This Fear the Walking Dead review is spoiler-free.
Fear the Walking Dead 4 Episode 1
When one thinks of zombies, the ancient biographer Plutarch doesn’t immediately spring to mind. And yet as I watched Fear The Walking Dead’s crossover event unfold in “What’s Your Story?” I couldn’t help but think of a first-century thought experiment known as Theseus’s Paradox. I realize many of you may be asking what this has to do with zombies, but hear me out.
If you were a fan of Fear’s first three seasons and didn’t think the show needed any course corrections, “What’s Your Story?” feels nothing like anything we’ve seen up to this point. We’re introduced to new characters, a new locale, and an overall different aesthetic. This is quite a feat, considering that Fear always prided itself on being a different type of animal from The Walking Dead. And for better or worse, under original showrunner Dave Erickson, Fear largely set itself apart from TWD in several key ways.
First and foremost, Fear was sold to fans as a prequel of sorts, taking place at the very start of the outbreak and before TWD. In doing that, we would get to see the zombie apocalypse in its first days as it spread across the country. Second, we were introduced to a whole new group of characters—the kind of people who were not readily adept at surviving the end of the world. Third, in much the same way the best zombie movies make for some of the sliest social commentary, Fear wasn’t shy about taking on real-world issues—most notably when the show moved the action south of the border to Mexico. But now with TWD’s Scott M. Gimple at the helm, everything that set Fear apart seems to be swept off the table.
Which brings us back to Plutarch and Theseus’s Paradox. This thought experiment asks: If an object—in this case, the Ship of Theseus—has all of its components replaced, does it remain fundamentally the same object? In other words, if over time you replace every plank of a boat until none of the original wood remains, is it really the same boat anymore? The same could be asked of Fear’s fourth-season premiere: If you scoop out everything about the show that made it unique, is it fundamentally the same show?
Now, don’t get me wrong—I love “Story.” And I especially love Morgan anytime Lennie James is onscreen. He may not have been my first choice as the TWD character to make the crossover to Fear, but Gimple and new showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg make it work. All of Gimple’s other creative choices work very, very well, too.
For all intents and purposes, this isn’t so much a premiere as it is a reboot—Fear 2.0 if you will. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you were not a fan of the show in its previous incarnation. On the other hand, if you’ve been troubled by TWD’s last couple of seasons, you may be troubled by Gimple’s influence on Fear. I had those same doubts, but they were quickly dashed.
Yes, the episode’s opening moments feel more like a coda to TWD’s eighth season, especially given that Morgan is very much still surrounded by familiar faces. And yes, Morgan is still a warrior-philosopher, battling both personal demons and zombies. But James is just so damn likable. He makes Morgan someone to believe in and root for. His journey of discovery is our journey, too.
But he’s not the only new character we encounter in “Story.” There’s the lonely gunslinger, John Dorie, played by Deadwood alum Garret Dillahunt. He’s immensely likable from the get-go, a man with a love for popcorn and hard candy. He’s also personable and chatty. You wonder how someone like this might get along with Morgan, who’s given to long silences and tortured introspection—and yet their pairing works very well. Plus, they have more in common than they may first realize. This reveal is one of the episode’s lighter moments and it’s well-earned.
Then there’s Maggie Grace (of Lost fame), who plays the no-nonsense Althea. She and her apocalypse-modded SWAT truck are a known quantity in this small corner of the world. It’s at this point that you realize Fear‘s fourth season is headed down a very different road. And while the SWAT truck calls to mind Furiosa’s war rig from Mad Max: Fury Road, Althea is not a pale imitation of Charlize Theron’s Imperator. This is one of the episode’s strengths—upending tropes and their attendant expectations by lobbing curve balls at viewers. And the truth about Althea (Al to her friends) is no exception. It’s worth noting that what all three of these characters have in common is likability. Together, their unlikely chemistry is fun and interesting to watch. I could easily watch an entire season devoted to their escapades.
But then I remembered that Fear is ostensibly about the Clarks. Is it a good thing or a bad thing that this quasi-reboot made me nearly forget about Fear‘s first family? Likability has never been their strong suit, and they’re not known for making the wisest choices, insinuating themselves into other people’s problems, only to make matters worse. I’m curious to see what Goldberg and Chambliss do with the Clarks (and with Strand and Daniel). A time jump is a perfect opportunity to tweak established characters—to make them more likable, or not. But, for now, I’m hopeful that the next episode will continue to build on the successful retooling (thus far) of the premiere.
Some closing thoughts
You may wonder how Morgan winds up crossing paths with the Clarks. Suffice it to say, he undergoes a monumental trek. I won’t say where he ultimately winds up, but I loved the way his trek is conveyed. From flat tires to muddied shoes to increasing frayed clothing, there’s a subtle, understated beauty to these visual storytelling cues that signify Morgan’s difficult journey into true exile. This is someone who truly wants to be away from his friends and apart from the world, and he’s running on empty to make that happen.
The world of Fear 2.0 is desaturated, a dun-colored palette of dust and dirt and bloodless decay. The zombies, too, are no longer the freshly infected. Instead, they’re pale and desiccated. It’s a logical creative choice, and it works.
With so many Deadwood alumni matriculating over to Fear, can we please find a way to bring Ian McShane over, too?