This The Walking Dead: World Beyond review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead: World Beyond Episode 6
Perhaps I’m just projecting the character of Abraham onto the actor, but as a director, Michael Cudlitz seems to be able to have fun with his material, no matter how dark. Throughout “Shadow Puppets,” there are a lot of fun little touches and moments to lighten things up and serve as an effective tension break during some of the more nervous moments. Towards the end of the episode, as Iris is skulking into an abandoned department store, there are two back-to-back scares, one a fake-out involving a mannequin that’s really amusing, then a legitimate one where a walker, out of nowhere, thrusts a hand out of a gated area into the middle of a scene in which Iris and Percy are talking. That’s one of the biggest jumps The Walking Dead: World Beyond has gotten out of me, thanks in great part to just how well timed it is, and how it comes just long enough after the initial jump scare that it’s no longer expected. Felix is involved in another great jump scare later in the episode; it’s less scary, but it’s more clever thanks to using dressing room mirrors to set up the surprise.
The rest of the episode is no less full of clever little bits, even down to the staging of some of the walk-and-talk bits between the characters. I always appreciate a scene in which there’s life, there’s movement within the space, and World Beyond ticks a lot of those boxes as the group walks through the forest and the camera drifts from Iris and Percy talking to Silas and Felix talking, sharing their suspicions about their new associate; there’s another great scene earlier in the episode with Silas and Felix talking by the wire in the foreground with the rest of the group laughing and talking in the background behind them, with a very impressive rack focus to change viewpoint to the group as Silas and Felix talk about them. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it’s clever and done well, and it shows how sharp World Beyond can be with the right motivation to spite up the talky portions of the drama.
Of course, Michael Cudlitz, as an actor by trade, does a solid job handling the performers this week. If nothing else, Ted Sutherland’s Percy and Scott Adsit’s Tony feel like a breath of fresh air from the five usual suspects. They’re a group, with an established group dynamic, and then an outsider or two gets tossed in to upset things. That Silas is jealous of Percy’s instant connection with Iris is played up heavily, but Aliyah Royale’s Iris is blissfully unaware of it and Hal Cumpston’s Silas keeps it confined mostly to complaining to Felix (Nico Tortorella) and staring surreptitiously at the two from the other side of a campfire or the walking line. It’s understated, but a glimpse at the surly mind of a teenage boy with an obvious crush watching the object of his affection talk to another guy.
Felix, wisely, doesn’t mention this, choosing to use this for his own ends rather than loudly state the obvious. There are still a lot of characters making big announcements about how they feel, but it seems to be straightening out a little bit in this script from Maya Goldsmith, and the actors are getting more of a chance to show, as much as tell. Alexa Mansour gets to be in full snippy bitch mode as Hope finds, and immediately tearing at, the seams in Percy’s story about traveling from Wyoming to Florida in the span of a few months. That feeds into Silas’s dislike of Percy, and Felix’s natural skepticism of any new visitor. It nicely counterbalances Iris, the eternal optimist who finds herself wounded by Percy’s sudden but inevitable betrayal. That Percy and Tony do the right thing in the end only slightly modifies that initial stab in the back.
It’s a valuable lesson for the Endlings, even if it turned out okay in the end. Even Felix, for that matter, learned something. This isn’t Campus Colony, this is the real world, the unsafe world, the world of the dead and the desperate, and most people won’t think twice before grabbing your gear and running off. Most people won’t turn around and do the right thing in the end because of a bunch of has-beens (my new favorite term for the undead) and one moment of kindness on the part of Iris.
Perhaps Felix and the Endlings aren’t the only people capable of showing growth in this universe. Or, perhaps, the traveling grifters have learned that there is strength in numbers, and that friendly survivors don’t come along every day. If anyone would know the dangers of the road, and the need for supportive company, it’d be two traveling performers, who have probably been through some scrapes despite their obvious skill at grifting and traveling performance.
For all their rough introduction, it’s pretty clear that Tony and Percy are good people. They might run con games, but they don’t actively hurt or kill, just steal when the chance presents itself. If that wasn’t clear by them coming back to save the day (and running over a zombie in gloriously mushy fashion in the process), then it’s clear from the content of their surprisingly sweet and emotionally touching shadow puppet show, which shows both on the good times before the current world and the good times to come in the future for those determined enough to see things through past the apocalypse. Elton and Hope might think that this is the end, but it’s not as long as people are willing to keep going, no matter what.