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Walking Dead: World Beyond fails to do right by its least-defined character

Hal Cumpston as Silas on The Walking Dead: World Beyond
Hal Cumpston as Silas on The Walking Dead: World Beyond
Photo: Macall Polay/AMC
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There’s a moment halfway through “The Tyger And The Lamb,” the third episode of The Walking Dead: World Beyond, that serves as a blunt-force explanation for the actions of two of the main characters, Hope and Silas. When Felix wonders why she would leave clues so that he could track them down—when she seemed to share everyone else’s desire to escapeSilas echoes Hope’s earlier statement, that people’s mistakes shouldn’t have to follow them. But when Felix starts to question what that has to do with her decision to leave him signposts to catch up to their little group, Silas interrupts. “Sometimes our mistakes follow us,” he says flatly. It’s an all-too-apt motto for this installment of the series, which seems determined to keep making the same mistakes it’s been committing from the start.

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Flashbacks are supposed to be a way in to a character’s deeper psyche, a means of investigating their past to better shine a light on their present. And for awhile, it seems like Silas’ story might do just that. We see his arrival at the university to work in sanitation alongside his uncle, the whispered rumors that he had done something terrible at his former residence, and his isolated life ever-so-briefly interrupted by Iris, who reaches out to him when everyone else keeps their distance. But these scenes don’t end up giving us anything more than we already knew about the character. The first line of the entire series was literally someone muttering about Silas’ supposedly dangerous past. We know he’s walled-off, and trying to escape his past. We know he didn’t fit in at the colony. The show cuts off the memories right before they have a chance to actually illuminate Silas, for no reason other than to drag out the big secret that’s haunting him. What a waste.

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I’ll say this in the show’s favor: It didn’t try to pull any of this nonsense with Hope. We learned in the pilot that she blames herself for the death of her mother, and we saw exactly what happened to her that fateful night. And by the end of this episode, she’s revealed that secret to Iris, their near-death experience prompting her to open up and confess the truth about how their mom died. It was soapy, and a bit stilted (and it’s very weird that Iris didn’t immediately chime in to assure her sister that someone else shooting their mother wasn’t her fault, other than to remind her they were just kids back then), but World Beyond didn’t obnoxiously play coy with her character beats the way it is with Silas. It’s not a good look to keep treading water when it comes to revealing key information about a character we still barely know anything about. Besides, there’s no way this show is brave enough to actually make Silas a stone-cold killer trying to turn over a new leaf; we can all agree whatever he did was definitely either self-defense or trying to protect someone else, right?

Illustration for article titled iWalking Dead: World Beyond/i fails to do right by its least-defined character
Photo: Macall Polay/AMC
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Really, Hope’s story was far and away the best part of this episode. Her solo mission to get the siren working and draw all the empties away from the group had some nicely tense moments, none more so than the classic horror-movie sequence where her flashlight dies and she accidentally stumbles, alerting an empty to her presence and sparking her frantic attempt to hide in the closet. And for once, the dicey odds of her safe return provided an excuse for the ponderous heart-to-hearts with Iris to feel earned, rather than shoehorned in. (For clumsy shoehorning, look no further than the flashback where Iris, unprompted, spills the entire status of her family’s pained separation to Silas, rather than finding it a little weird that the janitor is alone in her dad’s office and staring at a picture of her.) Yes, the use of slo-mo during their climactic fight against the conjoined empties was eye-rolling, but it had some dramatic weight behind it.

Since it’s a bit rude to harp on young actors still struggling to find their sea legs, let’s instead harp on the weirdly unconvincing performances of Nico Tortorella and Annet Mahendru. Three episodes in, these two veterans are still having difficulty locking in on a believable embodiment of Felix and Huck. To be fair, some of it is the limp dialogue they’ve both been once more saddled with (though Huck is blessedly spared some of the cringe-inducing “slang” of the past two installments), but it’s not all in the words. Tortorella keeps slipping in and out of this raspy growl he gives Felix, while Huck at times seems more like someone about to take a nap on a beach than a seasoned military veteran in a life-or-death situation. Mahendru’s efforts to give her a devil-may-care attitude keep losing anything that would even remotely suggest this person is a badass fighter. It’s a tough balance, and the actor hasn’t found it yet.

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Illustration for article titled iWalking Dead: World Beyond/i fails to do right by its least-defined character
Photo: Macall Polay/AMC

Still, the larger issue is that the show keeps creating reassuring spaces for these characters to feel completely safe, punctuated by tiny bursts of danger, rather than the other way around. The apocalyptic nature of this zombie-riddled wasteland shouldn’t seem like a place that is generally comfortingly insulated, and yet the show only puts them in danger when it’s of the characters’ own choosing. That’s not how tension gets generated. If last week’s tire-fire journey carried the aura of unpredictability, the plan to use the siren to find safe passage unfolds too straightforwardly, surprise empty attack on Hope notwithstanding.

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Afterwards, we get the six finding an uneasy truce, with Felix and Huck agreeing to chauffeur the kids safely to Omaha—for now. Silas got a hero moment, as well as a promising new bond with Iris to help him feel like part of the team. And we get more ironic foreshadowing of the coming reveal about Elton’s mother’s death; poor Hope isn’t through with her confessions just yet, it seems. And while the final scene with the Lt. Colonel taking out the soldier who dared to express actual remorse about the systematic extermination of a colony was interesting, it’s a drop in the bucket of who that character actually is. Was Julia Ormond trying to show the human side of the woman with those tears? Or does it just make her seem unstable in her pursuit of cold-blooded authoritarianism? For now, it’s an open question, though World Beyond isn’t doing much to reassure us it has the answers.

Stray observations

  • The choice of William Blake’s “The Tyger” is understandable, since they’re trying to hint at the duality of Silas—a gentle giant and (potentially) a brutal killer—but given how poorly the episode filled in his character, the voiceover narration of the poem doesn’t work very well.
  • Hope almost knocking herself unconscious by kicking away the conjoined empties during that end fight was one of those slap-the-forehead moments.
  • Also, Hope: You threw away your lighter to kill a few already-defeated empties, rather than simply set the tar on fire than close it back up. Do you have more lighters, Hope? I hope there’s a lighter store nearby!
  • If you’re wondering who Silas was listening to in those headphones during the flashback, it was the Canadian punk band Fucked Up.
  • Elton is unfamiliar with the term “hauling ass.”
  • Hope with the best cut-off line of the episode, when the siren’s handle breaks off the instant she grabs it:Son of a motherfu-
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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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