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The Walking Dead: World Beyond 1.1 Review – ‘Brave’

October 4, 2020 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
The Walking Dead: World Beyond - Brave
6.5
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The Walking Dead: World Beyond 1.1 Review – ‘Brave’  

[Warning: spoilers abound for those who have not seen Sunday’s series finale of The Walking Dead: World Beyond.]

The Walking Dead has become an interesting phenomenon in pop culture. If you’d asked me when the series first premiered in 2010, I never would have believed that it would become a cultural landmark. It was too bleak for mainstream audiences, too horror-infused for television, and just plain too risky. I’m glad I never had a chance to take that bet, because obviously I would have lost. The AMC series has become one of the most-watched television shows of the 21st century. Even now, long after the luster has faded, it is an undeniable behemoth among TV shows.

And yet, it has indeed faded at least a little bit. The last three years in particular have seen viewers slip away, and while the last two seasons have been better received, it’s not the untouchable juggernaut that it used to be. Frankly, that’s less surprising than its success was. Wallowing in bleakness, however sharply written, won’t sustain just about any show for ten years, and the fatigue of Robert Kirkman’s zombie world was bound to drive many away. While there’s still a lot still going right on the show, its generally nihilist viewpoint was always going to become too much for some.

With the main series having set an end date, AMC is busy figuring out what The Walking Dead will be going forward. There’s an opportunity for the franchise to branch out in new directions and show a little more nuance to its world than we’ve seen to date (including Fear The Walking Dead, which may have hit its stride too late for many). For those who still want their zombie dose but need something with a little more faith in humanity, we now have The Walking Dead: World Beyond. Centering on a younger group of protagonists and starting in a vastly different situation than the other shows thus far, the series premiere tries to set a different tone than its older sibling shows with varying levels success.

Right off the bat, “Brave” does what it can to serve its dual purposes: provide a connection for fans of the franchise to latch onto while also going its own way. We see that in the zombies walking through ominous fog, but who who have drawn lines overlaid on them. This is our first sign that this show is going to be something different, amplified when we realize that it’s a dream and one of the zombies was the dreamer in Iris Bennett. The show is set ten years after the apocalypse set in, with Iris and her sister Hope as the central characters. It’s a bold move to jump ahead this far in timeline, but it’s also fairly canny in that it allows showrunner Matthew Negrete to focus on a new phenomenon: the first children to come of age in the zombie apocalypse.

Now, we can (and a lot of fans and critics alike have) take this as an opportunity to snark about how it’s AMC’s way to make an aging show appeal to a younger audience. And you know what? That’s true. But it also undeniably allows them to tell different stories and give these audiences a buy-in point. We all have a watershed event that we were born into that defined our generation; post-Vietnam and AIDS for Gen-X, the rise of the internet for Millennials, and 9/11 for Gen-Z. That sort of generational difference is something we can all relate to in some way, and it does some of the heavy lifting here.

Still, that’s just a start. You also have to give us characters with depth and a narrative that to care about. That gives “Brave” a tall order; it has to completely recontextualize an already established setting, introduce the characters, and set the storyline in motion. At the same time, they’re setting out to tell a coming of age story within the world of the show, and groundwork has to be laid for that.

There are parts of each item on that “To Do” list that Negrete does well. The first is establishing its two lead characters in Hope and Iris. Despite some slightly contrived backstory work (we’ll get to that), these two teenagers feel like more than just the collection of tropes they easily could have been. Hope (Alexa Mansour) and Iris (Aliyah Royale) initially feel like they fit into particular holes; Hope is the angry rebellious one, while Iris is the more strait-laced and dutiful of the two. The reasons are tropey, but Mansour and Royale carry the weight of the tropes well.

It obviously helps that by the end of the hour, they already feel more fleshed out. Hope’s anger and mistrust of the Civic Republic Military is not unearned; she has reason to resent them for their father not being present, and it’s clear from the get-go that something’s up there. Meanwhile, Iris’ desire to trust feels genuine, even if it’s obvious the trust isn’t actually there. The conflict over their father’s mysterious messages makes sense, and we get sense of authenticity from these two actors. The fact that Hope quickly shifts to a supportive role when Iris turns the corner on the situation and decides to leave Campus Colony, even acting as the devil’s advocate a bit, speaks to the characters’ dynamic.

Would that everyone was as fleshed out as these two. Sadly, that isn’t the case. Julia Ormond is doing fine work as CRM leader Elizabeth, and she’s going to be a delight to watch over the next several episodes. No one else really registers as much more than a collection of traits yet, whether gay soldier guardian (Felix), witty tough security girl (Huck), nebbish student (Elton), or shy loner kid with a bad reputation (Silas). We still have time to get to know these characters and for them to get some development, but man do they need it because there’s nothing really for the actors to work with here.

Negrete and Scott Gimple’s script also, to its credit, does the work to establish the show’s identity as separate from TWD and FTWD. There is certainly question whether people will be on board, but “Teen Drama in the Apocalypse” isn’t a bad idea at all. We get a good starting sense of what’s going on here, but with plenty of mystery yet to go. It’s tied into elements from the main series via the CRM, but it is very much its own thing. World-building has always been a strength of this franchise, and there’s a lot I’m looking forward to seeing here including the mystery of what exactly is going on with the CRM.

Unfortunately, the rest of the script isn’t as effective. Exhibit A: that flashback is a whole lot of mess. Visually it looks cool, and it serves a purpose in terms of “Hey guys, we’re still The Walking Dead and we have zombies!” But it’s incredibly contrived in a way to give Hope trauma, as well as establishing a very coincidental connection between Hope and Elton, whose mother she seems to have killed after said mother killed hers. It’s a headache and none of it works, which is worrying when it sets up some of the big emotional beats.

So now we have our premise: the four teens set out for New York to find Dad Bennett with the CRM, plus Fenix and Huck, presumably chasing after them. That makes it a sort of road trip show, and that’s something I’m intrigued by. It’s bringing the Walking Dead concept back to basics but also keeping the teen dynamic. That’s something I can potentially be on board for, particularly if this show can figure out exactly how to make its characters ones we can really care about. Right now, we still have a way to go on that. But much like the show, there’s some hope glimmering in there somewhere.

Some Final Thoughts:

• Welcome to 411’s weekly coverage of The Walking Dead: World Beyond! I’m only here for week one; Katie Hallahan, who is busy with the season 10 finale of the main show tonight, will be on this beat next week.

• Call it a hometown advantage, but I’m always going to have a bit of a soft spot for a show that references Portland.

• Gonna get this out of the way right here: Stop trying to make “empties” happen, World Beyond. It’s not going to happen.

• Hope’s ability to brew alcohol (including champagne!) in the zombie apocalypse, even a place like Campus Colony, is a veritable superpower.

• I’m really looking forward to Julia Ormond taking all the goodwill she tried to engender for Elizabeth this episode and use to make her eventual full heel turn that much more monstrous. It’s what this franchise does.

• I kind of wanted to think of a witty comment about Elton just stumbling on the dinosaur horn he lost in the outside the city ten years ago, but if they’re not going to put any effort into that moment why should I?

6.5
The final score: review Average
The 411
The series premiere of The Walking Dead: World Beyond is an uneven, sometimes unwieldy beast. But it's a beast with a lot of potential, and some good pretty foundation in the meantime. The cast is solid whether young and old, and we have a few solid character dynamics established along a different done from the main series and the narrative thrust. The show still has a lot of polishing to do, but it's certainly off to a better start than Fear the Walking Dead had and that one got good, so I'm remaining optimistic for now.
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