How ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ Outgrew the Original

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Three years ago, I never thought that I would actually become invested in Fear the Walking Dead. The characters were annoying, their motivations made no sense, and the original show just had more interesting things happening. With the third season recently having come to a close, I’m shocked to say that I’m actually more invested in this show than I am in the original series.

Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey). Image: AMC
Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey). Image: AMC
The Stakes

It sort of sucks that in the Golden Age of television, much of the thrill in shows like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead comes from the potential for main characters to die. I believe this can be effective when executed properly, but around Season 5, The Walking Dead fell into the trap of introducing tertiary characters solely for the purpose of dying instead of the protagonists. This led to absurd plot devices like hiding under a dumpster to avoid certain death, and dangling Easter eggs and unnecessary cliffhangers about the characters’ fate.

Fear the Walking Dead is not afraid to let go of its leads. Season 3 opened with one of the primary characters, Travis, being killed off with zero warning. In the finale of the same season, Troy’s death was also unexpected. No dramatic buildup. It happened fast, and then it was over.

On the subject of character deaths, Fear the Walking Dead actually brought back a character thought to be long gone: Daniel Salazar. His supposed death scene in the previous season was in no way a cliffhanger, but there was also no hint at the possibility of a return. They still managed to bring him back in an organic way.

Fear the Walking Dead also isn’t tied down by source material. Granted, The Walking Dead shifted away from the comics in a major way, but there are still too many Easter eggs and hints about whether or not an event from the comics will occur. The fact that the original series teases character deaths so much takes away from the experience.

fear the walking dead Daniel
Daniel (Rubén Blades). Image: AMC
Character Consistency

While I feel that FTWD still fell into the TWD trap of going through a cyclical pattern of characters taking turns being annoying, their progression and evolution is more consistent. For instance, The Walking Dead’s Rick Grimes basically changes his mind about killing every season; almost on a dime. One season, he espouses killing to keep his crew alive, then the next he preaches the importance of keeping their humanity. Even resident badass Carol, after nearly six seasons of continued, unrelentess killing, is now done with killing and living life as a hermit. FTWD is more consistent about these concepts. Instead of a black and white view of morality, the characters move toward a moral event horizon in a slow decay. There is more consistency to the FTWD characters’ development.

Jumping the Shark

Somewhere between dumpster-ex-machinas and CGI tigers, the original series just became a bit outlandish. This is in addition to the fact that the whole TWD crew is pretty much invulnerable. FTWD is still grounded, and is more believable as a post-apocalytpic world; or at least as believable as a zombie-genre story can be.

Separation

Fear the Walking Dead is not afraid to split the crew up. Whereas The Walking Dead has had the majority of the group together, with a few members splitting off from time to time, we went nearly a whole season with Strand separated from the Fear crew. Nick also went off on his own while the others were at the hotel, and Alicia briefly separated from her family. After the reveal that Daniel survived, he had his own story arc at the dam. Each of the separated members of the team had their own plot that was just as interesting as the others (with the exception of Travis and his son in Season 2). The recent finale split the family apart again, as Nick went off with Daniel while Alicia, Strand, and Madison all got separated in the flood. I’m looking forward to what the writers do next.

Fear the Walking Dead Strand and Madison
Madison and Strand. Image: AMC
World Building

This is perhaps my favorite aspect of the show. We get to see what’s going on outside of the one region in TWD. We saw the fall of Los Angeles, though I do wish there was more of it. We were shown how the government attempted to handle the outbreak and failed. We also saw the dangers of the coasts and waters, and we saw how a whole other country handled the outbreak. We saw people protecting the border, we saw a ranch, small neighborhoods trying to survive, and even a trading community inside a stadium.

I still love them both

Season 3 of Fear the Walking Dead was by far the strongest so far. This is a show that is consistently evolving along with its characters. They’re not afraid to try new things to keep the story fresh. I’ll most likely watch the new season of The Walking Dead, but I think it can definitely learn a thing or two from its younger sibling. Especially if it wants to escape the current state of “undead” stagnation.

You can check out Fear the Walking Dead on Amazon.

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