Reviews | Written by Rich Cross 19/10/2021

THE WALKING DEAD – WORLD BEYOND (SEASON ONE)

As a fixed two-season spin-off from The Walking Dead, new show World Beyond has a remit to offer a distinct ‘young adult’ perspective on life in the same zombie apocalypse as its parent show. Set ten years on from the original outbreak, the first half of World Beyond focuses on the mobile adventures of a group of young protagonists who set off on a mission to find and rescue the missing father of their group's leader.

Although the Walking Dead universe has continued to expand at pace, including three separate TV series (with two additional ones announced), a commitment to produce movies featuring the show’s original hero Rick Grimes, new works of fiction, tie-in console games and more, World Beyond still stands out as an unexpected creative choice. If a blend of YA teen drama, complex political intrigue and hand-to-hand combat with the endless undead sounds like an unlikely mix - that’s because it is. And World Beyond is continually tripped up by the challenges of trying to reconcile these disparate dramatic elements.

Many of those difficulties are writ large in the opening episode. The story begins in a stable and well-resourced community, now thriving a decade on from the disaster. The settlement welcomes an airborne delegation from the Civic Republic Military (the CRM), an organisation ostensibly committed to the betterment of humankind. The community’s leading scientist and technician Leopold "Leo" Bennett has been seconded to assist with the CRM’s research programme. Yet Bennett’s two daughters,, the diligent Iris and the disruptive Hope, become convinced that their father is being held against his will and is in deep trouble.

Together with two companions, bookworm Elton and the socially withdrawn Silas, they set out on a lengthy cross-country mission to find and rescue Leo. Learning of their departure, the community’s leaders dispatch two security officers, Felix and Huck, to track them down and bring them home. With all of them now far beyond the settlement’s walls, the CRM enact a devastating plan that will change the lives of these six refugees forever.

While this first instalment sets out the series’ premise and sketches the outlines of its key characters, the show’s tonal discord is immediately apparent. Wholesale slaughter jostles for attention alongside teenage high-jinks, heavily signposted flashbacks, and lengthy adolescent reflections on the meaning of life, family and integrity. The showrunners have taken care to put together a foursome of teen protagonists that are not the standard TV issue. Their leader is a young black woman, who’s capable, motivated and empathic. And the three kids in her charge are all awkward outsiders of one sort or another, not part of the cool in-crowd. But there’s not enough depth to the characterisation of "the nerd", "the rebel" or the "gentle giant" to support the frequent heart-to-hearts that are stitched into the narrative of every episode.

For the most part, the wider context of the world remains beyond the show’s view. Instead, as the group’s journey takes them through different states, and confronts them with new obstacles, Worlds Apart harks back to the texture of those 'community of the week' seventies’ US TV shows like The Fantastic Journey, Planet of the Apes and Logan's Run. At the end of each story, the party gets back on the road having resolved their latest challenge. Throughout these adventures, the bloodletting, decapitation and cranial stabbing are all pared back. There’s less gore and a great deal more jaw-jaw than in any other incarnation of the show.

So while it’s competently done, and delivers some effective set-pieces along the way, World Beyond remains an amalgam that fails to properly bond. With the show designed to complete after a twenty-episode, two-season run, there would be no excuse to end matters with an unresolved cliffhanger. But season two of World Beyond will confront the same seemingly irreconcilable tensions that hamper the first. The 'special features' of the Blu-ray and DVD releases of the first ten episodes are perfunctory: limited to just three short promotional TV spots.

THE WALKING DEAD: WORLD BEYOND (SEASON ONE) is out now on Blu-Ray and DVD