The Walking Dead: World Beyond’s most interesting character gets the spotlight he deserves

Nicolas Cantu as Elton - The Walking Dead: World Beyond _ Season 1, Episode 5 - Photo Credit: Macall Polay/AMC
Nicolas Cantu as Elton - The Walking Dead: World Beyond _ Season 1, Episode 5 - Photo Credit: Macall Polay/AMC /

The Walking Dead: World Beyond delivers its most poignant episode yet as its most underrated character finally stands out.

Since its TV debut, The Walking Dead: World Beyond has wasted little time making it clear that it would be recycling the flashback format that its parent show relied so heavily upon. It was somewhat unexpected because these characters are so new to us, it felt strange to get to know them so intimately in the past before we really had the chance to know them in the present. And it’s because of that that these flashbacks had varying degrees of success.

After ironing out some of the kinks in its presentation of its protagonists, World Beyond‘s fifth episode shone the spotlight on the one character deprived of this kind of attention thus far, allowing us an insight into what’s driving him further into the apocalypse. This not only capitalized on one of the show’s most intriguing dynamics, it gifted us with its most striking episode yet.

Elton’s story

Five episodes in and we still knew very little about Elton Ortiz. The quirky, knowledgeable young man has been there since the beginning of the show but other than the identity of his mother, his life and motivations remained a mystery. It made him an intriguing presence; one that we longed to know more about and this ensured that we grew increasingly frustrated when the writers prioritised other characters in a consecutive string of episodes while continually overlooking him.

“Madman Across the Water” changes that. It’s very much Elton’s story, building upon some of what was teased last week by focusing on the cause of his claustrophobia and, by extension, the reasoning behind his sudden decision to turn back. Of course, the flashbacks come into play – but for the first time, they don’t feel like a plot device. They’re necessary to the story because it’s not about what’s being said in them, but what’s not said.

Through them, we’re reintroduced to Elton’s mother, we meet his father and we ultimately learn why he’s concerned about losing his new friends. There are no on-the-nose conversations here, just real and emotional storytelling without much dialogue – storytelling that says so much without saying anything at all.

We also learn what it is he’s fighting for: The chance that he might see his mother again should she still be out there and, by extension, meet his younger sister for the first time. It’s an admirable motivation but a heartbreaking one because of what we already know as viewers.

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The writers really came through with this one, finding a way to connect us to Elton and creating a scenario that forced him to overcome his demons – and then pulling the rug out from under us by giving him the hope we know can’t lead to anything but heartbreak. And it’s almost fitting that the reason for that is Hope herself.

The flashbacks worked here because we’re familiar with Elton at this point. He’s been around long enough for us to enjoy his presence but he’s also been so underappreciated that we felt like we needed to know him better. They didn’t come too soon, nor did they overshadow the present; they enhanced the character and ultimately ensured that his backstory was worth the wait.

A midseason shift

Hope and Elton’s dynamic isn’t the only one that threatened to change in “Madman Across the Water” as the sudden departure of one character and the arrival of another suggests that the show is in for some major alterations as it heads into the second half of the season.

It’s hard to know how this will impact the show as it was just beginning to find its footing with its current line-up, so changing it up so soon could result in a number of Walking Dead issues that World Beyond really doesn’t need right now.

For example, Huck’s decision to leave and check out her sources will undoubtedly pave the way for a standalone episode focused solely on her and while she is the last of the main troupe of characters in need of some attention, a standalone may not be the best course of action considering the show is still figuring out what works for it (and what doesn’t). But, forgetting about what could happen, it also felt a little contrived and rushed considering she made the decision and just casually left all in a matter of seconds.

No doubt it will add a little spice to the group dynamic because they’re down one protector for now, but perhaps not as much as the arrival of the mysterious stranger in the episode’s closing moments will (played by Rise and Doom Patrol‘s Ted Sutherland).

We’re halfway through the season now and the decision to change the format so soon is a brave one that certainly poses some risk for the storytelling structure, but above all, it does promise to shake things up with the finale on the horizon, keeping us all on the edges of our seats just as we had finally gotten comfortable.

Beyond World Beyond

  • Nicolas Cantu brought the goods in a huge way, carrying the episode with a powerhouse performance that made Elton feel that much more real as a character. Without question the best performance we’ve seen on the show thus far.
  • Roger Dale Floyd (who also appeared as young Cameron Mahkent in DC’s Stargirl) was equally as impressive and somebody please give young Elton a hug because that poor kid went through so much in so little time – all conveyed masterfully by the young performer.
  • I can’t help but feel like each episode of World Beyond has at least one or two scenes that really let it down in the dialogue department. This time it was the moment between Iris and Felix – the poignance of which was undercut by some really on-the-nose exchanges.
  • I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure Silas only said two words in this entire episode.
  • The Hope and Elton dynamic was already among the show’s most intriguing. Now that Hope knows she killed Elton’s mother, it should continue to intrigue going forward.
  • Halfway through and The Walking Dead: World Beyond has finally found itself. It’s still overcoming a number of issues but the character dynamics and apocalyptic setting is continuing to drag it out of the grave that the pilot episode nearly dug for it. And it continues to improve on a weekly basis as it heads towards its season finale.

B+. Thanks to some well-executed storytelling and a star-making performance from Nicolas Cantu, The<em> Walking Dead: World Beyond</em> delivers its most poignant episode yet.. The Walking Dead: World Beyond. S1E5. Madman Across the Water

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What did you think of The Walking Dead: World Beyond season 1, episode 5? Are you enjoying the TWD spin-off? Let us know in the comments below!