5 Ways Fear the Walking Dead Doesn’t Work

I recently started watching Fear the Walking Dead. It started with some great tension, but over time that greatness has faded. It’s not just that the show is in The Walking Dead‘s shadow, it’s that there is a problem with conflict on the show. There simply isn’t enough conflict (so far) between the characters and each other, themselves, and their surroundings. Fear the Walking Dead might have some interesting groundwork, but it hasn’t quite blossomed yet.

So what’s wrong with the show? Here are five ways Fear the Walking Dead doesn’t work.

1. It’s Not About the Start of the Outbreak

fear the walking dead start outbreak

While it is legitimately a prequel to The Walking Dead, it’s less about the start of the outbreak and more about a group of characters experiencing the start of the outbreak. It’s like a false promise; for three episodes we’re watching the fall, then after that we’re watching people dealing with life after the fall.

So it’s quickly turning into the same show with different characters and I’m not sure that’s a better story to tell. It doesn’t necessarily add more interesting or different dimensions. What about a story from the perspective of a government? Or FEMA? Or a special organization trying to find the source of the outbreak and the cure? Or a group of elite soldiers that decides to try and save the world one person at a time? Something to give us another perspective other than regular people experiencing the end of the world.

 

2. It’s Difficult Not to View it Through the Lens of The Walking Dead

fear the walking dead through the lens of the walkingdead

Even though Fear the Walking Dead is supposed to be a story about the start of the zombie outbreak, we can’t help but view it from the perspective and experience we’ve gathered watching The Walking Dead. We’re already familiar with the world, the dangers of the walkers, the threat of regular people, and a wide array of internal conflicts we’re likely to see. So every time something familiar happens, like Strand arguing with everyone about the dangers of letting new people into the group, it feels familiar — and boring.

Also, because the characters in Fear the Walking Dead are just learning how to deal with the end of the world, their problems are less engaging than those who live in a world long ravaged by the apocalypse. Heck we’re used to, “our doctor just got bit on the leg so we cut it off immediately and no one else really knows how to stop the bleeding.” Instead we get scenes like when Madison (Kim Dickens) slaps her son Nick (Frank Dillane) around then returns to the garage to sulk and drink alone. Conversely, in Season One of The Walking Dead, Shane (Jon Bernthal) nearly beats a man to death simply because Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) rejects him.

It’s hard to feel for a “slapping” when we’re used to so much more.

And it’s not just that some of these dramatic sequences are less than our expectations, I believe something else is missing from the conflict on the show.

 

3. Unlikable Characters

fear the walking dead unlikable characters

Most characters fit into a one-note description.

fear the walking dead travis one-note fear the walking dead madison one-note fear the walking dead chris one-note fear the walking dead daniel one-note fear the walking dead alicia one-note fear the walking dead ofelia one-note

There’s a certain humanity missing from most characters. I’ve talked about this before, but are there enough tender moments in Fear the Walking Dead that reveal a character’s humanity? An audience needs a human moment with a character so we feel something for them.

Nick (who is being made out to be the hero) is the exception. We feel something for Nick, because when we first meet him he’s so vulnerable that he can’t even trust his own memory. (It also helps that his personal failures help push the story forward, like when his withdrawl forces his Mother to get medicine, or his desire to know the truth forces others to come help him deal with a person he killed.)

 

4. Character Conflicts

fear the walking dead character conflicts

It’s important to have characters that disagree with or even hate each other on a show. These inter-character conflicts should ideally stem from inherent character traits or beliefs that cause one character to act against the other character’s traits or beliefs, AND in a way that effects the story.

Let’s consider the inter-character conflicts in Fear the Walking Dead.

fear the walking dead liza conflict

Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez) is Travis’s (Cliff Curtis) ex-wife. Madison is Travis’s girlfriend. Since these two women are forced together thanks to the apocalypse, one would hope for a little tension and conflict. Your ex-wife and your girlfriend living in the same house: Drama! Nope. As soon as the two women are living in the same house, Liza is never around. End of conflict.

fear the walking dead daniel travis conflict

Travis is all about doing the right thing all the time, while Daniel (Rubén Blades) is from the “whatever it takes” school of thought. They disagree with each other, but their disagreements don’t result in plot-changing actions. For example, when Daniel tortures a man for information, Travis disagrees with it, but ultimately chooses to use that information anyway. Likewise, they have different opinions on letting the man they tortured live. Even though Travis lets the man go and this results in Daniel’s daughter getting shot, this neither changes the direction of the story, nor has any consequences between Daniel and Travis.

