Definitely going for a post-apocalyptic YA vibe with its young protagonists, "World Beyond" saves its nastiest and most devastating twist for the closing moments of its premiere.
Hoping to catch curious people -- or those who've lost their remote control -- AMC launched the premiere of the third series in their Walking Dead Universe after the long-awaited Season 10 finale of "TWD."
It was a smart move as the parent series still has the largest audience of all the franchise pieces, but we're just as happy that the second chapter is airing after the "Fear the Walking Dead" premiere next week, because this one might need two weeks to hook people in.
"The Walking Dead" had you from the jump with Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) waking up in the middle of a zombie apocalypse and never really let up the shock and horror. "Fear" took a different route, dropping us right into the first chaotic moments of the undead outbreak in a busy city.
"Beyond," on the other hand, offers walkers -- or "empties" here -- only in the dreams of its protagonist. Otherwise, you might think we were in a world that had no undead walkers around at all. And then it takes a little too long to make the danger real.
Instead, the focus here is more on the CRM, or Civil Republic Military. And in that, it really felt like this show was trying to say it was looking that elusive YA audience with its four young protagonists, but also heavily serving the core "Walking Dead" audience.
In particular, that three-circle symbol speaks of the disappearance of Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) nearly two years ago now (but more like seven in the show's timeline). We've seen glimpses of them in "Fear," but this was our first deep dive into the organization.
And even then, the episode's final twist basically undid all of that by putting into question everything we've learned. Still, there might be some truth to some of what Julia Ormond's wonderfully sinister Lt. Col. Elizabeth Kublek said. Otherwise the Civic Republic has a massive banner budget only to perpetuate lies with this colony of less than 10,000 people.
Granted, by the standards of what we've become used to in the other two series, a population of 9,671 is absolutely staggering. In that regard, "World Beyond" was interesting, because this was a fully functional society, with a government system and even schools. It did help they appeared to be holed up on a college campus.
One thing "World Beyond" did well was sell us on the idea of this very large, thriving community ten years after the world went to hell. It's perhaps a glimpse of what's to come as the parent series heads into the final arc of Robert Kirkiman's orginal comic book series.
As it stood, though, it was something new for "Dead" fans to see. Details like main character Iris (Aliyah Royale) visiting her therapist, who is dying, and being nonplussed by the bars over her door for her inevitable turn when she does die. Those are hints at how this craziness has been normalized. People die, they turn, they have to be put down.
Everything is so well organized, like clockwork, that it seems they almost never have to deal with the empties at all. In fact, despite Iris going out with a faction from the school to welcome Elizabeth to their Omaha Campus Colony, she is alter asked if she's ever actually seen an empty up close.
This also happened after her therapist, Dr. K, tried to attack her through that same gate on her door after she undied, so we're not sure why Iris acted like she hadn't. Perhaps the difference is there was no real sense of danger with Dr. K because their system is so well designed to protect everyone.
We also learned that CRM is the military branch of the Civic Republic, which is apparently part of a three-government alliance with the Colony and Portland. But the Republic doesn't reveal where they're located, or even what they're all about, so it's about as lopsided an arrangement as the Governor and Negan wanted from Rick Grimes and company back in the day.
Iris and her sister Hope (Alexa Mansour) even gave up their father as a top research scientist to go and work with the Republic's best toward finding a cure. It all sounds so very noble, except the girls are getting messages purportedly from him that paint a different picture.
Hope also slipped onto that bus in the luggage rack below and saw that while Elizabeth told the Colony they could only spare one helicopter, there were several more with mass storage containers that flew by. In other words, there are lies being told, and by hour's end we have no idea what to believe.
We do know we don't trust the CRM any more than Hope does -- and she blatantly flipped Elizabeth off upon first seeing her -- which makes it even more worrisome what has been happening with Rick Grimes in all the time since he got snatched up on that shoreside with Jadis (Polyanna McIntosh).
By the end of the hour, it was quickly established that we really don't have to remember all of those people we'd met along the way. There are the four kids, their two guardians and the Lt. Col. For now, that seems to be sufficient.
The core four are the kids, young teenagers who've grown up for the past ten years in relative safety, as it appears the Campus Colony was able to secure its borders almost immediately. As such, while everyone has trauma from "The Night the Sky Fell," they're not enduring the day-to-day horrors that have followed both other shows -- yet.
