NOTE: Spoilers from throughout the fifth season of, “Fear the Walking Dead” are present in this review
Fear the Walking Dead appears to have settled into its new, rebooted direction at this point. After Season Four moved the series’ timeline up to the then-present day events for The Walking Dead (where they still unfold, now taking place before the six-year time jump from The Walking Dead’s previous season), former The Walking Dead personality, Morgan Jones assumed the main character role for the series, having moved on from Alexandria, and eventually having taken a long journey all the way to Texas. This is when Morgan ends up encountering new characters, and eventually, several of the surviving Fear the Walking Dead protagonists, who have now lost matriarch, Madison, and have since become feral and homeless. This foundation eventually evolved into Morgan successfully rallying new and old Fear the Walking Dead personalities into a mission to build a caravan, dedicated to finding lost survivors in the walker apocalypse, and helping them get back on their feet against seemingly impossible odds.
Season Five sees Morgan’s mission pick up in earnest, as it struggles out of the gate, due to a new antagonist named Logan immediately seizing control of the denim factory that Morgan’s operation attempted to base itself out of. This is a pretty solid narrative curveball, though even if Season Five ultimately feels like a slight improvement over the decent, but not great Season Four, the season’s back half is definitely better than its front half. There’s at least an interesting split of storylines attempted between the two halves of Fear the Walking Dead’s fifth season however, with the front half seeing Morgan’s crew separated after a mission attempt gone bad, while the back half involves Morgan’s survivors trying to work with, and eventually against, the crew of Logan, who, as it turns out, is actually a mere underling for some even more dangerous and unpredictable antagonists!
For the front half of the season though, the real threat is instead a ticking clock, namely a melting-down power plant, which threatens to engulf Morgan’s displaced party in a cloud of radioactive ash, if they fail to get to the other side of the mountains in time. This is a thrilling idea, though it also means that many of Season Five’s front-half episodes can be agonizingly slow-paced. Likewise, the story threads from the season’s front half just flat out aren’t as good as those in the back half. Much of this front portion of the season most notably involves Morgan’s party trying to rescue some kids, who have a horrendously unrealistic, resourceful survival operation of their own going on, while the other adult characters (and Charlie) try to build a means through which Morgan’s endangered party can eventually land a plane, and return to them. The midseason finale at least finally realizes the tease of the imminent meltdown to decent effect, but most of the time, Fear the Walking Dead’s fifth season ends up being frustratingly boring in its early stretches. This is especially evident after the much-needed creative boost that the previous season of The Walking Dead managed to achieve under new showrunner, Angela Kang as well.
If there’s any draw to be had in the front half of Fear the Walking Dead’s fifth season, it’s two character reunions that fans of The Walking Dead will no doubt enjoy. The first of these is Daniel Salazar, a legacy Fear the Walking Dead character whose fate has been entirely uncertain since his disappearance at the end of Season Three. Daniel’s fate was supposed to be addressed in Season Four, but the plan apparently changed during the writing process. Regardless, seeing Daniel again, now with an adorable cat sidekick named Skidmark, is tense at first, but he does eventually become a steadfast ally in Morgan’s convoy, which is awesome to see. The other character reunion meanwhile is one from the main Walking Dead series, specifically Dwight, who was exiled from Alexandria by Daryl, and has also found himself in the Texas area, after being on the hunt for Sherry. Dwight’s story arc doesn’t come together as well as Daniel’s this season, especially with the enormously lame way that Fear the Walking Dead tries to brush off the mission to find Sherry in the end, but Dwight at least proves to be another valuable ally to Morgan and his operation, as he continues trying to atone for his unfortunate history with Negan and the Saviors.
After the dry and sluggish early stretch of Fear the Walking Dead’s fifth season is out of the way though, the season picks up a lot more, along with Morgan’s mission. Logan stands as a pretty good antagonist at this point too, representing a destitute and twisted result of the failure from the legendary Polar Bear’s original mission to help survivors around the area. Surprisingly though, the best part of Logan’s character arc is when he’s unexpectedly killed by some new and even better villains, after a deadly walker attack in some oil fields, which is the result of gasoline around the world starting to expire and become useless. This is another story element that links Fear the Walking Dead nicely to the main Walking Dead series, where cars have been useless for years as of The Walking Dead’s previous ninth season, and the characters have now resorted to getting around on horseback. Likewise, the power plant meltdown from Season Five’s front half is also nicely effective as a more grounded take on the walker apocalypse, mimicking more realistic threats that would logically occur if society ever collapsed. Fear the Walking Dead’s attempts at a more grounded, humanized take on this world are easily the best way that this spin-off is separating itself from the main Walking Dead series at this point, which, by contrast, has now proudly embraced its comic book inspiration with more outlandish threats, and massive-scale communities and conflicts.
The exception to this more grounded rule on Fear the Walking Dead however is still ironically the best part of Season Five, and will probably continue to be the best part of the show in Season Six. This is of course, Virginia’s Pioneers, the surprise new villains that end up killing Logan and his cronies at the oil fields late in the season, and who are also the true masterminds behind efforts to take remaining gasoline reserves. Virginia, played in a surprisingly likable, but undeniably cunning turn by Colby Minifie, has an operation that spans pretty much all of Texas, aiming to colonize the land like the American pioneers of old, and ruthlessly gunning down anyone who gets in their way. Virginia surprisingly tries to reason and negotiate with Morgan and his crew early on, despite her aggressive faction’s policies, but eventually, they end up appropriating and separating Morgan’s survivors in the season finale, after their final attempt to find a home ends up not working out. This also comes with the twist of Virginia shooting and critically wounding Morgan, as a way to prevent her new conquests from being motivated to escape, leaving Morgan for dead in the final seconds of the season. I imagine that we’ll get the best Pioneer story arcs next season, but their introduction in Season Five is memorable and cool, setting the stage for what could likely be Fear the Walking Dead’s best villains to date, or at the very least, the best antagonists that the show has featured since the Otto family in Season Three.
As much as Season Five of Fear the Walking Dead ends on an especially bleak and grim note as well, the season’s increased sense of hope and altruism is another way that the show separates itself from the main Walking Dead series, which features more ruthless and hardened survivors for the most part. Morgan’s mission initially seems foolhardy, something that even several of Morgan’s own people can be quick to point out at times, but it grows on you as the season goes on, especially once you’re past the more tedious front half. Fear the Walking Dead’s fifth season may not ultimately keep pace with The Walking Dead’s creatively-invigorated ninth season to come before, but its more sluggish early episodes eventually give way to more promising threats and character developments, while perpetuating a great, heartwarming sense of optimism. It’s especially nice for fans to experience moments like reuniting with Daniel and Dwight, and seeing John and June finally get married as well, before Virginia ends up separating everyone at the end of the season finale. On that note, it’s the villains that really end up defining this season’s best storylines, which is another reason why the back half is better than the front half. Dwight’s storylines aren’t all they could have been, and the new child characters feel like a flimsy effort to justify AMC’s second planned The Walking Dead spin-off that’s debuting next year, but Fear the Walking Dead is starting to come along in its rebooted style, even if it’s still tough to argue that the show is back to being the ‘diet’ version of The Walking Dead.
- Frequently uplifting tone with lots of likable new characters
- Cunning, morally complex villains
- Daniel finally returning to the series
- Sluggish, tedious front half
- Dwight storylines fall short of their potential
- The new child characters don't mesh well with the ensemble