Strand (Colman Domingo) is the exception. His “no one else on the boat” stance creates conflict between him and everyone else on the boat, and even sub-conflicts between the kids and their parents. Let’s look at the “it’s my boat” scene as an example.

We’re missing some important back and forth here. While this might be purposeful and a payoff is later, it’s definitely less interesting.

Now let’s compare these conflicts to a show that executes the concept perfectly. On Firefly, Jayne is the prime source of inter-character conflicts. First all, we like him immediately.

firefly-jayne

But it’s clear early on he isn’t like the rest of the crew. In Jayne’s eyes money is more important than people. In one flashback, we learn that he joined Serenity’s crew simply because they offered him more money (and his own bunk).

Jayne’s self-serving nature comes to fruition in the episode “Ariel,” where he calls The Feds that are after Simon and River because of the reward on their heads. This puts not only Simon and River into jeopardy, but the rest of the crew as well, in addition to forcing them to change their exit strategy for their mission. It also leads to this scene where Jayne’s beliefs and Captain Reynold’s beliefs come to a head:

That’s how you do inter-character conflict.

It’s not just character conflict that’s lacking in Fear the Walking Dead, though, it’s every conflict.

 

5. Not Enough Conflict

fear the walking dead boring

I think Fear the Walking Dead is so interested in easing our characters into the apocalypse that it doesn’t have enough conflict. I’ll use an episode of The Walking Dead for comparison.

Let’s look at the conflicts in Season Two, episode three of Fear the Walking Dead, “Ouroboros.”

fear the walking dead s2e03 tom tries to kill jake

Tom tries to kill Jake in his sleep. Alex kills him.

fear the walking dead s2e03 chris kills man

I suppose Chris killing the man is conflict. Perhaps a “man vs. himself.” Not very tense though.

fear the walking dead s2e03 nick pit

Nick falls in the pit with the zombies.

fear the walking dead s2e03 more walkers fall in pit

More zombies fall in.

fear the walking dead s2e03 group surrounded

Zombies surround group.

fear the walking dead s2e03 raft argument

Raft argument.

Now let’s compare this to an episode from The Walking Dead, Season Three, episode four, “Killer Within.”

the walking dead s3e04 deer head

Zombies coming in prison after deer head.

the walking dead s3e04 michonne governor

The Governor confronts Michonne.

the walking dead s3e04 walkers flood courtyard

Walkers flood courtyard and the prison alarm goes off, attracting more walkers to the compound.

the walking dead s3e04 t-dog gets bit

T-Dog gets bit.

the walking dead s3e04 lori labour

While evading walkers, Lori goes into labour.

the walking dead s3e04 labour not going well

Baby delivery not going well.

the walking dead s3e04 t-dog sacrifice

T-Dog human shields Carol.

the walking dead s3e04 rick attacked

Rick attacked while getting prison alarm off.

the walking dead s3e04 daryl walkers

While Daryl also defends against walkers.

the walking dead s3e04 c-section

Emergency c-section.

the walking dead s3e04 carl mom

If the example in Fear the Walking Dead where Chris shoots man counts, Carl shooting his Momma definitely does.

There is a different intensity that Fear the Walking Dead is only just starting to experience. Notice the episode of The Walking Dead layers the conflicts on top of each other. Can you imagine a worse time to try and have a baby? Fear the Walking Dead is simply several layers and degrees away from that kind of intensity.

Fear the Walking Dead is its own show with its own characters, its own conflicts, and its own story to tell, but currently the show is adrift in a world we know to be so deliciously fraught with tension, conflict, and drama. It has yet to boldly distinguish itself in a way that makes us hungry for the next episode, and desperately invested in its characters. Maybe the show is headed slowly towards a better horizon — hopefully it will have the courage to arrive soon.

