Be warned: this review contains major spoilers for Fear The Walking Dead throughout.
When one door closes, another opens. It’s only been a week since The Walking Dead’s polarising season 6 finale, which introduced smirking new bad guy Negan into the fray; we may have to wait until October to learn the true depths of his villainy, but until then, the good folk at AMC are satisfying our insatiable lust for gore and (un)death with a fresh new series of this, its sister show.
Unlike the main series, Fear is not based on any of Robert Kirkman’s original comics, instead seeking to expand the apocalyptic universe outside of its Georgia origins into a new set of LA-resident characters. Season one took a little while to find its feet, with only six episodes to do it in, but showed a lot of promise. (TWD didn’t hit its stride until season 3, if we’re being honest.) What will the sophomore season bring?
The episode starts strong. Things are already in fiery motion, having skipped ahead a fair few hours from the season 1 finale. It’s fire and brimstone in the City of Angels, and zombies have – for reasons never fully explained – started swarming the beach where we last left our heroes. The gang are making their escape to Abigail, the boat owned by the mysterious Strand (Colman Domingo).
The pre-title sequence provides the only gore of the episode: Madison (Kim Dickens) and Travis (Cliff Curtis) dispatching zombies with rocks, like the chimps in 2001. Yet to graduate to heavier artillery – these characters are, after all, newcomers to zombie killin’ – we can only hope they’re not still chucking pebbles around by season 3.
After one final zombie gets taken through a makeshift food processor (see ‘Kill Of The Week’ below), everyone hops on board the luxury yacht in time to witness the most impressive imagery yet offered by the show: the entire city of Los Angeles ablaze. The city is being bombed to smithereens as a result of Operation Cobalt, hinted at last season, which sees the military evacuate the city and ‘humanely’ execute anyone left, in a vain attempt to halt the infection.
It’s a sight that recalls the shot of Manchester on fire in 28 Days Later, and it packs a powerful punch. Shame, then, that the rest of the episode never quite matches that spark or dramatic impact.
Abigail force winds
The still newly-assembled group face their first big moral dilemma aboard the Abigail: confronted with a crowded boat of survivors in the distance, the characters are torn between rescuing or ignoring the strangers. The potency of the sight, given recent events in the Mediterranean, is certainly powerful, but this ethical quandary does not feel fresh: such brutal utilitarianism is a familiar tactic in the main Walking Dead show.
Perhaps we’re already too battle-hardened. But veteran watchers of The Walking Dead proper might often wish this new breed would toughen up. This is, lest we forget, a prequel, and Madison & Co. have yet to learn the hard lessons of the apocalypse. We can’t help thinking that Rick & Co. would have summarily ignored taking on 30 resource-sucking survivors without even blinking a blood-specked eye.
We need to talk about Chris
Lisa – mother of Chris and ex of Travis – earns herself a burial at sea in this episode, having died last season at the hands of a walker (and subsequently mercy-killed by Travis). Her funeral has more dignity than most deaths in this fictional universe can hope for – until, that is, Chris flips the table and swiftly lobs the corpse of his mother into the sea, in a petulant rage. Shortly afterwards, he sucker-punches his old pa. Nice kid. It’s safe to say that Chris has not read any Coping With Grief self-help books in the off-season break.
He’s a little older than The Walking Dead’s Carl Grimes, but Chris is easily as irritating: another stroppy adolescent whose primary character traits appears to be a) storming off in a huff, b) moping, c) slamming doors, d) endangering others with reckless abandon. Carl has since shaken off his whiny side to morph into something of a badass – wil Chris manage the same maturation?
Don’t go into the water
The episode allows itself a brief a brief few seconds of jolly normalcy, as the group sit down to a slap-up seafood dinner – before diving headfirst back into the standard-issue misery and fretting that is apparently the new orthodoxy. Of course, it takes ol’ ray-of-sunshine himself Chris to break the happy spell, pointlessly hopping into the ocean and giving his parents a fright.
He’s just gone for a swim. But it turns out to be one of those frustratingly foolish character decisions that endanger several lives for entirely thoughtless reasons. The water, as it turns out, is swarming with zombies (you can literally take a boat out to the middle of the ocean and the undead will follow you) – and worse, a boat which is implied to have caused all sorts of mayhem is heading their way at great speed.
The tantalising prospect of an enemy vessel is raised, as is the mysterious and still unknown past that Strand seems to be escaping from. But just when things get interesting: the episode ends.
It’s an intriguing but problematic start for season 2, then: a relatively uneventful episode, bookmarked by snippets of spectacle, with around 40 minutes of people looking all pensive and glum in between. There’s still plenty of promise for this show. But Fear The Walking Dead still feels like it’s warming up.
Highlight: Los Angeles, burning to the ground.
Lowlight: Any moment where a character sighed. We sighed back.
Kill of the week: Nick whisks a walker’s face to pieces with his speedboat propeller. The only true moment of glorious, gratuitous gore in an otherwise disappointingly bloodless episode.
Zombie of the week: Props must go to the Olympian swimming abilities of the lifejacket-wearing walker, who shuffles inexpertly through open water in a vaguely threatening manner, like a sort of rubbish David Hasselhoff.
Quote of the week: “Ahoy.” Strand makes for a fine seaman.
MVP: Victor Strand proves to be the most intriguing prospect . His enigmatic backstory, impeccable dress sense, and almost comically suave delivery make him the standout character so far. “It’s my boat,” he says at one point, emphatically. Well, quite.
Fear the Walking Dead airs Mondays at 9pm on AMC, exclusive to BT TV.