NOTE: Some spoilers from throughout the first season of, “The Walking Dead: World Beyond” are present in this review
AMC’s The Walking Dead TV universe has just recently made it to a decade of life. With the flagship series still defying its steep ratings decline of recent years to remain the cable network’s top program (and often the top scripted program of cable TV overall), and first spin-off series, Fear the Walking Dead holding steady with a surprising new lease on creative life this year, COVID-19 pandemic be damned, the franchise’s TV arm shows no real signs of slowing down either. This is despite the Walking Dead comic books coming to an unexpected end last year, and the Telltale video game series that expanded their world through the perspective of new survivor, Clementine and her allies also finishing out its final ‘episodes’ around the same time. The Walking Dead franchise and narrative would indeed appear to be concluding everywhere else, but whether due to defiance or denial, AMC doesn’t seem intent to follow suit when it comes to concluding their TV adaptation of the Walking Dead universe.
I mention this because The Walking Dead: World Beyond, AMC’s second spin-off series set within their televised Walking Dead universe, ended up arguably having the opposite effect that AMC had likely hoped for during its first season. Rather than be a fresh, engaging new perspective on a very long-in-the-tooth post-apocalyptic TV universe, The Walking Dead: World Beyond simply begs the question of why AMC is bothering to keep the franchise going much longer, especially after The Walking Dead’s other mediums have largely packed it in for now. Granted, AMC’s flagship Walking Dead series has finally been earmarked for a conclusion in late 2022 (only to be replaced with a planned spin-off centering around fan-favourite characters, Daryl and Carol), and even The Walking Dead: World Beyond was eventually confirmed as a limited series, with its upcoming second season planned to be its last. Even so though, AMC’s upcoming Walking Dead projects don’t appear to be too promising, and if The Walking Dead: World Beyond is a sign of things to come, then The Walking Dead’s TV universe is in serious trouble.
The Walking Dead: World Beyond’s first season is baffling in its execution. For a limited series especially, it contains a lot of episodes that feel directionless. Not only that, but its drama is incredibly contrived, its ‘threats’ are astonishingly toothless, and its sense of danger is practically non-existent. Even at their lowest points, The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead at least managed to maintain some sense of danger and suspense. The Walking Dead: World Beyond however suddenly handles AMC’s Walking Dead TV universe with kid gloves, presenting a spectacularly misguided effort to try and appeal to Gen-Z viewers, one that only ends up patronizing and wasting the time of every Walking Dead fan that takes a chance on it. It’s frankly unsurprising then that The Walking Dead: World Beyond pulled in the lowest ratings in The Walking Dead’s history, and that’s before the scathing critical and audience feedback that followed.
This is a shame, because the premise behind The Walking Dead: World Beyond had a lot of potential. The show revolves around some teenage survivors (who, like Fear the Walking Dead’s original cast, don’t exist in the world of the Walking Dead comic books, and nor does anyone else in this new series), living in Campus Colony, an academic-focused community in Nebraska, ten years into the walker apocalypse (i.e. around the same time as current events on the main Walking Dead series), who are among the first generation to grow up and come of age after the world ended. Two of these protagonists are sisters that eventually receive a distress message from their father, who was taken off to some science project in New York State. Thus, the sisters, along with two boys, one seeking knowledge of the world outside and one seeking a means to achieve a new life, set off into the harsh, unpredictable world of the walker apocalypse, with nothing but their wits and limited resources, in a desperate bid to survive. Sounds cool on paper, right?
Alas, The Walking Dead: World Beyond completely squanders this promising premise at every turn. It starts with the inexplicable, cruel destruction and murder of everyone in Campus Colony by supposed antagonist, Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Kublek, an antagonist that we then barely see throughout the remainder of the season. Not only does this negate the teens’ persistence on their journey, since viewers know they don’t have a home to go back to, but it’s also never explained at any point during this season why Campus Colony had to be destroyed, and why everyone in it had to die. This is the first sign that The Walking Dead: World Beyond’s debut season has some pretty questionable writing, to put it diplomatically. Unfortunately, things only get worse from there as well, with the teens almost never facing credible or engaging obstacles, even when they are pitted against walkers, which they in turn almost never have to directly kill. Again, this would be fine if the show had any stakes behind it, but when this first season ends without a single fatality among the leads (and only one fatality among the allies that eventually join them), following nothing but unrealistically easy survival conditions that always leave the teens glossy, clean and barely inconvenienced, the show has definitely screwed up its drama.
