The midseason premiere of Fear the Walking Dead is a fine episode. It’s a little slow, perhaps, but it’s nevertheless a necessary episode, one that resets the dynamic among these nine characters, establishes a new conflict and presents a new threat (here, the weather).
It is not, however, the episode that fans of Fear the Walking Dead wanted, and it’s definitely not going to be the episode that wins back fans who felt burned by the events of the first eight episodes of this season.
The front half of this season of Fear went through some major upheaval. It brought in new showrunners, dumped some characters, jumped the timeline by a couple of years, and killed off two of the show’s three most important characters, Nick and then Madison. Frank Dillane, of course, wanted to leave the series, so there wasn’t much that could be done about that. But fan favorite Kim Dickens was forced out against her wishes, and while I defended that decision, that defense comes with a caveat: Fear needed to show why killing her off was necessary.
The reason for the urgency with which Madison was killed off, however, is not reflected in the midseason premiere. From a narrative standpoint, the death of Madison seems only to have allowed the showrunners to divide the group so that once again the group can be brought back together over the course of eight episodes, which has been a fairly consistent narrative cycle on Fear (and The Walking Dead). It hardly necessitated such a game-changing death. If Madison had not died, for instance, June/John/Charlie still would have been separated from Alicia/Strand/Luci/Madison, and instead of being motivated by the death of Madison, they could have been similarly motivated by the death of Nick. In either scenario, Morgan (and to some extent, Althea) would have been the middlemen, the peacemakers who brought these two groups back together during the oncoming storm (both the literal and metaphorical ones).
It’s not as though Fear doesn’t already have a history of former antagonists becoming allies — Madison, recall, became friends with the very people who killed her husband, so it’s not like she couldn’t have repaired the bridge between John/June/Charlie and Alicia/Strand/Luci after the death of Nick. In fact, despite the fact that Charlie killed her own son, Madison would have been the character most amenable to giving Charlie a second chance. She, like Nick, saw something special in Charlie.
In other words, from my vantage point after watching the midseason premiere, the decision to kill off Madison seems almost arbitrary, a decision that had more to do with separating Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg’s show from Dave Erickson’s show than it was a decision borne out of necessity.
Hopefully, the reason the series needed to kill off Madison will become more evident in future episodes, because if it doesn’t happen, this new Fear is going to have a very difficult time winning over the hardcore fans of the old Fear.
In the meantime, the midseason premiere can best be described as table setting for the rest of the season. The midseason finale ended with nine people huddled around a campfire, and it began with those same nine people once again divided, driven apart by grief and anger. All of them seem to be searching for a purpose. John wants to go back to his cabin with June and Charlie and live as a family, although not even John can explain what the point of that might be. June, meanwhile, believes she’s living as an imposter, that John is in love with “Laura” instead of her.
Meanwhile, Luci and Strand are in “screw it” mode. They don’t see any purpose in living, except — in Strand’s case, at least — to get drunk. Alicia, meanwhile, is trying to replace her mother as the world’s caretaker, but at the moment, she has no one to take care of. Morgan, finally, is contemplating his return to Virginia. He wants to bring his new “family” back East with him instead of staying to become a leader within that new community in Texas. This season will likely be very much about Morgan learning how to take charge, about becoming the Rick that this group needs after the death of Madison.
The storm, meanwhile, is the wild card, a villain that these people cannot kill with bullets or sticks. The storm is a threat that they cannot vanquish, only survive. Hopefully, Chambliss and Goldberg can quickly figure out how to make that a more compelling threat than it is at the moment because Fear has a lot to prove in the wake of Madison’s death. Frankly, the midseason premiere was something of a disappointment in that regard, and while I certainly appreciated the return of The Little Prince and the apologetic gesture that came along with it, it’s not enough.
— We do know that there is someone else out there because Morgan heard someone calling in a 10-13 on the walkie-talkie. That is a request for weather or road conditions.
— I do love that Morgan is still all about his peanut butter bars.
— Morgan: “I’m headed home, Al. Going back and I want you to drive me … I never should have left. It’s where I belong. It’s where I should be … my mind’s made up.” I have a feeling that his mind is about to quickly be unmade.
— I’m definitely rooting for this new iteration of Fear the Walking Dead, but right now, it feels like something is missing, and that something is definitely Madison.