NOTE: Spoilers from throughout the second season of “Fear the Walking Dead” are present in this review
Fear the Walking Dead managed to find enough of a reason to exist to make it tolerable by the end of its second season’s back half. The front half still suffered from a lot of the same tedious, poorly-plotted issues as last year’s debut season, but fortunately, after the characters’ shaky initial development was out of the way, and they were each fractured and placed into nicely distinct new situations, this series did start to become genuinely better. There’s still no getting around the fact that Fear the Walking Dead remains very much the ‘Diet Coke’ of the Walking Dead universe, being the lesser imitation that fans subside on as they wait for the proper new season of AMC’s main Walking Dead series, but at the very least, the show is starting to take baby steps towards something better now.
Of course, to get to that better element however, Fear the Walking Dead still forces viewers to slog through a front half to the season that is problematic at best, and outright boring at worst, whenever it’s not forcing more moments of plot-convenient stupidity on the part of the lead characters. The initial episodes that took place at sea, aboard Victor Strand’s yacht, the Abigail, were a promising idea on paper, but it wasn’t long before these episodes became dull, and failed to generate much interest. This was made worse by many of the show’s characters still being insufferable, particularly Chris and Travis, who presented two very unrealistic extremes when it came to how to deal with the collapse of society.
As with Season One however, Strand remained one of the show’s strongest and most appealing characters. Season Two added lots of great new dimensions to Strand as well, including that he is actually a former con man and homosexual, and the Abigail is named after his longtime boyfriend, Thomas Abigail, whom he was separated from when the Walker Virus began to hit. Strand’s reunion with Thomas was also nicely tragic, since Thomas quickly dies, and Strand nearly takes his own life in accordance with a suicide pact, though finds himself unable to do it. This all happens when the group has finally come ashore in Mexico, and ends up in the settlement of Celia, Thomas’ caretaker and the mother of one of Strand’s partners-in-crime, who views the Walkers as very curable, and needing of help, not destruction.
One of the more interesting ideas brought up by Season Two of Fear the Walking Dead, one that would never fly in the main Walking Dead series, is this idea of worship and/or pity for the Walkers. The main Walking Dead series and its American personalities quickly established the Walkers as being beyond saving, and dispose of them with gleeful abandon. Many of the Mexican characters on Fear the Walking Dead however look at the Walkers differently, as either victims, or a higher form of human existence, and this did actually lend itself to some nicely distinct storylines. The idea of worshiping the Walkers is a bit of a stretch, but the idea of caring for them and wanting to help them in these early days of the Walker apocalypse is one that helps this supporting cast and its obstacles stand apart from that of the main Walking Dead series, where absolutely everyone thinks of the Walkers as rabid creatures that simply need to be put down as fast as possible.
The crucial turning point of Fear the Walking Dead that occurred in an otherwise frustratingly contrived and lacklustre midseason finale, which led into the show taking a hiatus for several months to accommodate AMC’s new comic book-inspired series, Preacher during Summer, had the lead cast separated and finally coming into their own, with Nick wandering alone, Travis and Chris splintering into their own party, and the Clark family taking Strand and Ofelia to parts unknown. Daniel’s fate is currently ambiguous, which is rather disappointing, since Daniel is this show’s other best character aside from Strand, even though it currently looks like he’s probably dead, after setting Celia’s Walker confinement on fire, and seemingly opting to let the flames consume him, so he can be with Griselda again. I feel like the showrunners will find some excuse for Daniel to come back down the line though, however questionable it is, since it doesn’t make sense for the show to pretend that Daniel is dead without just declaring him to be dead (yes, I know that the main Walking Dead series did this with Glenn last season, and it was stupid then too), but for now, the back half managed to do just fine without him, against the odds.
