The first two episodes of AMC’s newest The Walking Dead spin-off, World Beyond, are giving fans enough time with the next generation of survivors to grasp what’s in store for the two-season series’ team of ragtag kids.
Sisters Iris and Hope Bennett (Aliyah Royale and Alexa Mansour) leave their safe community at the Campus Colony alongside secretive Silas (Hal Cumpston) and dweebie Elton (Nicolas Cantu) as they make their way into CRM territory: New York, where the Bennetts’ dad needs their help. What’s it like leading a series as a sister act? SYFY WIRE sat down with Royale and Mansour to talk about The Walking Dead, ghosts, and seeing a walker (called an “empty” in World Beyond parlance) for the first time.
The series definitely leans into its “younger perspective,” as Royale calls it, led by the two actresses’ relationship, which developed well before the series began filming.
“The second I met Aliyah, we hit it off right off the bat. The same thing happened with everyone else,” Mansour tells SYFY WIRE. “We all did an improv together. The first director, of the pilot, hired an acting instructor. We did improv together to kind of get to know everybody and that helped a lot because it was a nice way to break the ice. But right off the bat, we all started hanging out. We’d bowl on the weekends — stuff to get to know each other outside of work. I think that’s what helped us have such a good connection on screen.”
“Alexa’s my best friend,” Royale says. “We’re leading the show together. We have to trust each other, depend on each other, work off of each other more than the other characters on the show, so making that bond was the most important part of everything.”
That bond was also helped in the pair’s off time, as the Bennett sisters ended up living together through production — and it’s all thanks to a ghost. Kinda. “I want to talk about the ghost, but it’s something that freaks me out,” Royale says. Mansour digs a little more.
“They gave us a fee to find a place to live. I know on some of the other [TWD] shows, they all live in the same complex, but we didn’t do that. We had to find our own place,” she recalls. “Aliyah and I were in the same hotel for the first two weeks and we thought, ‘Well, we’re getting along and we’re hanging out every single night, so we might as well each get an apartment in the same building.’ I don’t think they had any two-bedrooms at the time, so we were looking for two one-bedrooms. My apartment was right above hers and she thought her apartment was haunted. She had a weird experience.
“I totally believe in all that stuff and I’ve had my own experiences, so I was like ‘Yeah of course you can stay with me,'" she continues. "What was supposed to be a couple nights of getting over it turned into months of her sleeping on my couch.”
That relationship was an extra boost to two strong characters leading the expedition. But the duo was also looking to bring their own extra factors to Iris and Hope. “It’s easy to write a young character that’s anxious, unsure, all over the place, a little radical. It’s easy to say we’re rebellious instead of curious; it’s easy to say we’re defiant instead of that we’re asking simple questions,” Royale says. “I wanted to make sure that, although I was playing a young character, Iris was still a decisive person. She may not know how to get what she wants, but she knows what she wants. And that’s important... Playing a young woman, that’s important.”
Mansour’s already seen Hope go through a bit of an evolution. “In the sides, before I got the script,” Mansour remembers, “she’s walking in and stealing garden gnomes off of people’s lawns. She’s taking people’s decorations, not giving a crap. And a cop pulls her over like, ‘You can’t keep doing this, you’re ruining your life.’
“The way that she looked at it was that, ‘OK I don’t need to listen to you. If this is going to make me happy in the moment, then I’m gonna do it and no one’s getting hurt,’” the actress says. “And I thought that was so true. I mean, I’m not gonna go steal garden gnomes from anybody, but it’s true that sometimes we don’t do things because we think that it might not make others happy.”
While the pair had similar agency-focused takeaways from their characters, their response to other elements of shooting a Walking Dead show couldn’t be more different. Elements like, for example, seeing a fully made-up walker up close and personal for the first time.
“We were on location and I hadn’t seen a walker yet. It was the second episode, or maybe the first—they rewrote a lot of the first one so it’s all kind of a blur — but I was in my trailer,” Mansour says. “I didn’t start shooting until later in the day, so I was just hanging around set. One of the PAs comes up to me and is like, ‘Do you want to go see a walker?’ In my head I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is it. This is the moment.’”
“So I was like, ‘Yeah, OK,’ while in my head being like, 'Don’t freak out, don’t freak out. This is what you’ve always wanted, don’t freak out,'" she continues. "And the first thing I see is walkers in [craft services] eating granola bars. And my nerves went from 150 percent to 0.2 percent. They’re just normal people. You know when you see a celebrity and you think they’re gods and goddesses and you idolize certain people for whatever reason? In my head walkers weren’t people. They’re just not real, they’re not humans. As soon as I saw them I thought, 'I’m an idiot. His name is probably Steve or something.’”
Her on-screen sister’s first walker experience was less reassuring and perhaps more fitting with horror fans’ expectations from the show itself. “It was actually pitch black outside,” Royale recalls. “It was during a night shoot. It was definitely one of the first few days on set and I’d heard that there’d be some here at some point, but I thought they’d be in the special effects trailer or maybe just come on a totally different day when I wasn’t there at all, hopefully.
“But I remember opening this door to the catering hall to get some food and they came out single-file. They didn’t even know I was there — 20, 30 of them came out and started going to set and I hid behind the door,” she continues. “I shed my one or two tears, walked to set, and then we made a [show]. But it was terrifying. They’re so scary. Other people aren’t fazed by it, but our special effects team is so incredible: the gore, the dripping flesh, the mouthpieces. It rocks my world.”
The Walking Dead: The World Beyond’s third episode, "The Tyger and the Lamb," airs on Oct. 18.