This Fear the Walking Dead review is spoiler-free.
Fear the Walking Dead Season 5 Episode 1
I’ll admit, after last season’s disappointing finale, I approached this new season of Fear the Walking Dead with a fair bit of trepidation. As viewers know, season 4 was meant as a course correction for the show as new talent was brought in on both sides of the camera. Out was original showrunner Dave Erickson, Fear’s steward since day one, as well as show mainstays Kim Dickens and Frank Dillane, whose Madison and Nick Clark were killed off. Add to that a five-year time jump that jettisoned any kind of story threads and new supporting characters like Qaleteqa Walker and Proctor John, and suddenly viewers were left wondering why the first three seasons were seemingly cast aside by new showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian B. Goldberg.
And yet, under their watch, we were not only introduced us to new fan-favorite character John Dorie (played to earnest perfection by Garret Dillahunt), Chambliss and Goldberg also delivered what are arguably two of the show’s best episodes to date, namely “Close Your Eyes” and especially “Laura.”
But the latter half of season 4 also delivered what was arguably some of the show’s less likable characters, like Jimbo, the hapless microbrewer. Plus there’s the matter of the aforementioned lackluster finale, “…I Lose Myself.” Fear also didn’t do itself any favors with weak villains like the Vultures and the Filthy Woman (a.k.a. Martha).
Which brings us to Fear’s exciting season 5 opener. Not only does “Here to Help” raise the stakes considerably for our wayward group of survivors, but it also raises the stakes for the show itself. This is Fear swinging for the fences in a big way with an action-packed, gore-drenched, walker-killing set piece that showcases the badasses our heroes (most notably Alicia) have become.
But Fear is wont to remind us that this season isn’t just about fighting off the undead hordes. You see, Alicia, Morgan, June, John, and the rest of the group are still trying to keep the late Polar Bear’s (née Clayton’s) altruism alive by continuing to bring aid to those in need. Paying it forward is great in theory, but the stark reality of a dog-eat-dog apocalypse has left many survivors wary—and who could blame them, really? This is an interesting bit of friction that I wasn’t expecting this season, although it makes perfect sense. The average person is distrustful of their fellow man even in the best of times.
Matt Frewer is a welcome addition to the cast. It’s clear he relishes being a character with the kind of grey morality we’ve come to expect from Fear. And yet there’s something a bit twisted and nuanced to his line readings that easily sets everyone else on edge. I’m definitely curious to see what else he brings to this role.
In addition to Frewer, we’re introduced to a trio of young survivors played by Bailey Gavukic, Ethan Seuss, and Cooper Dodson (whose brother Major Dodson you may already know from The Walking Dead). Adding experienced, world-weary kids into the mix brings a new kind of Stranger Things vibe to the show. It’s clear from the first episode that these three aren’t here to be dead weight or behave like insufferably cute moppets.
At one point, Dodson’s bespectacled Dylan wonders why anyone would ever need a toy. This is a kind of practical, no-nonsense question that only a child of the zombie apocalypse could ask. Why consider playing (or anything frivolous, really), when survival is chased from one minute to the next? Indeed, in this stark new reality, it’s the kids who seem the most pragmatic and levelheaded. Why help anyone who doesn’t want to be helped? Why put yourself in harm’s way if it can easily be avoided? These are important questions, and I’m glad Fear is willing to explore the very nature of altruism itself. Certainly, zombies were the furthest thing from Emily Dickinson’s mind when she penned her poem “Hope Is the Thing with Feathers”—and yet the idea of holding onto hope in the face of darkness rings true in “Here to Help.”
Morgan remains determined as ever to help others, believing that redemption is hard fought and hard won, the bumpy road less traveled. Perhaps Morgan, who has been to the brink of madness and back, understands better than most that everyone has blood on their hands—everyone.
John Dorie, however, remains pure of heart, an optimist who thinks the kind of unlikely good luck their group has experienced deserves to be shared far and wide. And who’s to say either one of them is wrong? As bleak as Fear has been over the last four seasons, this new season is willing to embrace the better, brighter side of human nature. So in the late Jimbo’s honor, let’s raise a glass and toast to hope, the thing with feathers.