The Walking Dead has proved to be a series loaded with highs and lows. Now, the universe is showing to be consistent in a similar regard. Fear the Walking Dead has certainly had its peaks and valleys as quality and interest are concerned, finding its footing in Season 2 before a spectacular third season, only to trudge through its fourth and fifth seasons before delivering seven absolute fire crackers of episodes in 2020's Season 6A. Now, The Walking Dead: World Beyond seems to be going through something similar, despite only having a total of 20 episodes to tell its tale and half of those now having aired.
On Sunday night, The Walking Dead: World Beyond wrapped up a frustrating first season. On paper, the show had some very interesting ideas. When visiting the set of the series in Virginia last year, hearing about one character having killed another's mother and the drama of the reveal, along with the other relationships these characters would have to each other and the Dead universe as a whole, it seemed World Beyond had a lot of potential to be great. When the show started airing, it was not reaching that potential with more than half of its episodes in Season 1. The series was a slog as young characters made frustrating decisions (a result of the audience having far more knowledge about the world where these new faces are living), a product of putting wildly naive teenagers in an apocalypse where the only adults nearby seem to lack much conviction to common sense, as well.
The opening episode of World Beyond had its interesting moments, setting up the journey of characters trekking across the country to New York (somewhat aimlessly, as no one wanted to address just how big of a state New York is until much later on) and revealing the CRM to have destroyed the community from which they originated. Instead of honing in on this CRM group which has a built-in interest for taking Rick Grimes away from Alexandria on The Walking Dead, World Beyond chose to have its characters go on video game-like side quests to build boats, journey through zombie-filled fire pits, and play truth or dare in treehouses. It didn't feel as post-apocalyptic as it did a sluggish Kings of Summer with the occasional horror trope.
Still, World Beyond was not without its highlights. The Walking Dead veteran Michael Cudlitz checked in to direct the first episode to truly get me hooked in. Unfortunately, it came late in the season, but it gives me hope that the second and final season might keep up the momentum World Beyond built late in its freshman year (if showrunner Matt Negrete's fear of having too much story to tell is any indication, there is a lot coming in a short amount of time so fingers are crossed).
Cudlitz directed Annet Mahendru wonderfully in a story where we learned of her Huck character making a tough decision to disobey a direct order, gunning down her fellow military comrades as a means to protect innocent civilians in the early days of the apocalypse. The sequence was intercut with Huck doing what it takes to protect Hope (Alexa Mansour) by killing her captor which turned out to be an easier decision than we might have thought for reasons we will get to momentarily.
In fact, Huck turned out to be the most interesting character of the series through its first season, taking that spot from Felix (Nico Tortorella) in the final moments. This is not only because Mahendru and Tortorella are far and beyond the best actors among the cast but because they're stories were independently interesting. Felix had a heartbreaking story of being abandoned by family when they learned their child was homosexual. Huck had to kill her own people to save strangers. Their bond was strong but ultimately faced the possibility of being fake all along.
Huck was a spy for the CRM, working for her mother Elizabeth Kublick to deliver Hope to their facilities, and was willing to do just about anything to carry out the mission. Apparently, they think (because her father saw her do things like take apart and rebuild a computer) that Hope's brain and possibly Hope's brain alone is smart enough to save the world from this zombie apocalypse. So, instead of just bringing her in traditionally, they wanted to haze her with a cross country journey where she sees how scary the world is and force her to adopt a perspective of the CRM's methods being the only solution.
The reveal was interesting, especially considering we were lead to believe Iris (Aliyah Royale) would be the "asset" which Elizabeth was trying to obtain all along. Iris, however, was never tremendously interested and this mislead called for her to be at the front of the story throughout as Royale's character fell victim to knowing less than the audience (and often the characters around her) quite often, while also delivering a frustratingly unfounded sense of hope about her journey.
Along with the twists of Huck being Jennifer (the daughter of Elizabeth) pitting her against Felix in an exciting fiery showdown late in the finale, quieter moments shined through late in the year, as well. Nicolas Cantu played the earnest Elton character, one whose optimism and pessimism regularly flip-flopped, and whose mother was killed by Hope when "the sky fell."
As Elton became a more independent character of his own, a scene spawned between himself and an hallucination of Percy (Ted Sutherland) became one of the most compelling sequences of the year. Elton's internal monologue projected through a character he was so desperate to save, mostly for his own mental health more than the other character's survival, and it marked a turning point for the character but seemingly also the series. Time slowed, the music came in wonderfully, and Cantu and Sutherland nailed every beat of the scene which ended in Elton dropping his things, using his big brain, and taking down four empties entirely on his own.
Of course, there was also Silas (Hal Cumpston), who is not unlike this show's version of Chief from One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. The big quiet and uncertain beast in the room with a dark past that might or might not still be a part of who he is. His apparent crush on Iris which grew every time she so much as noticed him lead to a conflict where he was framed for murder, a story which falls into those final three episodes which finally had an interesting pace and several compelling story threads.
Going forward, World Beyond has the world at its finger tips (quite literally). The Walking Dead chief content officer finally ruled out the possibility of Rick Grimes showing up, so anybody still watching will be watching for the characters which it has established. Frustratingly, it took quite a bit of time to get to a point where World Beyond was truly interesting and shortly thereafter the first season ended.
Now, though, I'm interested to see what we learn through Hope's eyes when she arrives at the CRM facilities. I'm interested to see if Jennifer will become Huck full-time when she realizes her mother slaughtered the innocent Campus Colony, especially as she has disregarded orders in the past as a means to protect innocent people. Felix and Will are a love story worth diving into further, especially as Will has a lot of valuable information and they will seemingly be readying themselves for war. Plus, will the ending of World Beyond tie into the ending of The Walking Dead of the sixth season of Fear the Walking Dead? It is probably best for World Beyond to operate more independently rather than simply teasing but never committing to such ties but the possibilities are exciting.
The Walking Dead: World Beyond's first season was not the premiere most fans were looking for but its strong conclusion gives us a lot of hop for its future.