Next Gen to Regain What EVIL Took. “The Walking Dead: World Beyond” reviewed! (Acorn Media International / Blu-ray)

Ten years after the sky fell and the undead walked the Earthed, a new generation of survivors live comfortably behind gated walls at the Nebraska University campus.  Sisters Iris and Hope sometimes counteract each other’s position on campus hardly see eye-to-eye and, especially when dealing with the clandestine Civic Republic Military who has recruited their scientific father to do research in New York, but when secret messages about their father’s safety in potential jeopardy, Iris and Hope come together, along with campus outcasts Elton and Silas, to trek East on foot through the hordes of undead and the dangerous obstacles that separate them from their father.  The first generation to grow up in the apocalypse must learn to survive in the ravaged world of today and battle not only the dead and evad the mighty Civic Republic Military but also confront their individual haunting pasts. 

“The Walking Dead” executive showrunners Scott Gimple, Robert Kirkman, Brian Bockrath, Matthew Negrete and David Alpert envision a vast Walking Dead universe filled with endless storylines searing with undead mayhem on the precipice a human emotional depth charge explosion.  In 2020, a new and limited two-season spinoff series of AMC’s “The Walked Dead” lumbered forward with “The Walking Dead:  World Beyond” that aimed to explore the untapped emotive locomotive with teenagers having grown up naïve of usual adolescent behavior while also learning how to survive the outside world having been safe behind guarded walls most of their young lives living inside a smaller-scale social structure and guidelines like pre-apocalypse.  While “The Walked Dead” focused on the mid-Atlantic, stretching from George to West Virginia, and “Fear of the Walking Dead” went to the West Coast in Cali, down the border to Mexico, and finally landing near the Gulf coast, “World Beyond” takes the Pacific Northwest beginning inside Nebraska then stretching our main character’s journey to New York state, through the upper areas of what’s left of the country, but filming is actually shot in yours truly home state of Virginia surrounding the capital Richmond area.  Based not off the popular graphic novel series by Robert Kirkman, albeit with a few minor connections, “World Beyond” is a production of AMC, Idiot Box, Skybound Entertainment, Circle of Confusion, and Valhalla Entertainment.

A younger, fresher cast of faces grace “The Walking Dead:  World Beyond” with an innocence facade and juvenile decision making that lifts the series into that rite of passage in adolescent-hood where the children of the apocalypse must explore their own needs and desires as if the evolutionary behavior of growing up has never changed.  Only this time, someone’s trying to bite your face off or actually steal everything you possess off your back.  Aliyah Royale and “Unfriended: Dark Web’s” Alexa Mansour play the contrasting adopted sisters Iris and Hope with an underlining bond that’ll blossom sluggishly forward to season one’s conclusion.  Iris has always conformed to safe living behind the campus walls, but takes a page out of Hope’s book of radical ideas to venture out against policy to find their CRM recruited, and possibly distressed, father.  Through the series, I found Royale to be slightly unauthentically preachy in her delivery that never fastens an emotional connection to her saintly-turned-intrepid persona.  Hope has more complexity turmoil tinned up inside of her pulled and worked very delicately by Mansour in becoming the wild card amongst the group.  “Nine Perfect Strangers’s” Hal Cumpston and voice actor Nicolas Cantu join Iris and Hope as the reserved Silas and the ever hopeful pessimistic Elton, searching for a fresh start and answers to their philosophical questions.  Silas and Elton add more dramatic complications than friendly assistance on the journey with personal violent demons resurging out form Silas’s past to the death of Elton’s mother in which Hope hesitant disclosure of her involvement in the killing of his mother back during the first days of apocalypse sets the tension for a good portion of their travels.  As supporting characters, Silas and Elton also provide sub-storylines “The Walking Dead” thrives on along with two more characters, a pair of campus security details in Nico Tortorella (“Scream 4”) and Annet Mahendru (“The Americans”) playing close friends and colleagues Felix and Huck venturing out to rescue the four inexperienced youngsters from a fate far worse than being a gnawed on scrap of undead jerky. Mahendru’s pulled up hair, facial scar, and widely inflated draw is quite a far cry from her dolled up and partial nudity espionage performance in “The Americans,” a performance that makes her nearly unrecognizable, while Tortorella shoulders a lot of personal baggage in self worth and difficult promises to his makeshift family built on friendship – a regular theme throughout not just with Felix but with the youth group searching for answers.  “World Beyond” rounds out the cast with Ted Sutherland (“Fear Street:  Part Two” and “Part Three”), Natalie Gold (“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance”)), Joe Holt, Jelani Alladin, and Julia Ormond (“Inland Empire”) as the CRM spearheading a covert operation.

