How The Walking Dead: World Beyond will be like Stand by Me
The latest scripted Walking Dead series is almost upon us with the debut of The Walking Dead: World Beyond on Oct. 4. But how will this latest spin-off differ from the original show as well as the first companion entry with Fear the Walking Dead? We went to World Beyond showrunner and co-creator Matt Negrete (who used to write on TWD) to find out how this new tale will differ from the others before it, and it turns out that instead of Night of the Living Dead, Negrete, co-creator Scott M. Gimple, and Co. may have actually taken more inspiration from Rob Reiner’s 1980s coming-of-age classic.
Read on to learn why the younger world of World Beyond may feel a bit like Stand By Me, how the producers dealt with the show’s AMC premiere being delayed six months due to COVID-19, the pros and cons of doing an only two-season series, and if the powers that be already know how the story will ultimately end.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, how tough was it being that close to your show debuting in April and then having to push it back? And look, I know there are bigger problems out there in the world, we all recognize that, but that doesn't mean that it also couldn't have been pretty frustrating.
MATT NEGRETE: We were in the final countdown, the final weeks before it was going to air. It was interesting because as things were starting to shut down and everyone was realizing that this pandemic was going to be a thing, it was feeling like I was living in The Walking Dead in a lot of ways — like at the beginning of the apocalypse where things were shutting down. And suddenly, I got food insecure. I was just like: Are other restaurants going to close down? All the grocery stores? Am I going to be able to get broccoli? And so that was happening. And then slowly but surely I was realizing, I wonder if we're going to air.
And it was just in the back of my head as everything else was happening. Yeah, I won't lie: It was really disappointing, just in a sense that for the last eight or nine months the crew had been up and running and just working their butts off, and the actors and the writers and everybody. There really was this feeling of excitement that finally the world was going to see the thing that we've been working on, that we were so proud of, and to be so close and have that pushed indefinitely at first — it was the first thing that we were told, and we were still trying to lock down the specifics of when that would be — but just to be able to be so close and have that pulled away, it was a little frustrating.
Like you said, there are definitely more serious concerns happening in the world, but at the same time, people like to escape, and it was a little bit of entertainment I think a lot of people were looking forward to. But the exciting thing is, we have an official air date and we're getting closer we really have no reason to think that the other rug will get pulled out again. So, we're excited.
I love how during the early days of COVID, I was worried about stocking up on beer and you were worried about stocking up on broccoli.
Yeah, I don't know why I pulled broccoli out. I don't know, funny word. It's good to say broccoli.
So what’s this show about? And I’m not asking for a point by point breakdown of the plot, but what are the themes, and what ultimately is the story you are trying to tell?
I think ultimately when you boil down what the whole series is about, it's essentially about growing up. The thing that really excited me about this new series is that it offers a different perspective of the apocalypse. We have the opportunity to follow a younger group of characters, because obviously on Walking Dead, we had had Carl and teenagers like Beth, and we have Judith, Little Ass Kicker coming up.
The thing that was exciting to me with the idea of having this group of characters that were younger, and they're essentially the first generation to grow up in the apocalypse. And so to be able to see the world through their eyes was really, to me, something that would really make the show stand out and to tell a coming of age story in the middle of the apocalypse.
It just seemed like it couldn't go wrong. I was a huge fan of Stand By Me growing up, where you go on this adventure, and you'll learn more about yourself and the world. When I first got the offer to do that, I just jumped at it because it just seemed so up my alley in so many ways. I think fans of the universe have seen the apocalypse, they know the rules of walkers — on our show, they're called empties.
But to be able to see it through this fresh set of eyes, it's not like starting over. It's not like they don't know how the dead work or how to kill. They do know how to kill them. And they've had these safety trainings back at the university where they're from. They have the intellectual knowledge in terms of what they're supposed to do and how they're supposed to survive in the world, but they've never done it before. So it’s an opportunity for everything to be brand new. And that's what's so exciting to me about the show.
You all announced that this is going to be a two-season series. Tell me how that impacts your storytelling, because on a normal show, you would start off not knowing how many seasons you were going to have to tell your story. However, you know your end date. How does that impact the story that you're telling, and why are you guys only doing two seasons?
Yeah. It's just a different format for us. The thing about World Beyond, it was always about how can we make this feel different? How can we support expectations in a lot of ways? And one of those is not having it necessarily be open-ended. I'm kind of two minds about it, because right now we're breaking episode 7 of season 2 with the writers, and we've all fallen in love with these characters. So I think for all of us, we feel like we could write these characters forever. But, at the same time, it's nice to be able to approach a series from beginning to end kind of knowing what our ending is going to be and working towards that ending.
It's not like, “Oh, we'll see what happens in season 6,” or whatever. We're going to go two seasons. It's going to be 20 episodes total. It's challenging, because there's a lot we need to fit in those 20 episodes. But, at the same time, it's great to approach it knowing what you're working towards. So we're really looking at these two seasons as two very different feeling chapters of hopefully a very satisfying book. We're closing in right now with the writers on the last few episodes. So we're getting down to the wire. It's exciting. I hope people dig it.
How early on did you figure out the ending? Obviously, you're not going to tell us what the ending to the entire series is, but at what point did you land on how the story was going to end?
It’s interesting because I developed the show, I created the show with Scott Gimple, and one of the things that's important to him and to me as well is rooting it in character. And the thing about following this group of characters that are growing up, the thing we landed on first was who are these characters? But secondly, where do we want them to end up? And so plot-wise, it took us a little bit more time to see what would feel satisfying with the plot. But in terms of the characters, we had a pretty good idea of by rooting story and character. We had a pretty good idea of where we wanted these characters to end up emotionally.
So tracking that emotional journey was fairly easy. It's just the plot that made it into place a little bit later and we're still working out a few of the details, but we have a pretty good idea of where we're going to land. It's all going to end in a big climactic way, I can't really say anything, but it's going to be big.
For more Walking Dead franchise scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.