Alycia Debnam-Carey, Cliff Curtis, Colman Domingo, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Fear The Walking Dead, Frank Dillane, Kim Dickens, Lorenzo James Henrie, Madison Clark, Nick Clark, Ruben Blades, Television, The Walking Dead, TV, Victor Strand, White Walkers, Zombieland, Zombies
This review contains spoilers for the first season of “Fear The Walking Dead”.
“Fear The Walking Dead” is a nice idea. Everyone who watches “The Walking Dead” has wondered what might’ve started the walker/zombie apocalypse, but there’s no real avenue for discovery on that show. Having a spin-off series set at the start of the outbreak opens up a world of possibilities, such as an exploration of possible causes of the infection, and a chance to see how people reacted to seeing zombies for the first time. However, this first season of “Fear The Walking Dead” doesn’t make the most of its premise, and nothing about it screams quality.
It would be unfair to say that there aren’t a number of cool moments within the six episodes that constitute this season, but the separate elements that make up each episode – music, performances, story, etc. – don’t mesh together in a cohesive way. There was one scene in particular in episode five that really highlighted this issue for me, as Alicia (Alycia Debnam Carey) and Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) searched an abandoned home that used to belong to a rich family. Initially they had fun, as Alicia tried on dresses and Chris played with a toy helicopter, but soon they turned destructive. They broke things and generally made a mess of the house, letting out their frustration in an aggressive but playful manner.
The performances in this scene were quite good, and it was reminiscent of a similar scene in “Zombieland”, one of my favourite zombie movies. However, the sound playing over the top of the scene just didn’t make sense. There should’ve been a whimsical rock song to serenade the pair, or a silly pop song about being rebellious, but instead there was an eerie noise which got progressively louder – this confused me greatly, because the suggestion seemed to be that either the duo were doing something wrong, or that something bad was about to happen, but I couldn’t see either of these being the case.
Of course, the duo’s actions did mark the end of their lives in civilised society – they’d accepted this as Alicia said that the family who used to live in the house ‘wasn’t coming back’ – so there was a dark message behind what was happening. Still, this fact doesn’t stop the accompanying sound from feeling out of place. Sometimes it’s better to just let sound occur naturally in a scene: Debnam Carey and Henrie could’ve been set loose to break whatever they wished, with their laughter and the smashing of glass, along with perhaps a sombre look on one of their faces afterwards, putting across the messages of both frustration and sad realisation.
This was one of many strange decisions across the six episodes, which culminated in an underwhelming season. For me, “Fear The Walking Dead” doesn’t delve deeply enough into the heart of the infection, with the focus being on how the family reacts to their changing situation rather than how that state of affairs arose. The writers tried to create melodrama within the group throughout, instead of letting the audience explore the world, which is something that the main show does as well.
Personally, I can’t understand why the writers think that we as an audience want to see a melodramatic family in crisis, rather than the chaotic start of the apocalypse, and I have to wonder if the reason behind this approach is to do with the budget. One of the central issues with the main show is that it focuses on one group, a group that rarely branches out, which means that we aren’t given a break from annoying characters and we don’t see the world as a whole. The same issue crosses over to this show, which is frustrating because I feel that more of an effort could’ve been made to differentiate the two – I would’ve loved to see a host of characters in different areas finding out about the walkers, but instead I saw one place with one set of people, none of whom are really that interesting.
Despite the problems that I’ve mentioned so far, I still see redeeming features within the season. I do like some of the characters that have been introduced so far, particularly Victor Strand (Colman Domingo) and Madison Clark (Kim Dickens). Strand’s approach seems quite simple; he wants to save himself at all costs, and he doesn’t care about collateral damage. He’s quite different to the other characters within the main group, because everyone else has their family with them, so they’re interested in more than self-preservation. It seems like Strand will cause a lot of conflict within the group, because he’s latched onto Nick (Frank Dillane) who has a tendency to make bad decisions, and he clearly isn’t the nicest of people. I’m very interested as to why he was locked up in the first place, given the fact that he hasn’t been bitten and he seems very wealthy, so here’s hoping that he has a leading role in season two.
Madison is a likeable character, because she displays love for her family and shows characteristics which suggest that she could adapt to a variety of difficult situations. She doesn’t take any bullshit and isn’t slow to action, and I feel as though she has been hardened by her past, which will hopefully be explored in the future.
Daniel (Rubén Blades) is also a cool character, and for me he has the best backstory of anyone on the show. I thought that Blades was great in the role from the moment he appeared on screen, and it was immediately clear that the character had some sort of darkness within him. At no point is Daniel hateable, despite the fact that he does horrible things, and he seems to have the best interests of the group at heart. Blades brought a real sense of authority and power to the role, so I hope he gets more screen time in season two.
