What Went Wrong With Fear The Walking Dead?
AMC's Fear the Walking Dead could've been great. The concept was good. The potential was there. The visuals were awesome. The cast and crew were kicking ass for a few seasons. The dedicated fanbase was growing nicely. And after the spectacular season 3 finale, most viewers were in agreement that The Walking Dead's first spinoff was finally finding its footing and looking to deliver many more seasons of quality entertainment.
Things were looking up for post-apocalyptic, survival-horror, zombie fans. We'd seen the aftermath of the collapse during many seasons of The Walking Dead. What we hadn't seen was how it all began, how everything fell apart, how people would handle the panic and react to the chaos all around them and how the survivors had managed to cling on to life during the initial phase of the zombie apocalypse.
There was plenty to look forward to here and season 1 of FTWD didn't disappoint when it came to portraying at least some of the elements that had been promised.
So what happened?
And why were even the first 3 seasons not as good as they could've been?
For one, if you're going to promise the expectant fans of the original show that you'll be exploring the early days of the zombie apocalypse in the spinoff, then you'd better deliver on that promise!
And you'd better sink a whole lot of budget into showing how it all began and how the city of Los Angeles became a living nightmare for its inhabitants during the first months of the fall.
To be honest, I feel like this was achieved adequately in season 1. There were plenty of scenes of widespread chaos on highways, riots and looting in the city streets at night, hospitals overwhelmed with the sick, the military doing their thing and failing miserably, all the ingredients you would expect as part of a collapse scenario.
What a lot of fans complained about was that this period, although depicted reasonably well, fell short. It simply didn't last very long and was only shown in several episodes.
The rest of the season consisted of the Clark family being quarantined in their local suburban neighborhood. And while these scenes were great for building tension and showing the claustrophobic side-effects of being cooped up with your neighbors and a bunch of soldiers for an indefinite period, it could certainly be construed as a simple way to cut the budget.
Even so, the set pieces later on in the season were well worth it if that was the reason behind the slow burn.
I personally have no problem with the way the show moved on with the plot after season 1. I loved seeing Los Angeles get fire bombed and the cast move on to the high seas aboard a luxury yacht. To me this was unique and interesting. The cast were setting off of an adventure and no one really knew where they would end up.
An eclectic mix of characters brimming with potential
What I liked about the set up on Fear the Walking Dead was the ensemble cast featuring a uniquely dysfunctional extended family fighting among themselves as much as they were with the decaying world around them.
Victor Strand was still a mysterious, wiley, mischievous son of a gun that was up to no good. Daniel Salazar was a vibrant, obviously very capable man that, just like Strand, was also hiding a secret.
As the plot unfolded, we got to watch these characters bond and become a ruthless cohesive survival unit with diverse talents and skills.
At one point, they seemed unstoppable.
Side Note: Notice all the predictive propaganda about microbes and/or a virus spreading throughout the population and Maddie clearly bragging about having taken her flu shot?
Unfortunately, the writers, even in the early seasons repeatedly used the same forced plot device over and over again to separate the characters for no reason at all other than "I need to do this alone" so they could then reunite again in a later season and give each other a big hug.
If you're going to do this sort of thing, at least come up with a good reason for the separation that breaks the rule of "strength in numbers." Especially in a series that focuses so heavily on survival!
For example, the character could be kidnapped, get separated and lose their way, gets banished for bad behavior (like when Rick banished Carol on TWD) and so on. Simply leaving because... doesn't make any sense at all, dysfunctional family or not.
Both Nick and Alicia are guilty of this mind-blowingly stupid behavior. It does set up good stories (like Nick being attacked in the desert by dogs). But give us a better excuse for the separation. Is that too much to ask?
The Fall of FTWD
As a spinoff of the original show, Fear the Walking Dead was freed from the constraints of the source material and could venture out into new territory exploring all kinds of unique situations.
This was a plus, an advantage, that as we all know was later squandered, with the show descending into a meandering mess complete with desperate refresh and reboot strategies that were never enough to capture the unique qualities the show had when it began.
As is typical with many TV series that are not thoroughly planned and plotted from beginning to end or that suffer a disastrous change in management, we yet again got to witness the deterioration of the writing quality as the show floundered and wandered off on tangents to nowhere (much like the characters at times), reinventing itself endlessly with reboots, jumping the shark, and ending up becoming a parody of itself.
You only have to look at the promo poster images after season 4. Holy cow! What the hell were they thinking?
