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Aliyah Royale Talks The Walking Dead: World Beyond Season 1 - Exclusive Interview

In the all-new Walking Dead universe spinoff World Beyond, viewers are introduced to the Campus Colony of Omaha, a safe haven occupied mostly by young adults who grew up during the zombie apocalypse. To them, walkers are just the new normal. Within the cozy confines of Nebraska State University, students are well-fed and mostly well-groomed as they carry on their daily studies and live a sheltered existence while the decaying world outside continues to be ravaged by the undead.

Let's just say that, when compared to Carl (Chandler Riggs) and "lil ass-kicker" Judith Grimes (Cailey Fleming) from the flagship Walking Dead series, they've had it easy. Someone like Carl had to struggle to survive throughout many hostile environments and ultimately met his end while the students within Campus Colony only ever had to worry about flunking an exam or being late to class. But when two students receive a distressing message from their father, who is being held by the mysterious Civil Republic Military, they decide to embark on an ill-advised rescue mission. One of those students is Iris Bennet, and when she encounters her first decrepit walker out in the wild, her immediate gut reaction is to hurl chocolatey projectile vomit. In fact, that reaction isn't too far from the real-life response of actress Aliyah Royale. The rising star has had a longtime fear of walkers that stems back to the season one era of The Walking Dead.

Back in 2010, when Rick Grimes first awoke from that coma in the debut season, Royale was barely 10 years of age. Raised within a family of Walking Dead fans, she has vivid memories of catching her first glimpse of special effects supervisor Greg Nicotero's assembly line of ghastly creations. Little did she know, those walkers would become a major part of her future. Fast forward to a decade later, and she's now the lead star of The Walking Dead universe's latest spinoff and she gets to take on those very same vile walkers that tormented her so much as a child. Take a glance at her IMDb, and you'll see that his is a major career leap for Royale, whose most recent projects include a co-starring role in the CBS crime drama The Red Line. Now, at 20 years old, she's got one of the biggest horror shows in television history on her resume.

During Looper's exclusive interview with Royale, she opened up about her knowledge of The Walking Dead universe and how she prepared for the role. She also candidly shared some of her amusing on-set moments, like what it was like randomly running into her first fully made up Walker castmates, her favorite zombie designs, and why you should really tune in to World Beyond — even if you're one of those skeptical fans who's currently experiencing zombie fatigue. 

Walkers are possibly the most terrifying creature to have ever been created

Before you signed on for World Beyond, how familiar were you with the Walking Dead universe? Were you a super fan or a casual fan?

I think walkers are possibly the most terrifying creature to have ever been created, so actually, I stayed very, very far away from The Walking Dead. My brothers were obsessed with the show. They still are. I always talk about how that year for Christmas, the first year the show came out, they had Walking Dead calendars — just everything Walking Dead that you could possibly have. I remember sitting on the steps upstairs, watching them watch the show, behind them, seeing the TV, and then every time a walker came on, running and crying to my mother. But I never imagined that I would actually end up being a zombie killer, and it's been the greatest ride.

Even though walkers scare you, after you signed that dotted line to star in World Beyond, did you have to go back and force yourself to watch some of the old seasons just to get a feel for what you were in for?

I looked at comics. I rewatched episodes of the show. That's how I discovered my forever affinity for the man that is Negan and his sidekick Lucille. I think that's what inspired me to name my weapon Shiloh. Negan's relationship with Lucille is like, "This is a person. This isn't a weapon. What are you talking about? This isn't a bat." This is a legit character in the show. I love that. But once I signed on, I was ready and willing. And the fear that you see on the show, every single scene where I'm afraid, it's 100% authentic.

You mentioned Negan. The Walking Dead has had some pretty ruthless villains throughout the years: The Governor, Negan, Alpha. In World Beyond, Julia Ormond plays Elizabeth, who is the big baddie of the season. Where would you rank her compared to Negan and all the rest? And how is she different from those villains?

Elizabeth is head honcho. I'd say it's all about finesse with her. Negan doesn't have a problem being very messy in front of everyone. But Elizabeth, she's calm, she's calculated, and she doesn't mind playing the long game. She will come to you like an ally, like a friend, like a kindred spirit. And then you won't see what comes next, and I like that about her. Her finesse is really incredible. I think she's at the top just because of execution. She's got an entire army behind her; you know what I mean? That's next-level organization.

