How do you revitalize a waning franchise that has been on the air for 10 years? AMC’s new Walking Dead spinoff, World Beyond, looks to answer that question. Judging from the charming pilot, it has the potential to do a great job at introducing the Walking Dead world to a whole new audience. Set 10 years after the zombie apocalypse hit, The Walking Dead: World Beyond throws an entirely new roster of characters into this reality as well as introducing a brand new status quo in one of the most well put together and exciting pilots to hail from AMC in a while.
The barren survival-horror that made The Walking Dead so popular is nowhere in the pilot of World Beyond. The episode centers on two young sisters, Iris (Aliyah Royale) and Hope (Alexa Mansour), who live in a “Campus Community” in Nebraska. Far from the destruction of Atlanta and the wilds of the southeastern United States, Iris and Hope’s idyllic home is a “Monument”. This means it’s a living and breathing reminder of everything the world lost when the zombie apocalypse hit.
Though their lives might be picturesque now, Iris and Hope—like anyone who is still alive at this point in the world of The Walking Dead—have suffered massive losses. Hope is furious about the loss of her mother and is furthermore keeping a dark secret about how she died. Meanwhile, Iris is composed, happy, beautiful, a leader who excels at the delicate politics of both her day-to-day life in high school and the more dangerous world at large.
That world is likely going to be the biggest draw to original Walking Dead fans. The YA tone and focus on a young diverse cast might not be what horror hounds are looking for, even though it is the best iteration of the story in years. But for those not sold, World Beyond offers up a deeper look at the world a decade after the infection hit. The apparent safeness of the World Beyond means we get to learn about the new status quo. The first episode is packed with information about the mysterious and violent Civic Republic and the role that they have to play in the future of the series and franchise.
Tonally, The Walking Dead: World Beyond toes the line between a Netflix teen drama and the best parts of The Walking Dead. The biggest trick that it has up its sleeve is the commitment to world building and detail that’s built into the first episode. There are moments that, even as someone who had tired with the original show, reignited my excitement, featuring smart developments and ideas that work not only within the world that the franchise has created but also that seem like they would be logical and authentic if the zombie plague was real. Honestly, isn’t that the true visceral draw of zombie fiction? Imagining how we ourselves would fare if the undead rose?
In that way, World Beyond acts as far more of a wish fulfilment than the original series. Though tragedy has struck, this episode seems to be more about the power of survival than the desperation of loss. Here kids arm themselves with homemade weapons after years of training to kill walkers, looking cool as they stare out at a world that, yes, is unknown but also one they have prepared for. Speaking of those kids, Royale and Mansour are brilliant leads who light up the screen with their chemistry and friendship. Both have stellar moments in this episode, but Royale stands out here playing both strong and resilient whilst also starring in one of the most subtly heartbreaking moments in franchise history.
Basically, The Walking Dead: World Beyond won this reviewer over wholesale. Not only does it craft a new exciting world, new engaging characters, and new horrifying conflict, but it also sets up a brutal new foe that looks like it’ll be changing the future of the franchise in every form. It’s also interesting that AMC seems to be taking the lead from the Netflix model, not only with the youth-centered story but with the limited 20 episode run of the show, which I’m guessing from this episode will run directly into the already announced Walking Dead movies.
Header Image: AMC