There have been a few suggestions after the most recent episodes of Fear the Walking Dead, “Ouroboros,” that the series is as good or better now than The Walking Dead. This isn’t true. We’re only eight episodes into Fear the Walking Dead and two good episodes do not put it in the same category as six seasons of The Walking Dead.
It is, however, much improved.
It may also be difficult to remember, but The Walking Dead wasn’t that great in its first two seasons under Frank Darabont. It was slow. The characters were not that interesting. There were a lot of walks through the woods, and many episodes that stalled. However, The Walking Dead had the novelty, at the time, of being the first and only major television series to feature zombies.
Fear the Walking Dead, however, premiered six years later, and there are a lot more zombie shows with which to compete. Zombies are no longer a novelty on the small screen, so a new zombie series needs to be able to provide something fresh or interesting, or at least strong characters to keep us invested. Until recently, Fear the Walking Dead hasn’t been able to do that — it’s been coasting on the good will of The Walking Dead.
However, things have changed in its second season and, in particular, the last two episodes. It’s a much improved show. Here are six reasons why.
It’s Ditched The Origins
The big initial draw to Fear the Walking Dead eventually became what was holding it back: The origins of the zombie virus in Los Angeles. Seeing how characters in L.A. slowly came to realize that a walker virus had quickly spread should have been compelling, but the writers never managed to figure out how to make it so. It turns out, traffic jams and looters aren’t very exciting, nor is watching a family play board games while they wait out a threat that will never disappear. The first season of Fear the Walking Dead often felt like a slow-moving, six hour conventional zombie flick, and after enduring it, it was easy to see why The Walking Dead picked up weeks into the apocalypse.
The origins might have been more effective it if had explored what caused the outbreak or if it had done any investigating into patient zero, but the series seemed too preoccupied with the central family and the sulking teenagers to pull back and take a broader look at what was happening in Los Angeles and worldwide. Given the track the show was on, it was wise to simply blow up Los Angeles and move into a show that more closely resembled The Walking Dead.
Probably the most crucial move of this season, so far, was to stop completely focusing on the main cast, which hasn’t been particularly popular with viewers. It’s been hard to invest in the characters because they haven’t displayed much in the way of a personality. However, the survivalist family in the second episode not only gave us a break from the Manawas, the Clarks, and the Salazars, those survivalists helped to better define the Manawas, the Salazars, and especially the Clarks. The introduction of the web series addition, Alex, in episode three — despite the gaping plot hole — also injected some new life in the series and helped change the dynamic of the existing characters. Arturo Del Puerto and Dougray Scott will also be joining the cast soon, and hopefully we’ll see one or two of the existing regulars killed off. Rotating new cast members around existing fan favorites has been one of the reasons why the parent series, The Walking Dead, has worked so well.
The Characters Are Displaying Actual Personalities
Crucially, the characters — especially the once-sullen teenagers — are beginning to reveal their personalities. Nick, it turns out, is good-natured, funny, and warm when he’s not high or looking for another fix. He, in turn, brings out the best in his sister, Alicia, who is also grown much improved over the last two episodes. Chris is also displaying a taste for violence and a little sociopathy, which has made him a far more interesting character. Ofelia, by virtue of being potential romantic interest for Nick, is slightly more intriguing, but she needs more to do on the series besides ask Alicia for shoes. Unfortunately, Travis and Madison have remained flatly defined, and eventually, Fear might be a much more gripping show if it was led by the younger cast without their parents hovering over them and holding them back.
In fact, the show could still benefit from breaking apart the cast into separate groups, as The Walking Dead does, allowing factions of characters their own character-defining subplots. The ocean setting makes it more difficult, but I’d love to see Nick, Ofelia, Chris, and Alicia separated and on their own for a few episodes.
It’s Gained A Sense Of Humor
The series is not going to be winning any awards for comedy, but Fear the Walking Dead has thankfully started to take itself a little less seriously. It’s injected a few moments of levity (mostly thanks to Nick). Those moments not only give us a break from the oppressively dreary tone of the series, they also make the characters more relatable and likable. Nick’s knowledge of drugs, for instance, has not only been helpful to the story, but amusing for the character. Now, if only the series could get Madison, Daniel, and Travis to smile about something just once, so we might be able to see them as humans.
I am not a huge fan of the ocean and beach settings on Fear the Walking Dead, but I will grant the series this: It gives them more opportunities to create cool zombies. The zombies were the entry point for The Walking Dead, and they were sadly missing for much of the first season of Fear the Walking Dead. They have been much more plentiful in the last couple of episodes, and far more interesting, owing partially to the beach and underwater settings.
There’s Now A Villain
Strand brought a spark to the series when he was introduced late in the first season, but the mystery surrounding the character and his motivations has given viewers something to ponder. More recently, he’s also given us someone we love to hate. Villains also have a tendency to bond characters together, and hopefully, we’ll see more of that in the coming weeks as the rest of the cast rallies to diffuse the mysterious threat that Strand presents. Remember, also, that beyond the pilot, The Walking Dead didn’t start to get really interesting until Shane began posing a threat from the inside. Strand, hopefully, will fill a similar role, at least until the series presents its The Governor or Negan.