Warning: Full spoilers for the episode follow…
With its second episode, The Walking Dead: World Beyond ticked up, delivering an initial leg of the teens’ journey that was far more interesting than the premiere’s heavy focus on the safe, walled-up world they were leaving behind. A world that would be wiped out by the end of said premiere.
Also, instead of focusing almost solely on the Bennett sisters, as the first episode did, “The Blaze of Gory” helped establish Elton and Silas more as characters and better defined their reasons for wanting to be on this arduous, near-impossible trek in the first place. The first episode touched on the boys’ motivations a tiny bit, but this chapter really helped shape those two a lot more while also creating a very believable, and likable, quartet.
Now that these teens are out in the “real” world of The Walking Dead universe, amongst the destruction, ruin, and walkers (called “empties” here), their saga feels more tethered to the other two shows in ways that just having the CRM around couldn’t produce. These are the badlands. This is the terrain we’ve watched our other heroes traverse for years now. And so “The Blaze of Gory” threw these kids out into the thick of it. Sure, this could have easily made the series become a bit more generic, but, crazily, it helped the show find a bit of uniqueness. It wasn’t going to let these four off the hook. They weren’t going to just be “moderately okay” at killing empties. They were going to straight-up suck. They were going to be clumsy. They were going to hesitate. They were going to be so bad at it that their best recourse, at this point in the show, is to run away. Just like Felix taught them.
You’d think that’d be boring, but there’s nothing really boring about characters thinking themselves out of situations they can’t handle. If they’re mostly retreating after the sixth episode, then we’ll talk.
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Hope and Iris continued grow as individuals, with Hope being the one leaving breadcrumbs for Felix to find (and ultimately being the most vulnerable and fearful of all the teens) and Iris quickly realizing that she might have gotten everyone too far in over their heads with her headstrong approach to the mission. Hope and Elton’s conversation about their generation being special because they not only represent the end of a species line (an “Endling”) but because they know they’re the last was great. Elton, as someone who grew up with no family (thanks to Hope), finds solace in this while the very idea fills Hope with dread. These two make a good duo, not just as friends but as opposite sides of a coin. He wants to absorb all the sights, smells, and information he can while she wants to ostrich and shirk.
Of course, Elton isn’t haunted with every step he takes out into the hellscape either. Hope is still living with the secret of murdering the pregnant woman as a child (which at some point will get back to Elton) so the first part of this adventure is mental agony for her. Both she and Felix have to sort through some painful recollections while making their way through Omaha. For Felix, though, it was the him remembering how monstrous his parents were when he came out, and then making the choice, while traveling with Huck, to go back to his home and drop them as zombies.
Of the teens, Silas is obviously different egg to crack. But in this episode, even as the quiet one, you felt why he wanted to be there. We don’t know his past, we only know that he’s lonely and that he actively does not want to go back to what was a supposedly a choice, comfy environment. As the largest of the four, he’s also not automatically the brute. While Iris hacked away at an empty (eventually vomiting on the ghoul and then giving up, which was pretty funny) Silas won’t even take a swing at one (with his big-ass wrench).
The idea of a permanent-structure/phenomenon like the Blaze of Gory itself — aka the B.O.G. — made this midwestern area of the zompocalypse feel sinisterly special. The idea that there’s this massive eternal flame, just lighting up the area, cloaking the sky in smoke, attracting empties, is a fun first obstacle for these four to face. It takes a lot of guts to run into a zone swarming with undead, with low-to-zilch visibility, knowing that your strategy is to bob and weave and avoid them. Notably, as viewers, we have to buy these kids wanting to do that. Fortunately the episode worked well enough to make it believable, and a lot of that had to do with the four bonding over silly things, like a bowling ball named “Big Moe” and a board game that’s totally unrelatable in this new world, Monopoly. Once you know they have each others’ backs, you can buy into a ton of dangerous decisions.