As The Walking Dead marches through its final season, the significance of various spin-offs is starting to show. For World Beyond – sold as a coming-of-age drama in the zombie apocalypse – this doesn’t just mean setting up a future franchise cornerstone but also providing the transitional framework for AMC’s series of Rick Grimes’ movies. Sadly, this means season two often neglects the series’ most interesting bits.
Season one introduced a likeable cast of young stars, bolstered halfway by the addition of slippery scam artist Percy (Ted Sutherland). After a sluggish introduction, fans were treated to a compelling mystery filled with double-crossing villains and tense battles against the undead. In the finale, our gang of teen adventurers found themselves dispersed across the landscape, facing a difficult and uncertain future.
And that’s where we pick up in this second season. The initial batch of episodes were built around sisters Hope’s (Alexa Mansour) quest to track down mysterious, military force the Civic Republic Military – which she eventually did. Now, the CRM’s sinister ambitions come to the fore. By shifting focus to big picture questions, such as what sacrifices and questionable practices are justifiable to help rebuild society, World Beyond slips into a stronger and more urgent groove.
At the centre of things is Julia Ormond’s ruthless CRM leader Elizabeth, who gets an expanded role this season. She’s the glue holding everything together, moulding Hope (or so she thinks) into an obedient worker while simultaneously trying to find Iris, Felix (Nico Tortorella) and his boyfriend (Jelani Alladin) who harbour growing concerns about the CRM’s motives. As the show improves, so do the cast who seem generally more confident this time around. Last season’s awkward attempts at teenage banter are thankfully minimised due to the new, raised stakes.
But there’s still room for plenty of innocent hijinks. Hope meets a charming, if sickly, love interest while trying to blag her way into unauthorised territory. Later, some light-hearted newcomers add humour, but they never quite nail the behaviour of their younger target audience – many drawn back by the finality of a second (and last season).
If anything, it’s this prospect of a definitive conclusion that keeps World Beyond watchable. There are more than a few clichéd plot devices in use – a byproduct of the rigid two season format – but each episode dangles enough dramatic turns and sudden revelations to keep the story rumbling along smoothly. With the promised return of Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) who was last seen absconding via helicopter in the main show, this spin-off also attempts to answer a few long-standing fan questions too. The biggest of these – do we actually need more Walking Dead? – may prove the hardest to answer.