FEAR THE WALKING DEAD is a strange animal, markedly different from The Walking Dead original series. It seems to inhabit a mostly different world with a different feel from Walking Dead prime. In its fourth season, it is still seeking an identity and true course but has made some progress.
Season four of the show is mainly concerned with revenge and the stories of the people involved. There are two major character deaths, bringing the total of original cast members down to two. Revenge is both a main drive of some of the characters while others seek to impart the knowledge that the cycle of revenge never stops. That it creates only more victims who seek bloody comeuppance upon those that took their loved ones away and the unexpected consequences and sorrow. The idea of cowardice and the betrayal it breeds is central to the plot as well. There is a focus on characters who have a tendency to run from people and their problems because they would rather leave a situation rather than face the loss of friends and loved ones again.
The story follows the late seasons of The Walking Dead prime in using the time-shifting device of BEFORE and NOW. The narrative goes back and forth between the story of Morgan, the The Walking Dead prime cast member, and the people he meets on his journey and the surviving cast members of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD in their fortress in a former baseball stadium somewhere in the South of the United States after they left Mexico and were a roving band for some time.
Morgan starts in TWD prime refusing to listen to his friends (and main cast members – Carol and Rick’s) entreaties to come back to their strongholds and be part of their group again after the last bloody conflict. In typical Morgan fashion, he decides to leave the area and refuse human companionship. He goes on a really long walk and eventually runs into John Dorie, an old fashioned man who would probably be more at home in the Old West, well, maybe if there were movies in the old west. Dorie is played by Garrett Dillahunt, a character actor who has also been on the much beloved Deadwood and Justified. Because Morgan and then John are captured by some bad guys, they start to bond and are saved by a character named Al (short for Althea) played by Maggie Grace, an alum of Lost and Taken. Al has an armored vehicle with superior firepower, food, and an obsession with filming the stories of any survivors she meets. She will help you so long as you agree to her deal: answer her questions about your life and story on camera.
John does the interview and Morgan refuses more than a cursory “I’m not from around here and I traveled a long way.” John also asks about a pistol that he carries and the woman he is looking for named Laura, who carries the other gun in his pair of pistols and is the woman he loves and lost.
The other thread of the story is the BEFORE of the FEAR cast members, Madison, her son Nick, daughter Alicia, friends Luciana Galvez and Victor Strand and the large group of survivors that have gathered in The Diamond, a baseball stadium that is their home. Things go well and they take in a young girl named Charlie until the arrival of another group, The Vultures. This group, true to the vulture’s nature, park outside their stronghold and announce their intention to wait for the FEAR group’s demise to pick over the remains of their mini-civilization. The leader, Melvin, played by Kevin Zegers – who was in the Dawn of the Dead remake, mocks their efforts at surviving and warns that their crops will fail and that they will die. Much like the Lord Humungous’ group of bikers in Mad Max, their plan is to take what the survivors have and simply sit outside, unlike the Lord Humungous’ group, they are not violent and allow the survivors to come and go but continue their mockery.
The crops do fail and their people begin to go hungry. In the present day timeline, Alicia, Nick, Strand, and Luciana meet up with Morgan, John Dorie, and Al and angrily attempt to steal the truck and talk of their intention to revenge their losses upon a group that they have met with before (The Vultures). When Al attempts to regain control of the vehicle, they go over the side of the road and come to an agreement. Alicia, Strand, and Luciana will help Al get her truck back up to the road and Morgan will watch Nick, who is handcuffed to the truck. John goes with them to help.
Morgan tries to talk Nick out of revenge but still lets him go and things go awry quickly. There is now another reason for revenge and the FEAR group goes to retrieve a cache of weapons. They leave to rendezvous with the group that they want to kill. Morgan and John Dorie leave to try and stop them.
In the Before timeline, a woman named Nicole joins the FEAR group in the Diamond and then is revealed to be a nurse and after some initial rectitude, throws in to set up an infirmary. Different parts of the group go out to different places to try and find food and the story toggles back and forth between the FEAR previous season’s cast talking about how they felt they should have done things differently and made Madison leave the stadium so that so many would not have died. Naomi reveals a bit of her past and a potential but extremely dangerous solution to their problem. The BEFORE and NOW conflicts both come to crisis points and Morgan and Dorie continue to attempt to stop the NOW’s violence.
The violence of both timelines flares and the separate resolutions occur. The season then concerns itself with the aftermath of the revelations and consequences of the actions of the characters.
This season was pretty successful, to a certain point for me, in its attempts tell a compelling story and introduce new characters. I have to admit that the show lost me in the third season. I had been watching since the beginning and while I was not wholly satisfied with where the show went I was intrigued with their efforts to have a TWD show that was not only about southern people in the Zombie Apocalypse. FEAR had a majority POC cast originally and while there was also the Clark family to give the mainstream viewers what they wanted, this show seemed a little more interested in doing something a bit different, particularly when the show’s characters went to Mexico.
I got sucked into the framing of the story, as the narrative seemed to shift from BEFORE to NOW right about the time I started feeling a little bored with what was going on. I think the usage of the device was more successful on FEAR than it was on TWD prime. I got hooked into the small stories and character notes in a way that I really had not while watching previous seasons of FEAR. Dillahunt’s quirky characterization was charming and believable as I have known people like him. Jenna Elfman, an actress that I am not particularly fond of, plays Naomi and was directed well and toned down most of her comedy mannerisms. Elfman seemed to be at her best when working with Dillahunt and Alicia Debnam-Carey, who was better than she ever was before in previous season. Debnam-Carey’s work particularly shone in the post-conflict episode, Close Your Eyes. She seemed to be electric, running on a nervous current. Colman Domingo’s portrayal of Victor Strand was stellar as usual. He was one of the big reasons why I stayed with this show as long as I did. He was consistently entertaining and a strong acting presence that the show needs. Both Kim Dickens and Frank Dillane seemed distant from their roles. Dickens was mostly shown resolutely walking away from the camera and Dillane seemed like a house-trained version of the season one Nick. Both did what I would consider adequate work, what is generally expected of television actors, and continued to be incapable of showing strong emotions like grief in a believable manner. Althea, played by Maggie Grace was an amiable cypher who was charismatic and commanding and I felt she did the kind of work that is the foundation of an ensemble that is frequently overlooked because it is not showy.
The two major character deaths were representative of what I disliked most about TWD as a whole and what I am coming to appreciate about this new season of FEAR. The first death was a bit of a shock. It was the everyday death that no one is prepared for and felt that much more believable for it. The second was the same type of triumphant death that TWD prime has a tendency to advertise. It was a show death. The end of a hero’s journey with good lighting and thus I was completely unmoved by it. Lots of shots squarely on the character’s face with a voiceover meant to impart a heavy meaning to their sacrifice that is supposed to get you right in the feels. The problem with this approach is that they are trying to manipulate you into being moved; rather than allowing the acting, the characters, and the story itself lead you to a genuine feeling. It is almost as if they didn’t trust their own show enough to allow the possibility of organic connection and potential failure.
So FEAR THE WALKING DEAD season four is a conditional success for me. It drew me in enough and the show’s genuine attempts to change has made me overlook some of the more obvious attempts at BIG MOMENTS. I think that maybe if they follow on this course they might find their way and make a Zombie Apocalypse show successful in a way that doesn’t rely on ratings-grabbing stunts and visible wires. Perhaps they simply need more faith in their own actors and storytelling abilities.
FEAR THE WALKING DEAD Season 4 is now available to own on Blu-ray and DVD.