“The Walking Dead” has been running for nearly 10 years now, and its spinoff, “Fear the Walking Dead,” has been on for another five, so one might think this zombie-infested world has been pretty thoroughly explored by this point. Yet here we have “The Walking Dead: World Beyond,” a “limited series event” that promises to view the “Walking Dead” universe through the eyes of teenagers that have come of age in the zombie apocalypse.
It’s a solid enough premise on paper, but unfortunately, “Brave,” the “World Beyond” pilot, introduces a troupe of typical stock characters and sets them off to traipse through the abandoned towns and zombie-filled forests that viewers have seen many, many times before in this franchise.
Our main characters are sisters Iris (Aliyah Royale) and Hope (Alexa Mansour), residents of the Nebraska Campus Colony, a thriving community that has an alliance with the Civic Republic Military, a shadowy organization that has conscripted the girls’ brilliant father to assist them at their secret headquarters. The sisters are basic clichés — Iris is the eager-to-please type A, while Hope is the rebellious one who brews her own moonshine and doesn’t trust Elizabeth (Julia Ormond) the visiting CRM representative sent to assuage the colony’s fears.
“Walking Dead” die-hards will immediately recognize the CRM as the group that took Rick Grimes and also popped up in the last season of “Fear,” so their motives would obviously be suspect to the audience even if their members weren’t all black-clad stormtroopers. This drains Iris’s episode-long revelation that the CRM are up to no good of any drama, but at least they’re a formidable-enough antagonist. If “World Beyond” has any possibly of future intrigue, it’s in exploring this group that’s shaping up to be the “Walking Dead” universe’s equivalent to Marvel’s Thanos.
Unfortunately, the focus is on the kids, and so far there’s not a lot of meat on that bone. Iris and Jane decide they need to find their father, so they set off beyond the walls. They’re joined by Elton (Nicolas Cantu), a Little Lord Fauntleroy type, and Silas (Hal Cumpston), a hulking sad-sack with a mysterious past. These two join the gals’ quest on the thinnest of pretenses and only have about 10 lines between them this episode, so it’s tough to get a bead on them yet. Also in pursuit are Felix (Nico Tortorella), and Huck (Annet Mahendru), two colony security officers who feel responsible for the girls’ safety. These two get a bit more screen time, but Felix feels like little more than a straight-laced stick in the mud, while Huck is positioned as a cool badass who has to deliver cringe-worthy dialogue like, “And that’s my blow line.” It’s not an easy task for a pilot to establish so many characters in a single hour, but “Brave” barely even tries.
Iris and Jane get the most focus, but once Iris gets on board with Jane’s anti-CRM sentiment, there’s not a lot of daylight between them. They’re each haunted by the death of their mother, who was killed early in the apocalypse (the subsequent 10 years of living in a zombie wasteland seems to have not affected them one iota). Iris blames herself for not being present, having been separated from Jane and their mother in the chaos, and Jane has the much heavier burden of having witnessed their mother get murdered by a desperate pregnant woman, who Jane then accidentally killed in response. But that’s not all! In the episode’s most groan-inducing moment, the audience learns that said pregnant woman was actually Elton’s mother, an absolute howler of a contrivance that promises plenty of eyeroll-worthy drama down the line.
But that’s the big problem with “World Beyond.” Its drama feels contrived and manufactured, less born of characters bouncing off of each other and more “we gotta fill time on this new spinoff.” Nothing about it is essential, or even that interesting. Diehards might enjoy it, simply because it promises to deliver exactly the same stuff they’ve been watching for the last 10 years. Everyone else can safely give it a pass.
• The colony is an interesting setting as far as “Walking Dead” goes, considering how idyllic it is. It’s a shame it’s immediately abandoned (and everyone in it is subsequently killed by Elizabeth). The zombie-proof gate on everyone’s doors is a nice touch.
• We need to talk about the accent Annet Mahendru is using for Huck. It’s so ridiculous it actually comes back around to being charming.
• Believing that four kids with no zombie experience can make an 1,100-mile trip is a big ask. How are they going on eat? What happens when the meet up with the inevitable “Walking Dead” human villain? The whole thing screams “suicide mission.”
• Might want to sharpen that triceratops horn before trying to kill a zombie with it, Iris.
• Seriously, how hard did you laugh at the revelation about Elton’s mom? Because I laughed very hard.
“The Walking Dead: World Beyond” premiered Sunday, October 4 on AMC.