By Nick Romano
November 08, 2020 at 10:59 PM EST
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The Walking Dead: World Beyond

S1 E6
type
  • TV Show
genre

"Shadow Puppets," the sixth episode of The Walking Dead: World Beyond, does a great job in highlighting the show's main problem areas. The main one is obvious: for those who've been indoctrinated in the storylines for The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead, we've heard this song one too many times already.

Rise actor Ted Sutherland appeared briefly at the end of last week's episode and gets a formal introduction this week. His character, Percy, is the first human the group has come across since embarking on their cross-country rescue mission, and — surprise, surprise — he's not what he seems. After the initial hostility, Iris welcomes him to join their campfire and Percy presents himself as someone who was traveling with two guys, Mike and Tony, that he thought were nice enough people before getting robbed of his supplies. He razzle-dazzles the kids with stories of traveling America and the things he's seen, which inadvertently exposes his first lie. Hope notices some things in his tales that don't make sense and susses out that the thing he really lost is a truck with a trunkload of fuel. He plans to go back to the spot where Mike and Tony are camping out to retrieve it, and Iris proposes they help him in exchange for a ride. But this already sets a precedent and he could very well be lying about other things, which duh.

So, the next day, they leave a spray-painted message for Huck on the boat, telling her they'll be back soon, and they embark. Silas, more so out of jealousy of Iris' apparent fascination with Percy, doesn't trust this newcomer, but he's a lone, passive voice in a largely trusting group. Their path is sprinkled with clues that show Percy isn't how he presents himself. Iris describes the university as a bubble that's kept them naive to the rest of the world, and Percy warns that they could very well get themselves killed with that lack of experience.

When they finally get to the spot, there are too many cooks in the planning kitchen. Felix wants to get eyes on Mike and Tony before doing anything, Percy wants a smash-and-grab approach, and Silas urges caution. They eventually side with Percy, who's ready to hot-wire the truck. But a plate has been bolted over the ignition wires. Even more alarming is that Tony is lying dead in the driver's seat, seemingly shot in the head by Mike. (Another clue that something is amiss here is the fact that 30 Rock star Scott Adsit plays Tony, and you don't introduce an actor like that when he's dead immediately.)

Percy grabs a knife off of Tony and heads off to find Mike and get the keys back. Iris is determined to go help him, frustrated by the fact that people need to keep saving her — which, obviously they do for someone who has little to no real-world fighting experience. The group decides Felix will head into the building to help Percy, Hope and Elton will stand watch outside the building, and Iris and Silas will stay with the truck to guard their bags. Iris, of course, can't stick with the plan and, with Silas' suggestion, goes off to find a back way into the building. She finds Percy, who split off from Felix to survey the scene, and the pair head upstairs. They find a still-lit cigarette resting in an ashtray and hear sounds of splashing in a bathtub nearby. Percy quietly fishes out the keys from Mike's jacket, and the two are ready to make their getaway when Percy spots his stolen supplies. He gives the keys to Iris and tells her to go meet up with the others while he grabs them. Iris makes it halfway down the stairs when she hears Percy pleading for his life, followed by the sound of a gunshot. Gripped with fear, she finds her courage and goes back upstairs to check on Percy.

As was foreshadowed, the whole thing is a scam. There is no Mike. There's an empty chained to the bathtub splashing around and the supplies Percy went back to get are just backpacks filled with paper stuffing. Tony, meanwhile, is not actually dead. With Silas distracted by the gunshot and looking for signs of his friends, Tony grabs all of their bags and makes off in the truck. Iris sees Percy fleeing as well. She tries to go after him but ends up falling into a dumpster, where she struggles to fend off two empties. Felix and the others try to help her but more dead are approaching. That's when, to Iris' surprise, Percy and Tony come back to help them and they all drive off.

They are forced to camp when the truck becomes bogged down by the debris from driving through a herd of empties. Tony is Percy's uncle, who looked after him when the kid's mom ran out. Tony is also a former professional Las Vegas illusionist with lots of sleight of hand tricks and prosthetics they use to con people on their travels. It's their way, Percy says, of getting what they need without hurting anyone.

Iris feels personally hurt by Percy's actions and, later when they're talking it out, felt she had good instincts when it came to people. And this is where we're veering uncomfortably close to similar plot lines from the other two Walking Dead shows. We've already covered the territory that the living are just as dangerous as the dead in this world, and humans aren't always what they seem. We've also already covered the moral dilemma of trying to remain a good person and the blow to the ego that comes when you try to do something good and get conned or betrayed. Morgan on Fear the Walking Dead owns that beat. It's been done to death. World Beyond's attempt to highlight both through a character dealing with it for the first time feels repetitive, especially for a show that's trying to show and tell something fresh about this cinematic universe.

When the predictable twist of Percy's betrayal is revealed, only to have them reconcile shortly after — like, moments after — it further highlights the inherent dullness of this story. Nothing bad really happens to these kids. Yes, they are all dealing with various forms of trauma. But in terms of the episode arcs, it's all the same. They reach the next stage of their journey, they talk about their trauma more, they get through the obstacle at hand, and they make it to the next stage of their journey.

At the end of "Shadow Puppets," the name taken from the shadow-puppet show Percy and Tony put on for the group, they are given their next direction. Tony notices the Civic Republic symbol on Felix's jacket and reveals their truck was stolen from the CR. There's a fueling depot nearby and Tony's developed a routine of getting in and out without too much fuss. He asks Felix to help in order to secure a ride to New York, and maybe to use his status as CR security to help them out of a jam should the situation arise. Let's just guess now... the situation will arise.

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The Walking Dead: World Beyond

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