The Walking Dead: World Beyond
At the end of last week’s episode, Hope slipped away in the middle of the night, intending to set off a siren that would lure the zombie horde away from her friends. This was presented as a major, life-or-death decision — a moment of heroism, and quite possibly self-sacrifice, to get everyone else to safety.
So you might be surprised when we rejoin Hope the following morning — very much alive, thank you — in the interior of an office at the tire factory. When Iris, Silas, and Elton contact her via the walkie-talkie, Hope sounds fairly nonplussed about the whole thing, and it’s hard to argue with her, since she never actually seems to be in any danger.
It’s not like anyone seriously expects a TV show to kill off one of its main characters in the third episode of the season. But a TV show like The Walking Dead: World Beyond lives or dies on generating stories that are interesting or clever or propulsive enough that the illusion of danger feels as real for the audience as it does for the characters. And by that measure, World Beyond might be a little too comfortable.
In theory, the thing that makes World Beyond different than The Walking Dead or Fear the Walking Dead is its point of view. Focusing the action on four teenagers who barely remember life before the apocalypse is an intriguing double-edged sword, where their youthfulness and inexperience can be contrasted with their premature sense of world-weariness. Teenagers have a hard enough time figuring out who they are and what they want, and dropping them into the zombie apocalypse should only make those growing pains more painful to navigate.
At times, World Beyond seems to know what it’s doing here; Elton’s speech last week, which combined a precocious teenager’s sense of existential despair with the actual end of the world, was a perfect example. But this week, the show approaches Silas’s backstory and bungles it.
Until now, Silas has been painted as a shy and gentle giant, which meant it was only a matter of time until we learned about his dark and violent past. But even while leaning into this old cliché in a series of flashbacks, World Beyond weirdly obfuscates Silas’s backstory. All we really learn is that (1) his grandparents were very religious and loved him very much, (2) at some point he snapped and beat the shit out of somebody, and (3) he came to the Campus Colony with his uncle in an effort at a fresh start. Other kids bullied him behind his back, but Iris was always nice, which explains both his crush and his insistence on tagging along with her.
This is all pretty bland, but serviceable (at least as far as “backstories we don’t have time for” go). The real missed opportunity is in the present, when Silas just sort of mumbles his way through the episode. When Iris asks him what’s up, he complains that he’s not actually strong and shouldn’t have come at all. (To which I would submit: World Beyond writing staff, have you ever met a teenaged boy? Because I used to be one, and I can’t think of a single one I knew that would confess his own inadequacy to the girl he’s been crushing on since the beginning of the series.)
In any case, it’s Hope who ultimately has the emotional breakthrough. After repairing and setting off the siren, she cuts through the crowd to rejoin Iris, Silas, and Elton — as well as Felix and Huck, who have caught up while the kids were sitting around waiting for Hope. At one point, Iris manages to save Hope from a zombie, reaffirming that these sisters are stronger as a team.
This entire sequence is set to a voiceover of Iris reading William Blake’s “The Tyger,” which probably seemed like a cool artistic choice on paper but ends up feeling kind of goofy in execution. Whatever parallel is being drawn is pretty facile — a reminder that God created tigers and zombies, I guess? — and director Sharat Raju can’t resist pairing lines like “what the hand dare seize the fire?” with Hope dropping a lighter to burn all the zombies.
In any case: Hooray, everyone is saved! As the whole gang struts away from the Blaze of Gory and settles down to chill for the afternoon by an idyllic-looking lake, Hope decides it’s time to tell Iris the truth about what happened to their mother. Finally, some real conflict! Except it’s not, because Iris is very, very understanding about the whole thing. Presumably there will be some real fireworks when everybody figures out that the pregnant woman Hope killed was also Elton’s mom — but until then, the revelation of this long-held secret doesn’t have any consequences.
I guess what I’m hoping to see from future World Beyond episodes is these teens acting a little more like teens. So far, every potential conflict that has emerged between Hope, Iris, Silas, and Elton has been instantly and thoughtfully resolved (more often than not with an actual hug at the end). But if we’ve learned anything from the legions of network dramas made for and about teenagers, it’s that they thrive on interpersonal drama more than any external forces. Without a little conflict … well, what you’re left with is an episode with no real character progression and no real plot, which makes this whole thing feel a bit like a wasted hour.
The best thing I can say is that the stinger at the end of the episode hints at more interesting stories on the horizon. Back at the CRM’s secret base, Elizabeth Kublek is chilling in her (relatively luxurious) apartment. Sgt. Maj. Barca knocks at the door and admits that her order to wipe out the entire population of the Campus Colony has — perhaps understandably — made him doubt the righteousness of their mission. Elizabeth makes a not-very-convincing case that the ends justified the means; when Barca isn’t swayed, she calls in some guards who will take him off to a labor camp until he agrees to come back into the fold.
On a show where the characters’ actions and motivations have been pretty straightforward, Elizabeth remains a uniquely difficult read. So when the episode ends with Elizabeth crying alone in her apartment, it sets the stage for a villain whose unflappable exterior is clearly disguising doubts about the life she has chosen. It’s not exactly the deepest of arcs, but in an episode full of one-dimensional characters, I’ll settle for somebody showing two dimensions.
• Elizabeth’s apartment is decorated with old World War I posters. It’s a little on the nose, but I guess I can see how “Self-indulgence at this time is helping the enemy!” resonates with the CRM’s mission — even as Elizabeth is sort of violating that principle with her bottles of Chardonnay.
• Near the start of the episode, Elton suddenly goes into a coughing fit while standing in the background. A subtle hint at future health troubles, or a weird take they decided to keep in for some reason? You decide.
• When Hope insists that everyone needs to “haul ass” when the siren goes off, Elton briefly turns into Young Sheldon: “I’m not very familiar with that terminology.”
• Elton’s mom never got to finish her manuscript, so Elton carries it around, apparently planning to write the last chapter someday.
• I’m sympathetic to budgetary restrictions— it’s not like it’s cheap to dress dozens of extras as zombies — but the Blaze of Gory never really looked like the massive, existential threat that our heroes kept insisting it was.
• That said, the combination of smoke, ashes, and a siren made me really wish someone would green-light a Silent Hill TV series.
• Huck brought masks for all the kids. Topical!
• I appreciate the ingenuity of using a sharp cut to commercial to sneak in the phrase “Son of a motherf—“
• Another name to add to The Walking Dead’s “we’re not going to call them zombies” canon: At one point, Huck refers to a “crowd of uglies” stumbling into the group’s territory.
• Here’s the full text of William Blake’s “The Tyger” if — like Iris — you want to have it in your pocket to recite at some moment of dramatic counterpoint in your life.
• And here’s the full text of Isaiah 40:28, the bible verse Silas’s Pappy mentions in one of his recordings: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”