Best of all in the season’s back half is that Nick and Alicia finally stopped being annoying, insufferable liabilities, even if the same can’t be said about Chris. The midseason premiere that focused entirely on Nick was one of this season’s and this show’s best episodes overall, finally having Nick learn to be a true survivor that sees the greater picture beyond his increasingly irritating drug fix. Nick ended up becoming a surprising saviour and paragon in a new Mexican colony that takes him in, even being the voice of courage when the colony’s leader, Alejandro is afraid to act against an increasingly aggressive cartel that the colony is forced to deal with for supplies. Nick becoming the new colony leader, even striking up a romance with its strongest fighter, Luciana in the process, made for a surprisingly satisfying arc for his character, even if Nick still has yet to reunite with his family, and the season ended on an annoying cliffhanger that didn’t resolve his new band of survivors running headlong into soldier-like thugs. It was incredible to see one of this show’s worst characters become one of its best in the span of just a few episodes though.
While Nick’s arc stole much of the season’s back half however, the other two arcs still had a couple of issues, even if they nonetheless improved the series across the board. Alicia came into her own as a smart and effective leader, after her party stumbles into a Mexican hotel with a splintered group of guests that they must rally together. Strand being injured and having to sit out several episodes at that point didn’t hobble the show too much either, amazingly. It was still heartbreaking to see Madison and Alicia have to leave Strand behind after they reunite with Travis at the end of the season however, and are forced to flee with him. Hopefully, Strand comes back in Season Three somehow, especially since his character worked a lot better to bring out the appeal of Madison than Travis does at this point. Madison being away from Travis made her character a bit smarter and more reasonable, though Madison still had several frustrating moments of unrealistic stupidity in the season’s back half, particularly when she lights up the entire hotel in a futile effort to attract Nick (even if this does lead Travis back to her at least), drawing every survivor in many miles to the hotel. Like I said in the related review, how was Madison not kicked out of the hotel for that?!
Travis separating with Chris was the least successful storyline in the season’s back half, since, rather than improving Chris’ and Travis’ relationship and circumstances, it just seemed to double down on the ongoing frustrations with both of these characters, at first anyway. It wasn’t until Travis was finally forced to spine up after Chris abandons him that his character started to improve, hopefully paving the way for better storylines for Travis in Season Three next year.
In the end though, this entire separation simply served as a roundabout way to finally do away with Chris, who followed in his mother’s footsteps as a big seasonal death, after Chris’ new buddies murder him in flashback after Chris suffers a broken leg in a car wreck. Since Chris was one of this show’s most hated characters, it’s doubtful that many viewers cared about his death, though at least the show executed the fallout from said death remarkably well, making it the breaking point of Travis, whereupon he brutally murders the two frat boys that killed his son, which is what leads to the Clark family being expelled from the hotel at the end of the season. Ofelia, meanwhile was all but forgotten about at this point, only barely being brought up in passing after she steals the Clark vehicle and flees the hotel by herself, only to end up captured by seemingly the same soldiers that captured Nick and his crew. Season Three material to come, I guess.
Fear the Walking Dead still needs a bit of tightening before it can stand alongside the main Walking Dead series, even if that series has also noticeably struggled over the past couple of seasons. In terms of progress though, Fear the Walking Dead took some commendable steps forward in its second season, even if said steps didn’t truly occur until the season’s back half, which didn’t start until several months after the front half had concluded. Season Three could continue to have the series getting better, now that its characters are actually being better fleshed-out, making better decisions, and facing more exciting obstacles, and for the first time, it’s easy to be legitimately interested in where the show goes from here. It’s doubtful that Fear the Walking Dead will ever match the fanfare of the main Walking Dead series at this point, but at the very least, it’s gradually starting to become a worthwhile spin-off, albeit slowly.
- Walker pity/worship is an interesting angle
- Nick and Alicia finally grow up in the back half
- Chris' death finally freeing Travis from his spinelessness
- Front half remains tedious and contrived
- Madison and Ofelia don't fully smarten up
- Awkward, annoying ending cliffhanger