Fans who are sick of tired of The Walking Dead’s shenanigans—you know, all the Walking Dead fans—don’t need to wait long to get over the calamity that was the season six finale. Tonight, AMC premieres the second season of Fear the Walking Dead, the West Coast spinoff series free from the binds of Robert Kirkman’s graphic novel. And after watching Fear the Walking Dead’s first three episodes, we can say that creative freedom is on its way to making the sister show the superior option for your zombie drama fix.
Following a non-nuclear family, the truncated first season of <Fear the Walking Dead threw it back to the beginning of the zombie apocalypse. We’ve come so far in The Walking Dead that it’s easy to forget the characters weren’t always ruthless pragmatists doing whatever it takes to ensure survival. And save from Rick, we missed their initial struggles with waxing moments of the outbreak. FTWD, which is still just two weeks into the new world, allows us to see more of ourselves in the protagonists than we can or ever could in TWD proper. The first three episodes, set on a yacht at sea, see clashing philosophies on altruism. At what point does helping strangers run counter to self-preservation? Should you pick them up? Should you even talk to them? This creates an underlying tension throughout the beginning of the season, foreshadowing an outright clash.
The new setting may seem gimmicky at face value, but it’s a logical progression for Angelenos and provides a fresh setting for the series before it was begging for one. (Will TWD ever leave the forest???) Los Angeles, with its hellacious traffic and population density second to only the New York City metropolitan area, was as much as a character in the first season as Madison, Travis, or Nick. The same can be said about the ocean, which’ll be unpredictable in its patterns and its inhabitants.
But the true wildcard will be Victor Strand (Colman Domingo), the affluent, silver-tongued enigma who arrived late last season to escape the military hospital with Nick. Domingo has been upgraded to a series regular this season, and his vacillations between brusqueness and charm make him the most captivating person on screen. He’s taken the entire group aboard his yacht, “Abigail,” but he makes it clear that the law of the ship is authoritarian. His background, which garnered beachfront property and yacht money, will be revealed later in the season, as well as his true intentions for the voyage.
That’s the only story beat we can anticipate in FTWD, and it’s amazing how refreshing it feels not to be trapped by inevitable storylines and villains. The Walking Dead struggles most in the extended run-ups to the major moments plucked from the comic book. The last two episodes before the season six finale dragged on, killing time and forcing unrealistic and uncharacteristic decisions for the sake of setting up Negan’s arrival. Even the finale itself dragged on: the new villain and Lucille didn’t show up until the last 10 minutes of a 90-minute episode. Even if we did find out who Negan killed there would have been time wasted getting there—the decision to make the deceased’s identity a cliffhanger for next season makes it all the more frustrating.
Hopefully, Fear the Walking Dead won’t fall into those patterns. And it has fighting chance because of its increased creative freedom. We don’t need a bombshell of a carrot dangling in front of us to keep watching. We can be patient and trust the storyline and character development. We don’t need to know who’s going to try and attack the group, or speculate when it’s going to happen. Better Call Saul, the best show on AMC right now and possibly on television, has quickly mastered pacing without ever revealing its hand too much. It’s an entirely different show, sure, but if FTWD can just be a little more like it than TWD, it can become the best zombie show around.
The Walking Dead, but don’t take it out on Fear. The first three episodes offer promise for a strong second season.