Despite all that, and with Robert Kirkman's guidance and Dave Erickson's masterful direction, the show managed to deliver a very satisfying 3rd season which many fans consider to be the best of the series.
The show settled down into a more permanent fixed location where the story could mature. Something it needed after season 2 with half the cast on the high seas and Nick and Lucy at the Colonia.
So yeah, we'll always have season 3. Nick was still an awesome character finding his way in the new world and Troy was one of the most interesting and realistic portrayals of a rising psychopath that I've ever seen.
So the writers killed him off!
And then season 4 happened.
New showrunners. A time jump. Loads of time shifting in fact. Plenty enough to confuse the viewers into not knowing what was going on. But clearly leading up to something nasty while we endured the pretty weak and deliberately incompetent Vulture villains and their terrible attempt at laying siege to Maddie's barricaded Baseball stadium.
And all this to see Nick get shot in the chest by the little girl Charlie who he'd befriended. I actually like the way this was handled. It was very well done. It's just a shame that the actor — Frank Dillane — wanted to leave so early in the series. Nick was obviously a fan favorite and the fans deserved to see so much more development in this incredible character's journey.
Alas, it was not to be.
Nevermind. We got to follow Madison's arc after that, right?
Nah. The new showrunners thought it would be a really good idea to kill Madison off immediately after having killed off Nick!
And Kim Dickens didn't even want to leave the show!
That's not how it actually went down in the story timeline, but it is how the viewers were let in on things due to all the timseshifting, flashbacks and flashforwards poetically rearranging the events so that Maddie's supposed death was served up later.
And Travis was already a distant memory so... lacking most of the original cast, a bunch of new characters were shipped in to fill the void. Surely they wouldn't overshadow Alicia, Strand, Lucy and Daniel, the established series favorites?
Well... that's exactly what they did!
Not only did John, June and Althea take much away from the original cast, we had to accept the arrival of Morgan Jones on the scene after traipsing all the way from TWD territory down to Texas with a bad leg.
And upon reaching the new group, he started worming his way to the top and, before you knew it, Morgan was pretty much the new lead.
Did the showrunners — Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg — really hate the original cast that much? They certainly found the perfect way to disrespect them.
And another thing... it's still hard to believe that a lone traveler could survive such a journey in the Walking Dead universe. Surely Morgan got lucky. No way could anyone else repeat this feat of endurance, this miracle.
Nah. Sherry and Dwight ended up in Texas too. And they both traveled alone. So it looks like all the really bad stuff like feral gangs, ginormous zombie herds and accidents waiting to happen only exist in Alexandria and maybe in Georgia. The road down to Texas is a piece of piss. A child could do it.
Shoving all that to one side, the new characters were actually very well designed and performed. It was obvious the show wanted to become a zombie western at this point and John Dorie was there to provide us with the perfect embodiment of that genre.
Althea started out great, but the journalistic need to document every single character's "story" and every battle — even when the others needed her help — got old real fast to the point where it became ridiculous.
The lowest of the low
The series as a whole dropped to absurd levels of storytelling after the Vultures arc wrapped up. In 4b, a lone crazy lady managed to run rings around our heroes. She was about as believable as the new wheelchair-bound trucker character, Wendell. How anyone survives years driving around in the apocalypse with a severe disability is beyond me, even if his quirky sister Sarah was lending a hand. What if they had to run?
And things didn't get better in season 5. The show continued to descend into a horrible mush of nothingness with more Morgan-induced, goody-two-shoes philosophical bullshit, literally ending up with Alicia and friends painting trees with meaningful slogans instead of y'know... action, drama, excitement.
Nah. That all disappeared along with the color. Unlike the first 3 seasons with their beautiful orangy filters and dramatic cinematography, viewers were now being subjected to dreary, almost black and white images that made the Texas landscape look like the most drab place on Earth.
Keep in mind, this was before the bombs had been dropped! After that we got the color back in spades! Amazing what a bit of nuclear fallout will do.
Side Note: Is it just me? Or are these shows depicting their not-so-subtle predictive programming with impeccable timing these days. We have Fear the Walking Dead on TV showing graphic scenes of radiation poisoning after several nukes go off while we're subjected to MSM propaganda about a very real nuclear war kicking off between the US and Russia. Like I said... impeccable timing.
Anyway, season 5 delivered some shamelessly fun moments with ludicrous aerial antics including a dramatic airplane crash and a beer-bottle-shaped hot-air balloon that conveniently blew in the right direction to save the day!
