Warning: This review contains spoilers for The Walking Dead: World Beyond episode 1. For more Walking Dead, read our review of the Season 10 finale, “A Certain Doom.”
When Fear the Walking Dead first started, there were a few concerns about its story centering on a family since, well… TV teens can be the worst.
Whether it’s the way they’re (usually) written, or the fact that teens, in general, tend to not consider consequences or concerns outside of their own short-sighted needs, Walking Dead fans were worried about the show possibly falling into lazy pitfalls of teenage self-centeredness in the middle of a zompocalypse. Even mothership The Walking Dead, which has a majority adult cast, has frustrated viewers with its teens – from Carl to Henry to Lydia to the Hilltop bozos.
(In the interest of fairness, grown-ups certainly do stupid s*** too.)
Anyhow, some of that unease is back with The Walking Dead’s second spinoff, the two-season limited series World Beyond, which is the franchise’s earnest attempt at a YA angle, focusing almost solely on the generation now growing up in the wasteland, having experienced the collapse of the world when they were all elementary school age. And so far, so good. It’s… fine. At the very least, World Beyond tends to reject a lot of the time-honored tropes of teen awfulness, at least in its first episode, “Brave,” which is a massive set up-style premiere that doesn’t really find its legs, and teeth, until the twist right at the end.
Sisters Iris (Aliyah Royale) and Hope (Alexa Mansour) are two sides of the same coin. While Iris is heavily involved with just about every aspect of her walled-up Campus Community (located just outside of Omaha, where 9,000 people safely reside) in a guilty attempt to better everyone’s life except her own, Hope, rejecting her namesake, has mentally dropped out of the system and rejects her township’s role as part of the Alliance of the Three.
The girls’ father, an esteemed scientist, left them both to work for the Civic Republic, which is located in an unknown area of the U.S. and has all those soldiers and helicopters we’ve seen (during events that took place six or seven years earlier) on The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead.
Yes, once upon a time, this outfit, which uses Three Rings as its symbol, took an injured Rick Grimes away as a weird type of specimen/offering/bargaining chip. Now we know, at least in the time period World Beyond takes place, that the Civic Republic is part of a union that also includes this Campus Colony and some other community in Portland. Well, at least that’s what the Nebraskans think, since it’s not exactly the equal partnership the ring symbol suggests it is. The Civic Republic clearly calls the shots and spreads the lies. For all we – and the main characters on the show – know, the Portland safe zone is made up. Or, at the very least, it was a real place until the CRM (the gun squad) destroyed it – like what happens to the Campus Colony at the very end of “Brave.” Just a full-tilt massacre.
This is the moment that World Beyond gets super interesting. Saving it for the very end doesn’t serve the episode all that well, but it does set us up nicely for the story going forward. This is the moment from “Brave” that gives this series a bit of edgy promise. As all the show’s main characters leave their town — some on a journey and some in order to catch up to the others to bring them back — their safe and cushy zompocalypse community gets liquidated. They don’t know it yet, but they can only keep going forward. There’s no net to catch them. And Hope was right all along about the CRM being cutthroat, duplicitous masters.
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The rest of “Brave,” sadly, is a bit of a trudge. It establishes the emotional stakes, for sure, but it’s super dry. We’re given a very drawn out lay of the land and a languid look at the lives these characters inhabit inside a “new normal” community that offers food, education, and a long list of creature comforts we’ve never seen on the other two shows.
Iris, Hope, orphaned Elton (Nicolas Cantu), and outcast Silas (Hal Cumpston) – the latter two tagging along with the sisters on their journey – never had to experience the day-to-day awfulness that exists beyond their walls and now they’re abandoning it for… personal growth? Well, the sisters are on a mission. They get a pass. An alarming message from their dad leads them to believe he’s in danger so they’re going to walk over a thousand miles to find him. The other two? Well, they may have nothing to lose, and no family to care for them, but their motivations for venturing out are a bit under-addressed here.
A balance needs to be struck in “Brave,” between establishing the colony and introducing us to the characters, and it doesn’t quite land. We spend way too much time moping around a community that, by the end of the episode, no longer exists. While it can be fun to peek inside writers’ ideas of what people would do a decade into a zombie takeover, we wind up ultimately too immersed in something that gets quickly obliterated. It’s hopeful to think that now because Iris, Hope, and the others (including Nico Tortorella and Annet Mahendru’s caring, persistent security officers) are outside the walls and trekking into the harsh walker-filled wilderness (they’re called “Empties” on this show), things might get a bit more ferocious. Because there’s a lot on the line here. There’s a “cure” in the works.
Yup, that’s right. World Beyond introduces something to the franchise that the comic series never dared concern itself with. A possible cure for the zombie plague. It’s something that hasn’t been part of the dialogue since The Walking Dead teased it during its Season 1 off-comics trip to the CDC. In World Beyond, Iris and Hope’s dad is supposedly working on it. But something nefarious is afoot. What could it be? And what does it have to do with Rick Grimes? How does he fit into any of this? Will he even factor into this series during its two seasons? There are many intriguing possibilities to consider, though it’s also likely none of them will come to pass.
The performers are all great and believable; Julia Ormond is fun as the primary antagonist (for now), and the premise holds both big ideas and exciting potential. Based on the flashbacks we’ve seen from both Iris and Hope’s points of view during the day their world came crashing down and the zombie plague destroyed the world, there’s a confrontation on the horizon based on Elton’s mom killing Hope and Iris’ mom and then young Hope killing Elton’s mom. We don’t know how it’ll come up, but it will. Hopefully, it won’t feel too forced and the characters won’t react in unbelievable ways. It’s an interesting layer, but the fact that it’s being treated like a time bomb for the group feels a little tired.
Also, we certainly don’t need to read anything into Ormond’s character being English. It’s easy enough to explain and, also, it doesn’t have to be a big deal. But, if we’re still theorizing about reasons why Rick Grimes never came home (because the movies are going to have to come up with really good reason), we can fall back on the idea that he got taken overseas to the U.K. and that the Civic Republic somehow spans across the pond.
Source: IGN.com The Walking Dead: World Beyond Series Premiere Review