If you didn’t realize that Fear the Walking Dead returns to AMC tonight, I wouldn’t blame you, as perhaps I’m hanging out in the wrong circles, but I haven’t seen much of an ad campaign for season three to date.
Fear the Walking Dead remains a somewhat strange appendage to the original, a spin-off that runs essentially alongside the original show instead of carrying on its legacy once it’s over. A spin-off that didn’t actually bring with any of the existing characters over from the first show, but instead an entirely new cast. A spin-off that has seen its ratings decline somewhat dramatically, yet remains one of the best-rated shows on its home channel and on cable in general.
And so, despite all this weirdness, Fear the Walking Dead lives on. And this year, I think the moment is ripe where at long last, maybe people can start believing it’s actually better than the more famous original.
That hasn’t really been the case so far because frankly, it hasn’t been true. Though Fear the Walking Dead does a few things right, it’s never reached the same level of The Walking Dead itself. But as we know, season seven was a rough one for The Walking Dead. Some of the lowest fan-rated episodes of all time are in season seven, otherwise known as the “prepping for war with Negan” span of episodes which began with two jarring, almost unforgivable deaths, and proceeded to get very boring as the cast was split up for half a season, and the other half introduced some not-great storylines like Rick’s alliance with the Garbage Pail Kids. Ratings declined sharply, and reached levels not seen since season three.
So, if it was ever time for a zombie-themed palate cleanser, it might be this year, because seasons five and six were harder to compete against, but season seven should be an easy win for Fear the Walking Dead, given its quality.
Fear the Walking Dead has one significant advantage over its sister show, the ability to do whatever it wants free from the constraints of source material. And one thing it’s done has been to go some pretty interesting places, from LA right when the outbreak started, to a boat on open water, to Mexican ranches and villages and luxury hotels, and one thing the show does right is continue to move pretty quickly. I’ve lost track of the number of “safe” locations that the core family has stayed in because they’re never there for more than a few episodes at a time.
Where Fear the Walking Dead gets off track is in its inability to create iconic characters. I think it’s actually a great idea to stick with a core “family” group of Madison, Travis, Nick and Alicia, but the show has struggled to establish any of them as icons to rival the likes of Rick, Daryl, Michonne, etc. Not that they have to be armed-to-the-teeth zombie killers rippling with muscle, but the show often takes their arcs in wild directions. Is Travis a leader with a good heart or a total moron? Is Nick a canny survivor or a complete psychopath? The answers seem to vary every other week. The best storyline the show has had so far in my opinion was the slow descent of Travis’ son Chris into total madness, to show how the “bad guys” get to become the bad guys in the first place, even if they were normal once upon a time. But the plotline got mangled and the actor really just wasn’t up to the challenge. Fear the Walking Dead is a lot of things, but it’s often wasted potential.
I have hope that this year might be when Fear the Walking Dead gets it right. I have heard good buzz about the early episodes from critics who have seen screeners, and if nothing else, we get to solve a lot of problems with The Walking Dead season seven right off the bat. New locations, new enemies, not being locked into the same spot fighting the same sort of large-scale cyclical wars. The Walking Dead has now trapped itself in this narrative about trying to build a community and defend it which is often somewhat boring. The cast of Fear the Walking Dead is still on the run, trying to save their own skins, which is often the more exciting style of storyline.
Knowing Fear the Walking Dead, I’m worried the show will screw things up, but I go into this year once again hoping that it manages to get things right, and I certainly think it’s in a great position to do just that, and it will help that might be able to look especially good compared to what we saw from The Walking Dead proper this year. We’ll find out starting tonight, I suppose.