The first-season finale of Fear the Walking Dead, “The Good Man,” layered in a lot of what has been missing from the series through the first five episodes, while repeating many of the series’ previous mistakes. In one of the episode’s final moments, however, it finally achieved what it had originally set out to do: Become an emotionally resonant family drama, albeit one set against the backdrop of the zombie apocalypse.
That moment came with the death of Liza (Elizabeth Ortiz). It often takes a moment of agony and of sacrifice for viewers to invest in the characters, and Liza’s death fit the description, providing a tragic bonding moment for both the characters and the audience. One of the chief complaints the series has had in its first season is that the characters have not resonated with the audience. They frequently make dumb choices and argue over petty matters. There was a nagging sense that this family wasn’t particularly fond of each other because they hadn’t fought for each other, they’d only fought with each other.
That changed dramatically in the season finale, when Travis and Madison allowed Daniel Salazar to unleash a stadium full of zombies on a military base in order to save four people. We know from The Walking Dead that characters have to be ruthless to survive, but it’s surprising to see the Fear characters learn that lesson so quickly and brutally. Salazar’s decision to lead a zombie horde onto the military base resulted in hundreds of deaths. It’s the kind of cold, brutal decision that Salazar used to make as a soldier in El Salvador. I understand that you have to do whatever you need to do to survive, but this early in the outbreak and a few suburbans are already going to unleash 2,000 zombies onto a military base to save a couple of family members?
All things considered, it was a bad plan. Why would you bring 2,000 zombies inside an area where you’re trying to save people? It might distract the soldiers, but it also puts the very people you’re trying to rescue in the direct line of attack! That’s madness. However, the contrivance did increase the zombie quotient on the show by a thousand, and for those starving for walker mayhem, the season finale finally paid off by bringing in the zombie action that many were missing. For Salazar, however, it was all for naught. He lost his wife anyway, and he got his daughter shot, to boot. That’s hubris for you. Bites you in the ass every time.
However unnecessary they were, the action sequences were cool (especially the suicide by helicopter blade), but it was the smaller moments that made the episode work. It was Chris manning up to protect Alicia from the potential rapists (an unnecessary plot turn to vilify the military). It was Strand’s smiling response to Nick stealing his key. It was Nick looking through the window in the door and telling his mother to save herself and run. It was Travis finally reaching his breaking point and beating the hell out of Andrew for shooting Ofelia.
Welcome to the zombie apocalypse, Travis. It’s nice of you to finally join the rest of the cast. Maybe next time, don’t release the guy you just had tortured.
It was also in Nick essentially announcing to his mother that he’s going to be the show’s Daryl. “I never knew where I was going. I’ve been living this for a long time, and now everyone is catching up with me.” Isn’t that essentially what Daryl told Beth in season four of The Walking Dead? That he didn’t belong in that other world; that he was better suited to the zombie apocalypse?
It was also, finally, in Liza revealing that she’d been bitten, asking Madison to shoot her, and in seeing a broken Travis afterwards. That moment really sold the episode emotionally in its final seconds, bringing out the humanity in Liza, Madison, Travis, and even in Chris and Alicia, as they ran toward the body on the beach. They’ve suffered a major loss now, and, as we’ve seen in five seasons of The Walking Dead, it’s those losses that bring the characters together the most. (It also brings the cast together.) Before the finale, these people were a family in name only. Now they actually feel like one.
Nevertheless, the finale raises a question: Is Fear the Walking Dead the show we’d hoped it would become? They brought the action. They brought the pathos. They turned Nick into Daryl, and they added a fan favorite in Strand. Travis also finally became the family protector we’d hoped he’d be.
That’s all well and good, but now what? What’s keeping Fear the Walking Dead from being just another version of The Walking Dead?
Well, there is that boat, and on The Talking Dead after the episode, showrunner Dave Erickson confirmed that’s exactly where season two will begin.
On a boat.
For those who complain that the series doesn’t have enough zombies, the boat location isn’t going to help. On the other hand, 10 people essentially trapped on a boat for an extended period of time should add some intimacy to the series.
Is The Walking Dead on a Ship a show we want to watch? Will next season’s villains be pirates? Given Nick’s likeness to Johnny Depp, it would be fitting: They’ve already got their Jack Sparrow. Does this mean future seasons of Fear the Walking Dead will see groups of people fighting over islands? Will the next Woodbury be floating out in the middle of the Pacific?
We wanted something different from The Walking Dead, but did we want something that different?
— I liked that they all left without telling their neighbors. It’s certainly befitting the every man for himself theme of the series (as was Strand’s decision not to help the others escape the hospital).
— “No superiors left, man. There’s no one,” one military guy said to the other, essentially confirming that the people on the military base weren’t following orders. They were fighting for themselves, just like Daniel Salazar and company had. Everyone on this show is in it for themselves.
— Can someone explain why Andrew decided to shoot Ofelia instead of Daniel? You’d think that a guy with military training could actually deliver a kill shot from five feet away instead of shooting her in the shoulder. How did Andrew even know they were in the parking garage? That subplot was bizarre.
— The show definitely still has problems with writing. Given Robert Kirkman’s reputation as a perfectionist and his track record for replacing showrunners, could Dave Erickson be in trouble? And if Kirkman decides to replace him, maybe they should get Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights, Parenthood) if they’re really interested in making a great family drama.
— “The only way to survive a mad world is to embrace the madness.” — Strand, before deciding to get on a boat.
— Where’s Tobias? How great would it be if they spotted him out on the ocean on a jet ski midway through season two? Or better yet, if they find Gendry, and he’s still rowing.
— Any chance Dr. Exner survived? Maybe she’s the Morgan of Fear the Walking Dead?
— Finally, there was a lot of talk before the season about how Fear the Walking Dead would have a different kind of zombie than The Walking Dead. Fresher, newer zombies, and, as we saw in the finale, they’re a lot harder to kill than the rotten corpses shuffling around on The Walking Dead. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like the show really took advantage of the Los Angeles setting. For the most part, what happened in the first season could’ve happened in major city.