Modern Westerns have become all the rage in the past few years, largely thanks to Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan. The Kevin Costner-led series has since exploded and formed its own neo-Western universe with spinoffs and prequel series including 1883 with Tim McGraw and Sam Elliott and 1923 with Helen Mirren and Harrison Ford. Similarly, mystery crime procedurals like Longmire have been captivating contemporary audiences the same way classic John Wayne or Clint Eastwood Westerns did their parents and grandparents. The simplicity and rawness that exude from the modern Western are compelling to many who long for a simpler life. If this feels familiar or attractive to you, or if Westerns of any kind are just your thing, then Walker is the show for you.
In early 2021, The CW premiered the first episode of their Walker, Texas Ranger reboot simply titled Walker, which, for those who loved the Chuck Norris version, is more of a complete reimagining than a reboot. The series stars Supernatural’s Jared Padalecki in the titular role of legendary Texas Ranger, Cordell Walker, alongside his new partner, Micki Ramirez (played by Lindsey Morgan), who previously starred in The 100). Now, if hearing that Walker is a CW show is a turnoff, don’t judge the series by its network. This show deals with its own intense themes of grief and loss, while also being an exciting crime drama with lots of twists and turns. Sure, Walker has two teenagers who have their own “CW-esque” drama (there’s no escaping it), but that’s not the main focus of this show.
Jared Padalecki Is a Strong Lead on ‘Walker’
One of the big draws for shows like Longmire or Yellowstone is the brutality and realness that each show brings, alongside the Western landscape and themes themselves. Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) is a grieving Wyoming sheriff who still works to solve the mystery of his deceased wife while navigating an entire county’s worth of crime. In Yellowstone, John Dutton (Kevin Costner), who has also lost his wife, is the patriarch of the wealthiest landowning family in Montana who wants his family to come back together to protect the Yellowstone Ranch, their livelihood. Both shows bring a hard rawness to life that feels genuine and leaves you anxious for more. Walker, set and filmed in the city of Austin, Texas, follows a similar path.
A Texas native himself, Padalecki shines as Walker. The man’s acting chops are unparalleled as there is absolutely no sign of Sam Winchester (who he played for the past 15 years on Supernatural) at all in the famed Texas Ranger. The use of Padalecki’s real-life bride as Walker’s deceased wife, Emily (Genevieve Padalecki), was genius and sparks a deeply personal connection in his performance that we haven’t seen in years. Whenever Walker breaks down when discussing Emily, or when he sees her everywhere, it breaks our hearts also, knowing that this story is one of the most personal that Padalecki could ever tell. This is what truly sets his performance apart from that of Taylor or Costner.
The CW series does its best to get the audience into the mind of Cordell Walker, a man who has lost so much of himself in such a short time. Walker poorly grieves the loss of his wife, while also continuing to investigate her murder in a very Longmire-like fashion. Part of this process involved Walker going undercover for a whole year as Duke, a criminal who was to infiltrate the bank-robbing Rodeo Kings (“Duke”). By the “Pilot,” his time underground is over and he’s forced to readjust to being both a Texas Ranger and a father. But like Yellowstone’s Dutton family, his past quickly catches up with him, causing a huge rift between Walker and his children.
‘Yellowstone’ and ‘Walker’ Share a Passion for Family Values
That rift aside, what ultimately makes Walker work is the series’ commitment to family. While Yellowstone’s picture of family is largely dysfunctional and Longmire’s is nearly non-existent (barring Walt’s daughter of course), Walker introduces a host of family members who love and support each other, even when they keep their secrets. Walker’s parents, Bonham (Mitch Pileggi) and Abeline (Molly Hagen), are the rocks on which the Walker family stands, even if their relationship can be a bit shaky. His brother, Liam (Keegan Allen), is Austin’s Assistant DA and an incredibly less-sleazy version of Yellowstone’s Jamie Dutton (Wes Bentley). But it’s ultimately Cordell’s kids, August (Kale Culley) and Stella (Violet Brinson), and his partner, Micki, who ground him, reminding him what it means to be a father and a Texas Ranger.