Like I said... ludicrous.
And our heroes manage to survive the plane crash just so a bunch of feral kids could trick them into running around in circles.
The kids were relevant for a while and then suddenly dropped off story-wise as they were no longer central to the plot. This kind of thing is so unbelievable because there simply aren't that many people in this universe. Characters just get parked off-screen somewhere while the story continues until it's convenient to bring them back into the fold.
There was a rabbi that entertained for a short while too, but quickly became just another background character like all the rest.
Rinse and repeat.
It's not all bad though. For dedicated fans that had the staying power to make it to season 6, we were treated to the downfall of Ginnie with a satisfying end to her reign delivered down the barrel of John's gun by a ruthless June.
We saw the rise and fall of Teddy, probably the best villain they've had on FTWD, an interesting, complex character expertly portrayed by John Glover.
Teddy really stood out as the charismatic leader of a doomsday cult hell bent on nuking Texas. Proctor John was also interesting in season 3, but he was dropped as a character after the reboot!
The one thing that doesn't make sense about any of these deranged villains is why anyone would follow them. Who in their right mind would believe anything Teddy or Ginnie had to say?
And I've never understood why these psychotic leaders command any respect and would not be immediately killed off in their sleep by their own followers unless the plot demands that they magically stay alive and their followers — usually consisting of chunky oversized men with guns — are the dumbest people in the apocalypse.
That's what made lead villains on TWD so believable. The Governor concealed his madness. To the people of Woodbury, the Governor was a strong but fair, upstanding role model.
Negan, as the leader of The Saviors was a ruthless bully, but commanded the respect of his followers by enacting a system that guaranteed their survival. His system of rules worked and his most loyal guardians protected him because they knew that without a strong leader, their whole enterprise would fail.
Anyway, we were served up some fun shenanigans with a nuclear sub launching a bunch of warheads which Morgan and Strand failed to stop because they were having a tiff and Strand wanted Alicia to look up to him... or something like that.
Oh I forgot to mention... John Dorie would've been a great character to have on your team around about this time... but he was shot in the chest by another little girl! That's right, Virginia's daughter, Dakota, who was looking to creepy Teddy as some kind of granddaddy figure shot John in the chest because she'd been found out as the murderer of some throwaway character.
What a monumental waste of one of the best characters I've ever had the pleasure of connecting with on any TV show. Maybe the actor had some other business to attend to as often happens to be the case with these nonsensical decisions. Otherwise, I can't for the life of me, understand why you would cut this character's story short. Despite this, Garret Dillahunt did a great job bringing John Dorie to life while he lasted. And thankfully, the little shit, Dakota, got fried in the nuclear blast wave shortly afterwards.
The Fall of Victor Strand
Strand as a main villain didn't work for me. He has a villainous side but he's not so evil that he would be throwing the few people he knows off rooftops. Not unless he'd gone completely insane. And that wasn't the case.
Playing dress-up looked silly as well. Especially if you look back through all the seasons. There is no pretext for Strand suddenly becoming the most camp, hammy version of himself. It's all a mockery of the great character he started out as, a mysterious con-man that no one could figure out. And this goes for many other characters on the show too. And that's 100% down to the shitty writing from season 4b onward.
While Colman Domingo is always impressive, the way Strand was portrayed during the Tower arc was a little over-the-top. In fact, the whole situation was more than over-the-top, it was plainly ridiculous.
Strand goes from being a more or less loyal group member, even with his issues, to turning on everyone and murdering anyone that disagrees with him by throwing them off a rooftop. It's not believable. You've taken an existing character that was looking and acting fairly normally up to that point and suddenly he's wearing civil war garb, camping it up with a silly hat and cutlass (a rather cumbersome weapon to be carrying about all day) and suddenly making him look like a vindictive asshole of the highest order with a chip on his shoulder. Oh and some weird relationship incentive with Alicia that turns out to be a "daughter wish" of some kind? It's just odd. The whole thing.
Strand was actually an awesomely portrayed pseudo-villain in seasons 1 and 2. After that, it's like the writers didn't really know what to do with his character. Creating a new persona for himself so he could be the boss of the Tower with Howard as his henchman at this stage is like inventing a totally new character. Maybe that's what the writers should've done instead of ruining an existing one.
I certainly don't think Strand is redeemable after his pathetic stint as a tyrannical leader. He should probably just die in season 8. Then Madison and Daniel will be the only original characters left on the show. And it would be best to wind things down overall at that point. Surely we can all agree on that?
