This The Walking Dead: World Beyond review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead: World Beyond Episode 1
Growing up is never easy, but growing up in a world where safety is clustering behind walls with a few hundred other people and visiting the next town over might involve a helicopter trip or a dangerous days-long trek through walker-infested wilderness is something else entirely. It’s been a decade since the Night the Sky Fell on The Walking Dead: World Beyond, and since then, Iris (Aliyah Royale) and her sister Hope (Alexa Mansour) have grown up in the relative safety and normalcy of the Campus Colony, formerly Nebraska State University. Certainly, like all colonies, there were times of trouble, but as Iris wakes up and heads out for a school trip, things are prosperous. Campus Colony is home to 9600 or so people, and things are as normal as could be. People gossip, a piano plays, and Iris is the president of the graduating class of her high school, bound for big things and destined to become a leader in her community.
The community is buzzing because of the tenth annual commemoration of Monument Day, in which the town remembers their dead and looks forward to their future as part of the Three Ring Network with the Civic Republic and Portland, Oregon. However, not everyone is on board with the idea of celebrating their community’s most important day with a secretive, heavily-armed, apparently militarized city state where there is no communication, in or out. In fact, the Civic Republic’s location is only known to the people of the Civic Republic, and anyone who travels with them from Campus Colony never returns. Surely, life is better on the other side of the Great Plains, right? And that’s why no one who goes to the Civic Republic ever comes back?
It’s not subtle. The Civic Republic’s arrival is greeted positively enough by Iris and the rest of the community, despite Hope’s sneaking on board the bus and attempted sabotage of the welcome sign. Truthfully, those seeds of distrust are planted the moment Julia Ormond steps off of the helicopter and introduces herself as Lt. Colonel Elizabeth Kublick, a representative of the Civic Republic military clad in a crisp tailored black uniform. When standing next to the head of campus security, Felix (Nico Tortorella), the dichotomy is clear. Campus Colony might have brains and some cool brown leather jackets, but the Civic Republic has might, and they’re not afraid to flex their might by doing things like flying by helicopter for a glorified barbecue, even if they claim to be low on resources.
The story doesn’t pass the smell test, for obvious reasons, but discovering whether or not the Civic Republic is evil isn’t the main crux of the story. At its heart, World Beyond is a coming-of-age road movie, with two daughters journeying out into the wilderness beyond Campus Colony in an attempt to be reunited with their father on the other side of the country. Aside from the zombies—here, they’re called empties—and the militia who are pretty clearly up to no good, it’s a familiar enough road trip.
“Brave” spends most of its time setting up the world of Campus Colony, and establishing Iris and Hope’s personalities. Iris is book smart and driven; her goal is to become a scientist like her father. Hope is no less intelligent, but rather than becoming a researcher like their father or senior class president like her sister, she spends her off time sneaking around after dark, throwing parties and brewing illegal alcohol. A lot of this undoubtedly has to do with the back story of the two characters, and the trauma they experienced on the night in which an airplane crash-landed in Omaha in the middle of their neighborhood, triggering an explosive outbreak of empties in the process.
Both girls are struggling with guilt over the death of their mother; Iris feels guilt because Hope had to watch their mother die, and Hope feels guilt over what she did in the immediate wake of her mother, picking up a dropped gun and killing a pregnant woman in retaliation. Scott Gimple and Matthew Negrete’s script leans into that sister relationship, with little side-trips for their fill-in father Felix and Huck during their community guardianship duties. This is clearly a community that survived by brains, rather than brawn, and as such they deal with their problems in such a way. Iris has therapy sessions to try and end her nightmares. Hope acts out, smothering her lingering guilt and issues beneath a teenage troublemaker streak that’s a little too calculated to be true. The speech Iris gives for Monument Day is a bit on the nose, but that feels appropriate for a teenager, particularly for one negotiating through the disappearance of her father. She’s given a captive audience in the town, in a public forum in front of one of the military people who whisked her father away, and it allows for a nice interplay between Iris and Elizabeth.
Magnus Martens is given something more character driven than action-packed, and he handles it well, keeping things moving in spite of a slightly expanded episode length. It drags in parts, but not enough to be terribly distracting; it slows in service of the characters and the plot, rather than needing to fill a little time, and while it doesn’t always pay off, it works more than it doesn’t. Aliyah Royale does a wonderful job with that valedictorian-type speech, and the moments she has with Alexa Mansour while they engage in sisterly bonding and squabbling feels realistic, as well. Uniformly, the young performers shine when given a chance, even if it’s just Hal Cumpston’s impression of being just slightly overwhelmed by the force of Hope’s personality and the joy on Nicolas Cantu’s face at the thought of getting to go off on a big adventure rather than just waiting around for the world to end. Julia Ormond resists the urge to engage in mustache twirling, opting to treat the two girls in a more motherly fashion, and to respond to Iris’s lashing out in public at her with the patience of a long-suffering mother, rather than the snap of a military leader used to commanding others.
Her darker side will come out soon enough.
World Beyond is an interesting product. It’s a teen drama being sold as a horror property. MTV’s Teen Wolf balanced those twin poles well for longer than they had any right to, thanks in large part to a break-out performer in Dylan O’Brien, but by the end of its run, it was less roaring werewolf and more three-legged basset hound. With a tight episode order and a specific plot arc in mind, World Beyond will attempt to avoid that fate while fleshing out The Walking Dead‘s universe. The setting is interesting, the acting is solid, and The Walking Dead: World Beyond is better than it has any right to be. At first blush, it’s a welcome addition to the undead menagerie keeping AMC’s Sunday night lineup shuffling along.