That doesn’t mean it’s all roses and rainbows though, as Walker’s complex relationship with his children becomes a huge driving force of the series (which is about as close to the Dutton family drama as they get). As Walker continues to try with his kids, each of them has their own way of dealing with grief and rejection as they blame him for leaving their family when it mattered most. Walker’s son Auggie does his best to win his father’s approval, while his sister, Stella, tries even harder to push Walker away. It’s not until after all hell breaks loose that the Walkers are forced back together to rebuild (“Mehar’s Jacket”).
‘Yellowstone’ and The CW’s ‘Walker’ Address Real-World Issues
Another attractive element of the modern Western is its uncompromising ability to tell something like it is. Longmire never shied away from talking about the hardships and tragedies of Reservation life or the brutality of American history (as seen in episodes like “Dog Soldier” and “War Eagle”). Yellowstone continues to address topics such as the human trafficking of Native women (“I Killed A Man Today”) and the political atmosphere of manifest destiny and Western expansion (“The Reek of Desperation”). Like these, Walker doesn’t shy away either.
Stella Walker’s best friend, Isabel (Gabriela Flores), is an undocumented immigrant whose parents are deported after Stella gets them into trouble (“Don’t Fence Me In”). The series does an excellent job of commenting on the hardships that undocumented immigrants face while not pulling any punches about the realities of it. A few episodes later, there’s another startling revelation that one of the lead characters was adopted by their aunt (“Tracks”), which is a raw commentary on drug abuse and irresponsibility. Not long after, serious issues of infidelity and police brutality are explored in the episode “Bad Apples.” Sure, some of this can come across as just “CW drama,” but the truth is that it works, and more often than not, it accents the story rather than detracts from it.
‘Walker’ Isn’t as Dark as ‘Yellowstone,’ But It’s Still Intense
Fans of the Longmire model, which balances stand-alone procedurals with overarching mysteries, will quickly recognize Walker’s method of storytelling. Like Longmire, the first season follows various stand-alone cases and two major story arcs that ultimately intersect. One covers Cordell’s time with the Rodeo Kings, while the other involves a criminal syndicate called Northside Nation. Both plotlines circle themselves around Emily Walker’s death (which culminates in the two-parter “Dig” and “Drive”), and each has its own major ramifications for our leads, some personal and some professional.
Yellowstone fans should note that Walker might have a lighter tone than the Paramount series, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be as intense. While the personal relationships between the Walkers are nothing like the highly combustible Duttons, there are plenty of “life and death” combos that occur throughout the show’s first season, including “Defend the Ranch,” which sees the entire Walker family taken hostage by a deranged escaped convict (which sounds as crazy as a few Yellowstone finales). Another excellent example of this is “Rule Number 17,” in which Walker’s friend, Geri (Odette Annable), infiltrates a high-stakes poker game to help find Emily’s killer, with disastrous results.
While Walker might not have as beautiful landscapes as Yellowstone’s Paradise Valley, Montana (which is mostly filmed in Utah), or Longmire’s fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming (which is actually New Mexico), there is a beauty to real-life Austin, and the Walker family’s own Texan land, that makes you long for more. As the second season has already begun, new mysteries are afoot including a new Hatfields and McCoys-like rivalry between the Walker and Davidson clans. Although this modern Western has often been overlooked or overshadowed by larger productions, it’s definitely worth a shot.
The Big Picture
- Modern Westerns like Walker capture the simplicity and rawness that audiences long for, just like classic John Wayne films.
- Jared Padalecki shines in the titular role of Cordell Walker, showing a side of his acting that hasn’t been seen in years.
- Walker explores intense themes of grief and loss while balancing family dynamics and exciting crime drama, similar to shows like Longmire and Yellowstone.