Remember when The Walking Dead was just that black and white zombie comic? Well, now it’s a franchise, spawning comics, three TV shows and a film in the works. The third TV show to join the shuffling ranks of the walking dead is The Walking Dead: World Beyond. Where the flagship show has followed its shifting group of heroes from the moment Rick Grimes woke up in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, and Fear The Walking Dead took us back to the earliest days of the outbreak, World Beyond takes place a decade after civilisation collapsed, and focuses on a group of teens who can barely remember the world as it was before.
This isn’t a toothless teen take on The Walking Dead, though. World Beyond still boasts face-chomping walkers – or ‘empties’, as the characters on this show call them – and will no doubt have a similarly blasé attitude towards major character deaths. But when we first meet the characters of this show, they have spent years being sheltered from the brutal realities of the Walking Dead universe. Showrunner Matthew Negrete, who has been a writer on The Walking Dead since Season Four, tells us that World Beyond takes place initially in a community which is “unlike anything we’ve ever seen on The Walking Dead because it feels very first world… They have running water, they have walls to protect them, and they have a lot of the conveniences that we all have today, only they’re ten years into the apocalypse. They’ve been very privileged in a lot of ways, and they’ve been very sheltered.”
When Scott Gimple, Chief Content Officer for The Walking Dead universe, first approached Negrete about a spin-off, they knew they needed something “fresh and new and different from the other two shows”, Negrete says. Part of that was about creating a world that wasn’t just about survival. The characters in World Beyond have grown up in a place where the inhabitants have been researching the contagion that caused the outbreak and examining the environment they now live in. These kids have grown up relatively safe, but well aware of the dangers of the outside world. “They’ve taken courses in how to kill the undead, but they’ve never actually done it,” Negrete explains. In most Walking Dead shows, the characters find themselves plunged into a monstrous nightmare with no warning, but in World Beyond the characters intentionally “make a decision to go out into the world and to put themselves in danger”, Negrete says, “to save someone who is very important to them.”
The other obvious element that sets World Beyond apart from the other Walking Dead shows is the ages of its protagonists. Negrete tells us that he’s always loved coming-of-age stories, citing Stand By Me as a favourite because “these kids start out as one thing and by the end of their trip they’ve all been changed. The idea of these characters learning about themselves through this grand adventure, I just jumped at it, I loved that idea.” Once he and Gimple started talking through plans for a new series, they knew quickly that a younger set of characters was the right direction to take. “When we started talking about the kind of things we could explore with a younger cast and a younger set of characters, all of a sudden the ideas were just rolling and rolling, almost like we couldn’t stop. In a matter of just a few weeks we’d come pretty close to mapping out the entire season.”
Because of the younger cast, Negrete thinks that the show could attract a younger audience than the other TWD shows. “There are a lot of things going on in society today, for example, where young people have a voice… and they’re not afraid to express it, and that’s kind of the thing that makes this show relevant. I think that’s why it will track with a younger audience.” The Walking Dead has always attracted a broader audience than you would expect from a zombie horror show, and Negrete believes that World Beyond will be no different, especially as coming-of-age stories are about as universal as you can get. “Everyone remembers coming of age, and the kind of emotions that you felt when you had your first kiss or your first crush, or you find your voice for the first time. Everyone can relate to that feeling of trying to figure out who you are, who you want to be.” He also adds that, while Walking Dead fans will enjoy exploring a new corner of the universe, a knowledge of the franchise is not necessary to enjoy World Beyond, and so he hopes it can work as a jumping-on point for new viewers.
World Beyond centres on two sisters, Iris (Aliyah Royale) and Hope (Alexa Mansour). Negrete tells us that Iris is “trying to figure out what she wants from life, even after the apocalypse… There’s this need to try to build the world back up and make it better and you find yourself living for other people, but that then begs the question of what do you want personally? How do you live life for yourself? And that’s a question that Iris will ask herself.” Hope, on the other hand, is “a bit of a troublemaker, she likes to get her drink on”, Negrete chuckles. “I think that she and her sister in a lot of ways couldn’t be more opposite, but at the same time they love and respect each other, and it’s that bond between them that’s going to carry them through when they choose to leave the safety of the place they are from.” He hints, though, that there are unspoken secrets between Hope and Iris that could “change the dynamics” of their entire relationship.
Joining them on their quest into the world beyond their community walls are Elton (Nicolas Cantu) and Silas (Hal Cumpston). Elton, the youngest of the group, “hasn’t seen the world, really, since he was five years old, except through a telescope… He thinks, ‘okay, we may die out some time soon, I’m going to see the world before that happens’.” Silas is the most mysterious member of the group. “He’s this hulking guy who, because of his large frame, and because he’s a loner, a lot of kids are scared of him. For that reason he retreats into his own shell, and people haven’t really reached out to him.” Negrete adds that “rumours are swirling around him about things that he might or might not have done in his past,” which will become a “critical” element of the first season.
That first season will actually be half of the entire show, as it’s only set to run for two seasons of ten episodes, making it a finite series. “It wasn’t ever designed to be a show that goes on and on,” Negrete explains. “We started talking about it and we were exploring it as it if had an ending… and we followed our goal and stuck close to that ending.” Rather than that being a hindrance, Negrete found it freeing. “The fact that this is two seasons and done allows us to have this arc, and to know where we started the characters, but more importantly know where they’re going to end up.”
There’s something thrilling about a show that already has its own end in sight, not least because it means they have little reason to keep their characters alive for long. Which, in the world of The Walking Dead, bodes very badly for the poor zombie-fodder characters…
The Walking Dead: World Beyond is available now on Prime Video.