.
Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos: AMC

Juggernaut zombie series The Walking Dead ran on AMC for 11 seasons, giving once-casual fans many an opportunity to jump ship along the way. But now, with multiple spinoffs focused on fan-favorite characters from the original series, including the new The Ones Who Live — which will feature the reunion of the show’s once and future protagonist, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) with his certified badass wife Michonne (Danai Gurira) — there is no shortage of entry points back into the TWD interconnected universe. And if there’s one thing an interconnected universe loves to do, it is make the timeline as confusing as possible.

Anyone who’s spent time with franchises like the MCU, Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings knows the feeling of briefly questioning, “Wait … when does this take place again?” Give it enough time, creative vision, and executive meddling, and what started as a linear story will inevitably get branched off and doubled back to fill in the gaps and fill out the world. This phenomenon is not new to The Walking Dead, either: The franchise’s first major spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead, took place at the start of the zombie outbreak, preceding the famously in medias res pilot of The Walking Dead, before catching up and crossing over with the original series. Other spinoffs like World Beyond and Tales of the Walking Dead set their narratives in different times and locations as well. But the three shows that have premiered since The Walking Dead ended in 2022 (Dead City, Daryl Dixon, and The Ones Who Live) all star former regulars from the original series. Since fans have some idea of their history going in, parsing the timeline matters a bit more here. So let’s parse it!

When does The Ones Who Live take place? 
The latest spinoff that catches up with Rick and Michonne Grimes does something that the other two recent spinoffs have yet to do: immediately and definitively identify when it is set in relation to The Walking Dead. Title cards in the series premiere tell the audience that they’re seeing events that begin “five years after the bridge” in Rick’s story and span an inexplicit handful of years after that. Then, the second episode catches up with Michonne “six years after the bridge” and goes from there.

Is “the bridge” supposed to mean something to me?
If you followed The Walking Dead until Andrew Lincoln’s departure, then yes. While most characters had to be killed off if the actor playing them wanted to leave Atlanta and get off the show, Rick Grimes did not die. In season nine, episode five, “What Comes After,” the former sheriff was kidnapped by a member of the Civic Republic Military named Anne (Pollyanna McIntosh), formerly known as the artsy junkyard community leader Jadis, and taken away in a helicopter in the chaotic aftermath of a bridge explosion.

But The Walking Dead didn’t end after that, right?
Correct! The Walking Dead went on for 57 more Rick-less episodes, ending with season 11 in 2022. Not only that, but there was a time jump, the second in season nine, that put even more distance between Rick’s departure and the end of the series. Almost immediately after he got whisked away, the narrative skipped to six years later.

Wait, didn’t you just say six years after the bridge??
Exactly. So, in theory, the majority of The Ones Who Live takes place roughly around the same time as The Walking Dead season-nine post–time jump. It runs approximately parallel to the end of the original series.

Didn’t Danai Gurira also depart the series? When did that happen?
That she did! Michonne left in season ten, episode 13, “What We Become,” to search for her missing husband. She left behind her and Rick’s children, Judith and RJ, but they are more than safe with their found family.

In The Ones Who Live, we catch up with Michonne’s story line when she’s looking for Rick. If you, like me, love to consult a fan wiki, my deepest condolences. This new information slightly contradicts what an unofficial yet meticulous timeline worked out with regards to how much time passed on The Walking Dead season nine and season ten after the jump. According to that resource, Michonne left her community in search of Rick more than seven years after his disappearance. But we’re going to go with what the spinoff says from now on, so six years it is!

So, in The Ones Who Live, technically The Walking Dead hasn’t ended yet?
Yes … but don’t worry about that too much. We (or at least I) saw The Walking Dead through to the bitter end and know that Rick and Michonne never reappeared. A post-credits scene in the series finale gave us a brief glimpse of Rick and Michonne that teased their imminent reunion in Ones Who Live, but that’s all. It’s unlikely that the new series is going to cross over with previous seasons of the old series.

Just out of curiosity, how many years passed on The Walking Dead in total?
In the season-ten finale “Here’s Negan,” The Walking Dead confirmed that 12 years have passed since the world ended. Season 11 does not take place over a long period of time, but there is one final time jump in the finale to a year later. So, all in all, it’s been about 13 years.

