Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Fear the Walking Dead was doomed before it even took off. Even though comics creator-extraordinaire Robert Kirkman promised fans from the start that Fear TWD would be more than a mere Walking Dead rip-off, we don’t feel satisfied with his follow through. The premise, a hastily pasted-together apocalypse, falls flat next to similarly two-dimensional characters.
Personally, I feel that more deliberate, focused use of the six episode season would have benefited the series as it struggled to find footing. Zombies, by now, are familiar terrain for film and pop culture fans, going all the way back to HP Lovecraft’s original ideas. FTWD doesn’t necessarily need to reinvent the wheel, but to stay relevant viewers need it to pick up the pace.
We are first introduced to the plotline through the lens of drug addict Nick, who encounters his first zombie after sleeping off a heroin high. That day, Nick’s mom Madison and her live-in boyfriend Travis attempt to piece together what happened the night before. Both parents work at the local high school, which is where we are introduced to the recent flu-like outbreak that seems to be keeping kids home. We also meet Travis’ ex-wife Liza and son Chris, in the midst of an argument over visitation.
Roughly one day since the beginning of the outbreak, people are still confused by what is going on. Internet videos showing the police firing on a man multiple times without it even fazing him have gone viral and more children are missing school. On a bus to see his father, Chris gets caught up in the middle of a riot as the local police are accused of excessive violence. Travis and Liza find him just in time to duck inside a barbershop where we meet the Salazar family.
When the group is forced to flee to Travis’, we are supposed to be concerned for their safety, but the truth is we aren’t. We hardly know the Salazars, much less care for their wellbeing. We simply meet them and then are told they matter, but why?
Only making things more confusing, the show then jumped ahead a week and a half for episode four. Now Travis’ neighborhood is designated a safe zone and the three families are living together. The military presence is making everyone inside the community stressed, but they all go about their everyday lives as best they can. There are many unanswered questions here. What led up to the military protection, how else has a zombie infiltration affected the government, and where else are there signs of a crumbling social structure? We are shown some protesting and such, but it is just not enough to help when the soldiers come for Nick and Mrs. Salazar due to illness.
A man with a past, Mr. Salazar holds a military man hostage to get more information on the zombie outbreak. This causes trouble with his daughter and Maddie at first, but when useful intelligence comes out, attitudes change a bit. Travis was gone with a military team and has seen the violence outside the cozy confines of their fenced-in community, but is still appalled at the actions taken by Mr. Salazar.
The group finds out that operation Cobalt, which calls for the ‘humane termination’ of all civilians and the pull-out of troops, will be carried out in the morning, and they head to the military compound to save Nick and Mrs. Salazar. Their plan includes releasing a large horde of “walkers” into the military compound as a distraction.
Nick has since been quarantined to a cell with a bunch of other sick people. Here he meets a man named Strand who has his own air of mystery about him. A cool-under-fire kind of guy, there is something more to Strand and his life. When the walker horde is unleashed, Strand uses a key he pilfered from a guard to free himself and Nick. As the duo make their escape, they are cornered by walkers until the rest of the family finds and saves them.
After an action-packed escape, the group then ends up at Strand’s home. He tells Nick of the boat ‘Abigail’ that will save them from this disaster. We are shown that Liza was bitten and now Travis must mercy kill her. The first season closes with Maddie attempting to comfort Travis on the beach.
Fear TWD was hurt most by fan expectations, but also by time itself. With only six episodes to tell this intro story, we were given an uneven season that only hit the key notes. Watching it was sort of like watching a film adaptation of your favorite book – important plot points were glossed over in favor of big action sequences. But the drama-filled finale set us up for what will hopefully be a better second showing – we all know the zombies haven’t been beaten back yet.