Set during the months Rick Grimes was in a coma, Fear the Walking Dead focuses on how the world of The Walking Dead came to be. How did the infection start? How did the military lose control? What did we miss?
I’ve been a pretty avid fan of The Walking Dead since it started all those years ago. When I heard that there was going to be a spin off prequel series, I was skeptical. Why now? It’s been so long. Hasn’t the time for this come and gone?
I’m a sucker for zombies, so I was excited for Fear the Walking Dead despite my worries. The first season runs for a short 6 episodes, something usually typical of an experiment series. Of those 6 episodes, I think I was only impressed by 2. The season finale was one of those episodes.
My overall thought on Fear the Walking Dead is that it’s a family drama first, zombie outbreak second. This can be, and it was, disconcerting for a lot of people. I know. I was one of them. The biggest complaints that I saw from other viewers is that the characters were making “stupid” decisions which made them unlikeable. One of the fan favorites is a character who was only briefly in the season, named Tobias (Lincoln A. Castellanos), because he seemed the most ready for what was going to happen. I understand why people feel this way, but I don’t agree with it.
One of the big things that’s in most zombie movies is that the characters have never seen or heard of zombies. There are usually no pre-existing zombie movies in the zombie movie universe. The characters don’t know what’s going on. Fear the Walking Dead is no different. What is different is that we’ve all been watching The Walking Dead for five, going on six, seasons. We are engrossed in that world, and we have expectations for what the characters in Fear the Walking Dead should be doing. They’re not going to be doing that. If you think realistically about the situations depicted throughout the season, there really is no reason for Fear the Walking Dead characters to be immediately resorting to actions that we see in a show where people have been living in the zombie apocalypse for a year or more.
For that reason, I could never get on the boat with people who hated the characters because of their actions in the context of a zombie apocalypse. To them, a lot of people were catching a really nasty flu. Then, over the season, they started seeing some real nasty crap. By the final episode, they get to that mentality, for the most part. It’s at least reasonable.
At the same time, I did have a really hard time connecting to the characters in Fear the Walking Dead. They all seemed to aggravate me with their general personalities. Even the characters that I thought I would grow to like were aggravating throughout most of the season. I didn’t notice any visible character development arcs, other than the case with Travis (Cliff Curtis).
Travis starts the season as the step-dad. He teaches at a high school, tries his best with girlfriend’s kids and their issues, still has a speaking relationship with his ex-wife and son. He tries. He seems like he’ll be likable. When his heroine addicted step-son Nick (Frank Dillane), reveals that he saw a woman eating another man’s face, Travis goes to investigate. He cares enough to give Nick a chance. As the season progresses, for me at least, he becomes less likable. He chums up to the military as they lock down his neighborhood, appointing himself the town mayor of sorts. When his own son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) tells him that he saw lights from other survivors out in the city, Travis refuses to believe. He tries desperately to blend both of his families together in naivety. This caused me to formulate a hypothesis about what would eventually make Travis come to the dark side of what is required for a zombie apocalypse. My guess was that he would make a decision that would result in the death of one of the members of his group. I was close. By the end of the first season, Travis could very likely be in the mode necessary for a zombie apocalypse, but he still has some growing to go.
That was the biggest character arc that I saw throughout the season. That’s not to say that none of the other characters are complex, because they are, but I didn’t see much growth. Certain characters jumped in survival mode faster than others, and they all had their moments, but I felt that Travis’ arc was most visible. I’m sure there will be more time for that in future seasons, although I will admit that I’m slightly worried as to where this show will go. I suppose we’ll see.
I do like the concept. Most mainstream zombie lore doesn’t focus on what started the zombie epidemic. They usually put viewers right in the middle of it. In that sense though, did Fear the Walking Dead really do anything new or profound? I would say no. There are still no answers as to how we were all infected. They did establish decently early that everyone is infected and death will change them all, no matter how that death comes about, but we don’t really know anything different than we did from watching The Walking Dead. We see how the military tried. We see what led to them giving up. It really isn’t anything profound that couldn’t have been assumed though.
Fear the Walking Dead is another zombie drama from AMC, just set in California instead of Georgia. As of right now, it doesn’t seem that the characters will ever intersect with each other. I could be proven wrong later in that regard, but it probably wouldn’t be for a while. If you’re a fan of zombies, this might be another show you want to check out. I will say that I wasn’t very impressed by this first season overall, except for the opening title because I love how simple and perfect it is.