Why Is ‘Fear The Walking Dead’ Suddenly So Much Better Than Before?

What has happened on Fear the Walking Dead these last two weeks? I’ve been covering this series from the beginning, and no episode has been as good as last week’s “Brother’s Keeper,” and this week’s “This Land Is Your Land” somehow managed to match it. While I have acknowledged when the series is at its best (the first half of season three showed marked improvement over past seasons), I have not been reluctant to call the series out for bad episodes. There have been plenty.

Something changed two weeks ago, however, and I’m not exactly sure what. The series has reached a new level, one that I didn’t even know Fear the Walking Dead was capable of.

Don’t just take my word for it. Here are a few Twitter reactions to last week’s “Brother’s Keeper”:

We will have full coverage tomorrow morning of “This Land Is Your Land,” but here’s a sampling of reactions to this episode, buoyed by a singularly excellent performance from Alycia Debnam-Carey.

Social Media is not exactly the best gauge of how well a show is doing, but it’s striking how few complaints the series has been met with over the last two weeks (outside of people complaining about the death of Jake and voicing their hatred of Troy, which has been the desired effect of the last two episodes).

What exactly is happening? I’ve examined the writing and directing credits and I haven’t seen any major changes. Dave Erickson is leaving at the end of the season to make way for two new showrunners, but there’s no indication in the credits that they have begun consulting on the series yet. The writers of the last two episodes (Wes Brown and Suzanne Heathcote) are not new to the series, either — they both wrote episodes earlier in the season (“Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame” and “Red Dirt”) — but those episodes were not nearly as special as the last two. The directors, Alrick Riley and Meera Menon, are new to the show (although, Riley has directed episodes of The Walking Dead before), but I don’t think we can attribute the rapid turnaround to the directors, either.

It’s not as though the last two episodes have been chewing through plot at a faster clip, either, or that they have featured an unusual number of deaths for the series (the last two episodes featured about as many as the first two episodes of this season, and both saw major characters die). Could it possibly be that Fear the Walking Dead has been adding by subtracting these last two episodes (excluding the last couple of minutes in tonight’s episode)?

Possibly! But I think it’s more than just the absence of Madison. It’s that the show has finally found the core characters it needs to revolve around: Nick, Alicia, Troy, and Ofelia. They make an exciting ensemble, and when Madison is not around, Nick and Alicia not defined by their mother. Ofelia, likewise, is not defined by her father, Daniel — in fact, she’s a much-improved character since she and her father went their separate ways on the show. She’s a legit, bad-ass killer now (much to Daniel’s dismay). Troy has also added an entirely new dimension: He’s a villain within the group — he’s a suicidal sociopath, but he’s also an intriguing character. Keeping him in the mix creates tension that doesn’t rely on zombies or other outside elements.

I think Strand should stick around, too, and I’m excited to see him reunited with the show’s best characters. Indeed, I think that Fear has finally found its core characters, it’s Rick, Michonne, Daryl, Glenn, and Maggie. Fear‘s core is all the better because they’re not one-to-one equivalents to those The Walking Dead characters. They’re completely distinct.

The show has continued to bleed viewers (overnight viewers fell below 2 million for the first time last week), but if the episodes continue to be as good as the last two, and the series pushes Madison and Daniel out, it could not only stop the bleeding, it could reverse course. This show can be a chore to watch sometimes, but the last two episodes have been remarkably good, and if Fear can keep it up, it’ll be a series I start looking forward to watching every week.