Why does anyone stay in the fallout hot-zone?
Especially when we know about all the places that the crew have commandeered in previous seasons. What's so special about The Tower? Nothing by the look of it. And the setup looks like it would run out of basic supplies in next to no time.
A rooftop veggie garden? Really?
Sometimes you have to park your brain at the door before you step into the fantasy world created by writers. I get it. I expect my readers to do the same at times.
But when there's a glaringly obvious way out of a tricky situation and you artificially lock down ALL the characters just so the story can play out in a certain way... then you've already lost half your audience: the half that requires a modest amount of realism and doesn't tolerate plot holes lightly.
While I love the aesthetic, the makeshift protective clothing, the helmets, the goggles, the gas masks etc etc there's just no need for any of it. If the characters were smart (and I don't like it when smart characters are made to look dumb for plot reasons) they would've left the hotzone on day one after the bombs dropped.
Instead, Morgan, Dwight, Sherry, June, Alicia, Grace, Daniel... indeed everyone, stays exactly where they are, in the worst possible place on Earth when they don't have to.
Smart characters would've packed up their shit, jumped on their invincible horses (that appear unaffected by the radiation) and gotten as far away from the fallout zone as possible. The absurdness of it all is even reinforced every time they temporarily take their masks off in areas where it's safe to breathe.
Stay in those areas!
We all know this would've been the simplest, most obvious thing to do. But we're expected to believe that Strand's Tower was the only place in all of Texas that could serve as a base of operations for this relatively tiny group of people. It's obviously not the only place that's radiation free, so why bother with the fuss of having to take it over. Alicia's "We're going to war," just elicits a head shake from me.
Why Alicia? Why?
Why don't you just walk in the other direction? Any direction that's not The Tower. That's after you stop following a zombie because you think it'll lead you to a special place named PADRE.
At least PADRE appears to have been a real place after all and we'll be introduced to it in season 8. But it's not Alicia that gets to see it. She doesn't get to finish what she started. It's tragic, but for all the wrong reasons.
Some people say Morgan's crossover was the trigger that lead to the downfall of the show. I honestly don't think it was necessary and maybe a lesson can be learned here. It might've been fun to do, but was it the right thing for the show?
I wouldn't have minded Morgan and Dwight and Sherry jumping on board if they'd stayed in secondary support roles to Madison and Alicia. That would've been fair. I would've enjoyed that dynamic, especially with John, June, Luciana and Daniel tagging along.
Talking of the old devil, Daniel suffered a serious downgrade from ruthless assassin to a confused old man that was unable to shake off the death of his daughter Ofelia.
While I enjoyed the episode focusing on Daniel and Lucy struggling with his broken mind, it's never satisfying to watch a character be reduced to a shadow of their former self without some kind of comeback.
Maybe Daniel can have his confidence restored just a little bit in season 8?
Relationships that go nowhere
There's a lot to be said for people tying the knot in the zombie apocalypse. For one, it takes a lot of balls. And two, babies need to happen otherwise survival is for nothing.
There's just one thing. Most of these relationships never go anywhere or end up being a complete failure. And I suspect the main reason for this is that Conflict is King in Hollywood. Scriptwriters simply can't allow a couple to be happy for more than a few episodes, then they're back to squabbling about something or other if they're not actively trying to wring each others necks.
- John and June got married, but inevitably it all fell apart. They just didn't see eye to eye.
- Morgan and Grace could've rode off into the sunset together with Mo, they're adopted child. But nah. They've been separated again.
- Alicia looked to be getting together with Wes. But Wes was a turncoat and got gutted by Strand. So... that was that then.
- And don't get me started on the on/off/on again back and forth between Dwight and Sherry. Holy cow! Make your bloody minds up people!
At least these two have an excuse to settle down now that Sherry has a bun in the oven. It's probably too good to be true though. Just wait and see. The writers are sure to bring that conflict to the fore again. They just can't help it. It's their religion.
And the relationship between the showrunners and the fans becomes more frayed with every passing season. Calls for their resignation have long been raging and the showrunners have been in full damage control mode for some time now.
So what form does this desperate response take? How does it manifest?
Well... the whole TWD franchise is now subjected to pretentious after-show explanations of what viewers just finished watching. This is the kind of soppy material you'd see tagged onto the end of a DVD product along with outtakes and "making of" videos.
