This Fear the Walking Dead article contains spoilers.
Sometimes it’s really tough being a fan of Fear the Walking Dead. While I often root for this show’s success, showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg have endeavored to leave logic in the dust in pursuit of more hopeful storytelling. While I’m all for more uplifting stories in these trying times, even the best of intentions can be undermined by an overreliance on tropes and plot contrivances. So it’s in the spirit of wishful thinking—and high hopes for things to come—here are six ways Fear the Walking Dead season 6 can improve upon season 5.
1. No more San Antonio Splits
Fear’s issues are bigger than John Dorie’s ability to kill two walkers with a single bullet. One could argue that many of season 5’s issues could be summed up in one word: campiness. In the right hands, and especially in the right context, campiness can be a lot of fun. Syfy’s Z Nation is a perfect example of this. The show is equal parts gore and camp, establishing the right balance of drama and humor in its first episode. This gave its writers license to play fast and loose with reality, something that Fear’s fifth season did with frustrating regularity—and to lesser effect.
Which is why I’m hoping Fear the Walking Dead season 6 won’t repeatedly require viewers to suspend their disbelief. So, please, no more magical bullets, no more hot air balloons shaped like beer bottles, and no more inexperienced airplane repair—because this flouting of logic does Fear no favors. I realize we’re talking about a world populated by reanimated corpses—but some semblance of reality is necessary if we’re to accept the show’s most basic conceit.
2. No more walkie-talkies
Here we are, several years into the zombie apocalypse, and our intrepid survivors have become quite adept at, well, survival. This is no small feat, given the everyday difficulties presented by a world without any industry to speak of. No more functioning factories mean no new goods are being produced—and won’t be for a long time to come. This full-stop on industry also applies to the country’s infrastructure. A functioning power grid is a thing of the past—and with it, basic utilities like electricity. Unless you’re lucky enough to have solar power, if you want a hot meal, you’ll have to build a fire. And yet, this return to the earliest years of the Iron Age hasn’t stopped Fear from equipping nearly everyone with a walkie-talkie. This means our group can remain in almost constant contact, to the point that these ubiquitous devices have become a storytelling crutch.
But make no mistake, this is a bigger issue than an over-reliance on walkie-talkies. This goes for any kind of technology—from video cameras to combustible engines. The old world is dead—and it should stay dead—in the pursuit of better, more mindful storytelling.
3. Return characters to their former glory
Let’s face it, surviving the zombie apocalypse isn’t so much about what you know, but who you know. To that end, strength in numbers is a legitimate aspect of survival. This means making compromises, whether to one’s moral code or to one’s sense of self. In other words, sometimes you have to drink the Kool-Aid if you want any kind of aid. Such was the case with Morgan, who was an interloper into Fear’s ruthless, kill-or-be-killed approach to surviving the apocalypse. The rampant infighting and backstabbing that once characterized the show (I’m looking at you, Strand, Daniel, and Chris!) was replaced by a mission to help people. On paper, this is a laudable enterprise, but in its execution, not so much—mainly because this pivot to altruism essentially defanged Fear’s best characters. And it did so by indoctrinating them into Morgan’s Cult of Helpfulness.
Take Alicia, for example. By falling in line with Morgan’s desire to aid strangers, Fear’s writers all but surrendered any agency Alicia had. Morgan’s mission became her mission, if for no other reason than Season 5 demanded it. Which means Fear’s sole surviving Clark and onetime zombie-killing machine, was eventually reduced to painting trees as a form of rehabilitation. Bottom line, Alicia was sidelined in favor of Morgan’s overall quest to redeem himself. Next season, I would love to see Alicia take charge of her life, to do more than paint murals. Art has its place in the world, but this is not the most fulfilling path for a main character in the zombie apocalypse. Ten years in the future perhaps, but not yet, not now.
This stripping away of character motivation and personality applies to Strand and Daniel, too. The former was once a smooth-talking conniver and backstabber, whose primary concern was saving his own skin. The Strand we have now is so watered down to the point of being a shadow of his former self. Colman Domingo is a great actor, but Strand in his present incarnation isn’t just flat, he’s boring. Strand is far more interesting when he’s being selfish. We got a glimmer of this in the first half of season 5, when he confessed to Charlie that his cowardice essentially doomed the cargo plane to crash land in the middle of nowhere. But this revelation barely made a ripple in the storyline; I think Fear let him off the hook too easily. I’m hoping that in Fear the Walking Dead season 6 we’ll see Strand once again fall victim to his selfish impulses.
