Part of the fun of The Walking Dead franchise is seeing how the show takes familiar places and reimagines them for a zombie apocalypse. And given that World Beyond is telling the story through the eyes of teenagers, it was probably inevitable that the series would eventually take them into what would, in a normal world, be their natural habitat: high school.
The episode opens with rain clouds on the horizon as Iris, Hope, Silas, and Elton — with adult chaperones Felix and Huck in tow — decide to wait out the storm and hunt for some much-needed resources in the abandoned school. Before long, “The Wrong End of a Telescope” splits our little gang into three groups of two and gives them each an hour to explore before things inevitably go haywire.
There’s not much to say about Felix and Elton, who manage to secure some fresh rainwater to drink while Felix badgers Elton about convincing the other teens to head back to the Campus Colony. (Boy, will they be in for a surprise if that ends up happening!) Huck and Hope’s story has a little more going on; by the time the credits roll, they find a stash of canned goods in the kitchen and stare down a wolf that’s been chomping on the few surviving zombies that are shambling around the school.
But the unquestionable centerpiece of the episode belongs to Iris and Silas, whose awkward flirtation is magnified by the fact that they end up trapped in a gymnasium decked out with posters for the Sadie Hawkins dance (even if they have no idea what a Sadie Hawkins dance is). After Silas brings up the weird, dark rumors about his past again — seriously, kid, can you play it cool for ten minutes? — Iris sweetly deflects by asking him to play a song from his tape player, and they end up slow dancing together.
World Beyond hasn’t pulled off every emotional beat so far, but this one is a winner. In a moment that’s surprising and powerful partly because the Walking Dead franchise isn’t exactly known for its flights of fancy — Iris and Silas are briefly transported to the actual Sadie Hawkins dance, surrounded by the phantom versions of the “normal” teenagers they envy, as the music swells on the soundtrack. World Beyond is built around the hook that teenagers can’t just be teenagers in the postapocalypse; for a brief moment, Iris and Silas get to break that rule, and it’s genuinely moving to see it.
Of course, this sweet moment is swiftly interrupted by a zombie, which requires Iris and Silas to divert to a dank basement packed with even more zombies. As the rest of the gang tries to break down the door, Silas goes into a full-blown fugue state, stabbing one zombie in the head and pummeling another with his bare fists until Elton tries to pull him off. In his rage, Silas shoves Elton too.
This is the back half of the story teased in “The Tyger and the Lamb.” We still don’t know the whole story, but Silas obviously has some anger issues, and some brief flashes in the midst of his berserker rage against the zombie implies that they’re tied to his family. It certainly sounds like Silas killed his dad and that his mom testified against him in the subsequent trial. It’s also probably safe to assume that the real story is both more complicated and more vindicating to Silas. Either way, I’m sure we’ll hear the whole thing before the end of the season.
But in the here and now, Silas’s blind rage presents an immediate problem for the gang. Will his friends look at him differently? And even if they’re sympathetic to him, can he really be trusted not to lose it when the shit inevitably hits the fan on the road to New York?
At the very least, Silas’s budding relationship with Iris could easily be derailed when she sees his darker side firsthand. That’s certainly what Silas fears, glumly insisting to Iris that the gang should just leave him behind. But instead of confronting him and asking for some real answers, Iris tenderly thanks him for saving them twice. Apparently in a generous mood, she also sits down with Hope for what’s basically a retread of their conversation last week, as they agree to forget the past and be there for each other in the future.
And again, I’m left wondering: What is it going to take for World Beyond to stop being a chill hangout show about the world’s most generous and understanding teenagers? Because there are a lot of potential conflicts in “The Wrong End of a Telescope” that should be interesting and that World Beyond just veers away from. It doesn’t even need to change the main arc of the show! World Beyond seems to be afraid of complexity, but people are capable of holding two contrasting thoughts or feelings in their heads simultaneously. It’s okay for Iris to like Silas and be weirded out when he goes into a fugue state and pummels a zombie to death. It’s okay for Iris to love Hope and be mad that her sister hid the truth about their mother’s death for a full decade. These are not changes that would betray the characters or their relationships; they are changes that would make those characters and relationships more complicated and interesting.
So as the episode ends with Elton taking a group photo of the whole gang as they leave the school, here is my wish: Let’s have this freeze-frame be the last time we see this group in cheery harmony. For the rest of the season, I’m hoping that World Beyond borrows an old trick from the Seinfeld playbook: No hugging, no learning.
• If you didn’t stick around through the credits, you missed an odd little cliff-hanger. A bored scientist who is eating a very large sandwich is doing some kind of testing on a group of captive zombies that includes her former ally, Dr. Samuel Abbott. We’ll see how this pays off down the road.
• In a pair of flashbacks that dive into his relationship with Hope, we spend a decent chunk of time with Leo Bennett, Iris and Hope’s much-discussed missing dad. He comes off as an intelligent idealist, working on an advanced immunology textbook that he believes will help humans survive, and eventually thrive, for generations to come.
• That said: Given everything Leo says, it’s pretty hilarious that it took Hope literally seeing a wolf protecting its cubs to go, “Oh, maybe my dad is protecting me.”
• So it was obvious the second we saw Sabina “Most Likely to March to the Beat of Her Own Drum” James in the yearbook that she’d eventually turn up as a pink-haired zombie, right?
• At the maximum, soda has a best-by date of about nine months, so I can’t imagine those cans Silas found were particularly tasty after a decade under the bleachers. I guess it’s not like any of these teens would know the difference.
• “Hvass” is Icelandic for “sharp” or “harsh,” which seems like a weird thing to name a high school after.
• For all the flashbacks World Beyond gives us, I’m bummed we never found out how that zombie ended up in that locker.
• Nobody thought to check if the batteries were corroded before they handed out walkie-talkies?
• No Elizabeth this episode! Starting to wonder if World Beyond got a bargain rate for Julia Ormond on the condition of an every-other deal.