If we presume that the world of TWD ended the same year that The Walking Dead premiered on AMC in our world, 2010, then that means the show now takes place roughly concurrently with our world’s present day. (Knowing that the world ended in 2010 is also important to keep in mind when you see Rick carrying around a vintage iPhone 4 on The Ones Who Live.) This aligns nicely with a second title card in the premiere episode of The Ones Who Live, after some time has passed for Rick in captivity after “five years after the bridge,” that just says “NOW.”

Okay, so how does Daryl Dixon factor into this?
Yes, let’s talk about those other post-TWD shows. In the series finale of The Walking Dead, Daryl departs the main group of survivors to go searching for Rick and Michonne. One thing leads to another in Daryl Dixon, and he ends up accidentally crossing the Atlantic Ocean and washing ashore in France. Before he departed on this not-so-bon voyage, however, Daryl was able to make contact with his bestie Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride), who alluded to Rick and Michonne’s return. That tidbit complicates the stakes for Daryl and his ongoing spinoff series. In France, he insists that he has people back home who need him. On one hand, if Judith and RJ are back with their parents, they don’t need him to return ASAP. On the other hand, I’m sure Daryl would very much like to see his friends! It also sets the spinoff during or maybe even after the events of The Ones Who Live. How far after depends on whether Rick and Michonne reunite and make it home in the first season, of course.

And there’s also the Negan and Maggie show, right?
The odd-couple show Dead City is pretty self-contained, in terms of both the plot and its setting on the island of Manhattan. It also appears to be set the furthest in the future of the three shows. We can guesstimate that Dead City takes place three-ish years after The Walking Dead based on a couple of things. First, Negan makes some comments about his past that indicate 15 years have passed since the beginning of the zombie apocalypse. Another possible indication of how much time separates Dead City from the TWD finale is the age of the young actor playing Maggie and Glenn’s son. Hershel was played by an 11-year-old in the series finale of The Walking Dead and a 15-year-old actor in Dead City. But since child actors are often cast to play characters younger than their actual age, I would not take that as gospel.

What’s the chronological order of these shows?
So it’s like … The Ones Who Live starts off slightly before the series finale of The Walking Dead, which takes place before Daryl Dixon, which takes place before Dead City. But they were released in this order: The Walking Dead, Dead City, Daryl Dixon, The Ones Who Live. Events that happened in the middle of The World Beyond’s two season run are also current to the series premiere of The Ones Who Live. Oof!

There doesn’t appear to be much rhyme or reason to this chronology beyond which show was completed first — and that’s fine. Maybe they assumed it didn’t matter, because audiences would figure it out. I suppose, by writing this out, I am proof of that.

It kind of sounds like all these spinoffs are basically one giant season 12 of The Walking Dead.
I kind of think that’s a good way to look at it! The Walking Dead was an ensemble show that often centered just one or two characters for an episode and had multiple story lines taking place in different settings and/or times. If you look at these three shows as an A, B, and C story line, you could cobble them together and call them season 12.

It’s unfortunate that not all of the original-series cast was invited to spin off with somebody — clearly nobody consulted me, or we’d all be sitting down to watch Ross Marquand and Lauren Ridloff in The Walking Dead: Keeping Up With Connie & Aaron, a show in which the two characters exchange notes on what’s happening at their respective communities over brunch. If you want to be cynical about it, it seems a little like AMC kept The Walking Dead going by firing half of its cast. And if you want to get really cynical, you might recall some talk during the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes about how networks can avoid raises for crew members by canceling the series they’re working on and then rehiring them on the reboot or spinoff at season-one wages.

Well, while we’re being cynical: Does any of this timeline stuff actually matter?
Has time ever mattered on The Walking Dead? Stuff like that feels less important in an apocalyptic landscape that only sporadically has electricity. Who needs time when you barely have clocks, you know? The point is: You can definitely watch these shows without studying timeline flashcards. I love them dearly, but they’re not that deep. Do you want to see Rick and Michonne kiss or not? Worry about whether AMC is planning some major crossover event that looks suspiciously like The Walking Dead season 13 later.



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