World Beyond will answer burning questions

Obviously, she's part of the CRM, that mysterious helicopter group that abducted Rick Grimes when we last saw him. Everyone has been wondering who they are and what they're up to. I just want to know, aside from that link to the original series, can you tease us about Easter eggs that'll be sprinkled throughout this season? Are we going to hear familiar names or see past Walking Dead characters show up?

We definitely have a bunch of Easter eggs. I think that's what's incredible about World Beyond, is being able to answer some of the questions that were presented in other series like The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead. That three-ring helicopter that took off with Rick, what are they about? What do they really want? We're all working towards a cure. The difference is, "Who's working towards it for the good and to help?" versus, "Who's working towards it to control?" And we find that out.

How much would you say you have in common with your character Iris? She decides to go on this 1100-mile, on-foot trek across this zombie-infested terrain, but she's doing it because someone she loves and cares about is in danger. I'm just wondering in real life, would you do the same thing? The fun thing about watching horror films is, a lot of people imagine themselves in the same shoes as the characters like, "Oh, hell no, I wouldn't do that," or, "If I was in the show, I would have done this." When you were reading about your character, did you have a lot in common with her, or would you make completely different decisions?

I identified with Iris from the start. She's this class president, leader kind of girl, who's in a meeting with the rest of the student council. "What do you need from me? What should we do better?" Meeting concludes. Everyone leaves the classroom. The lights turn off. And now, she's on the floor crying. And it just showed that someone can be about their business and be handling their day to day, but can also be going through something really, really heartbreaking on the inside. And that's exactly what Iris is. And I identify with that all the way around. I'm always about like, "Even though I feel this kind of way and I just don't feel like it today, I'm going to work." Or if I'm not going to work, I'm going to do something creative because you have to keep moving forward.

Basically, her entire life since "the night the sky fell," which is what we call the apocalypse, she's lived for everyone but herself. And she's always thought ten steps ahead, "This is what my life is going to look like. I'm going to follow in my father's footsteps and study immunology. I'm going to be the reason that the cure happened." Just thinking so far ahead and not thinking about herself at all or taking care of herself. And to finally be able to say, "You know what? It's time that I do this for myself now. And the first step to that is leaving this very safe, sheltered community." It's a big deal. It's a really big deal.

Aliyah Royale's first encounter with on-set walkers was 'the craziest thing'

You mentioned how you're terrified of zombies in real life. In The Walking Dead, you guys have this top-tier zombie effects crew. I mean, it's Greg Nicotero's group — they're the best at doing zombies. What was it like seeing those in person for the first time? Your character Iris vomits when she sees a zombie up close. Is that you in real life? When you're on set, did you have that same sort of reaction?

My first encounter was during one of our first days on set, but it was a night shoot. So, I'm already a little bit delirious anyway. I remember going into the catering hall because I was hungry and I was looking for some chow. And I opened the door, and I kid you not, I did not know that they were going to be there. I had heard that they were coming to set at some point, but when I look at the call sheet, I see my name and that's it. I disregard everything else. And I open this door, and single file, 20 to 30 walkers, just in the full costume, full makeup, ready to charge the set, just single file, walk out the door. I hid behind the door. I waited until they were gone, gone, gone. And then I ran to my trailer and called my mom. It was the craziest thing. It was the best introduction I could've gotten into this universe.

My personal favorite zombie, so far, is the beehive walker, which you see in the trailer and during the second episode. I thought that was an interesting concept. Do you have a personal favorite zombie in this first season?

That was a pretty cool walker. The wasps just flying out. That was really awesome. I think we've released a photo. There's these two conjoined walkers. And they're conjoined by tire tar and stuff. They were really cool. There's a really cool tag-team scene between Hope and I with those walkers. And that's probably my also favorite scene in the show.

Because of COVID-19, season 11 of The Walking Dead got pushed to next year. World Beyond is now in that prime October time slot this year. Does that intimidate you a little bit? This universe has a large fanbase who have certain expectations. Do you worry if fans may or may not embrace this new series? Some people say there's zombie fatigue, so what's your sales pitch for those people? What does this show have that the other ones don't? And what's the reason why they should tune in to this show?

