This Fear the Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
Fear the Walking Dead Season 6 Episode 1
After everything the world has endured these last several months, it just doesn’t seem productive to harp on what did or didn’t work about last season. I’m even willing to give John Dorie’s San Antonio Split a pass at this point. If anything, we’re lucky we have anything new to watch at all, especially with some series being outright canceled because they’re too difficult to produce in the age of Covid-19.
With that being said, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the way “The End is the Beginning” kicked things off for Fear the Walking Dead‘s sixth season. And that’s certainly something I don’t think a lot of us expected—that a spin-off prequel to The Walking Dead would have legs. But here we are, courtesy of Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg, who return for their third season as showrunners. While they haven’t enjoyed a sterling track record, when Fear works, it really works. A lot of that rests on the shoulders of its strong ensemble cast. Lennie James was a strong addition to the series back in season 4, crossing over as he did from TWD to join Fear’s motley crew.
Which brings us to the elephant in the room—namely that James’s Morgan Jones survived the tragic upheaval of last season’s finale, “End of the Line.” How did Morgan survive being shot by Virginia (Colby Minifie) and being left for dead as walkers slowly closed in? We learn that he survived thanks to the largesse of a mysterious stranger who heard what would have been his last words over the radio, exhorting his compatriots to live. Does this constitute a magical dumpster moment, akin to what rescued a Glenn in TWD’s sixth season? You can read my expanded thoughts on Morgan’s mulligan here.
In the meantime, if we go along with the conceit that Morgan has spent the last five or six weeks convalescing in a tricked-out water tower, the rest of the episode works. Again, a lot of this falls on James, whose strong performance immediately invested me in Morgan’s physical and existential battles. He’s struggling with a crisis of faith as well, though mostly in himself. Last season’s theme was one of altruism—led by Morgan, who was determined to help people whether they wanted aid or not. This had dire consequences, of course, leading not only to Virginia’s attempted murder of Morgan but also the group being split up and sent to different settlements. So it makes sense that Morgan is so resistant to making new friends in this episode—even if they’re just as hell-bent on aiding strangers as he once was.
As we soon find out, the last several weeks have been difficult for Morgan. In that time, he’s become the walking dead himself in more than just the metaphorical sense. He’s got one foot in the grave, thanks to gangrene and a bullet fragment lodged near his pulmonary artery. The only upside to this is that his necrotic flesh allows him to blend in among the dead, as Nick often did when camouflaged in walker blood.
Even in the best of times, removing the bullet would be risky. But Morgan doesn’t want it removed. Is it because he believes he deserved to die? Is his suffering meant to be some kind of twisted penance for failing to save every last living person in a world gone bad? Knowing Morgan, the answer to those questions can only be yes.
This still doesn’t stop him from being befriended by Isaac (Michael Abbot, Jr.), a onetime corpsman in the Marines and now an expectant father. As it turns out, he’s also one of Virginia’s former rangers who escaped after a change of heart brought on by one of Morgan’s earnest videotaped messages. “I changed,” insists Isaac. “So can you.”
But change can mean something else entirely in a setting like this. Change can be a positive thing, yes, but in a world in which Hell is full, change can also mean never going to your reward. It can mean failure is your constant companion, dragging you down so close to the very earth that you can taste the soil. That’s where Morgan finds himself yet again, beset by failure and misgivings. In other words, it’s not easy being Morgan Jones, especially when a bean-eating, axe-wielding bounty hunter named Emile (Demetrius Grosse) is hot on his trail.
I honestly thought Morgan’s battle with Emile would play out throughout the first half of the season, and not come to a head as it were by episode’s end. What’s worth noting is that the promise of salvation for his friends is what motivates Morgan to strike a deal with Emile, trading his life for theirs. But it immediately becomes obvious that Emile poses a bigger threat to Isaac and the secret town that will serve as a new settlement for people looking to flee Virginia’s rule. For that to happen, and for Isaac’s newborn daughter to have any chance of survival, Emile has to go.
By episode’s end, Morgan finally embraces his rebirth, declaring over the radio to Virginia, “Morgan Jones is dead. And you are dealing with someone else now.” As to whether he deserves this second chance remains to be seen. One could argue that this is yet another rebirth for Fear as well. For now, I’m cautiously optimistic. And any kind of optimism nowadays, even a little bit, can go an awfully long way as the real world awaits its own mulligan.