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The Walking Dead: World Beyond 1.05 Review – ‘Madman Across the Water’

November 1, 2020 | Posted by Katie Hallahan
The Walking Dead: World Beyond 1.5 Aliyah Royale as Iris, Nico Tortorella as Felix- The Walking Dead: World Beyond _ Season 1, Episode 5 - Photo Credit: Macall Polay/AMC
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The Walking Dead: World Beyond 1.05 Review – ‘Madman Across the Water’  

This week on The Walking Dead: World Beyond, our merry band of survivors have to find a way to cross the Mississippi River before walkers or bad weather can send them packing back home instead. Hope, Iris, and Felix clash when his intent to get them to turn around comes out, and Elton contemplates what it means to be brave.

The plot: When the group reaches the Mississippi River at last, they decide to use materials they find on the shore to build their own boat to cross it. While doing so, Felix’s plan to use Elton to try and change their minds comes out, and tempers flare, but the kids are undeterred. What’s more, Huck is starting to think this is the better plan and the best way to keep them safe is to come with them. And this journey just might be something they all need, Felix included. They rather brilliantly cobble together a steam engine to propel the boat, but need fuel for it. While Elton struggles with memories of his last day with his parents, the fear of death and loss and what it means to be brave and conquer fear, he also tries to convince his friends they can still count on him. With walkers approaching, he helps fix the engine while Iris and Hope work with Felix to keep the walkers back. In the end, Felix’s willing assistance is key in getting the boat to the water in time before the walkers are on them. Once across the river, Huck leaves to scout ahead for a day or so, promising to rejoin them soon. Elton understands bravery and fear are entwined, just as Hope realizes the horrible truth that she killed his pregnant mother. Before she can grapple with this, the group is surprised when a newcomer approaches their camp.

What is bravery? What does it mean to be brave? What does it mean to be afraid, to face your fears, or to ignore them? World Beyond has been asking these questions since Episode 1, which was itself titled ‘Brave.’ Every episode since has had some measure of bravery on display, characters taking risks because of or in spite of their fears. Whether it’s been opening up to someone, standing up to a bully, owning their truth, or setting out on an impossible rescue mission, they’ve all been tested and shown their bravery. In tonight’s episode, it got faced in perhaps it’s most straightforward way, primarily through Elton, but through others as well.

Elton’s storyline finally revealed to us how he was separated from his parents, how it’s shaped him ever since, and how he’s begun his own coming of age. The precocious and intelligent five-year-old son of two intelligent and academic parents, Elton was also very excited about having a little sister. In one day, he had to say goodbye to his mother, not knowing it would be the last time, and then the last words from his father, as the man hid him in a box for his own safety, were to tell Elton that he (the dad) wasn’t scared, so Elton didn’t need to be either. Any parent and practically any adult knows the man said this to try and keep his son from panicking in an already horrible situation, but of course, Elton didn’t know that. Smart as he may have been, he was five! So he took that to heart and between that and his mother’s manuscript, he shaped his life around knowledge, facts, science. What can and can’t be controlled. He talks to Silas about how fear is just a chemical response, so it should be one that can be mastered, but at the same time he’s trembling from the fear of his friends not trusting him, that he might lose them, and not just physically but emotionally. The idea that they may turn away from him has shaken him to his core, well before the physical threats come into play. As a child, he survived, saw that his father was torn apart footsteps outside the room where he left Elton, and then he walked himself to the university’s evacuation zone. Where he lived in safety, until the chance to explore the world was finally an option again and he took it.

Is it any wonder the world was a lot scarier than he thought it would be, even if he factually knew it would be? It’s clear that beyond just not having much experience outside the university grounds, Elton also hasn’t made many friends in his life. Though he’s an orphan, there’s no clear parental figure in his life, so it doesn’t seem he really had a primary caretaker or guardian. This trip, only a few days in, has had more life or death bonding than anything he’s ever experienced, so it’s no wonder that he’s come to value these friendships so quickly. I think even Elton was surprised by how much they all mean to him, surprised to learn that he wasn’t just out here to be out here, to finish his mother’s book. But more than that, in this episode, we saw how much it shook him to be confronted with the words of his parents not being the absolute truth. Not that they were lies, of course. His father’s words, he realizes, were said because his father was terrified, and it was because of the depth of that fear that he knew he had to be brave. His mother speaks in her book about the force of nature being unstoppable, unchangeable, despite what humans may think. Elton feels that same depth of fear and necessity of bravery when he’s the only one small enough to go under the boat to fix the belt to save his friends; and in that same moment, he realizes that nature is still malleable by the very force of free will, of choice. Because he makes a choice that goes against his deep-set fears, against the inevitability of death and walkers and lightning storms, it changes everything in that moment.