The enormity of the “TWD” universe and with end in sight of the undead not working the Earth would inevitably bring up the question of how young children would grow up and face old world teenager issues.  Their not-so-normal childhood forged when the sky fell, as phrase that use to describe the day the dead risen, has ultimately molded who they are when we meet the characters 10 years after that doomed day, but the series dives into backstories on the regular with flashes back, turning every episode of the 10 episode series into a non-linear segment, something that strays, but is not completely foreign, to the “TWD” universe.  Another aspect that’s different, and is terribly detrimental, is the lack of graphic bloody violence, especially against the living.  “World Beyond” tries very hard to shield the viewers from gruesome dispatching of the undead by offscreen kills to implied deaths and not until the latter half of the season does “World Beyond” begin to ooze out of it’s conservative shell as the story becomes more complicated and into more adult themes from lies and betrayals to violence and loss, a parallel of the passage from childhood to adulthood when reality of the real world hits you in the face.  What does stay true to it’s origins us the same is the overgrown sets, the detailed decay, and same beautiful morbid imagery that really compliments to effort in production value and budget.  My only gripe is that many of the actors look fresh out of the shower with perfect hair and loads of makeup in a scenario that would harried and haggard any individual. The story also connects to it’s more fierce bigger brothers with a broader introduction of the Civic Republic Military whose symbol shows up in “The Walking Dead” when whisking Rick Grimes away in one of their helicopters and also in “Fear of the Walking Dead” in the troops who were the bite impervious suits, sleek black helmets, and the assault rifles with dual piercing bayonets. “World Beyond” builds upon their mysterious nature by giving an wider, longer look into their enigmatic, cavillation building window.

With the series finale, aka season two, in full swing this fall at AMC, Acorn Media International concurrently delivers the first season onto an UK 2-disc Blu-ray. The region 2, PAL encoded, BD50s are presented in a televised widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio with a total runtime of 453 minutes. Not discernable issues with the digital image that renders virtually the same veracious tone as the other two “Walking Dead” series with “World Beyond” being a tinge bit more colorful as if the saturation provided more youthful characteristics. There really is some nice imagery happening in certain episodes, such as in episodes “Brave” and “The Blaze of Gory,” that work the dead into being connected with the surrounded elements as if the dead are now the more natural bond with Earth. The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound audio channels with clarity and equally amongst the five points. Dialogue is clean and unobstructed with a balanced breadth of depth and range amongst the various scenarios of death and deception they stumble into. English subtitles are also optional. Bonus features include A Look at the Series that dives into what “World Beyond” aims to accomplish with a fresh young cast, A Meet the Character segment that, obliviously, dives into the actors going over their character profiles, and the Making of Season 1, split into two parts with one on each disc, with the cast and creators provided a deeper understanding of character headspaces. “World Beyond” is rated 15 for the violence, some language, and some gore. Diluted decimation of the dead with a softer complexion in an overall comparison, “The Walking Dead: World Beyond” is the naïve little brother of two juggernauting series macheting a path of blood and guts for the less traumatic to have a spot in the world. Yet, the sluggish first few episodes clears out for a much more palatable and gripping series that we’ve come to expect from a universe built on rotting corpses and collective violence.

Catch Up on “The Walking Dead: World Beyond” season 1.  Purchase the Blu-ray/DVD here!

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