The Walking Dead: World Beyond is bad. I say that bluntly and confidently after just one episode because its setup is so flawed that I see no way this two-season mini-series could ever recover from the foundational flaws on display in the debut. And really, that’s unfortunate, because as a big fan of The Walking Dead and zombie fiction in general, I want to like World Beyond. Even more than that, because of its connective tissue to the greater Walking Dead universe, I almost feel like I need to watch World Beyond — but I know I won’t. It’s that bad.
The pitch for World Beyond is The Walking Dead with young adults front and center. Conceptually, there’s something there. This is a series likely born and greenlit only after Stranger Things took over the world a few summers ago, and getting it off the ground now amid the pandemic where few new series are premiering is the best possible time. But it may not be enough.
The smartest thing AMC did is solidify a solid end date for this series — two seasons and we’re out, but even that seems like too much of a commitment for something that feels much less like Stranger Things than I expected and much more like “Degrassi Undead.” The show falls short from uninteresting characters and the writing of serial show-derailer Scott Gimple, who has shown an ability to make even good characters yawn-inducing. The audience has to suffer through lines like, “It ain’t, ‘It is what it is.’ It is what we make it out to be.”
In an effort to get the characters moving quickly out of their safe haven and into the titular world beyond, arcs that should take several episodes, like deuteragonist Iris’ grapple with PTSD, instead take about 50 minutes to resolve. She hasn’t totally climbed that mental mountain, but it’s brushed off so absurdly quickly that it never feels genuine in the first place.
Worse, the thriving community is the most compelling element of the show, yet it’s squandered. They had abundant gas, total comfort, and security for all, even throwing parties and recognizing holidays. It’s unlike anything we’ve seen in this world before, but by episode’s end, the characters are back into the same wilds we’ve known for a decade across two other shows. It’s record time for eliminating the best part of your show. Showrunner Gimple has long abided by a Rule of Cool but misidentifies what even is cool in the first place.
However, the most frustrating aspect of The Walking Dead: World Beyond from a fan perspective is that it contains so much interesting info for the series expanded universe behind its low quality and weak premise. Learning more about the Civic Republic Military (CRM) that picked up Rick Grimes near death, seeing how other communities are living, and getting a broader picture for the world after the zombie outbreak is fundamentally interesting. And they’re details that will further spill into the main series, the already Gimple’d Fear the Walking Dead, and the three-part Rick Grimes movies too. The problem is having to suffer through watching World Beyond to get those details.
The ragtag foursome of young adults, plus two more of their slightly older authority figures on their trail, is meant to set the stage for a road trip story unlike anything they’ve ever seen, having grown up in relative comfort behind their impressively sturdy walls. But for viewers, we’ve seen untested people on the road plenty of times. Early in The Walking Dead, everyone was new to the survival strategies needed to outlast the walkers, or “empties” as the World Beyond kids call them. And since then we’ve seen plenty of kids who have stepped into the unknown.
So if The Walking Dead: World Beyond is going to succeed, it would need to show us why we should care about these new characters following a similar path to others, but it hasn’t done that. Instead we get two kids embarking on a mission that seems so impossible that they would never actually try it given the alternatives didn’t seem so bad at the time, in addition to two more that tag along for really no reason at all.
I would love to learn all the interesting expanded universe details that this show will undoubtedly deliver, but like with Fear the Walking Dead post-season 3, those fun parts don’t seem worth the frustrations of bad characters saying inane things. I want to know more about this three-ringed alliance between the Civic Republic, the Omaha community, and the Portland community, the last of which we never see at all but continue to hear about throughout the episode. But I’m not willing to put in the hours of time on a show with these characters and this writing. It’s all much too poor.