As for Daniel, it’s great to have Rubén Blades back in the mix, but not as a barber. Anyone who’s watched Fear from the beginning knows Daniel is capable of terrible things. Not only did he torture his daughter’s soldier boyfriend in Season 1, he also unleashed an entire stadium of zombies upon a nearby military base. He also survived being shot in the face (by Strand!) and the dam collapse at the end of Season 3. Now, however, this former butcher and torturer is more concerned about his cat Skidmark. And…that’s about it. I understand people can change (take Morgan, for example), but for all intents and purposes, the Daniel we knew and loathed is no more. And that’s a shame, because the character is at his best when he’s seemingly at his worst. I’m hoping Season 6 will see a return to form for Daniel—that being separated from his new family (especially Charlie) will encourage him to draw upon his unscrupulous past to insure a better future for himself and the caravan.
4. Make the dead a bigger threat than the living
It seems to me that anyone who has survived this long into the apocalypse (and who hasn’t been holed up in a bunker the whole time) has become altogether too proficient at combatting the undead.
To that end, I suggest Introducing fast zombies into the mix. Yes, I realize this is The Walking Dead universe we’re talking about, not The Running Dead. (And yes, I know that our human survivors are themselves “the walking dead” too.) Many zombie movie purists might push back against the idea of running zombies. Romero’s shamblers in the original Night of the Living Dead set the standard for reanimated-corpse mobility for years until Return of the Living Dead. But even then, fast zombies were slow to catch on. More recent fare, most notably Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake, 28 Days Later (I know, not technically zombies), Train to Busan, and especially Netflix’s Black Summer, have all capitalized on the undead as relentless killing machines.
Meanwhile, in the Walking Dead universe, writers are constantly contriving ways for survivors to be overtaken by slow-moving walkers. Otherwise, any reasonably healthy person could escape simply by speed-walking. Even big zombie hordes don’t really constitute a major threat to the living. Time and again, we’ve seen our hearty survivors corral the undead as if they were nothing more than livestock.
5. Less Wild West, More Mad Max
If George A. Romero defined the zombie apocalypse with Night of the Living Dead, George Miller’s Mad Max films defined the dystopian aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse. Which is fitting, really, when you consider how integral gasoline is not just to Miller’s films, but to Fear’s fifth season, too.
We’ve already seen glimmers of Miller’s influence in season 5, from the caravan’s rough-and-ready armored vehicles to the zombie-powered, jerry-rigged oil fields. We also saw an earlier nod to Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome’s Bartertown in Season 3, with the converted stadium run by Proctor John. So it’s not so much of a stretch to draw parallels between the unforgiving wastelands of the Mad Max films and Fear’s post-apocalyptic world. In this scenario, aren’t Australia and Texas lawless societies dominated by marauding gangs? Next season, I’d love to see Fear commit wholeheartedly to more dystopian aspects of a world gone mad by depicting a crumbling infrastructure, more barren landscapes, and a lot of improvised and/or repurposed technology. In other words, force our survivors to make do with the cobbled-together scraps of a bygone industrial age.
6. No magical dumpsters
Anyone familiar with TWD’s sixth season will understand this reference. In short, a certain fan-favorite character appeared to die when he tumbled off a dumpster into a waiting zombie horde. Producers reinforced this death by removing the actor’s name from the opening credits. Only, he wasn’t dead after all. He’d survived by crawling under a dumpster. His plot armor also helped him come out of the incident unscathed. Fans cried foul, and with good reason, as this was a case of TWD’s producers trying to have their cake and eat it, too. Which brings us to Morgan and the ambiguous ending of this season’s finale, “End of the Line.” It sure seemed like Morgan was mortally wounded, didn’t it?
That is, until you read our interview with showrunners Chambliss and Goldberg. When it comes to Morgan, they’re quite cagey about his fate. Considering no one of any consequence died all season, Morgan’s death in the finale packed a real wallop. But that dramatic punch loses all of its energy if Morgan somehow survived. Personally, I think plot armor undermines the dramatic tension that results when even a main character isn’t immune to death. For example, I was legitimately shocked when Travis died so early in Season 3. As the show’s moral compass, his death had real consequences for those he left behind. We should expect no less from Morgan’s death (assuming he’s truly dead). Without their guiding light, Morgan’s followers will have to find their own way through the darkness.