This article contains spoilers for Fear the Walking Dead, for The Walking Dead season 7, and for issues 132-157 of Image’s The Walking Dead comic book.
When talking about spin-offs, whether they be TV shows or books or movies or video games, it’s hard not to think about the intellectual properties that beget burgeoning multimedia empires. In the case of Robert Kirkman’s mega-successful Image comic, The Walking Dead, the title has produced novels, toys, games, and yes, a spin-off show on AMC.
Though not nearly the blockbuster that TWD is, FTWD is nevertheless on its third season. While it’s definitely set in the same TWD universe, as of the season 3 premiere, Madison, Travis, Nick, et al find themselves close to the border with Mexico—a far cry from the Washington, D.C. metro area that Rick and company currently occupy. And while Rick and crew have weathered a few years of the zombie apocalypse, Madison’s group is still in the early months of the world’s collapse. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as FTWD doesn’t benefit from being a clone of the original show.
And yet, as much as I love FTWD (as my review of the season 3 premiere will attest), I do think Fear could benefit from a more direct tie to TWD. To my mind, the best way to do this is have the Whisperers, a massive band of wanderers who camouflage themselves in walker hides and roam the countryside among the dead, originate on FTWD. It’s not as farfetched as it seems, especially given the notion that Kirkman himself has hinted that the Whisperers—already major players in the comic—will eventually turn up to threaten Rick and company in the show as well. Whether that happens in season eight remains to be seen. But in the meantime, that allows Kirkman and FTWD showrunner Dave Erickson to lead someone from the spin-off down a path that will give rise to the Whisperers.
Initially, as I sat down to write this, I had Madison (Kim Dickens) firmly in mind as Alpha, the Whisperers’ fierce, tough-minded leader. Madison is definitely no pushover. We saw her take the reins of control in the seaside hotel last season, laying down laws even as she coordinated a successful purge of walkers from the resort. We’ve seen her commit morally questionable deeds to protect her family—like locking Celia in with walkers. Plus, she has a daughter, just as Alpha does. While Alpha’s daughter Lydia gets treated as property by her mother—freely being offered up to the men in the group, I don’t (and wouldn’t want to) see a similar fate befalling Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey). If FTWD‘s writers go this route, this is certainly one story element I hope they jettison. Some people may argue that Madison isn’t nearly ruthless enough to be Alpha, but consider Carol’s stunning (yet believable) transformation from mousy, battered wife to postapocalyptic badass throughout TWD’s seven-year run. Plus, we’re already seeing shades of Rick Grimes at the start of Fear’s third season with the Clarks’ arrival at Broke Jar Ranch.
Of course, there might be an even more obvious choice for Alpha: Nick (Frank Dillane). While some viewers find him flighty, flakey, and impulsive, there’s no denying that Nick’s developed a weird camaraderie with the zombie horde. Not only does he wear their guts in many of the episodes, but he also walks alongside them. There’s a scene in the season 2 episode “Grotesque” in which Nick is shambling with a horde of zombies that begin whispering to him (or so he believes). But let’s back up a bit here and consider the hows and whys that lead to Nick traveling with a pack of walkers.
Earlier in season two, in “Ouroboros,” Nick is inadvertently doused in spilled zombie blood, and quickly discovers the blood makes walkers see him as one of their own. Anyone who watches TWD is already familiar with this trick. We saw it first in season one’s “Guts,” in which Rick and Glenn slather themselves in liberal amounts of zombie blood and viscera to blend in with a walker horde. And it works! It works so well that one wonders why this isn’t more of a regular occurrence on TWD. Reportedly, then-showunner Frank Darabont was opposed to relying too much on this device, which is both a good and bad call. Good, in the sense that it offers a magical get out of jail free card to Rick and company, thereby robbing the series of much of its necessary tension and drama. And bad, in the sense that if I found a foolproof way to survive in the zombie apocalypse, I’d always be smeared in walker guts. (Or at the very least, sporting riot gear and/or rocking a duct-tape suit.)
FTWD has no such qualms having Nick spend a large amount of screen time wearing his zombie “blood suit.” Let’s not forget that Nick is a recovering drug addict, either. In the apocalypse, his new high comes not from pills, but from walking among the dead. To do this, he transcends the outward trappings of his blood suit by essentially embracing the macabre thrill of zombie role-playing. And when you consider the Whisperers’ penchant for masquerading as the dead, isn’t this just an extreme, perverse form of cosplaying?
To Nick, zombies aren’t the real threat—it’s the living that pose the biggest danger. So it’s only natural that he’d find comfort and safety among the dead. He’s even eaten their leftovers, scavenging meat from a freshly killed dog’s carcass. Sure, he’s half-starved and battling heat exhaustion at this point, but Nick is unworried that the zombie infection might be passed on by saliva. The bottom line, despite the show’s title, is that Nick does not fear the walking dead. Like Celia and Alejandro, he believes the undead are just the next stage of mankind’s evolution.
It’s this casual, carefree mindset that suggests how Nick could easily found the Whisperers. One would imagine that in its nascent days, the Whisperers would exist solely as a means to an end for surviving the apocalypse. Under Nick’s early guidance, the group would be peaceful, its ranks growing in number only as more people saw the logic in blending in with the dead. If the show did go this route, it’s doubtful that Madison would follow Nick, at least not for very long. But it’s possible Alicia could remain, to keep a watchful eye on her brother. If he were to become the Alpha, who’s to say she couldn’t become his Beta? Who knows, maybe if and when FTWD crosses over with TWD, why couldn’t Alicia and Carl become a couple, much like he and Lydia do in the comic? That is, assuming Alicia survives – because right now, at the start of season three, she’s grappling with the emotional fallout not only from struggling to survive, but watching loved ones die.
Could characters from FTWD really end up meeting with Rick and company down the line? First, there’s the matter of geography. Nick, Alicia, and Madison are west of the Continental Divide, Rick and his group to the east of it. Fuel is a dwindling resource in the postapocalyptic world. People may be making bullets, but they’re certainly not refining gas (at least not yet). So bridging the distance between the two groups poses the kind of daunting task generally undertaken by Hobbits.
Then there’s the matter of time. FTWD is a couple of years behind TWD‘s current timeline. And the latter show’s timeline is a few years behind that of the comic. If TWD remains faithful to the comic, a big time jump is inevitable. Until then, the Whisperers aren’t really supposed to enter the picture for quite some time yet. So for Nick or Madison to found the Whisperers and to catch up to TWD both in distance and time, the very nature of FTWD exploring the early days of the apocalypse would have to be all but abandoned. There would need to be a time jump in the spin-off, as well.
Which leads to my last theory as to who might be the most logical choice to become Alpha and lead the Whisperers—namely TWD‘s own Jadis.
Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) and her group of oddball scavengers were introduced in season seven, mostly as a means for Rick to bolster his ranks in his escalating fight with Negan and his Saviors. This is all well and good, but Jadis and her junkyard minions eventually turned on Rick in a last-minute, jaw-dropping betrayal. Hell, Jadis even shot Rick and kicked him off a wall. If that doesn’t scream bad blood, I don’t know what does. What it does do, more than anything, is set the stage for a brand new enemy. It also keeps the Whisperers in-house, as it were, without having to muddy up timelines or bring in characters from FTWD.
While this last theory may be a bit of a long shot, it’s also the most practical, organic way of bringing an important faction to a show deeply entrenched in its own complicated mythos. Only time will tell if any of these theories will bear themselves out. In the meantime, we’ll continue to follow Nick’s slow shamble toward what might very well be his destiny on The Walking Dead…