THE WALKING DEAD: WORLD BEYOND is the newest spin-off of the TWD Universe. It’s much more youth-oriented, kind of the YA version of The Walking Dead (TWD). In its first season, there are ten episodes that start slowly but build to a satisfying and unresolved ending. With a majority POC cast and openly LGBTQ characters that, thankfully, aren’t immediately killed off, it’s encouraging in ways that its fellow series Fear The Walking Dead (FTWD) is not. Yes, Fear The Walking Dead has POC characters, but they really weren’t the focus of the show after the second season when most of the Salazar and Manawa’s families were killed off and the show focused on the Clarke family. That’s changed since Morgan Jones (Lennie James) was brought over from The Walking Dead, but it seemed like a way to boost ratings with a popular OG TWD character.
With WORLD BEYOND, the focus is squarely on a pair of sisters, Aliyah Royale (Iris Bennett) and Alexa Mansour (Hope Bennett) daughters of Leopold Bennett (Joe Holt), a brilliant scientist. There’s some very good world-building going on in THE WALKING DEAD: WORLD BEYOND and it’s different from the grimdark stylings of TWD and FTWD. Don’t get me wrong. I love the darkest zombie tales that are out there, but WORLD BEYOND is refreshing because it’s promised to be a limited series and the creators have hit the reset button. With the exception of the CRM as part of the shared Universe, World Beyond has nothing to do with TWD or FTWD as of the ending of the first season.
The other characters are Nico Tortorella (Felix Carlucci), Nicolas Cantu (Elton Ortiz), Annet Mahendru (Huck), Hal Cumpston (Silas Plaskett), Jelani Aladin (Will Campbell), Ted Sutherland (Percy), Scott Adsit (Tony Delmado), Christina Marie Karis (Kari Bennett), Christina Brucato (Amelia Ortiz), and Julia Ormond (Elizabeth Kublek).
The actors are never trying too hard to push ideas about their characters or situation, so they were very well chosen. All of the actors who are part of the main cast are beautiful and have specific qualities to them. When other characters refer to them as special, you can believe it. Part of what works is that most of the main characters have not gone outside of the campus that they have lived in for some time. They all felt the fear of “the night the sky fell” as the survivors of this area call Z Night, but they really aren’t like the survivors of TWD and FTWD. They’ve had relatively normal and fear-free lives after that night. When they go out into the zombie-filled world, they not only don’t feel the panic that survivors without a home would, they also don’t have any of the fighting skills that the hardened survivors of the other two series do. It’s not only a reset, but it’s an origin story, but without most of the Zombie Apocalypse trappings. There’s no chaos, just a mostly empty world. Of course, most of the characters have tragic backstories, but this is the Zombie Apocalypse. It’s a little bit unnerving to see such lovely countryside. It’s as if the show is more about the beauty of the world and the potential for humanity to recapture it.
The exposition is mainly handled through flashbacks of each character’s past. It’s similar to the method employed by Black Summer and is quite effective. There’s quite a bit more going on in the show and the show hides that well. If you are patient with the show, you will be in for some pretty big surprises. The cast’s performances are quite well-calibrated to work with the storytelling. With a specific character, what makes them loveable for the first half of the season is the same thing that makes you dislike them in the second half. The true character of each role is quite often hidden in a way that works to keep the plot developments and character arcs away from the audience until the creators are ready to reveal them. It’s really good work from the cast, particularly the actors who have these specific roles. Even the ability of the actors to project the quality of being special is good work. It’s more than just looks, it’s their spirit. It comes from inside them. One of WORLD BEYOND’s strongest assets is its cast. The show has some good things to say about what makes a good person and the complex reasons why people do things, especially things that you might find morally repugnant. It also does something to partially deconstruct the awful myths about abused people and children.
Even though the show goes relatively light on gore and zombie violence, there’s still the threat hanging over everyone. The show goes back to the idea that running into zombies, at this point, is probably pretty random where the heroes are, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. There’s a particular jump scare that scared the pants off me, mainly because it really was a surprise because the show doesn’t lean on the zombie threat heavily for tension. Most of the tension comes from the human relationships, thus carrying on the idea from Romero, that human beings are the real monsters. It works because you are shown through plot and characterization how hard it would be in this situation to trust, at first, strangers, then people you know.
As for effects, they are pretty good. After the first episode, the show mostly avoids using the “showcase zombie” to create fear. Instead, they play more on the emptiness of the world and what might be in it. The zombies are as scary as you normally would see on a TWD show and the fear is mostly created by the young leads’ inability to know what to do and to fight, but their skills do get better as we go along.
There’s no DP or specific cinematographer credited on IMDB, but there are a number of lighting technicians credited. I assume they are responsible for the look of the show and have created a slightly different and much more welcoming world in this show which I think is a big plus. The cinematography actually has a kind of Terrance Malick-style glow to it at certain points and it really serves to differentiate the show from the other two. At this point, it’s a great idea because when working in the zombie subgenre, you need to do something different, to make a different statement with your movie or show. The subgenre is really saturated and it takes a really different approach to stand out. Ultimately, I think THE WALKING DEAD: WORLD BEYOND has achieved this goal.
The soundtrack by The Newton Brothers is memorable and catchy. The music is in tune with the focus of the show and the central premise. I can’t really think of a better way to praise a score than to say that I would give it a spin outside of the show and I would listen to The Newton Brothers soundtrack for this show. It’s very ethereal, not heavy at all. It’s got some orchestral moments with synths and otherworldly choral vocals too. There are also some good and offbeat choices with the licensed songs as well, the standout being PJ Harvey’s The Devil in the first episode.
THE WALKING DEAD: WORLD BEYOND is a different kind of show from what we’ve seen in The Walking Dead Universe and something that is suitable to watch with the people who might find The Walking Dead and Fear The Walking Dead to be too much. It’s a good show for younger viewers, but will still catch the attention of younger hard-core zombie fans because the story and characters are very strong and skew younger. Adults have something to watch as well with the older characters and will be surprised by the commitment of the series to telling a much more nuanced kind of story. I have been put off by The Walking Dead Universe’s tendency to write things as largely as they have in the past and on the other shows. The tendency to make everything the EPIC event. This is a show that concentrates more on story and character which I think was very wise. The show didn’t go the other and more extreme route that is being used by other successful series and films. It dares to be gentle, if that makes sense, but it’s tough when it needs to be.
It’s a good show and I’m hooked for the second season. Highly recommend adding it to your watchlist! THE WALKING DEAD: WORLD BEYOND Season 1 is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.