NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “The Walking Dead: World Beyond” are present in this review
It’s probably officially too late for The Walking Dead: World Beyond to start gaining any serious traction. Now that we’re into the back half of this show’s first season, it’s probably about time to call this latest spin-off series a non-starter. I will take small victories where I can get them though, and this week offered one such small victory. “Shadow Puppets” marks a bit of an uptick for The Walking Dead: World Beyond, introducing a duo of promising new characters to the ensemble. Even then though, this episode’s storytelling remains very shaky, once again ruining an interesting premise with a ludicrous final result, even as this slog of a post-apocalyptic journey finally looks like it may be going somewhere at least a bit more engaging in the weeks ahead.
Following on immediately from the cliffhanger ending of last week’s episode, the teens and Felix encounter a mysterious new survivor, another teenage boy, in fact! This survivor’s name is Percy, and he claims to have been robbed by the two men he was formerly traveling with, Mike and Tony. After Felix disarms Percy, following the initially tense first interaction between himself and the protagonists, the teens are then regaled by stories of Percy surviving on his own terms. This is actually a strong way to begin this episode, even if it follows a shadow puppet-based cold open about the end of the world that fans of this series would be well familiar with by this point. At least that ends up going somewhere later on though.
The inciting incident finally kicks off when Percy accidentally mentions a truck that he lost, leading to an inconsistency in his story that Hope points out. This tips everyone off to the fact that Percy has a path to functional transportation, something that’s become a huge luxury at this point in the timeline for AMC’s Walking Dead TV universe, at least outside of the confines of Civic Republic territory. There’s some debate among the teens, especially after Felix in particular discourages the idea of charging and robbing two dangerous survivors without much of a plan, but eventually, everyone agrees that they need to steal the truck, in turn helping Percy reclaim his stuff.
This proves to be a pretty solid idea to anchor an episode, but as I said, The Walking Dead: World Beyond has screwed up good ideas before. At least the first half of this main heist sequence is pretty good though, with Tony appearing to be knocked out in the truck, albeit next to a plate that prevents Percy from hot-wiring the vehicle. This eventually motivates Iris to follow Percy into the building, while Hope and Elton stand guard outside, and Silas goes to support Felix downstairs. The end result is that Iris and everyone else semi-predictably end up being conned by Percy and Tony (“Mike” apparently doesn’t exist), with Percy making off with the protagonists’ stuff in Tony’s truck, while Iris’ ineptitude traps her in a dumpster with walkers in it (how did they get in there?!), and everyone is made into a sucker.
In fairness, this is actually another solid idea. The teens’ optimism ends up working against them here, and Felix and Silas end up being the ones that were right to distrust Percy. It’s a hard lesson that leaves the teens without supplies, albeit also with all of their lives intact… And this is where this episode once again ruins an otherwise solid twist, specifically because it completely wimps out of lasting consequences! For a Walking Dead show especially, this is extremely ill-advised, and further contributes to the idea that this latest spin-off series lacks the stark edge and bleak appeal of its two sister shows. Percy and Tony instead unrealistically come to everyone’s rescue once walkers show up, apparently feeling guilty about robbing the teens, because… I don’t know. They’ve apparently run this con, a con with far too many moving parts to be all that believable, by the way (seriously, what was Percy going to do if the teens said no, or went off-script even once?!), on supposedly many, many people, but these latest people are special because Iris followed Percy? Not one other person ever followed Percy?! Seriously?!
The unbelievable con job is ultimately small potatoes compared to The Walking Dead: World Beyond once again failing to deliver meaningful consequences and dangers to the teens though. There is no way in hell that Iris should have survived being in a huge dumpster with multiple walkers in it, and no way out! Instead, the dumpster walkers are just polite enough not to bite Iris before she’s rescued by Percy and Tony. It’s stupid, and it completely neuters the threats facing the teens yet again. On the bright side, Percy and Tony seem like good characters, and I do like the hook of them being a former Vegas illusionist and protegee that con survivors in an effort to avoid hurting them. This idea is something different that AMC’s Walking Dead shows actually haven’t touched on before, at least not to this theatrical degree. Even with the welcome addition of Percy and Tony bringing the teens and their post-apocalyptic chaperones to New York State in their truck though, I still can’t fully invest in this show’s over-arching journey, because the stakes still aren’t truly there.
Even another post-credits scene teasing Natalie Gold’s Dr. Belshaw as she continues to seemingly work on a walker cure, and hints that the teens’ quest may have been pre-ordained by the CRM, fails to salvage storytelling that still can’t provide a true sense of uncertainty to this series. “Shadow Puppets” at least takes some welcome steps in the right direction, but The Walking Dead: World Beyond still remains largely devoid of real intrigue or engagement. It still feels too juvenile and toothless compared to The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead, which, even at their lowest points, at least never felt like their narrative was wearing kid gloves. Fortunately, Percy and Tony joining up with the teens should hopefully provide a more hardened survivors’ perspective to the show’s protagonists, at least beyond Huck, who was absent this week. Given Percy’s and Tony’s own non-lethal methods though, I’m not going to hold my breath when it comes to this group facing any credible danger, even now.
- Percy is an appealing new teen character
- The teens' hard lesson about trust
- Percy and Tony adding more of a survivors' perspective to the group
- Percy's and Tony's con is too specific and contrived
- Iris inexplicably surviving being trapped with walkers
- Percy and Tony bailing everyone out feels unrealistic