“The Walking Dead” is edging up, this October, to its tenth anniversary on the air. That decade of ratings dominance has seen our own world grow nihilistic enough to make the series feel more tonally appropriate to the mood of the moment. It has also seen AMC, which when “The Walking Dead” premiered was in the middle of the runs of “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad,” come to be increasingly defined by “The Walking Dead.” The show’s second spinoff attempts to prove just how malleable the “Dead” universe really is by moving its action into the future; on its own limited terms, it’s a success, though viewers might be forgiven for wondering just how much gas is left in the tank.
“The Walking Dead: World Beyond” concerns two sisters, dutiful Iris (Aliyah Royale) and rebel-heart Hope (Alexa Mansour) who exist in a world where the public has clawed out a sort of detente with the zombie threat. A decade after the apocalypse, a Nebraska settlement lives a sort of cosseted, anxious life with the undead kept out at great effort. The possibility of an alliance with another settlement in Portland brings into town a powerful and imposing military leader (Julia Ormond) whom Hope mistrusts. Part of the tension between girls and leadership is the fact that their father (Joe Holt) has been traded to Portland in order to cement the alliance, with a sort of mercenary logic that, as this show often does, suggests our future will look a great deal like our feudal past.
As the two girls set out on an adventure with schoolmates in tow, the relationship between them can be schematic — each is what the other is not — but is nicely performed. And the trauma the pair share gets elegantly at the ways in which this show is meaningfully different from “The Walking Dead.” “World Beyond” has the ability to show the ways in which the long-tail effects of cataclysm play out. On a societal level, these insights are not that surprising, and sometimes strain plausibility (we’re never really told how Portland and Omaha got into contact). But as regards human relationships, it’s interesting to see an imagining of how young people thrust into chaos as small children metabolize that, the ways in which, say, one sister bends towards rigor and order and another into trusting only her instincts. “World Beyond” borrows some of its weight from the climate in which it appears: The idea of how young people are affected by chaos has a certain piquancy at the moment.
This is not a perfect series: The shots of the undead often look cheap and the rules of how these monsters are evaded have never felt more loosely applied. And yet there’s a willingness to reinvent, to genuinely probe a corner of the universe previously untouched, that makes this series feel serious in its intent and, for fans of the forerunning series, well worth checking out. Its willingness to place two young women at its center, and to make their emotional response to family upheaval the story of the apocalypse, shows a curiosity worth crediting.
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