Editor’s Note: This review only covers the premiere episode.
From its opening moments, it’s clear that “The Walking Dead: World Beyond” is a very different beast than its flagship show. The new, youth-driven spin-off takes place 10 years into the zombie apocalypse where a group of teenagers decide to explore the old world.
Despite bleak subject matter, the overall tone of “World Beyond” feels lighter than “The Walking Dead.” The entire visual aesthetic feels very much like young-adult style shows, with well-lit cinematography and squeaky clean visuals. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s very jarring coming right off of “The Walking Dead’s” oppressive and unsettling palette.
The most intriguing aspect of “The World Beyond” is its exploration of the mysterious Civil Republic Military (CRM), who sport the 3-circle logo seen on the helicopter that took away series lead Rick Grimes in the flagship show’s 9th season. It’s clear that this spin-off is the next big step into expanding “The Walking Dead” universe. Unlike “Fear The Walking Dead,” which strived to tell the origins of the apocalypse (at least at first), “The World Beyond” focuses on the recreation of governmental organizations in pursuit of a safe future.
“The World Beyond” plays with intriguing and timely themes despite its fictional setting. At the forefront is the immediate mistrust of the Civil Republic Military, a mysterious government group that keeps their base location a secret and occasionally visits a variety of communities to check in. Many of the survivors living in the show’s community blindly trust the CRM, despite not knowing exactly what they are doing behind the scenes. The expressed dynamic of people vs. powerful organizations feels eerily timely with the current atmosphere of the United States.
The leading cast of characters includes Iris (Aliyah Royale), Hope (Alexa Mansour), Elton (Nicolas Cantu), and Silas Plaskett (Hal Cumpston). All of these teens have spent most of their lives behind the walls of an advanced community called Campus Colony. Society within has adapted to the world of the apocalypse and elements from “normal” life have slowly returned. The characters attend school, live in stylish apartments, and can even schedule therapy sessions. It’s very strange to see such a functional and advanced society in the midst of “The Walking Dead’s” tragic universe. One of the more macabre advancements includes wooden bars in front of the doors of survivors who are deathly ill.
Aliyah Royale is front and center in the role of Iris. Most of the premiere episode revolves around her, and the preparation of her “Remembrance Day” speech in front of the CRM. She’s strong-willed, confident, and overwhelmingly positive. Royale is not a bad actor per say, but her smiling portrayal just reads unrealistic in the world of the show. I assume things will change as the series turns darker, but as of now her performance just sticks out like a sore thumb.
Hope (Alexa Mansour) feels like a much more appropriate addition to the character roster. She’s plagued by the trauma of losing her mom during the beginning of the apocalypse, and has an utter hatred toward the mischievous CRM. She’s the opposite of Iris, and her scowling attitude reads like an accurate portrayal of a teenager in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. She even learned to make her own booze, which then gets confiscated by the community’s “police.”
The rest of the teenage ensemble is rounded out by Mansour’s Elton and Cumpston’s Silas. We don’t get a ton of screen time with these two, but it seems like they will be further explored in future episodes. Elton is certainly quirky; bragging about how his suit is “bite-proof”. He constantly sneaks out of the community to go exploring (similar to Enid from “The Walking Dead). Silas is a bit more of a mystery, but his criminal past is surely intriguing.
If there’s one thing “World Beyond” does on par, and if not better, than the main show it’s the walker designs. The walkers in this series are downright nasty. During a flashback sequence, a small child bears witness to a zombified man caught in the wiring of a crashed plane. The creature shrieks and growls as electricity sparks around him. It’s an awesome horror visual that would feel right at home in a Romero-directed “of the Dead” film. Since the series takes place 10 years into the apocalypse, the present-day zombies are especially decomposed and goopy. Based on the promotional material for later episodes, it seems like we will be getting some killer walker designs in the future.
The catalyst of the series comes when sisters Iris and Hope receive two worrisome typed messages from their father who is currently working at a New York base for the CRM. The duo, along with Elton and Silas, set out on a journey to figure out where exactly their father resides, and hopefully save him from whatever danger he’s in.
The episode ends with a shocking revelation that shortly after the teenagers left Campus Colony it was (purposely?) flooded with zombies and then cleared out by the CRM. It’s certainly a strange and bold choice to disrupt the perfect community the show spent so much of the pilot episode establishing. This suggests that the remainder of the season might primarily take place “on the road” similar to certain storylines from AMC’s original show.
Based on episode 1, “World Beyond” does not seem to be a show geared at the same audience of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” It’s a lighter toned story with more accessible characters most likely aimed towards a young adult audience. Hopefully as the show continues it will find the means to make the journey of its teenage leads feel just as important as getting to the bottom of the mysterious CRM and how it connects to Rick Grimes’ disappearance.