This review contains spoilers.
Fear The Walking Dead started out on fairly good footing last season. Every first season has its ups and downs, but they kicked off with more of an idea of how to do the show, a more consistent creative vision, and a more interesting premise: what would life be like when the zombie apocalypse breaks out? Granted, they didn’t do a lot with the premise on a macro level, but on a micro level—examining it from the point of view of one family in a small community protected by armed guards—it proved to be interesting, and the acting was much improved over The Walking Dead‘s first season.
With Strand’s oceanside mansion on fire and zombies all around, there’s only one way for the survivors to go, and that’s to the sea. Of course, they’re not the only ones with that idea, and that’s the general premise of Fear The Walking Dead for the forseeable future. They’re on a boat, there are other people on boats, and some of those other people are armed and very, very dangerous. Oh yeah, there are also lots of floating zombies out there, just in case you felt like the blended family and their mysterious benefactor were a little too safe from people other than themselves.
At times, it can be difficult to rewind the tape. We know so much about the universe of The Walking Dead that these characters don’t know. Everyone’s infected, there is no safety, the best leadership is a Ricktatorship, or at least a Shaneocracy, and reaching out to help other people can either help you or kill you, depending on just how innocent your rescued parties seem to be. Alicia and the other kids seem to be willing to go out of their way to be helpful, even as Alicia hears what happens to helpful rescuers over the radio while getting to know the mysterious Jack, another survivor on a nearby boat. We know enough not to take someone at face value, but Alicia doesn’t, and Strand is right to be worried about what she’s talking about, even as the rest of the people on the boat come to terms with their new state of being.
There’s not a lot of flash in this week’s episode. Adam Davidson makes good use of CGI in a great shot of the survivors on the boat looking back towards the burning ruins of what was once Los Angeles, and there’s a few really good zombie confrontations later on in the episode when Chris decides to go for a random swim in the ice-cold Pacific. The idea of floating zombies is really fun, and it’s going to lead to some great makeup, especially as the zombies get more and more bloated/eaten by fish from their time in the ocean. However, one of the best shots is of the rolling smoke coming towards them, slowly encroaching onto their safety as the bullet-riddled hulk of the boat in front of them drifts aimlessly, all its occupants dead. It’s as ominious in its own way as the W carvings in zombie heads, and it sets up much earlier on that people, not zombies, are the real danger in this strange new world.
Sometimes, the real danger is yourself. Dave Erickson’s script sets that up pretty early, making Alicia cautious at first when dealing with the voice over the radio, before she slowly begins to admit more about her plight and her circumstances. Strand is probably right not to trust anyone, even if he’s a little on the cruel side and is clearly setting up a Strandtatorship of some sort. Travis and Chris have the expected domestic drama over Chris’s dead mother’s body, Travis and Maddie have some brief, terse discussions about whether or not to save other people, and for the most part, Nick floats from party to party, occasionally chipping in alongside Salazar. The focus is on Chris and Travis, with Alicia and Jack being the B plot.
Fear The Walking Dead still skews strongly towards drama, and less towards horror, but it seems like it’s slowly introducing more horror elements as the world degenerates into anarchy. There’s no more Coast Guard; we hear their last transmission. There’s no more safety on land; if the walkers won’t get you, the random explosions and fires probably will. Even the sea is no safe haven; there are zombies in life jackets, random floaters, and some sort of organized, dangerous group willing to kill others for survival or gain.
It all feels a little too neat, though. Strand has secrets that he’s keeping, and resources the likes of which we don’t know yet. Daniel is the tough guy and the voice of reason. There are two potential teenage couples, not counting other survivors they might come across, and there’s the rich drama of a strained marriage getting even more strained by the whole “dead coming back to life” thing. The boat is also a novel setting; we haven’t seen anything like this quite yet, and I feel like the creative team behind Fear The Walking Dead is going to make good use of that floating death trap before long. I can only hope it’s more like Dale’s RV on water and less like Hershel’s Farm on water.