It creates an interesting dynamic, even as we've seen many teenaged characters on the other series. These still have at least some of their innocence, and you can tell when meeting them. They're doing really normal things like Hope rebelling with her distillery, or the boys being social outcasts.
We know they needed to get this group out the door, but we have say the way meek Elton (Nicolas Cantu) and mysteriously brooding Silas (Hal Cumpston) just decided to go with them on their quest was pretty cloying and way too convenient.
We're hoping that this was just trying to quickly get the group together, though it might have been better if they were all on friendlier terms before deciding to head out together. With his dark past only hinted at, we could see Hope befriending Silas as part of her rebellion, while Iris' over-achiever would be a natural fit with Elton.
Our other two characters also had some pretty ham-fisted dialogue to try and shove some exposition down our throats.
In particular, we learned that the head of Colony security, Felix (Nico Tortorella) was also left as the guardian of the girls when their father, Leo, left, thus creating the logical kind of connection we're missing with the core foure. We also found that the head of the father's security is Felix' boyfriend, Will.
And then there's Huck (Annet Mahendru), who remains even more mysterious than Silas, but has turned out to be one of the more engaging characters on the show. By the end of this pilot, the kids are off on their quest and this pair are heading out to find them. And then all hell broke loose at the Colony.
Either "World Beyond" needed a two-hour premiere, or they should have played with flash-forwards as much as they did flashbacks, because the most compelling moments came in the last few minutes. That final scene raised questions about everything that had come before.
It's also why we shifted to not being sure what we can believe about anything we learned, including the destination of the main quest. That's because after taking part in their 10th Annual Monument ceremony, it looks like Elizabeth and CRM laid waste to the entire community.
There was evidence of walkers and blown walls, but it looked like it was all part of a coordinate attack by the CRM to decimate this community they were supposedly allies with. What does that mean about Portland? Is it real? A crater? Soon to be?
We'd argue the walkers could be about making this not look like a military strike, but there's a lot of precision in those kills of the living and undead alike, not to mention those blown walls, explosions and all that fire. This was clearly an attack by the living.
And what does that mean about the Dr. Leo Bennett and the daughters who set out to New York to find him? They slipped out before the carnage, as did Felix and Huck on their tails, so they've no idea what just happened to their home.
But the girls are following a vague map to New York on Elizabeth sharing with them that this is where their father is working -- which is on the opposite end of the country from Portland so either the Civic Republic has coast-to-coast influence, or there are lies afoot.
While she painted a picture of him happily working to find a cure, the girls received the following message after telling them his safety is not assured: "IT’S GONE BAD. KEEPING MY HEAD DOWN. I’LL FIND HELP. DON’T TELL THE COUNCIL. DON’T TELL FELIX. I LOVE YOU GIRLS."
So what's real? Is that message really from their dad? Is he really in New York? Is CRM in New York as well? Is that were Rick went? And why? They scooped up Rick as a weird trade deal with Jadis, and Leo appears to be a trade of sorts, as well, so why are they trading for people?
And what did Elizabeth mean when she said, "good," after a soldier told her they'd searched the entire community and couldn't find "her"? Who is her? Is it Iris? Hope? Huck? Someone else entirely? And does she know about all of the escapees from this slaughter? Is she going to go after them, or have her men do so?
And why did she feel the need to wipe out this community? They didn't seem to know anything more or less about what the Republic is doing and thought they were establishing stronger ties and trade relations.
There are more questions than answers at this point, and unfortunately they all came in that last minute. That means there was more enjoyment speculating and wondering what it all means after the show ended than there was while watching the show unfold.
The only thing it accomplished was giving us enough background on these seven characters that we can at least understand somewhat their motivations as we move forward. But we'd have honestly rather gotten that while moving along than the slow, dull opening we were treated to. We didn't need the full episode get the tedium of this community to the teens.
The bad news is that this first hour was a bit of a chore at times. While we found ourselves liking the characters and the performances of a stellar cast, it just kept dragging and dragging in a community that wouldn't even survive the premiere.
The good news it that those closing moments brought to light so much intrigue and piqued our interest tremendously as to what the larger story is. Knowing this is a two season, 20 episode exploration only makes it even more exciting because we know it's not just going to meander pointlessly ... like it just did for the first hour.
Okay, we hope it isn't going to meander pointlessly too much more!
"The Walking Dead: World Beyond" continues next week at 10 p.m. ET on AMC, right after the Season 6 premiere of "Fear the Walking Dead" at 9 p.m. ET.