6 Comments
  1. Reply Nunya May 5, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    Wow, this is absolutely horrible! You conflict yourself all over the place in this. You just picking a popular topic so people come to your page!?!

    • Reply Movie Lists Man May 5, 2016 at 6:58 pm

      I tried to be as clear as I could. Is there a particular point you disagree with?

  2. Reply Dig Dug McDig May 11, 2016 at 10:31 am

    Good write up. Although having nearly all the characters be unlikable is reason one, two and three in my book. Fortunately there’s precedent for rotating new characters into the Walking Dead universe. Unfortunately they haven’t used it yet. The latest Captive episode was a perfect wasted opportunity to get rid of a couple of the bleh characters to make room for some decent ones.

    • Reply Movie Lists Man May 11, 2016 at 1:13 pm

      Thank you kindly. I can appreciate unlikable characters being one, two, and three, not sure it makes for the most interesting writing, though 😉

      I think Anna will be back eventually, so hopefully some fresh blood soon.

  3. Reply Jmariofan7 March 28, 2017 at 9:08 am

    (How does the guy at the top of the list being the “good guy” make him unlikable?)

    Why even bother with this, the Walking Dead series is one of the most overrated shows, it’s just plain stupid to put a zombie apocalypse in modern times, they seriously expect us to buy that even with all the advanced weaponry, resources and advances in medical and medicine treatment, the zombies took over and they couldn’t find a single lead on a cure or at the very least a weakness or a way to slow it down or even more nonsense like how this apparently happened to the intire WORLD even though no indication of this is given and it’s set intirely in America (typical self centred-ness), not to mention all the other clichès like, why aren’t animals affected by the virus, why do zombies still go after animals even though they are immune and etc, and then there is pure exploitation such as the over the top zombie violence, seriously why do zombies “eat flesh”? They’re just supposed to spread the virus, what is with the flesh eating, they’re already dead and their stomachs are dead, this is just pure exploitation, which brings me to the exaggerated zombie bites, zombies are decaying, their muscles are decaying including their jaw muscles plus they have no blood flowing which means no adrenaline with adds additional strength, they should barely have any strength or bite power, yet we get scenes where they are able to grip and pull people towards them, constantly knock down someone and lay on top of them without them somehow being able to easily push them off, and sink ridiculously exaggerated bites into them.

    I seriously regret ever watching this show, I initially watched it thinking it would have a mystery revolving around how the outbreak started and the origins of the virus which would be revealed later on, but nope it’s just the clichè’d corpses come to life because of a magic virus with no indication of exactly what it is or where it came from and it’s just a unsympathetic and unlikable character focused, wangsty exploitation show that takes itself way too seriously. If I wanted to see that I would watch the Mad Max movies, except they wouldn’t have what I listed above and would actually be interesting and entertaining. If you’re going to take this route at least make it fast paste, like a movie or series of movies, or make the seasons much shorter like with season 1, or most importantly and I think Robert Kirkman should take this advice, have it set either during the early 1900’s or the late 1800’s that would make the whole thing more creative, it would be more plausible as this would be before the invention of all the powerful weapons, modern technology and advanced medical treatment and medicine, and before the George Romero films and the zombie craze.

    I’m just going to quote previous comments I have made and read about this overrated show that takes itself too seriously (also Carol did bad stuff during the terminus rescue where instead of giving the terminus woman who had revealed their tragic backstory a quick and painless mercy kill she just lets walkers in and devour her like a complete psychopath, which in itself is also really stupid as it puts Carols friends in the building at risk of being bitten. Also did you even read the comics? Because it sounds like you don’t know the show was based of a superior comic series): “You should see all the constant junk and exploitation AMC’s the Walking Dead throws at us, actually you might as well use that ridiculous violence counter on any unsubtle Zombie flick that takes itself too seriously while being ridiculously exploited and exaggerated, with the exceptions of one that are supposed to be black comedies and/or dark satires, significantly George Romero’s original night of the living dead.”

