Shudder, AMC’s horror and genre streaming service has been a favorite of mine because of its commitment to bringing new and diverse stories to genre fans. To start the year, the platform premiered The Dead Lands, a supernatural adventure where the dead have begun to walk the land of Aoteoroa. In episode one of the series, made in partnership with New Zealand’s TVNZ, the world broke. In episode two, our two leads, a dishonored warrior with one foot in death and one in life, Waka (Te Kohe Tuhaka), and the strong and resourceful Chief’s daughter, Mehe (Darneen Christian), unite to try to save it. Now, in episode three, “The Kingdom at the Edge of the World,” the quest is ramping up.
In this episode, the two are close to their answer as they seek out a boy who knows the name of the person who broke the world. This episode is the best yet as it ramps up the action, the magic, solidifies character identities for our cast, and adds new female characters that leave a deep impression. The Dead Lands follows the structure of a classic hero’s journey but by using Maori mythology and cosmology it creates a story that hasn’t been seen in such a wide audience setting.
As the two continue their journey to find the boy who can help them save the world before the dead consume it, we learn that he’s been possessed. This possession sends the pair directly into the land of sister witches who are known to sacrifice willing people to balance the world. Through the sisters, primarily Hine (Kali Kopae), who emerges as a woman filled with the strength of both magic and fighting skills. Additionally, she’s beautiful, and to Waka, she’s a moment of release, but even when seeing her through his perspective she maintains agency.
Where episode two belonged to Mehe, this one belongs to Waka. As he comes to understand, challenge, and ultimately romance Hine, we also learn more about him. While she notes that he is ready to die and he doesn’t disagree, he knows that he can’t. At this moment, we see the pain that living leaves on Waka, the man rejected by the dead, and learn more about his visceral reaction to the dead. It isn’t paranoia, it’s almost longing. This adds depth to the character beyond his ferocity as a warrior, rounding him out.
Two of my favorite moments of episode three are the boy’s possession and the fight choreography. For the former, we see a recognizable element of horror, one that’s pervasive across cultures. What is added is the means of exorcism and how the witches plan to save him. While I won’t go into more detail, this is sure to get to horror fans involved even if they weren’t already. Additionally, the fight choreography in “The Kingdom at the Edge of the World” makes up for some of the fight editing last episode. As Waka spares with Hine, it’s a dance. Obviously used to build sexual tension, it’s well-executed and you never question that Hine matches Waka’s ferocity, not for a minute. She formidable and she knows it.
Overall, this is the strongest episode of an already strong series. It builds out the mythology of its world while also building out existing characters and introducing new ones that stand out and don’t fade to the background. There is so much magic in this world and it feels like we’ve only just touched the As the quest ramps up and Waka reveals something to his mother in the ending scene, I know it’s only going to get better.
New episodes of The Dead Lands air every Thursday, exclusively on Shudder in the US.
The Dead Lands, Episode 3 - The Kingdom at the Edge of the World
Overall, this is the strongest episode of an already strong series. It builds out the mythology of its world while also building out existing characters and introducing new ones that stand out and don’t fade to the background.