Stepping in immediately after an episode to explain how the writers thought it would be fun to dress up John senior as Don Quixote for his exit from the show is condescending and smacks of insecurity in their own product. They literally have to try to convince you of how amazing the writing is because they know that it can't stand on its own.
Season 8 and Beyond?
Some more questions that may or may not get answered in season 8...
- What will PADRE actually be in the end and why was Alicia obsessed with finding it?
- I thought there might be some Rick clues in that direction but it doesn't look promising.
- Will Madison and Morgan make for a good double act in season 8? They have good chemistry so we should get some good performances at least. No idea where they're taking the characters though.
- Will Strand be redeemed with the rest of the group? Will his character go back to how he was before the Tower?
- Is Daniel fixed now? Can he simply be a badass again?
- Will Charlie finally die of radiation poisoning? Will Nick fans cheer?
- Will Mo be let out of her Death Stranding baby carrier?
- Will Grace ever see Morgan again? Does she even care?
- Will June magically bump into another member of John's family?
- Will Fear the Walking Dead continue beyond season eight?
On that note, I would have thought season 8 would be a good place to wrap it up, but it looks like we're going to keep this ride going another couple seasons.
Maybe they should bring back the original showrunner for the end of Fear. It's unlikely, but the writing and direction would get a boost for a decent send off.
There's only so much that fans can take
If you look at reviews for season 7...
... it's obvious that fans have not only been tolerating bad writing for many seasons, they've literally been hanging on to see if the situation would improve. Season 7 was a disappointment... again. The one thing that was touted and could have salvaged a drop of love from fans was Madison's return promising a climactic reunion with Alicia.
Nope! Not happening! The Maddie and Morgan show is WAY better! You'll love it, just wait and see.
When a broken Maddie finally appears, she doesn't even care that much about her long lost kids anymore. In fact, she now dedicates her time to snatching other people's kids!
Wonderful. Just wonderful. She's the Child Catcher now.
Bringing back Madison after her huge send off from the show was always going to be a stretch reminiscent of crappy soap operas. Well, I fear that's what Fear the Walking Dead has become. And it'll require a bloody miracle in season 8 (if there's anyone still watching) to turn this shitshow into something worth watching again.
These are desperate moves from desperate showrunners that know they've already failed. Maddie's return had a few fans salivating but it was plainly obvious that such a move would completely ruin everything that went before.
The trauma and healing that the other characters went through was all for naught. They all changed and grew as people because of how Maddie's death affected them and because of how they all wanted to honor her bravery and her leadership qualities.
Bringing her back ruined all that.
The writers should've stood their ground and moved on with Alicia as the show's main protagonist. Morgan, John, June, Luciana, Daniel, Dwight and Sherry were fine in their secondary roles.
But, as an Alicia fan (may she rest in peace in the FTWD afterlife alongside her brother Nick) even I'm not totally convinced that her character was ever strong enough to take the lead role. It's rare for shows to do this much passing on of the baton from the established lead to the next in line and so on. The main show also had to go through this after the exit of Rick Grimes. TWD is still good at times, especially the continuing exchanges between Negan and Maggie, but it's always going to be lacking the main attraction. And that was undeniably Rick.
Not having a plan... is a bad plan!
When showrunners lack a blueprint, we all know what happens. Shows go off the rails. They get cancelled. If they're lucky, they might get a reboot. But if that's needed, it's obvious that the project wasn't adequately planned and plotted from the get go.
When there's no plot or any real direction that a show is heading in, writers resort to dream sequences, hallucinations, pretentious storytelling and characters trying to find meaning in the zombie apocalypse. That's what we've been fed, more or less, since the new showrunners were dumped on Fear the Walking Dead.
After enduring 7 seasons of how not to make a TV show, this case study should and probably will serve as a lesson to future shows, franchises, spinoffs, movies (Star Wars sequels cough cough) and any other products that are not just a once and done affair.
Get your shit in order before you begin. Don't throw out a pilot on a whim, then hope and pray you can wing it. You can't keep any initial success going unless you have a long term plan. Maybe you can mess around with the details once you get going, but without a well thought out overall framework you're going to be rebooting the damn thing more times than the Spiderman movies.
Just something to keep in mind. Y'know... for next time. Before you screw up another promising series.
Or are we all just going to follow the Game of Thrones "shit-your-pants-in-the-last-season-and-destroy-everything-that-went-before" model from now on?
p.s. What the hell happened to Skidmark?
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