It should come as no surprise that after 10 seasons of zombie apocalypse drama on The Walking Dead and five seasons following the same madness in a different location on its spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead, AMC further extended its doomed landscape into another era with The Walking Dead: World Beyond. Is it necessary? Absolutely not. Does it work? Meh, sometimes.
Exploring what life looks like for the ones born during an apparently never-ending apocalypse is certainly an intriguing, previously uncharted concept for the franchise — especially at a time when our real-world inhabitants are struggling to make sense of life in our own apocalyptic state. How do you move forward with so much ruin around you? How do you stay strong knowing that so many of your loved ones did not survive? Those are the questions The Walking Dead: World Beyond showrunner Matt Negrete tries to tackle throughout the new series.
Enter Iris (Aliyah Royale), an ambitious college student whose mother died 10 years ago on "the night the sky fell," the apocalyptic event when things literally fell from the sky as revealed in incredibly confusing flashbacks. She's managed to maintain some sense of sanity by compartmentalizing that traumatic event. Though Iris reluctantly sees a therapist who tries to excavate the guilt she feels for not doing more to prevent her mother's death, she navigates her world with the hope that things can and will be better someday. It is why she welcomes Elizabeth (Julia Ormond), a mysterious lieutenant colonel, into her tight circle going on nothing but her declaration of alliance.
On the other hand, Iris' sister, the ironically named Hope (Alexa Mansour), embodies all the rebellion and rage her other half suppresses. For instance, Hope, plagued by her own tragic memories of their mother's death, is instantly suspicious when Elizabeth drops by their blockaded community. The military member represents the same organization that lured her and Iris' scientist father away from them for months on end to help them find a cure for the apocalypse, and he has yet to return. This, and the ongoing standardization of the controlled chaos that is their way of life, has Hope in a perpetual state of unrest — and often at odds with her sister.
The way particularly younger people navigate their individual trauma in a world that encourages them to forget or move beyond it will certainly resonate with audiences today. But one of the things that made The Walking Dead so great are the stakes. If the zombies — or "the empties," as they're called in World Beyond -- are merely a distant threat, there is very little reason to watch unless you're just curious about what it's like for this generation to live in a community rebuilt on top of decimation. (Anyone who knows even a little about American history can see the allegory brimming at the surface).
As well-intentioned as World Beyond is, it needs the franchise's foundation of horror to be even half as captivating as its original predecessor. The second episode gives the series a much-needed jolt when Iris and Hope, with two equally restless peers (Nicolas Cantu and Hal Cumpston) in tow, are compelled to leave their close-knit quarters behind to finally follow their dad. But even then, out in the wild with zombies lurking around every bend, the undead seem more like wallpaper — speed bumps along their journey of independence.
World Beyond succumbs, within just the first two episodes that were offered to journalists, to the problems The Walking Dead had once it became clear it had run its course: The zombies are no longer the main peril. In fact, the humans are each other's biggest threat. Each character's memories and traumas have trapped them in their own prisons that dictate who to trust, who to hate, and what kind of armor — both psychological and physical — they choose to carry with them just to get by in their daily lives. On top of that is a flimsy theme that our four young central protagonists have run off in order to find a purpose in their lives beyond simply making the best of a world they fear will eventually come to an end. It's an all-too-familiar storyline we've seen before.
The world-building throughout the Walking Dead franchise has always been impressive — down to the abandoned buses, tattered houses and tumbleweed grounds — and World Beyond is no exception. This latest installment impressively pulls back the layers to show how even if you build around it, the decayed world is still in plain view. Still, World Beyond doesn't offer audiences fresh ideas or even fascinating characters for which to root. Rather — regardless of where you think they fit on the morality scale — it is the same level of banal. Even the zombies don't seem all that pressed to attack them.
TV Guide rating: 2/5
The Walking Dead: World Beyond premieres Sunday, Oct. 4 at 10/9c on AMC.