World Beyond, a spin-off series that takes forward the cult world of The Walking Dead, is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Essentially focusing on Gen Next, The Walking Dead: World Beyond stars a slew of young faces, chief among them being Alexa Mansour who plays Hope and Nicolas Cantu who slips into the shoes of Elton.
Over a post-midnight video call, The Telegraph got chatting with Alexa and Nicolas on how World Beyond carries forward the world of the main show and what accounts for the enduring appeal of what is “not just another zombie show”.
How will World Beyond be different from what we have seen in The Walking Dead universe so far?
Alexa Mansour: What’s different is that we are a younger cast and we bring in a different perspective. On the main show, the characters were all older when the apocalypse happened, while we have grown up with it. We also don’t think of the consequences of our actions... we are very spur-of-the-moment people. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t (smiles). But I feel there is a lot of hope on the show.
Nicolas Cantu: The sets on this show have been designed in a way where we see that nature is reclaiming the world. We see a lot more green within the urban environment. This world really has been beaten and battered, and we see it in the set design... but we also see hope and resurgence. The Empties (zombies) here are much more grotesque and intense. They are a much bigger threat and a major part of our show. I would say that our show adds a more amplified look at the world of The Walking Dead.
How big a fan were you of The Walking Dead before you signed up for World Beyond?
Alexa: I love zombie movies and AMC used to have this thing every Friday called Freaky Fridays and as a kid I would watch it with my dad. When The Walking Dead came out, I was about 11 or 12 and I was really into it for the first couple of seasons. But then I started getting way too scared for my own good, so I stopped watching it. But I’ve always loved it.
Nicolas: I was a huge fan going into this world. I watched the first two seasons with my dad over just one weekend. I also kept up with the video games... the Telltale series and the adventures of Clementine and Lee. I have also been consuming all kinds of zombie media since I was little... video games, shows and movies... it’s always been a big part of my life. Now joining that kind of world is exciting... this show is very fresh and very new.
Did knowing the original universe help to create your own characters?
Nicolas: It definitely did for me. I really related to Carl (Grimes) from the main show because he was probably one of the only kids there. I saw myself in Carl and to pull something of my character Elton from that was very interesting. I’ve also been influenced by Eugene (Porter) on the main show, especially in his thoughtful and analytical way of solving problems and that helped me build Elton as well.
Alexa: I was always drawn towards Daryl Dixon’s character because he seemed kind of messed up inside and something dark was going on in there. I liked that brooding thing about him. My character Hope is a lot like him, a rebel like Daryl... they both don’t go by the rules.
Given how cult The Walking Dead is, has there been any pressure going into the spin-off?
Alexa: Yes, there is a lot of pressure given that the franchise has such a huge fanbase. When the announcement about me being cast was made, I was a little sceptical, but the fan comments were all like, ‘Welcome to the family, we can’t wait to see you in this world’. I think both Nick and I got lucky in managing to get the love of the fans.
Nicolas: Joining such a gargantuan TV show... I don’t think there is any way to prepare for it. It was kind of daunting but I realised that it would be okay at Comic Con last year when we had our panel right after the main Walking Dead show and it was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had... just walking on to stage and seeing all these people who have loved this TV show for years and decades just welcoming something new into the universe. I think it’s a great fandom.
As both fans and now an integral part of the universe, what do you think accounts for the enduring appeal of The Walking Dead?
Nicolas: With the main show, it’s always been about this sense of family. It follows the main characters and how they came together and fell apart and we got to see this unique family dynamic. As a whole, The Walking Dead is about its characters. People come back for Daryl, they all want to know where Rick (Grimes) is because they fell in love with the guy.... With our show, it’s also about its characters, as it is about answering old questions and posing new ones. I think it’s lasted so long — from comics to everything else, even virtual reality games — because it’s a recognisable universe with a lot more stories to tell.
Alexa: I think The Walking Dead has lasted so long because it’s not just another zombie show. It’s not just about blood and guts and killing as many zombies as you can. The characters have so much depth to them and they are real people... these aren’t cheesy, phoney characters. Their stories are so relatable. When Ricks’s wife was pregnant in the first season and the struggles she went through then... women go through that all the time. Our show will validate everything that teenagers and young people often go through, and it will tell them that eventually everything will be fine.
Normally, when we see teens in distress it’s almost always in slasher movies. In World Beyond, you are caught in a heavy, dystopian situation. Were there any conversations on pulling back the horror, physical and metaphorical, at any time?
Alexa: On this show, right from the get-go, there isn’t much blood and guts. It does get pretty freaking intense after a bit and quite scary. It’s pretty cool that it builds up slowly and doesn’t really plunge into the horror outright. It goes up to a point where you reach the edge of your seat just waiting for it. The great thing with Matt (Negrete, the showrunner of World Beyond) is that he kind of let us do what we wanted to do with the characters. The reason why we meshed so well is that there is a lot of our true selves in these characters.
Nicolas: I think our show thrives on that element of ramp-up because we are essentially coming from a place of safety. As for toning down the violence for the kids, the thing is that it’s still the same world. We are not getting shorter Walkers to deal with... we are dealing with what everyone else is dealing with. We go through the same drama and some of the very tough moments that the adults on the main show have. It just shows that sometimes there is just no way to surgarcoat the world. The world is not going to change for you... you have to change to survive.