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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

On Walking Dead: World Beyond, everyone sits around and talks, then gets gas

Illustration for article titled On iWalking Dead: World Beyond/i, everyone sits around and talks, then gets gas
Photo: Zach Dilgard/AMC
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The Walking Dead: World Beyond keeps chasing the high of a conversation-based episode. When that concept is successfully executed—one of the most well-known recent examples is probably Game Of Thrones’ “A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms”—it can make for a series’ high point. But when you’re World Beyond, and you haven’t ever really hit pause on the mawkish and writerly speechifying to begin with, having everyone spend a night drinking and bearing their soul doesn’t really change anything. For a character exchange to feel meaningful, there needs to have been some time elapsed where they weren’t always-already opening up to anyone who would listen. I can’t believe I have to say this when we’re seven episodes deep into a Walking Dead spinoff, but maybe everyone needs to shut up and go kill some zombies for a change.

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Remarkably little happens this week—at least, until those closing seconds. Prior to that, we get the key piece of intel that pushes the story forward: The Civic Republic uses maps with the equivalent of blacklight ink, meaning you shine the right color light on them, sudenly those unmarked territories get populated with fuel caches and other outposts. The discovery of the research facility in New York sparks a night of drinking, both for the adults and the kids, and the next day, our team plunders a CRM fuel drop to keep their truck flush in gas—and Huck is forced to kill a man who threatens Hope. So far, so good. And then, in the closing seconds, we get that great tease: Tony is killed, his face demolished, and it sure looks like Silas did it. It’s a strong kicker to what is otherwise another round of tell, don’t show—Huck’s flashbacks to her military days being the notable exception.

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It’s not even that “Truth Or Dare” is a bad episode, per se; grading on the curve that is the season thus far, it’s entertaining enough. It’s more that whatever is happening here doesn’t feel earned—giving the characters a 20-minute break from the usual monologuing, as happened during last week’s truck heist, isn’t a good excuse for taking a breather, but that’s essentially what the show is doing with this installment. The gas run that ends with Huck putting a bullet through the head of someone who’s been bitten offered a small jolt of excitement, but the sequence was rushed, even perfunctory. There never seemed to be any question how it was going to end, from the moment we first saw that desperate guy holding a gun to Hope’s head. The show has yet to really surprise us in any meaningful manner, and that’s no way to create tension. (Now, the idea that Silas bashed in Tony’s head for no good reason? That’s something worth watching.)

Illustration for article titled On iWalking Dead: World Beyond/i, everyone sits around and talks, then gets gas
Photo: Zach Dilgard/AMC
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For an episode that’s ostensibly centered around Huck, she gets sidelined for a surprising amount of time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—the amount of flashback we get feels about right—but it is a reminder that this show has consistently struggled to fill in the character, leaving poor Annet Mahendru to try her best to give Huck some depth via, um, jaded looks? Actually, in a weird way, it’s possible that what felt like a weak performance on the actor’s part was partly bad acting on the character’s part. Maybe it’s too much of a free pass, but Huck mowing down her entire squad to save some innocent people is exactly the kind of traumatic incident that could make someone adopted an extremely... forced pose of joviality. Then again, the way she talks to Hope about it implies Huck made her peace with all that, and given we haven’t seen a single shred of suggestion she’s wrestling with any demons until now, a late-in-the-game addition of pathos doesn’t really work.

While Silas, Iris, and Percy spend this week playing another round of “let’s make the big quiet guy jealous,” the subtlest character work is once more being done by Alexa Mansour and Nicolas Cantu. Elton’s little-brother crush on Hope receives just the right awkward beats, from his gentlemanly offer of a jacket to drunkenly hugging her on the stairs. And Hope’s conflicted sense of guilt-versus-protection plays out across her face in far more nuanced ways than the script’s lumbering, say-everything-you’re-thinking machinations. Dialogue still veers wildly between grounded and overwrought, but at least we’re getting more moments of characters expressing their opinions in something other than clunky aphorisms. (The best is Huck cutting through Hope’s hand-wringing with a blunt, “You were a kid, and she killed your mom in front of you.”)

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Presumably, Percy is going to have some strong feelings about the death of his father figure and guardian, and for the first time, there’s the possibility that World Beyond could do the unexpected and really mess with our characters in a way that isn’t tidily resolved by the end of the episode. The show has spent most of this first season trying to find its feet—with only three episodes left, there’s not much time remaining to prove it can—but at least we’re getting signs that it knows a dramatic shift is needed.

Stray observations

  • It goes by in a flash, but Cantu’s stilted “ok” when Hope leaves Elton on the stairs is some of the best and most underplayed drunk-teen acting I’ve seen in some time. Also? Pretty funny.
  • On-the-nose dialogue of the week: Iris, to her sister: “Hope, it feels like we’re changing.” I guess saying it makes it so!
  • Percy’s art-gallery setup in the back of the truck was surprisingly charming.
  • Elton’s description of hard liquor is solid: “Like a warm sack of nails are hung on my insides.”
  • Sorry to see you go, Scott Adsit, you were a much-needed source of easygoing humanism. R.I.P., Tony.
  • Now that it’s been clearly established that Hope not telling Elton she killed his mother is the morally proper thing to do, how long until she tells him? Next episode, right?
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Alex McLevy is a writer and editor at The A.V. Club, and would kindly appreciate additional videos of robots failing to accomplish basic tasks.

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