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It’s the end of the world as they know it, and the kids are alright.
Okay, an odd mash-up; not that the kids at the heart of The Walking Dead: World Beyond would know any better. Indeed, don’t call them kids: they are the Endlings, the last generation still standing in the face of the zombie apocalypse. The new AMC series takes place a decade or so into the new world order and focuses on a more organized and civilized corner than ever seen in either the flagship Walking Dead or spinoff Fear the Walking Dead — which makes it all the more notable when a group of four teenagers abandon the safe-zone in favor of a cross-country trip to New York, where sisters Iris (Aliyah Royale) and Hope (Alexa Mansour) … well, hope to find their father.
Initially planned for release this past spring, the launch of The Walking Dead: World Beyond was pushed due to the global pandemic. Now, the first hour is upon the world, with the quest toward the east coast officially underway. It’s not a quest that will last for long, of course, seeing as The Walking Dead: World Beyond already has an endpoint: two seasons, and no further.
Whether characters from this corner of the Walking Dead universe carry forward into future spinoffs, such as the anthology Tales of the Walking Dead, remains to be seen. For now, the first and final voyage of the Endlings has begun. Ahead, showrunner Matt Negrete opens up with The Hollywood Reporter about how their story came to life in the first place, and what lies beyond in the World Beyond.
How are you feeling all these months after World Beyond was supposed to first arrive? Is it surreal to finally be at this moment?
Yeah. It’s surreal because we were gearing up to premiere the show in April. And then this pandemic hit and it pushed everything through the summer into the fall. And so there was that buildup of excitement, and then all of a sudden the world started falling apart in reality, not just on our show. I’m excited now that we’re [on the air]. It’s super exciting. And I’m excited to share this with the world. It was just this great cast and crew of a few hundred people, and they worked their asses off for months at a time. And just for them, it’s like I’m looking forward to everyone seeing all their hard work show up on the screen.
What were your initial conversations like with Scott Gimple as you were developing this series?
Scott had actually pitched a vague version of what this show could be to AMC, and there was interest. And with the time, it was really just about him saying the hook of this show, the thing that makes this show different than Fear and Walking Dead, which is that it’s focusing on the first generation to grow up in the zombie apocalypse. And that’s pretty much the version that Scott had pitched me.
As a kid of the ’80s, I loved movies like Stand By Me that were coming-of-age stories. And as we were talking about what this show could be, we also landed on a version of at least season one, being it based on a quest. It’s a journey. And again, that does harken back to the structure of Stand By Me, which is about this group of kids who obviously leave on this adventure and, through this adventure, they learn about themselves and the world and they come back a little bit more grown up than they were when they started. And so just thinking about that hook and exploring things through that angle is what led to the show that we have.
This takes place in the same universe as The Walking Dead, but because they have no contact with the Alexandrians, they use different language to describe their circumstances: “empties,” not “walkers,” for example. Is it challenging trying to forge something new in a franchise that’s more than a decade old now?
It’s freeing, I think, in the sense of we are dealing with a brand new set of characters. And I think as long as, for me, I approach story and the writers approach the stories for the show through that lens of our characters being teenagers, being young adults, I think that is what frees us up to tell these stories in a different way, because the rules of the walkers, or empties as we call them on the show, those are pretty set in stone, as we’re 10 years in now and they’re a little more decayed and some of their behavior may be slightly adjusted based on that. But the rules of the world are the rules.
I think that one of the things for me that was interesting is my fear would be that the audience would be frustrated if here’s this group of people that don’t know anything about how zombies work and it’s just like, “Oh, you got to stab the brain? What’s that about?” But the premise of this, I think, was more interesting to me in that these characters, they’ve grown up behind walls in this place of safety while the apocalypse is happening all around them. They’ve been sheltered from danger.
But at the same time, this place is a university. It’s a place of learning. And so they’ve taken a ton of safety courses. And these professors that reside there have been studying their migration patterns and how these empties move and roam around the country. And so there’s this intellectual knowledge that these characters have about how to defeat walkers. They know all the rules in terms of how they work, but they just don’t have that practical experience. So for me, they’re not starting from scratch in terms of knowledge of how the world works and how the undead operate and how to kill them. It’s just that they’ve never done it before. So they’re not Daryl (Norman Reedus), they’re not Michonne (Danai Gurira), but the idea is that someday they will be potentially. There’s a lot of fun to be had, I think, before they get there.
They will get there relatively soon, as World Beyond will only last two seasons. How much are you writing with a specific ending in mind?
When Scott and I sat down to really think about who our core cast of characters was going to be, it was approached from a character standpoint as opposed to a plot standpoint. We knew that season one was going to be a quest-based story and then season two would be something else. And that something else will feel much different than season one.
At its core, [World Beyond] is about growing up and about characters changing and about figuring out who they are and who they want to be in this world. And so we figured out a starting point. Then from there, we were just asking ourselves, “Well, where do we want to see this character end? Who are they when we see them in their very last moment at the end of the series or beforehand, depending?” So we answered the before, and then the answered the after. Then it became about how do we fill in the blanks in between.
On Walking Dead, just working on the specific seasons of that show, we would approach each character, their arc for the season, like they start here and maybe they end up here, and then we’ll think about where they can go from there in the following season. But here, it really was refreshing to know that we could pick an end point and work towards that. And every episode is in service of that end point.
Obviously, things change along the way and you find things and it’s like, “Oh, maybe it’s this instead of this.” But for the most part, things have been holding. And right now, we’ve pretty much broken seven out of the final 10 episodes. We’re working towards that episode 10 of season two, and we’ve got a really good idea of where the story lands and where the characters land. And it’s going to be pretty big, so I can’t wait for people to see it and for us to be able to shoot it.
With this show coming out in this moment and it featuring such a young cast and being a version of The Walking Dead that I think is especially designed towards a younger adult audience, what do you hope people get out of World Beyond right now?
It was always designed to be about young people. But the thing that inspired me originally was just seeing what our world was even before the pandemic and everything else happening this year. We were seeing young people rise up, whether it be things in the government that people aren’t happy with or teenagers not feeling safe in schools, for example. And we live in a world where the internet, I think, has given voice to a younger generation, and it’s basically their megaphone. And they have this voice and they want to be heard.
I do feel like there’s this feeling of, rather than just sit back and let the world happen to you, we all have that power to do something, to change the world, to affect it in some ways for what we think is the better. In a lot of ways, that’s what our characters are doing. They’ve made this choice to live through themselves, but also the world and find satisfaction in taking control and taking things into their own hands. And I do think that resonates in so many ways with what’s happening now.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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