Into the Badlands: A Wandering Warrior Seeks Enlightenment (With a Sidekick and Sword at His Side)

Oriana Schwindt
Daniel Wu as Sunny - Into the Badlands _ Season 1, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: James Dimmock/AMC

Fall TV PreviewInspired by the 16th-century epic Chinese novel Journey to the West, which chronicles the adventures of a Buddhist monk as he travels to India seeking enlightenment, Into the Badlands is a martial arts mélange that follows warrior Sunny (Daniel Wu) and a young boy he rescues, M.K. (Aramis Knight), on their own quest toward enlightenment.

The series is set far, far in the future, when the America we know is nothing more than a faint memory, the victim of a catastrophic event no one alive even remembers. (“This is way after the zombie apocalypse of The Walking Dead,” jokes cocreator Al Gough.) A feudalistic society has sprung up from the ruins, with seven leaders called barons ruling fiefdoms that manage natural resources like oil, mining and opium. “The barons are a cross between feudal leaders and mob bosses,” says Gough, who runs the show with his fellow Smallville creator Miles Millar. “It’s this world of uneasy alliances, where they need each other but want to make sure one doesn’t get more power over the other.”

Each baron has an army of martial artists, called clippers, who use knives and swords to defend their leaders, as firearms have long been banned to help prevent uprisings. “We wanted a future that is color-blind and gender-blind,” Gough explains. “In martial arts, there’s a great tradition of it being an equal-opportunity sport, in that women and men can be just as dangerous if they’re trained.” Thus, a newer baron, called the Widow, is protected by an all-female band of clippers, the Butterflies, who use (you guessed it) butterfly-shaped throwing stars.

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Knives and swords make for bloody battles, and Gough says the challenge for him and his team is to balance the bloodshed with real, relatable emotions. Sunny, the leader of the clippers for Baron Quinn (Marton Csokas), is great at his job but finds himself feeling less than satisfied with the work, especially because clippers are forbidden from having families of their own. (“They can have sex with whomever they want,” Gough clarifies.) Sunny, adds Gough, “is having the equivalent of a midlife crisis.”

The six-episode season will see Sunny’s loyalty to Quinn tested as his bond with the young, mysterious M.K. grows. “They have this master-student relationship,” Gough says. “They’ll have to survive the badlands together and figure out a way to get out. And this is a world where no one knows what’s beyond the borders.”

Into the Badlands, premieres Sunday, Nov. 15, 10/9c, AMC