This The Walking Dead: World Beyond review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead: World Beyond Episode 4
A lot of people are critical of The Walking Dead: World Beyond for what the show is. It’s a teen-centric supernatural drama set in a zombie universe, like MTV’s Teen Wolf but not sexy due to the unspoken body odor surrounding every character. That’s not to everyone’s taste, which is understandable. The Walking Dead isn’t to everyone’s tastes, either.
As such, a Walking Dead fan’s tolerance or interest in World Beyond is based heavily on just how much they enjoy watching melodramas meant for teenagers. Empties, adult characters, political intrigue… all of it takes a back-seat to the main thrust of the story, which is the teenage coming-of-age thing that can be divisive and limits the ceiling of World Beyond significantly. If this show were on the CW or Freeform, it might find a more receptive audience, but it’s on a network that traditionally aims towards an older audience than that which might identify with the teenage heroes of its latest Walking Dead spinoff. However, whether one appreciates teen drama or not, the people watching anything branded Walking Dead can appreciate a hungry group of survivors, scavanging for supplies in an abandoned high school while walkers, and other menaces, skulk around in the darkness all around them.
Perhaps I’m just a sucker for a cool animated sequence in a non-animated thing, but one of the bits from the first episode of World Beyond that I’ve been hoping they’d bring back was the half-real, half-animated nightmare/dream Iris had. It’s something that The Walking Dead has never really done, and it provides a bit of visual novelty in what is otherwise a pretty familiar-looking post-apocalypse. The seconed and third episode featured nothing of that sort, perhaps because Iris herself took a back seat, but “The Wrong End of a Telescope” features a little more of the world through Iris’s eyes, and as such, there’s an awkward, kinda sweet moment between her and Silas as they waltz together, with Iris’s vivid imagination filling up the rest of the empty gymnasium around them with other dancing animated figures. Iris’s artistic talent isn’t in question, and as such, it’s nice to see the world through her eyes on occasion, if only because it breaks up the dingy decaying earth tones of their world.
It’s a vision of what the Endlings have missed out, and the whole episode is filled with little glimpses of what might have been for these kids. Namely, high school year books and dances in the school gymnasium. It triggers a whole wave of introspection from the teen characters, as Sinead Daly leans on that whole ‘what might have been’ concept for Hope (Alexa Mansour) in particular, as her journey and her experiences along the way give her reason to reexamine her relationship with her father as he prepares to leave Campus Colony and serve the greater good while working with the Civic Republic in a teaching capacity. It’s a good introduction to Leo Bennett (Joe Holt) and his relationship with his more troublesome daughter. There’s clearly love there, but some of her frustration with her father is reasonable based off his of his general relationship towards things not his work. Hence, Hope acts out, while Iris (Aliyah Royale) tries to hard work her way to her father’s love.
Both sisters have regrets about their life in Campus Colony, and both sisters, thanks to their surroundings, are given an opprotunity to think that kind of stuff over while surrounded by the ghosts of the old world and dodging the dangers of the new. It also gives Huck and Felix an opening, with Huck (Annet Mahendru) working over Hope, trying to leverage her doubts into a wedge to drive the kids back to Campus Colony, and Felix (Nico Tortorella) picking Elton (Nicolas Cantu) as the easiest target to turn away from their larger, more dangerous mission. This gives Cantu an opportunity to flesh out Elton, and Mahendru to flesh out Huck a little bit more, and both take advantage of the opportunity, It’s only flashes of their true character, but it’s growth over previous episodes for the two least-developed characters. Extra credit goes to Hal Cumpston for a believable rage flip-out when pinning down and beating a zombie to redeath with his bare hands. That sort of violent flip-out is nothing new in the Walking Dead universe, but he handles it well and it comes across as very impactful, particularly when the blood starts flying and his punches just keep landing.
Director Rachel Leiterman does a solid job with her young performers, who seem to be finding their characters as they go, save for perhaps Elton. The episode, which features both dramatic scenes and action set-pieces, is a fairly decent bottle episode, with the novelty of both walkers and animals being threats, with the wolves serving as both protector and danger to the Endlings and their adult chaperones. The two rules of directing concern both kids and animals, and yet she does a good enough job with both, though the wolf protecting her den of cubs is a bit heavy-handed as far as metaphors go. Otherwise, the pacing was good, and Leiterman gets a lot of use out of the twisting and turning confines of the high school to build some pretty good tension as the group separates into pairs and wanders off into the darkness to look for decade-old canned goods and water storage.
It’s a little early in the series run to trap the characters into one location, so “The Wrong End of a Telescope” is a slow-down for a series that doesn’t need to slow down much more. The characters are still being established and fleshed out, and it’s a natural idea progression to give The Endlings a glimpse at the kind of high school experience Felix and Huck might have had, but slowing things down at this point in the season seems counterproductive. The story should pick up steam, not wander around navel-gazing.
Certainly, with any show, there are rough patches. “The Wrong End of a Telescope” has a lot of positives, but also enough negatives to create some concern. The pacing of individual episodes has been good, but the pacing of the season feels a bit slower than might be expected. The trial by fire promised by the Blaze of Gory was mostly a fizzle; undoubtedly, the real trials will be down the road. It’s still too early in the journey to turn around, even if everyone gets a chance to consider their roads not taken.