Another thing that makes this woeful writing all the more painful is that the teen leads in The Walking Dead: World Beyond are actually pretty likable. TV teens are very difficult to get right, especially in genre shows, where they’re often presented as irritating liabilities to the older, more reliable supporting characters, or cheap sources of comedy and/or drama that can justify any ludicrous scenario by being wacky, impulsive and/or angsty, all for its own sake. Amazingly though, the quartet of teen protagonists in The Walking Dead: World Beyond are grounded, relatable and even surprisingly intelligent. They’re all portrayed well by the series’ main actors, and they don’t consistently act in ways that are head-scratching and infuriating. Likewise, their older chaperones, Felix and Huck, who barely escape the slaughter at Campus Colony to chase after the teens, and eventually join them, are equally engaging and interesting, balancing the teens’ cautious optimism with a more world-weary, sardonic perspective that contrasts well with their younger charges.
Another thing that’s initially exciting about The Walking Dead: World Beyond’s debut season is that it finally starts explaining the mysterious three-ringed operation that’s been teased on both The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead alike, the same operation that took away a critically wounded Rick Grimes when he departed the main Walking Dead series during its ninth season. This organization, the Civic Republic, doesn’t exist in the comics, nor any other Walking Dead media outside of AMC’s purview, and it’s immensely powerful, even dwarfing major factions like the Commonwealth. Under the jurisdiction of the Civic Republic, you’d never know that the world ended, with its agents enjoying free electricity, the epitome of domestic comfort, and seemingly unlimited influence across several parts of the Western United States. Even their modern scientific infrastructure is barely disturbed in the wake of the walker apocalypse, complete with teases that the Civic Republic is hard at work on a cure for the Walker Virus, the Machiavellian efforts of which appear to directly tie in to events on The Walking Dead: World Beyond, or at least, that’s the eventual hope.
I assume that this huge new faction is going to become a bigger challenge during The Walking Dead: World Beyond’s upcoming second and final season, because throughout this first season, they simply linger in the background, much like their stooge, Elizabeth. This reminds me of when The Walking Dead: World Beyond premiered during this past October, and I quickly expressed fear that it would simply be a grueling twenty-hour trailer for AMC’s future Walking Dead endeavours, most notably their planned trilogy of movies surrounding the fate of Rick Grimes. So far, this worry is being proven correct.
The Walking Dead: World Beyond isn’t contributing any compelling reasons to exist on its own merits, nor is it allowing the Civic Republic to gel as a pressing threat to its characters. Even beyond the Civic Republic, this season’s interesting set pieces are constantly wasted on pretentious, aimless dialogue, and its final resolutions are almost universally unsatisfying, providing no concrete answers to anything, and simply demanding that audiences return for Season Two to see how everything pans out. That confidence falls pretty flat when most of the fanbase has already abandoned The Walking Dead: World Beyond at this point, recognizing it for the waste of time that it is. This show’s targeted Gen-Z audience didn’t even show up to begin with either, since the once-colossal zombie fad has been dead for years, another thing that AMC seems to be in acute denial about.
Even trying to dissect the first season of The Walking Dead: World Beyond feels like a fruitless effort when it just offers so little. This is a shallow, unrewarding, tedious spin-off series that adds nothing of value to AMC’s ongoing Walking Dead TV universe, and currently has no reason to exist. It’s devoid of danger, its drama is stillborn, and it’s so full of narrative missteps that you’d think all of the writers had two left feet. Even the end of the season feels like it solves nothing, offering few significant developments for the leads and their journey. There’s still ten episodes left in the show’s upcoming second season, but at this point, why bother? It’s hard to imagine The Walking Dead: World Beyond improving to a satisfactory degree during its second half at this point.
At the very least though, AMC and their writers seriously need to go back to the drawing board with this stinker. The Walking Dead: World Beyond was supposed to add a refreshing new lease on life to AMC’s Walking Dead TV universe, but it instead ended up damaging it even more. Maybe this is a sign that the last thing this franchise needs is more TV spin-offs that no one asked for.
- Surprisingly likable teen leads
- Promising premise with plenty of potential
- The Civic Republic are an interesting new faction
- Directionless, plodding pacing throughout
- Frustrating lack of stakes or danger
- Incessantly contrived, sloppy writing