We’re two episodes into the second The Walking Dead spin-off, The World Beyond, and the series is… lacking. If this were our first introduction to The Walking Dead universe, and if the novelty of the zombies themselves had not worn off in 2012, the character confrontations with the “empties,” as they call them here, might be more interesting. But outside of the intrigue with the CRM and Rick Grimes, The World Beyond is suffering from the same problems that plagued the first season of Fear the Walking Dead, namely this: we’ve already seen it all.
Granted, the cast in The World Beyond is uniformly much younger, and if the goal of The World Beyond was to bring in a younger audience (who’s less familiar with the last decade of The Walking Dead universe), perhaps it’s a great idea. However, if I was AMC, I would worry that The World Beyond was only able to hold roughly half of its The Walking Dead lead-in during the first week, and because AMC is apparently not licensing out The World Beyond to Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime, it may have a far more difficult time finding a younger audience to gravitate toward it, since that demo has so prominently shifted away from linear cable and toward streaming.
To even grow its audience, The World Beyond will need good word-of-mouth from regular viewers of The Walking Dead, and so far, The World Beyond is not making a good case to be considered “necessary viewing.” The Campus Colony, from whence the four teenagers departed in the pilot, was interesting, but the CRM apparently wiped it out in the first episode, which leaves four teenagers on a journey to New York and two 20-something characters following behind. It’s a road-trip drama, only they’re walking, and it may actually take two full seasons for them to arrive at their destination. In other words, it’s Lord of the Rings set in the zombie apocalypse with teenagers who have never had to confront zombies.
This week’s episode entailed watching the teenage foursome (and the two 20-something followers) walk. And then walk some more. They confronted their first zombie, and it didn’t go well. Iris failed to put it down, and then Silas failed to put down the second zombie they confronted, so it trailed them to their overnight quarters, and Hope nearly died trying to lead it away. I realize that zombies are new to them, but they have also been receiving training for a decade from Felix. It shouldn’t be this hard to kill a zombie that’s been rotting for a decade.
Huck and Felix, meanwhile, continue to trail behind the foursome, and in this week’s Lost-style flashback, we meet a young Felix, whose deadbeat Dad kicked him out of the house right before Monument Day because he found out that Felix was gay. This would have been a novel storyline in… 2004. It comes from writer Ben Sokolowski who, fittingly, moves over from The CW’s Arrowverse, but this storyline still felt like a 45-year-old man’s idea of how to pander to the CW audience. For the existing The Walking Dead audience, however, it felt awfully old hat. We’ve seen Negan have sex with Alpha while they were both completely naked wearing only masks made of the skin of dead people. Relatively speaking, a homophobic Dad is not exactly a major concern for most TWD viewers.
The big “obstacle” in the episode, meanwhile, is a literal tire fire, which has apparently been burning since the beginning of the zombie apocalypse. This is actually rooted in fact. Tires can burn for years — in fact, a tire fire in Wales involving 10 million tires burned for 15 years. In The World Beyond, this particular tire fire basically attracted all the zombies in the area to create a BOG, or Blaze of Gory. In order to save time, the foursome decided to cut through the BOG, but by episode’s end, they found themselves stranded in the middle of it, before a cliffhanger in which Hope left the other three sleeping to draw the attention of the zombies away from them so that they could escape.
The biggest logical problem with the episode here, however, is not the tire fire that’s been burning for a decade. It’s the fact that these four teenagers walked halfway through it and then decided to spend the night in the middle of a tire fire. Tire fires produce toxic chemicals, and these kids barely coughed while walking through this fire and thought nothing of sleeping beneath the smoke for the night. It makes no sense whatsoever.
Ultimately, I am interested in a two-season limited series that eventually reveals the whereabouts of Rick Grimes, and I am OK if they want to dribble little bits of information about CRM out in each subsequent episode. The World Beyond, however, desperately needs something more than CRM and its connection to the parent series to sustain it, and so far, its attempts to stand on its own have not been working.
— It was a really good episode of Fear the Walking Dead this week, which ended with yet another spray paint can. I feel like somehow all of these spray-painted zombies are going to eventually tie into the different shows, although the timeline for Fear is still several years behind The World Beyond and The Walking Dead.
— We did not see Elizabeth this week, and there was only one, belabored mentioned of CRM in the episode when Felix reminds us that no one knows where they are and that CRM doesn’t allow any sort of communication in or out. “That means that they enforce that from inside, wherever they are.” OK, OK Felix. We get it. No one knows where CRM is.
— Annet Mahendru was born to an Indian father and a Russian mother; she knows six languages, and she’s lived in Russia, Afghanistan, and Europe. She was also terrific as a Russian double agent in The Americans. That said, I have no idea what kind of accent her character has in The World Beyond. She sounds like a European trying to do a bad impression of someone from New Jersey named Joe who owns a pizza restaurant. It is wildly inexplicable.
— Next week, it appears that we will learn a little more about Elizabeth and the CRM. I’m starting to wish the entire series was about the CRM.