As we see in both politics and in life, it is often not the majority of voices that are heard, but the loudest, and in many ways the criticism aimed at the Fear the Walking Dead season four reboot feels that way. Spend five minutes in the Fear the Walking Dead subreddit, and readers will see a palpable sense of anger, largely directed at new showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg, as well as the architect of the new The Walking Dead universe, Scott Gimple, who has become something of the Joss Whedon of TWD, axing favorite characters from the series and breaking fans’ hearts.
There are plenty of fans who feel a certain sense of loyalty to the series that original showrunner Dave Erickson created, and who see this new iteration of Fear the Walking Dead is a betrayal of the first three seasons. Erickson, who signed a development deal with AMC after his exit, has been mostly quiet, although he did speak out in support of Kim Dickens after her character, Madison, was killed off of the series. For many fans of the first three seasons, however, there is likely nothing that can be done to save the show in their eyes, and that includes a fan Twitter account for the series, which discontinued this week, writing, “Unfortunately, things have changed. Very quickly. Season 4 is a completely different show. It’s no secret that we have been hating this crossover since the moment it was announced.”
That message even received some support from Lisandra Tenna, who played Nola in the third season.
The key in that message, however, was this: “We have been hating this crossover since the moment it was announced.” The people behind that account hated the idea before they’d even seen it come to fruition, and I’m not sure they were willing to give it a proper chance.
The truth is, season four is a different show. In some ways, a much different show. There are new characters, there’s a new tone, a different location, and even a new theme song. It’s not the same show, and I don’t blame those who had a strong attachment to the first three seasons for feeling betrayed. Others, including myself, see this new Fear as a better iteration, much like another AMC series, Halt & Catch Fire, became a better, stronger series after a second-season reset.
For fans of Erickson’s series, however, the death of Madison probably felt like the nail in the coffin, the last vestige of the old version. Alicia, Strand, and Luciana are still around, but even Alicia is a much different character than she was in the first three seasons (for the better). In some ways, even I feel like Madison was killed off not to advance the plot but to put to bed the old Fear, and if I had felt a strong sense of loyalty to Erickson’s version, I’d have probably felt burnt, too.
Aside from that one misstep, however, I feel a much stronger connection with the Chambliss and Goldberg version. It’s more adventurous, more character driven, and more unpredictable. Garrett Dillahunt has been an amazing addition to the cast, while Jenna Elfman and Maggie Grace have been unexpected surprises if only relative to their past best-known works (Greg and Dharma and Lost, respectively). It’s good to see Morgan break out of his cyclical funk on The Walking Dead as well, and take on a real leadership role.
The reboot was designed to pick up new viewers, or at least stop the bleeding in the ratings. To that end, it has been a mixed bag. After a huge boost from The Walking Dead lead-in for the crossover episode, ratings have largely remained steady. Some Erickson loyalists, however, have been pointing to the dramatic ratings drop-off between the fourth season premiere (around 4 million) and the midseason premiere (around 1.9 million), but that’s misleading. The midseason premiere didn’t get a lead-in from The Walking Dead and it also aired in the summer, where live ratings are typically much softer (once DVR viewers are added in, it should add another million or so viewers).
In either respect, the ratings have remained relatively steady; it consistently wins not just the night, but the week in cable ratings, and while it may have lost some viewers, it’s cultivated some new ones, as well. It’s also transformed some fans, like myself, into more passionate fans who have become more invested in these new characters and situations.
Ultimately, it’s been something of a wash in the short-term, but I do believe that the Chambliss and Goldberg version is better designed for the long haul. With an early fifth season renewal, AMC is clearly hoping to get several more seasons of the series, which also may help to launch an eventual second spin-off. Let’s hope that Fear under its new leadership can continue to grow and evolve for the better.