It's so funny that you say that because no, I had not thought about World Beyond taking over that time slot in the prime October season [Laughs]. I think everything has its proper time and place. And World Beyond is presenting this all-new perspective. I mean, yeah, you have a young-adult cast and some people could be like, "Oh, what will I have in common with these kids? Is it going to be less gritty and gory and cool as the other shows?" You want the grit? You want the gore? We have it. You want the storylines that you can invest in, and the characters that you can identify with? We have it. We've got something for everyone. And I think you're seeing a new part of the Walking Dead universe and a story that hasn't been told before.

The other side of that is we don't see the world as dead. We grew up with the apocalypse being our normal. So it's not like "Oh, I miss the world as it was before." Like, "No, this is how we grew up. This is how we understand the world." And we don't see it as these creatures that are lurking around every corner and we could die at any minute. We're aware of the risks, aware of the danger. And we would rather be in the field, figuring out ourselves and living our life than at home afraid. And I think that's really powerful to see.

Iris and Rick Grimes 'would make a badass team'

In The Walking Dead, you have actors like Norman Reedus or Melissa McBride. They're Daryl and Carol in the original series and they've been playing those roles for 10 years now. Let's say this show takes off and the fans do embrace it or it leads to another spinoff that could potentially feature Iris. Do you see yourself committing to this role for a whole decade or more? Or are you the type of actor who's like, "No, kill me off after two seasons. I'd rather move on and do a different project"?

As long as I can play Iris, I will enjoy every second of it. She's been such a blessing in my career. I mean, of course, being a part of such a major franchise is one thing, but The Walking Dead also gave me things that I've never experienced before on set. Iris and I are so similar in ways that we even missed out on the same things that typical kids growing up have. And I always talk about episode four specifically, it was really just a turning point for me playing Iris because that was the episode where I identified with her the most. It's actually really close to my heart, and I'm really excited for everyone to see episode four. But due to playing Iris, I will forever be changed. And I think that season two, season three, season four, it's always going to be like that. I'm always going to find new moments to share with her.

I like to think that horror films and shows like this teach us and prepare us for real-life horrific situations. So, I want to ask you, being in a show like this, do you feel like you're more prepared if a real zombie apocalypse ever did happen? If there really was a zombie apocalypse in real life, what's your game plan?

Oh, I'm definitely prepared for it. My game plan is... I'd say the most important thing is to have a good weapon and water. I mean, you can figure out food and stuff along the way. You're going to probably move from shelter to shelter several times over your lifespan, but I think the key is having a great weapon.

I love my horned pole. We call them S-poles on the series. But it's this long metal rod that has a blade at the end. But instead of your typical blade, mine has the horn of a triceratops. And she's super cool. Her name is Shiloh. I love her. And every time I have her in my hands and I'm about to do a combat scene or a fight sequence, it's hella badass. And I just imagine the same thing. If the apocalypse were to happen, I'd be ready as long as I had Shiloh.

When the show comes out, this passionate fanbase will certainly chime in, so how are you with the whole social media thing? I don't know how active you are on Twitter and Instagram, but do you like to read comments from the fans? Do you engage with them? If someone makes negative comments about the show, how are you with all that?

I definitely engage with fans, especially the Brazilian fans, who are incredible. I get messages all the time now, people just excited and asking questions about this and that. And I love talking to people about the show. I think the great thing about seeing someone on your TV and being able to be like, "Oh, this is their social media," is being able to talk to them. I'm definitely approachable. I love talking to everyone about the show, just about me, about them. I want to hear about you guys as well. Negative comments don't really faze me. I had an incredible time shooting, and I'm going to have just as much fun watching. I mean, I think it's going to be a great ride, and you can come along for it and experience it with us.

There's been talk about this big Rick Grimes movie trilogy that's coming one day. Does this show possibly pave the way for Iris to have a role in that storyline? Would you like Iris to cross paths with Rick Grimes and be in that big, epic movie that we're all dying for?

It would it be my greatest pleasure to share the screen with the Rick Grimes. I think it would be an incredible journey for everyone. And I think we'd make a badass team. I do [giggles].