First look UK TV review: The Walking Dead: World Beyond
Ivan Radford | On 02, Oct 2020
This review is based on the opening two episodes of The Walking Dead: World Beyond. New episodes arrive weekly on Fridays.
What would it be like to be raised during an apocalypse? That’s the unexpectedly timely question behind The Walking Dead’s new spin-off series, which aims to blend coming-of-age drama with gory horror – yes, this is The Walking Dead’s answer to Riverdale.
It’s a good idea for a spin-off series, tapping into the apocalyptic dread that all teenagers face in life while also bringing a fresh angle to the franchise. The only problem is that the franchise has been going for so long in its two existing series that a lot of that ground has been covered to some degree, as young characters have grown up and faced their own moral dilemmas and choices dictated by survival. And, with a lot of familiar undead action already splattered across out screens, it takes a lot for a new The Walking Dead series to stand out.
The opening episodes do a neat job of grounding us in this new world, cutting back and forth between the lives of sisters Iris (Aliyah Royale) and Hope (Alexa Mansour) and their school lessons, which teach them how to kill walkers and what not to do when surrounded by the undead. Part of a university campus settlement in Nebraska, they exist in a kind of limbo that keeps the zombie apocalypse at arm’s length while trying to maintain some semblance of normality.
Nothing is as pleasant as it claims, though, and the arrival of a lethally efficient force from nearby Portland – the Civil Republic Military, who have popped up in the other series before – makes that clear. Led by Elizabeth (Julia Ormond), they promise an alliance and safety, but we know immediately not to trust her, thanks to Ormond’s superbly sinister performance, which is never hammy but certainly two-faced.
Unfortunately, we also know not to trust her because Hope literally says she doesn’t trust her, and World Beyond’s initial chapters struggle to introduce its characters without some on-the-nose dialogue. “I’m a shit person who does shitty things because I don’t give a shit,” Hope declares at one point, a tad too unsubtle to really ring true.
It’s a shame, because both Alexa Mansour and Aliyah Royale bring a convincing chemistry to their relationship, as the rebellious Hope and the sensible Iris are joined together by their desire to know what’s happened to their father – a scientist who is apparently squirrelled away safely in Portland.
Also navigating this world is intellectual Elton (Nicolas Cantu), whose main distinguishing characteristic is his corduroy three-piece suit. He theorises in one quiet moment that they’re only a few years away from the human race’s extinction. When the show gives its young cast a chance to play things low-key and naive, World Beyond works, whether it’s hiding underneath a coach or trying to work out how to follow zombie-killing instructions without ever having faced a real life zombie before. That possibility of exploring the very fresh but very long-term consequences of living amid an apocalypse – the show begins 10 years after the outbreak – is a genuinely intriguing one. And, with only two seasons on the cards, there’s limited chance of The Walking Dead’s latest offering shuffling along aimlessly and running out of ideas. That promise, in itself, is enough to make World Beyond standout from the pack.
The Walking Dead: World Beyond is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.