Fear the Walking Dead‘s first of a guaranteed two seasons came to an end last night. Without a doubt, I can say that out of all the Walking Dead spinoffs, this was definitely one of them. No one can deny that six episodes later this show was a prequel to The Walking Dead, featuring some actors, made by writers, producers and directors.
What more can I say? Fear the Walking Dead wasn’t technically bad at anything. Visually, as with the Walking Dead mothership, this crew has the zombie apocalypse aesthetic down to a science. Both spinoff and main show alike have never met a yellow-ish hallway with a blinking light they didn’t love. Or a highway choked with cars. Or a zombie stuck in a crashed helicopter. There is always a zombie stuck in a crashed helicopter.
But last night’s finale, titled The Good Man, highlighted the fact that under the blood and gore surface, there wasn’t much going on here. Actually, Fear the Walking Dead as an entire season is probably best compared to a zombie. It dragged its feet, slowly, shuffling forward with only the slightest sense of direction and showing only the most basic of human reactions. Only in the finale did it explode into action. But not any calculated action, not any logical action. Just sudden, violent action, all flashes of teeth and sound.
Funny enough, it even ended with a gunshot to the head.
Overall, a large part of The Good Man centered around getting the gang back together, reuniting the Clarks and Manawas, with the Salazar clan and Strand tagging along. And it’s not the reuniting I had an issue with. It was filled with enough classic “zombies in a tight space” horror that’s still good for a thrill or two, given a boost by The Walking Dead‘s willingness to kill off major characters. But one scene in particular afterward, in which all of our main players are reassembled in a parking garage, calls attention to Fear the Walking Dead‘s biggest weakness: not only are the “emotional payoffs” not earned, they aren’t payoffs of anything at all.
Let me set the scene: Nick, Travis, Madison, Strand, Ruben, Ofelia and Aliza reach the parking garage where they left Christopher and Alicia. We get about five seconds to think Christopher and Alicia might be gone before it’s revealed they are just in another room. Forget that we had previously seen three full grown military men hijack the car Chris and Alicia were in, with one of them cracking a rifle butt against Chris’ face. Forget it, because that scene ended up having zero actual consequences on the story (there’s not even a bruise on Christopher’s face!).
Here we are, in the parking garage, and the reunion is short lived because Corporal Andrew Adams appears, holding a gun to Ruben Salazar. Salazar, you might remember, basically flayed the skin off Andrew Adams’ arm to get some information, so you can understand the tension here. Ofelia, former flame to Adams, tries to talk him down. Andrews then turns the gun and shoots Ofelia, and former piece of drywall Travis explodes, beating Adams to near-death.
Yeah, none of that made any sense. Nothing that preceded the finale led to those moments in any meaningful way. The Walking Dead universe is filled with shades of gray. That’s the whole point. Very few characters are just outright evil. All the morally suspect actions, whether you agree with them or not, usually fall under “doing what we must to survive.” Maybe The Governor was, like, 99 percent evil. Maybe some of the residents of Terminus were a hard 98 percent. But for the most part, the violence after the apocalypse is necessary violence. The most “evil” character on Fear the Walking Dead is the military, and though they may be following harsh orders, or occasionally cowardly, even then they aren’t just remorseless agents of evil.
So, first off, Adams shooting Ofelia is not even close to being necessary violence, “under the circumstances” violence or even beneficial violence. It’s downright sadistic. In what scenario before this was Corporal Adams painted as a character who would do this? Was there any indication he would shoot someone he cared about just for a brief second of revenge against Salazar? If anything, his character was a mostly straight-lined officer. If the show absolutely needed the dramatic moment here, I’d completely believe he’d shoot Salazar. I’d buy that. But him shooting Ofelia was such a false moment. It was upping the stakes for the sake of it, losing any sense of character in the process.
