This The Walking Dead: World Beyond review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead: World Beyond Episode 2
The teens of The Walking Dead: World Beyond have been given all the tools necessary to survive in the world around them. They’ve grown up with weapons training, martial arts drills, and walker-killing lessons from people who know exactly what they’re doing and how to do it. With a teacher like Felix (Nico Tortorella), who has been killing empties and in charge of campus security for quite some time, it’d be hard not to pick up the tricks necessary. Iris (Aliyah Royale), the class president, took to the lessons well. Go straight for the brain. Stab through the eye. Sweep the legs. Don’t wear yourself out battering a body uselessly. Avoid the problem rather than fight it directly. Of course, knowing these things and being able to do them in a high pressure situation are two different things, as Iris learns quickly in this episode.
College is great. I think everyone can agree that college can provide very useful skills, but getting useful skills out of a book is decidedly different than knowing how to use those skills in a real-world application. Iris tries every tactic she’s been taught, and each time, she comes up just a little short. The things that we see the survivors on The Walking Dead do without thought are, to the children of the post-apocalypse, only bits of theoretical knowledge. Iris knows what to do, but she’s never had to do it, and that means a task that would take someone like Daryl Dixon a second takes her minutes, all of which unfold on screen while Hope (Alexa Mansour), Elton (Nicolas Cantu), and Silas (Hal Cumpston) watch in silent horror. Eventually, she doesn’t kill it, but she topples down into a culvert with it and it ends up disabled enough for the group to continue onwards.
The empty disabled, but not dead, the group continues on. For all Iris’s book knowledge, she’s clueless when it comes to dispatching zombies. For all of Hope’s rule-breaking, she keeps leaving clues behind for Felix to follow. For all of Silas’s reputation for violence, he seems to be the most passive member of the group. For all of Elton’s pessimism regarding the survival of humanity, he seems determined to live a rich, full life before joining the ranks of the empties around them, despite the futileness of the experiences he will have and the pictures and journal entries he will capture along the way. Meanwhile, Huck and Felix continue to give chase, clueless as to the fate that befell Campus Colony in their absence.
Elton aside, none of these children are equipped for this world. The smallest member of the group is the oonly one who has spent any real time outside of the walls, and while he’s got the most survival skills, even he’s nothing when faced with the titular “Blaze of Gory,” a massive tire fire that’s attracted walkers from hundreds of miles around with its constant dancing flames.
So, not only are the kids walking into a massive nest of zombies, they’re also going to walk straight through a cloud of poison gas into a tire fire, because that’s the shortest way between where they’ve been and where they want to go. Even Elton the survivor isn’t very practical, is he? Granted, the trip around the tire fire would add time and another 60 miles onto their journey, but it would also bypass a massive nest of walkers and lung-charring pollution.
One of the better aspects of World Beyond is the fact that none of these kids are particularly good at surviving outside of the walls of their colony. For Iris’s smarts, Elton’s savvy, Silas’s violence, and Hope’s practicality, they’re really bad at killing walkers. They’re sheltered, and they lack the post-apocalyptic street smarts for the kind of mission they’re undertaking. Even the hardened survivors of Alexandria would think twice before marching halfway across the continent while cutting through the mother of all fires. Silas talks a big game when he finds Hope after she dispatches the walker waiting at the base of the treehouse, but when push came to shove, he couldn’t get the kill. Later in the episode, Hope describes herself as a shit person who gets shit done because she doesn’t give a shit, and meanwhile she’s leaving behind a trail of clues for Felix to follow and come to their rescue, because deep down, she doesn’t want to die. Elton might fetishize extinction, but he’s making a record of his journey for… aliens, perhaps? Or super-intelligent bugs that will take over Earth after the last human, empty or not, becomes dust.
Ben Sokolowski’s script has a lot of fun with these little secret glimpses past the armor the four teens have donned, as well as digging into Felix’s tragic back-story. With no other choice, the kids have leaned into who they are, with Elton in particular giving a pretty solid thesis on the extinction of humanity, and their status as endlings. The other endlings have their reasons for pretending to be something they’re not, and while the kids try to keep that up, it’s clear as they roll a bowling ball around as part of a game and play a late-night game of Monopoly that they’re nothing more than the kids they’re trying desperately to pretend not to be. In particular, Hal Cumpston and Alexa Mansour get an opportunity to explore the gaps in one another’s facade in a few quiet moments together. Nicolas Cantu knocks his big speech about extinction out of the park, facing down the death of the human race with a detatched amusement that comes across well.
Director Magnus Martens once again does a solid job of handling his young performers, but more than that, he’s able to turn an overactive smoke machine and some old school busses into an exercise in tension that has yet to be seen on World Beyond. It’s nothing expensive or extravagant, but simply sending the kids into the mystery of the BOG with the silhouetted forms of empties shuffling around is enough to raise hackles, and as the kids struggle to sneak their way through dangerous territory, their little moment of elation hits, then deflates immediately when they realize that their success didn’t even get them halfway through to the airport they were trying to use as cover to sneak past the host of undead drawn in by the tire fire.
It’s a success, but only partially. Like killing the zombies they’ve encountered thus far, it’s a victory of book smarts over practical intelligence. The Endlings had a good idea, and they were able to pull it off, but then reality got in the way. As it turns out, killing a zombie is harder than it looks. Sneaking through a tire fire infested with zombies and breaking into an abandoned airport is definitely not something that would come naturally to anyone, particularly not the relatively coddled kids of a prosperous, thriving colony. It’s great to know things, but it’s even better to do things. The Endlings better hope they can fill in that missing piece of the puzzle before they march to their own extinction event.