Two years ago, I wrote in this column after the first four episodes of Fear the Walking Dead had aired, “Because right now the only fear I have is that “Fear The Walking Dead” will continue shambling along; a zombie incarnation of its predecessor.” All throughout that first season I was pulled through by characters who grew on me and it paid off with a back third of the season which had dealt with much of my annoyances laid out back then. Now two years later I enjoy Fear the Walking Dead as much as The Walking Dead.
One big reason for my enjoyment is I don’t know what is coming. These are all characters that do not exist on Robert Kirkman’s comic book page. Mr. Kirkman created a whole new set of characters. Early on they seemed two-dimensional. As time has passed the backstory has been filled in providing the emotional connection to the characters. In hindsight I must admit I was being unfair. When The Walking Dead came on the air I already knew those people on the TV screen. My feelings about them had already been determined years earlier. Fear the Walking Dead did not have that advantage and I showed impatience early on. Now at the end of season three the cast of Fear the Walking Dead have won me over.
Ruben Blades (l.) and Colman Domingo
On The Walking Dead most of the characters are clear-cut heroes or villains. It is only with the recent introduction of Negan that the concept of whether they are “heroes” has been explored. Fear the Walking Dead has done this with characters made up of deep gray hues. The mother who will do anything to save what’s left of her family. Actress Kim Dickens plays Madison Clark with a surety of purpose. Except in decidedly small steps it seems like she might be sliding down a slippery slope to something less heroic. Actor Domingo Colman plays the hustler Strand he is the quintessential out for himself con man. The interesting thing here is even through trying to look out for himself he manages to save others. The final character in this trio is played by Ruben Blades, Daniel Salazar. He carries the burden of his past life as a secret policeman in a dictatorship. He fled to the US with his wife and daughter to start over. As the dead have shambled into his life the old habits of his original life have proven useful. The open question is does he want to fully embrace them or find a way to keep as much of his new life he had before the zombie apocalypse. These three are the heart of Fear the Walking Dead.
The show by using its California and Mexico border setting has explored all kinds of modern themes like immigration, water rights, and Native Americans. Without a previous story to adapt it feels like the writing team has more freedom to create more contemporaneously. It has felt like they have a grasp on where the show is heading.
Next weekend with the season eight premiere The Walking Dead will celebrate its 100th episode. Two years ago, I didn’t think I wanted Fear the Walking Dead to reach the same milestone; now I do.