I found his last moments in the episode beautiful, as he adds his words to his mother’s book, and speaks to Hope about his father. It’s contrasted there, of course, with Hope’s very different terror in realizing that she’s the one who killed his mother and unborn sister, that she’s the one who tore his family away from him. This episode also helped set up just how awful that’s going to be to come clean about, now that we’ve seen how deeply Elton has been affected by his parents despite their loss, despite the many years it’s been. Without it, whenever we get to that reveal, there would’ve been less emotional heft to it.

In other family-centered plots, we have Hope and Iris confronting Felix about his plan to try and convince them to go home, using Elton in that plan, and the nature of their relationship overall. I’m glad this got clarified, because it’s been a little vague up until now. It was clear Felix had promised to look after them in particular and felt a deep responsibility there, but as Hope pointed out, he was never their brother. The key part is that he could’ve been. Though Felix was already in college, it seems, when the apocalypse hit, he was still somewhat young, not to mention freshly on his own since his dad kicked him out. Hope and Iris’s father, Leo, took him in and it seems to girls wanted him to be their brother in some way, but he never was. Given how his biological family turned on him, it’s not shocking he had trouble forming a deep connection to another family–that’s a different kind of fear and bravery right there–but his sense of responsibility runs deep and is what guides him. He clearly is grateful to Leo, so much so that only Leo’s request that he look out for his daughters could get him to not go with the man to travel to the CRM capital. And thus why he is so determined to get them to turn back, but also, in the end, why he does help them after all and fully becomes part of their journey to save their dad from his uncertain fate.

Which isn’t a surprise to Huck, who nails the right perspective. This might be dangerous, in fact it is very dangerous, but the best way to keep these kids safe isn’t to force them to go home, it’s to help guide them on their way, give them the freedom to learn and grow and become who they’re meant to be. It’s much like Iris said in that first episode, “When we get there, we’ll be different. We’ll be ready.” And not just the kids, but Felix, too. Given Huck’s mysterious origin story, it’s no wonder she believes that people truly blossom in adversity and when they’re pushed to their limits. Also there is clearly more to how she just ended up on a raft in the Missouri with a broken arm and, apparently, no name of her own! More and more, I believe that Huck is the ‘her’ whom Kublek was looking for and glad they didn’t find among the dead at the colony. Huck slipping off to scout ahead by herself on top of her unknown origins feels like some doubling down on there being something else going on with her. I believe, so far, that she really does want the best for these kids and to see them succeed, but she’s absolutely got some connection to CRM. Maybe one that she doesn’t even remember, but it’s there, mark my words.

Overall, tonight felt this show truly finding its feet. The themes were interwoven with the present and the flashbacks more smoothly than they were previously, the characters worked together despite conflicts, bonded, showed their acumen, changed and grew in fundamental ways, and the plot moved forward, too! Character development plus plot momentum truly is my catnip. What did you think of tonight’s episode? How traumatic will it be when Elton learns Hope’s secret? Is there more going on with Huck? Who’s the mysterious stranger who showed up at the end? Let’s hear it in the comments!

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
A very good and well-made episode focusing on the show's larger theme about bravery and coming of age in a post-apocalyptic world, while also weaving together past and present very well. Poor Elton's tragic backstory was revealed at last and it really developed his character well. The challenge of crossing the river was a good backdrop to this--it gave the group something constructive to do and hey, it's a great metaphor to boot! Plus they got to showcase their resourcefulness. This one felt like the first episode that truly nailed the TWD-world mixed with YA genre vibe in a more satisfying way.