    “I despise the Walking Dead. I have never been able to get past the second episode of Season 2. I have tried 3 times and I fell asleep every time. Literally. As in I was fully awake and ready to give it a good shot because I have friends that really like it, and less than two hours later, I was falling asleep because I was bored out of my mind. I thought the first season was very good, but that was it for me.”

    “It’s a good thing you didn’t watch more of it, by the time it gets to season 5 it becomes extremely pretentious, exploitive and repetitive, and some of the characters have devolved into unsympathetic, unlikable and moral event horizons crossing jerkwads whom I’m surprised people haven’t stopped rooting for yet, it’s full of darkness induced audience apathy. The season 6 opening is one of the series most frustrating episodes, more pretentious nonsense and stuff that greatly detracts from the original comic, Rick continuing to act like a reckless, ruthless and violent jerkwad yet is still always portrayed as “in the right”, he’s pretty much a creator’s pet at this point (heck, in the comics he looses an arm, yet this didn’t happen in the show, yet).basically a massive hoard of zombies are trapped in quarry near the character’s safe zone (yet nobody has ever discovered this, despite people being there for over a year and a half), and are worried about them getting out and attacking the safe zone, so, get this, their “perfect solution” is to just LURE THEM AWAY, and Rick pretty much forces and threatens everyone into this stupid plan, as opposed to much better solutions such as, suiting Alexandria (the safe zone) up with defence mechanisms such as spears on the walls and booby traps, or better yet just up and build walls around the quarry so the zombies can’t get out and decompose into skeletons, the whole wall thing actually gets brought up, but Rick just stupidly brushes it off claiming the walls would weaken over time, completely ignoring the fact that by the time the walls even start to remotely wear down the zombies would have decayed into harmless skeletons (the whole quarry thing was never in the comics by the way, but the zombies decaying was brought up) and this is just the tip of the iceberg, the only reason I’m even still watch this show is solely because of the Negan character and watching him screw around with Rick. And let’s not even talk about “talking dead” the tv series own talk show (which Honest Trailers accurately summed up as “only talking positively about the walking Dead”) which is basically just AMC riding it’s egotistical high horse and giving itself ridiculous self praise. We’re actually giving an exploitation zombie flick it’s own talk show, honestly, America’s ridiculous zombie obsession has turned into a fetish at this point. Season 1 was actually directed by Frank Darabont but they got rid of him after season 1. Heck George Romero himself has refused to direct this show because as he himself nicely put it: “it’s a melodramatic soap opera with the occasional zombie”, because that’s what it is, a wangsty soup opera that takes itself wayyyyy too seriously, it also goes against how zombies were supposed to be a dark satire of commercialism but ended up becoming exactly what they were satirizing.”

    “This is probably going to sound like the nitpick of all nitpicks, but it is the number one thing that prevents me from getting into the show: In TWD, the word “zombie” does not exist. I have no idea whose brilliant halfwit idea this was, but it makes it impossible for me to actually buy into the series. The word “zombie” is not trademarked; no one owns any rights to it and there are no licensing fees for using it. Despite this, they have to call them “walkers.” So, apparently, in this “realistic” zombie scenario, George Romero doesn’t exist and no zombie movies have ever been made. Zombies do not exist in the horror genre, have never existed in any capacity whatsoever, and have no place in the cultural consciousness. At all. SEEMS LEGIT. It may be the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg, but MY GOD does it drive me nuts.”

    • Reply Movie Lists Man March 28, 2017 at 7:19 pm

      Passionate. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. The more I try to investigate the pile of reasons why people don’t like TWD, the bigger the pile seems to get.

      I can appreciate that these shows don’t offer what you were looking for. I’ve had a lot of friends over the years who can’t get past the logical problems of certain movies or TV shows. And it seems like when that bell has been rung, it can’t be unrung and it’s best to walk away.

      I’m not sure which part of this to engage with (or if you’re just looking for a place to vent, which is perfectly fine), but I’ll just say that I haven’t read the comics yet. It seems clear, however, that the next time I talk about the show I will have to be caught up as a significant portion of people’s problems with the show lie with the fact that it doesn’t follow the best parts of the comics.

      I hope you come check out my Walking Dead video when I release it. You won’t like it, but I think you’ll have lots of company in the comment section. 🙂

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