SPOILERS AHEAD … AND ZOMBIES SPORTING THE LATEST IN BLUE SPRAY PAINT …
Once more into the shambling dead, my friends, once more!
Yes, after flogging the life out of The Walking Dead, which should have given up the ghost a few seasons back, and offering up Fear the Walking Dead, which is increasingly looking like its going to repeat the narrative sins of its parent show, The Walking Dead universe is now going all YA on us with The Walking Dead: The World Beyond.
If you thinking anguished teams and intense conversations about life, meaning and “animated necrotic matter” (the best phrase of the entire first episode if we are, in fact, given out awards for that kind of thing; and if not, we should be) then you would be partially right.
As we meet A-grade student and perkily optimistic student body president Iris Bennett (Aliyah Royale), her pessimistically disruptive and ironically named sister Hope (Alexa Mansour), and their new besties, thoughtfully geeky Elton Ortiz (Nicolas Cantu) and shy possible lurking dark past Silas Plaskett (Hal Cumpston), we are witness to bore than a few whispered, emotionally-charged conversations between older teens who are dealing with the mother of all changed worlds.
Residents of Omaha, Nebraska, the remaining population of which has retreated behind the high brick walls of the local university where they are now known as the Campus Colony, these young people have more reason than most to see life in YA dramatic terms.
For a start, ten years after the dead start coming back to life and civilisation fell into a big, dark, chocolate production-ending hole, they are the first generation to cope with a world in which the dead rule and hope for the future, which is supposedly abundant thanks to Omaha’s alliance with the Portland colony and the secretively militaristic Civil Republic, is heavily tempered by the fact that life is losing out in daily massive ways to death.
In other words, Grim Reaper 7 billion, Life way, WAY less.
So, you can understand if everyone is cautiously optimistic/very pessimistic about where it all might lead.
Of course, if you ask Iris at the start of the episode, she’s convinced, with all the fervency of an ’80s one hit wonder song by Yazz, that the only way is UP.
Sure, her scientist dad is being effectively held captive by the Civil Republic, who won’t even tell their allies where they’re located, and is sending Iris and Hope secret teleprinter messages that suggest things are not going as well as Elizabeth Kublek (Julia Ormond), military leader of the Civil Republic is making out, but hey, what choice does she have but upbeat, parade-staging, confetti-cannoning positivity?
If she even so as scratches the surface of her deepseated emotional pain, she will have to confront the fact that she feels responsible for not being there where Hope had to watch her mother die in the chaos of the start of the apocalypse where zombies are, rather fittingly, referred to as “Empties”.
Despite the urging of her dying therapist Dr K (Dr Leavel) – anyone sick or possibly close to death has to live in room whose front door is a great big strong gate so if they turn when no one is around, the living are in danger of being turned themselves by an unexpected zombie – to talk to Hope and clear the air so Hope can stop being so sad and Iris can start sleeping again, Iris is sticking resolutely to being Pollyanna on uppers.
That is, until Dr K dies, she finds out her dad is in danger and bang! Goodbye sunny disposition and model citizen shtick, hello disillusionment and a dangerous trip beyond the walls to find their dad who may be in New York state somewhere if the map Elizabeth gives them to curry trust and favour is accurate. (Hmmm. it could well be but if it is, then it confirms a suspicion that Iris and Hope are being played by Elizabeth and her trigger-happy troops.)
That’s a lot to pack into an opening episode, but The World Beyond benefits greatly from the fact that we already what the world of The Walking Dead is like, meaning the opening episode can devote its time to telling the story of its four lead characters and the two security personnel, Felix Carlucci (Nico Tortorella) and Huck (Annet Mahendru) who set off in pursuit when Iris, Hope, Elton and Silas head off into the scary world beyond.
In that respect, some CW overly-melodramatic moments aside, The World Beyond does an exemplary job.
Spurred on by fine performances by Royale and Mansour in particular, we quickly come to understand what is at stake for these young people who want all the good things anyone has ever wanted from life but are all too aware they may never get them despite their hard work in the rare idyll of Omaha.
If nothing was ever full guaranteed, it’s not even remotely guaranteed now at the end of the world, or the beginning if you believe the Civic Republic’s endless upbeat hype, and the opening episode does an intriguing job of setting things up and reasonably well justifying why these reasonably well-cossetted young people would leave the safety and security of their home for an outside world where death is way ahead on points than life.
To the credit of the writers, none of the teens is ridiculously blasé about the dangers they will face on the 1100-mile trek to New York.
Elton has been out lots before on secret excursions, Silas has DONE THINGS that suggest he can defend himself (we’re not sure what but he’s glumly taciturn throughout so they can’t be good things) and Hope has been training herself in the art of zombie skewering with Huck.
That doesn’t mean they’ll be fine and dandy BUT it does mean we have four characters who don’t come across as naïve idiots; well, not completely naïve idiots anyway.
They’re likable, capable nascent adults all too aware of the dead-plagued world they have inherited and when they set off, it is with a sense of resignation and guarded optimism that perhaps something good lies out there for them in The World Beyond.
You want to hope so because staying in Omaha doesn’t look all that appealing onto Elizabeth and the Civil Republic Military are through with it, and staying put won’t work what the secrets between Iris and Hope, Hope and Elton, and Silas and everyone, so their big excursion (without signed notes from their mostly dead parents) better pay off big time.
For them and for the audience; fortunately, “Brave” is promising enough that there is a good chance it will for this limited edition series which offers a refreshingly new perspective on the zombie apocalypse and the shambling world of The Walking Dead.
Coming up next week in episode 2, “The Blaze of Glory” …