“Madman Across the Water” hardly improves World Beyond, leading to another dopey chapter of contrivance and glacial development, but at least everyone is on the same page now.
This recap of The Walking Dead: World Beyond season 1, episode 5, “Madman Across the Water”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
The voiceover that opens “Madman Across the Water”, about the power and unstoppable determination of nature, in large part summarizes The Walking Dead: World Beyond in its entirety — it isn’t half as clever as it thinks. It’s probably fitting, then, that it’s immediately obvious we’re going to focus on Elton this week, since the camera can’t help but zoom in on his contemplative face as he surveys the sign for Daiquiritown, which sports a leaping tiger and other such examples of nature in full flourish. The fact that Felix takes him aside and conspires with him about getting everyone else home safe is a bit of a clue, too.
Naturally, I hate Elton — he’s a bundle of smart-weird-kid stereotypes in an awful corduroy three-piece. There’s no wonder that Huck suggests maybe the best way to keep everyone safe is for one of them to go back with the boys while the other goes on with the girls. Elton and Silas are clearly stupid enough to be a danger to everyone, though that would imply that the girls aren’t, and there hasn’t been any evidence thus far to suggest that’s true. The scheme of this episode to fix up a boat and sail the Mississippi is typically harebrained, and leads everyone straight on an obviously perilous supply run in a room full of flammable boxes.
A radio playing classical music leads Elton to Flashback Town, as we see a young version (Roger Dale Floyd) — in a cardigan, no less — being given a dorky lecture by his father. Elton’s mother, Amelia (Christina Brucato), is pregnant with his sister, so there’s surely some tragedy on the horizon here. He wants to name his sister Esmeralda, because of course he does. More on this later, I’m sure.
Back in the present day, the group are able to accumulate some supplies, but they’re missing something pretty crucial for against-the-current maritime navigation — an engine. Of course, if they all put their heads together, they reckon they can build a means of propulsion, which we get in a montage, of all things. Hope sees the river as the last obstacle between them and her father, while Felix reckons it’s the last obstacle between home and death. Hope overhears Felix and Huck talking about this, which exposes Elton for playing both sides. An argument breaks out and it’s up to Iris to defuse matters, encouraging everyone to put in 100% if they want to cross the river at all.
At least Hope gets a nice bonding moment with Huck, who shares a little of her backstory and her current point of view. She’s certainly more amenable to the girls’ cross-country quest than Felix is, but she recognizes it isn’t her place to tell Felix what to do — just to let him arrive at conclusions on his own. Felix himself speaks with Hope after, who accuses him of never being a part of the family even after her father took him in. He was never the brother he could have been, yet he was the one their father trusted more than anyone, and all it would have taken was Felix to tell him to stay. Hope also says it’s time for her to grow up, which you can’t help but agree with.
A bit later in The Walking Dead: World Beyond season 1, episode 5, Felix explains to Iris that it was supposed to be him who went with Leo, but Will took his place — he was left behind to look after her and Hope, and that’s what he’s determined to do. What he doesn’t say, though what’s clearly implied, is that the kids are too stupid to succeed in their quest.
“Madman Across the Water” returns to the boys — who’re emptying out bottles of nail varnish, for fire-accelerant purposes — so that we can have another flashback to Elton’s childhood. This one is a bit more frantic, since it depicts Elton’s tearful father arming him and leaving him in a wooden box. It’s easy to forget sometimes, but this is a post-apocalyptic world of danger.
As if to confirm this, everyone starts running into trouble simultaneously. Felix and Iris almost get struck by lightning and run into a gaggle of walkers — I refuse to call them “empties” — while the makeshift engine goes up in smoke and Silas and Elton are left to run with buckets of nail varnish from the coming storm. As danger looms ever-closer, the engine continues to malfunction, leaving Felix to set up a fishing line in the hopes of stifling the approaching walkers. When it comes time for Elton to squeeze into a little space to reattach the boat’s drivebelt, he flashes back to his time as a nipper in that box. He recites the order of the planets to calm himself down — of course he does! — while the the walkers push their combined weight on the fishing line. This is the closest that The Walking Dead: World Beyond season 1, episode 5 comes to generating some actual tension.
Naturally, Elton gets stuck under the boat, retreating to his past for comfort until the girls drag him out. Everyone has to push the boat while the walkers shamble towards them in the background, and you can just tell it’s supposed to be a big moment when Felix finally helps them push rather than abandon it, but like all of this show’s drama, it just doesn’t sit right. (There’s a moment very shortly before this when Iris and Hope help Felix take down some walkers who made it past the fishing line that was going for the same momentous feeling and similarly fell flat.)
Anyway, they all escape. That night, Felix and Hope talk again, now apparently decided on continuing the adventure. Huck reckons they can keep them safe, but I’m thoroughly unconvinced. For now, she suggests dividing and conquering; she’s going to spend the next couple of days scouting ahead since their intel is weak on this side of the river, and this is easily the dumbest thing she’s ever said. Splitting up at this point seems like an absolutely terrible decision given The Walking Dead history, but she guarantees she’ll be back in 48 hours max, so I guess we’ll have to take her word for it.
“Madman Across the Water” spares a little more time for Elton reflecting on his parents, and he cries unconvincingly to himself while making a little amendment to the story about nature’s uncompromising progress. Sometimes, there’s room for a deviation, for someone to change and take a new path, to go against their nature. A final flashback confirms that’s what he did, leaving his box once all the commotion died down and making his way out of the museum where he’d been hiding, alone. Back in the present day, he reflects on how his father was brave and did what needed to be done because he was scared, not in spite of it. That’s probably a pretty profound realization for a wimp like him. He also confesses that he sometimes thinks his mother and his sister survived, and are out there somewhere. Of course, Hope, seeing the picture of Amelia, knows better than that.
Just as Hope is coming to this painful realization, something stirs in the branches, and a figure approaches with a nasty-looking branch. Uh-oh.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.