During the year building up to the release of the heavily anticipated Fear the Walking Dead, back when it was still called Cobalt, AMC and its producers insisted on calling it a “companion” series and not a “spin-off.” Robert Kirkman claimed that the “companion series” would be very different.
“We’ll want to tell these stories in a completely different way with completely different people in a completely different setting that’s going to make for a fundamentally different show,” he said back in March of 2015.
Different, different, different, Kirman kept emphasizing.
There would be no crossover characters. They would operate on different timelines. Fear the Walking Dead would be set in Los Angeles and it would be set during that time in which Rick Grimes was in a coma on The Walking Dead.
When it debuted, that’s exactly what it was, and as it turns out, no one really wanted to see the origins of the zombie apocalypse. We’ve seen that dozens of times in dozens of zombie movies, and we had little interest in seeing that play out over the course of six hours. Consequently, the first season of the show was a tedious disaster that saw its huge audience nearly halve in the first six episodes.
Season two tried something different, too: A lot of it took place in the ocean, before eventually relocating to Mexico. it continued to remain a “fundamentally” different show from The Walking Dead, but it didn’t really work. It’s audience halved yet again.
Creatively speaking, the third season finally found its groove. It found a place to settle down for a while in the Broke Jaw Ranch, which was like the Farm on The Walking Dead and featured a character played by Dayton Callie who was a cross between Hershel and The Governor. Madison became more Rick-like, and the family dynamic on the series fractured. The Manawas and most, if not all, of the Salazars were killed off, while the Clarks remained largely divided. There were zombie hordes and territory battles and outside dangers.
In short, Fear the Walking Dead became more like The Walking Dead. Creatively speaking, it was never better. The ratings finally leveled off.
Working from that creative success, the fourth season of Fear the Walking will get a reboot, so to speak. Dave Erickson is out as showrunner, and in his place are two new showrunners, Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg, who come over from ABC’s Once Upon a Time. There’s three new cast members, so far, and they are bonkers good: Garret Dillahunt from Raising Hope/Deadwood, Jenna Elfman from Dharma and Greg, and Maggie Grace from Lost. With those three, Fear has cast familiar faces, which is something that The Walking Dead universe has rarely done (outside of casting Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan). Casting reports also suggest that they’re bringing back only the most popular returning characters next season: Kim Dickens (Madison), Frank Dillane (Nick), Alycia Debnam-Carey (Alicia), Colman Domingo (Victor) and Danay Garcia (Luciana). That means the last Salazar, Daniel, is out, and so I expect are the Native Americans (at least for now.)
The show is also relocating to Texas, which is far more like the rural South that The Walking Dead has inhabited the last eight seasons. Most importantly, they’re bringing in Lennie James’ Morgan Jones, and from what we can tell, the timelines are syncing up with The Walking Dead.
In other words, the fourth season of Fear the Walking Dead will cease to be a “companion” series and will finally begin to be a conventional spin-off we had all expected and hoped for from the beginning. It’s starting fresh, set several years in the future with a mix of new and old characters, in addition to one of the most popular characters from The Walking Dead. It can be rebooted with Morgan James as the de facto lead. The only difference is, this show will not be beholden to Robert Kirkman’s source material. It’ll be free to go where it wants to go and kill off who it wants to kill off, and with five well-liked returning characters, three new likable and recognizable actors, plus Morgan, every death will not only be unpredictable but painful.
For the first time, I am truly more excited about the next season of Fear the Walking Dead than I am about the current season of The Walking Dead.