Really, the moment existed just to spur Travis into action. Travis has been literally fenced in this entire season, in hard denial of the events surrounding him while still trying to keep his family together. I get it, I get that this was supposed to be the cathartic moment for both Travis and the audience who wanted Travis to pull his head out of his ass. But why use Ofelia as the catalyst? If I remember correctly, Ofelia and Travis had maybe one interaction in six episodes, possibly less. It’s hard to believe a character as inactive as Travis would beat a man in the face repeatedly because he shot someone Travis barely knows. Travis has already seen the military shoot people he barely knows. I understand that Travis is the one who let Adams go, and might feel slightly responsible. If that’s the case, then it makes Adams even more of a stock character, just a stand-in for “the times we live in,” literally just there to shoot a gun and show Travis the world is evil now, so deal with it.
All together, this didn’t read as a genuine moment. It read as a plot point, like someone wrote “and here is where Travis finally gets it” into the script, without thinking of how we’d get there.
Which only hurt the episode’s finale, in which Liza reveals she’s been bitten and wants Madison to shoot her. “You never liked me anyway,” she says to Madison, in this episode’s only perfect line. Travis interrupts, and takes it upon himself to end things for Liza himself. Now, let’s forget for a second that this is a pretty clean way to get rid of that pesky ex-wife character for season two. Let’s focus on the moment itself, which was followed by some beautiful pull-back shots reminiscent of the end of True Detective Season 2’s first episode, back when we were hopeful about that, too. Everything—from the surreal, not-entirely-focused framing of Travis’ remorseful face, to the music mixed with the ocean waves, to the way things came into focus as Madison rested her head on Travis’ shoulder—was meant to tell us how heavy this decision was for Travis.
Honestly, though, I don’t think it was nearly heavy enough. This is the same guy who last week wouldn’t shoot a zombie woman who was already turned. You cannot take back the frustrating character Travis was for five episodes. You cannot deny how he refused to believe the obvious end-times were even real, or how annoyingly optimistic he remained until about five scenes before he shot his ex-wife. And you definitely can not use Ofelia getting shot as THE game-changer. It’s unfortunate, because the show scripted itself into a corner—Travis kills Liza and it’s too much, too fast. Travis refuses, and he’s still the obnoxious survivor who refuses to survive.
“The only way to survive a mad world is to embrace the madness,” Strand tells Nick, moments before Travis has to make his decision. If that was supposed to be foreshadowing, it failed. Because this story didn’t earn what Travis is going through. It doesn’t appear that he embraced the madness; it looks like he simply went mad.
Finale Head Shots
- Something I’ve enjoyed about Fear the Walking Dead is the subtle ways it drew parallels to Nick’s drug addiction and the zombie outbreak. One thing I did not enjoy is when the show balled up all those subtleties and threw them into our faces. “That’s the thing, I never knew where I was going…now, everyone is catching up to me,” Nick says, as my palm traveled out the back of my face.
- Releasing thousands of zombies into a facility as a distraction for you to get into that same facility is a bad plan. That is all.
- All of the drama of that scene where Nick and Strand are trapped behind doors that wouldn’t open was negated by the fact that Travis was holding a shotgun. I’m pretty sure that in a pinch, shotguns are more effective than key cards at opening doors.
- At this point, the biggest plot twist any show could pull is to set its story in LA, and not have someone drive through the LA River channel.
- It looks like we’re moving on to Strand’s boat Abigail, which brings up a major question: why don’t more people live on boats during the zombie apocalypse? You don’t even have to be on the open ocean. Hook up a house-boat in the middle of a bay. Steer it in every, like, two months for supplies. I feel like a 10 foot row boat with a blanket and cooler in it would actually be a safer shelter than the prison from Walking Dead.
- In the end, I think Fear the Walking Dead disappointed because it failed to keep its own promise. Robert Kirkman and co. told us we were getting a look at the onset of the breakout that begat the Walking Dead, that it would plant us in the mayhem and confusion of the start. Instead we got one riot, one uneasy Monopoly game, then skipped ahead nine days into the thick of things. The best parts of Fear the Walking Dead‘s first season were the tense ones, where the horror came from the uncertainty, not the bloodshed. That’s all gone now. Even as we head on to the Abigail, there isn’t much new ground to tread. In my very first review of this show I said that FTWD, like all spinoffs and prequels, needed to justify its existence. It appears Fear the Walking Dead is going to justify itself by simply becoming The Walking Dead.