“It's got all the elements fans of ‘The Walking Dead’ crave, but our goal was to make it feel different and fresh,” says Matthew Negrete, co-creator of “The Walking Dead: World Beyond,” which premiered Oct. 4 on AMC. “I wanted the show to stand on its own, so character-wise, they are brand-new characters, but there is some overlap in mythology.”
Putting a fresh spin on a beloved series—which itself has had 10 seasons to date and has spawned another spinoff, now in its sixth season—required Negrete to explore never-before-seen aspects of the “Walking Dead” universe. Having written on and produced its predecessor, he also knew “World Beyond” had to pay homage to what came before while still standing alone as its own entity.
“The presumption is that the zombie apocalypse happened to not just one part of the country, but to the entire country, so what else is happening in the world that we haven't seen?,” Negrete says. “With every character, they have their own distinct experience in terms of who they were before the apocalypse, how the apocalypse affected them, and what they have done since then to remain alive. There are so many fascinating stories that we have the opportunity to tell, and that's what I relish. The number of stories is infinite.”
Because “World Beyond”—which received a two-season order at AMC—digs deeper than its source material, “I think of it less as a spinoff and more as a companion show to ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘Fear the Walking Dead,’ ” Negrete says.
To help establish the show’s identity, he brought in an entirely new cast rather than repeating characters from either of the existing series, focusing instead on teenagers navigating post-apocalyptic life. “I love the idea of finding fresh faces,” says the showrunner, “people I haven’t seen before.”
Newcomers shouldn’t feel intimidated when auditioning, even when it’s for a revered franchise with 16 Emmy nominations to its name. Instead, those actors should just be themselves, because, as Negrete insists, one’s idiosyncrasies could be exactly what a showrunner didn’t know they were looking for.
“For us, it was looking at these actors and knowing they didn't have the experience and working with that,” Negrete says of the “World Beyond” audition process. “They each brought something specific to their characters. For example, Aliyah [Royale] brought attitude to the character of Iris, and that’s something we didn't necessarily plan on, but she had this spirit to her that then [caused us to] refine who Iris was because of who Aliyah was as an actor and as a person.”
Accordingly, Negrete tries to stay as open as possible to rewriting if opportunities to create a deeper character profile present themselves. “We had written a good chunk of the episodes before we cast the show, and since the actors we found each brought something so unique to the character, it allowed us to go back and adapt some of the mannerisms and dialogue to reflect what the actors were bringing to their roles,” he explains.
Negrete himself didn’t come to “The Walking Dead” stacked with sci-fi or horror experience, having gotten his start writing for animated children’s series like Disney’s “Kim Possible,” “Pepper Ann,” and “Fillmore!” Let him serve as proof: You don’t need to be terrified of working in a new genre.
“I was writing things that were 11 or 22 minutes [long] that were centered around kid-related issues, and I really wanted to branch out,” he recalls. “So I wrote on a crime procedural for a while, and then went to ‘The Walking Dead.’ I like trying new things and I like experimenting in different genres.
“In hindsight, those jobs helped pave the way for me running this show, because I was dealing with a younger group of characters,” he adds of the YA-friendly “World Beyond.” “For me, it's challenging myself with every job I'm fortunate to get.”
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