The third series in The Walking Dead franchise, The Walking Dead: World Beyond feels so distinctly different than the flagship series that it can be a bit jarring. Between the settings, the characters, what the characters have been through and even the overall feel of the show, this doesn’t feel like the Rick Grimes and Daryl Dixon led series. This is lighter. It’s more innocent. It almost at times feels like a teen drama because in a sense, it is one. It’s also clearly positioned itself to be the bridge to connect the franchise as a whole and its mythology, which centers around the mysterious faction known as the CRM, who we were first introduced to when they abducted Rick Grimes, effectively taking him out of The Walking Dead.
I can’t claim to have loved this pilot. There were times when I felt completely disconnected from the characters and the narrative. To get the negatives out of the way first, this first episode didn’t do much to draw me into the characters. The series is led by sisters Iris and Hope, teenage girls who lost their mother (more on that later) and whose father left with the CRM to work with them on some research which is repeatedly referenced as being vital to the future of the planet. While there were times when I was invested in want these girls were saying, I also wouldn’t be overly upset if either were bitten by a zombie next week. Of course, the series is new and my apathy towards them very well could subside soon, but here, neither of them had that magnetic pull, the way so many characters from the flagship series do.
World Beyond established a lot of mythology quickly here, which is likely going to be the selling point for many fans. Our lead characters live in a community with thousands of people, somewhere in Nebraska. While we’ve seen some nice communities in The Walking Dead, we’ve never seen anything like this place before. It looks and feels like it could belong in a pre-zombie world, which is in effect a big part of what this series looks to be about. The people who live here may remember “the night the sky fell” which was exactly 10 years prior to where this story starts but they haven’t had to live with the more primitive lifestyle that our survivors in The Walking Dead have had to. Here in Nebraska, these people are living like the world never went to hell.
The opening moments of “Brave” show Iris, the class President and absolute overachiever, being on hand to greet Elizabeth, the representative from the CRM (played by Julia Ormond). We got a lot of data downloaded on us quickly here. The CRM, this community in Nebraska, and a third, unseen community in Portland are combining forces in an effort to save the world. There’s no mention of anyone else out there, just these three factions and CRM appears to be the one wielding all the power.
In many ways, this is the strength of the show, taking the worlds that both The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead have given us and showing us that something bigger, something more powerful exists out there. The “world beyond” (pun intended) in this post apocalyptic universe has interesting stories and developments happening. The announcement that this series will be made up of two 10-episode seasons guarantees that there will be a cross over with the rest of the franchise. It makes the advancements in the mythology feel important and worth paying attention to, even if the characters didn’t immediately pull us in as viewers.
The pilot episode set up the fact that our main sisters, Iris and Hope, would need to leave the safe walls they’ve been living behind. They had been receiving periodic messages from their father, who as seen here, began telling them that the CRM were not to be trusted. We were also introduced to two teenage male characters who by the end of the episode would become traveling companions with the sisters when it was time to make a break for it. Future narrative tension was built in through flashbacks which showed that the girls’ mother did not die at the hands of a zombie “the night the sky fell” but rather was shot by a pregnant woman who wanted a vehicle the girls’ mother was preparing to get in. Hope watched her mother get shot dead, while separated from her sister and father in the chaos. As the woman dropped her gun, a young Hope picked up the gun and killed the woman who had killed her mother. The episode leads us to believe that Iris doesn’t know about her sister’s revenge shooting. Additional tension for the future is built in here with the revelation that Elton, one of the boys escaping Nebraska with the sisters, is the son of the pregnant woman who killed Iris and Hope’s mother.
The table is set for a coming of age story in a post apocalyptic world. We have four teens leaving Nebraska to see what’s out there, each with their own motivation. For the girls, it’s finding their father. Elizabeth, in an act of manipulation, told the girls earlier in the episode that he was working in New York and gave them a coded map, in an effort to gain their trust. Of course Elizabeth knew they would escape to find their father which was made evident by the fact that the episode ended with the CRM killing everyone in the compound in Nebraska and destroying everything they had built. The three locations with power are now two. How Portland plays into the big picture narrative is a question I’m left pondering.
The Walking Dead has always told powerful human stories about how people live in a world stripped of its norms. World Beyond has the potential to do the same, showing us how these sheltered teens not only cope with the world on their own but how the dangers of this world affect their morals and beliefs. All at the same time, longtime fans of the other two series in the franchise get to learn more about the mysterious CRM, who have established themselves as villains (or so it seems for now at least) and have possession of Rick Grimes. It’s always been assumed that the long awaited films in the Walking Dead universe would center around Rick and the CRM and this limited series is preparing us for that showdown.
It feels like a safe assumption that moving forward, we’ll have some of the grittiness of the other series as our characters now hit the road. As a viewer, I’m looking forward to that, as the lack of tension in “Brave”, while by design, was an off-putting feeling. The show has been teased as showing that some of these characters would become heroes and some villains as they leave their safe lives behind and that, along with the world building that can come as a result of new places, new faces and a journey from Nebraska to New York is an exciting proposition. Will we see any familiar faces along the way? How will this series connect to the larger Walking Dead universe? What else will we learn about the CRM and all those with power in this post apocalyptic world? I’m eager to find out.