Walking Dead World Beyond review: Junior zombie tale lacks bite

The latest spin-off from AMC's The Walking Dead pits teens against zombies in an all-too-familiar setting.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
3 min read
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TV hit The Walking Dead asks what happens after the world is overrun by zombies. But what happens after that? The Walking Dead: World Beyond cuts to 10 years after the zombie apocalypse and meets the kids coming of age in a strange new world. Let's call it Booksmart with zombies. Stand By Me with more corpses. The Breakfast Club with actual clubs.

World Beyond will unfold over just two seasons, and begins on AMC Sunday, Oct. 4 in the US. International viewers get a sneak peek when the show premieres on  Amazon Prime Video  Oct. 2. We're up to season 10 of The Walking Dead and season 6 of Fear the Walking Dead, which means a fair bit of time has passed since the day the undead rose, and that's the angle taken by World Beyond. 

The new show opens in a community that's settled into the new normal. Schoolkids learn how to stab "empties" through the eye. Field trips are escorted by tough guys with leather jackets and sharp sticks. Townsfolk live in nice houses, but the terminally ill have bars on their doors in case. These are people who've found a way to live among the dead.

Of course, anyone who's seen the original Walking Dead series knows what happens when folks get too settled in even the most comfortable settlement. Except in World Beyond. The first of World Beyond's two biggest problems is it's just rather cosy.

The settlement feels rather undramatic and the zombies barely treated as a threat, with little of the creeping suspense permeating the original show. There's some tension from the arrival of the ambiguous black-clad Civic Republic Military, an organization familiar to longtime Deadheads. But it's not exactly nail-biting stuff, even when Hope and Iris set out beyond the safety of the town walls into meandering set pieces.

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The Walking Dead: World Beyond sets out on a new adventure in zombieland.


There's at least one deliciously dark image in each of the first two episodes shared with press by AMC, which is surely what zombie fans crave. But the action is otherwise reined in from the irresistibly inventive and notoriously nasty goriness of the main show and previous spin-off Fear The Walking Dead.

That doesn't have to be the end of the world, of course. It might not be the splatterfest hardcore horror fans want, but it does invite a wider audience. World Beyond is basically the young adult take on the Walking Dead, and that's fine.

This YA version of Walking Dead focuses on a gang of teen misfits, each with their own backstory and portrayed in decent performances by the young cast. At school, Hope and Iris are two sisters who couldn't be more different. One's student president and one's a tough rebel, but they're both looking to a future beyond their sun-dappled all-American small town.

Familiarity is the bigger issue, and not just the scene where a teen addressing the school tears up her speech to speak from the heart instead. Calling it World Beyond suggests we'll see a new perspective on the Walking Dead universe, perhaps taking us to an intriguing environment we haven't seen before or exploring how the zompocalypse affected a different part of society, as Fear the Walking Dead did on a boat ride to Mexico. At the very least we might expect World Beyond to look a little different to the previous shows. But no: it's another road trip through the dusty roads and leafy forests of rural America.

Again, that's just the first two episodes. Our band of misfits may make it to more novel territory, and the drama and horror may ramp up, but you'd expect the premier to at least hint at something a bit fresh.

World Beyond can offer something to long-time viewers: a closer look at the Civic Republic, the mysterious black-clad army that spirited away the original show's protagonist Rick Grimes on a helicopter in season 9. Whether that's enough to entice fans to a relatively bloodless version of the Walking Dead universe remains to be seen.

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