Nevertheless, the strong performances on “Fear The Walking Dead” are cheapened by the ones which aren’t so good. Nick hasn’t grown on me at all over the course of the season, and I feel that this is largely down to Frank Dillane’s portrayal of the character. Dillane is playing the archetypal drug addict, the kind we’ve seen thousands of times before, and he doesn’t sell it at all. He’s a parody of his character and as a result Nick becomes less likeable every week. I would’ve really liked to see him get killed off in the finale, not only because I hate him, but also because I thought that the show created the perfect chance for this to happen. When Nick was trapped in the military base it would’ve been so easy to have him eaten by the walkers; if this had happened it would’ve upped the stakes and sent a message to the audience that anyone on this show can die.
Another character I didn’t warm to was Travis (Cliff Curtis), who was endlessly frustrating throughout the six episodes. Although Curtis is a decent actor, the way that Travis reacted to certain events meant that he didn’t feel like a real person. Nobody is stupid enough to put their loved ones in danger like Travis did over the course of the season, even if they are facing a moral conundrum. I understand that some people aren’t cut out to live in a world that calls for killing and brutality, but I think that even the most squeamish of people could adapt to the situation that he was facing.
He never had to do anything terrible himself, all he had to do was allow others to act – I don’t mean that standing idly by as people commit atrocities is morally upright, but what the people around him were doing was out of necessity, not malice. He wanted to do the right thing, but there’s a difference between what’s absolutely right and what’s correct in a particular context, and I think that in a zombie apocalypse a rational man should see that the latter trumps the former. I feel that his mistakes in the finale were there to act as a catalyst for change in both his personality and his approach to life, so hopefully he will improve as a character in season two.
Overall, I felt that the finale was a step in the right direction for the series, as it set up both the story and the characters in an interesting way. It fundamentally changed Travis’ personality, because he’s given himself a license to do whatever is required to protect his family. It also took the love triangle between Travis, Madison, and Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez) out of the equation, getting rid of some of the melodrama. Furthermore, Strand’s boat gives the audience a reason to come back next year; firstly because of how it might be used as a plot tool, and secondly because I think that we’ve all wondered why the idea to go out to sea hasn’t been explored on the main show – surely the walkers aren’t smart enough to swim.
However, I’m not saying that the finale was perfect. Multiple plot points were poorly executed, and massive flaws could be found within certain scenes. For example, a trio of soldiers fleeing the base towards the end of the episode needed transport, so they dragged Alicia and Chris out of the car that they were hiding in and commandeered it for themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that in itself – it showed that it’s every man for himself in this world, and ended the charade of the military acting as protection while things got back to normal.
The issue with this moment was that the soldiers were portrayed as volatile and unnecessarily aggressive, both physically and sexually. It was clearly implied that the soldiers wanted to take Alicia away with them, probably not for a friendly chat, and when Chris stood up to them he was knocked out. I know that this was in keeping with how the military was portrayed throughout the season, but they were trying to establish order before, whereas in this scene they were being downright disgusting.
This scene would’ve made far more sense if the soldiers came across as ordinary people wanting to escape with their lives – they didn’t need to be assholes about what they were doing, and it didn’t add extra tension to proceedings. Moreover, it didn’t make sense that they left Alicia alone once Chris was out for the count, because they were made out to be horrible human beings. The reason that this scene was included was to show that Chris could man-up in the face of adversity, and probably to set up a romance between him and Alicia in season two.
Lastly, I’d like to point out how ridiculous things were in every scene that the group was in the parking lot. When the group left Alicia and Chris, Travis said that if they hadn’t returned in half an hour then the pair should think about driving off, presumably because that was a long enough amount of time to signify that things had gone tits-up. This alone was incredibly stupid, because the place was huge and although Travis had a vague idea of where Nick might be he couldn’t be 100% sure of his location!
This wasn’t where the idiocy ended. When the group left Alicia and Chris it was night time, there was a hoard of at least 1,000 walkers outside, and it was estimated that the group would be in and out of the building in less than 30 minutes… yet when the group returned it was light outside! It wasn’t sunrise, it was midday – bright and vibrant without a walker in sight. The group proceeded to walk into the parking lot to find that the car was gone and they seemed visibly shocked, yet Travis had explicitly told Alicia and Chris to run for the hills should they be gone for 31 minutes or more!
The writers would have you believe that less than 30 minutes passed between the group getting to the cages where Nick had been held, actually finding him, and heading back, with a couple of walker kills in the process… AND, during this time there was a magical shift from the dead of night to the middle of the day! That, my friends, is what I call bad editing, directing, and writing, all in the space of ten minutes of television.
I think it’s fair to say that “Fear The Walking Dead” is miles away from being perfect. In spite of its issues, I still believe that the series has the potential to be entertaining and I don’t actually dislike it all that much. Nonetheless, this season was riddled with oversights. An abundance of bad decisions were made, and whilst some of the performances were okay, others were utterly terrible. I’d like to say that “Fear The Walking Dead” is worth watching, but right now I think that I’d be lying to myself if I was to do so – stick to the main show, it actually has zombies in it from time to time.