June 11, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Midseason Finale Review: “Fear the Walking Dead”


Something unexpected has been going on in the first half of the fourth season of AMC’s franchise spin-off FEAR THE WALKING DEADFear has always felt like a corporate calculation and a creative afterthought, unable to find a lasting identity as it roamed from being a Walking Dead prequel to being all too literally at sea, on its way to a Mexican-set adventure.  But with new showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg in charge, the show has undergone an almost complete reboot, and it’s now a more absorbing and satisfying drama than its mothership.  The Walking Dead has spent two seasons mired in contract disputes and the pointless nihilism of its Negan storyline (which for all we know may not be over, since the character is still alive), loaded with too many redshirt characters, and although it too will have a new showrunner in the fall, the new leadership is coming from a longtime member of the existing writing/producing staff, so it’s not clear any major changes beyond the departures of cast members are on the way.

Chambliss and Goldberg, on the other hand, are complete newcomers, veterans of the Horowitz & Kitsis Once Upon A Time shop, and they’ve done a thorough housecleaning.  The cast was augmented with high-level actors like Jenna Elfman, Garret Dillanunt and Maggie Grace, as well as Lennie James’s crossover character Morgan, and the episodes were structured along dovetailing timelines, gradually filling in the main story from both ends.  Most importantly perhaps, and most distinct from The Walking Dead, Fear has embraced a humanism even in the midst of the inevitable carnage and horror, finding time for emotions that have been paying off dramatically.

Tonight’s midseason finale finished (one assumes) the shift to the new regime with the shocking death of the show’s original lead, Kim Dickens’s Madison Clark, who was both structurally and emotionally at the center of the series.  (Another major original character, Madison’s son Nick, played by Frank Dillane, had been killed earlier in the season.)  The episode provided the final piece of the puzzle posed by the twin timelines, in which Madison had never appeared in any present tense scenes, which had her daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), Strand (Colman Domingo) and Luciana (Danay Garcia) on the road, seeking a vengeance that was left somewhat vague.  Chambliss and Goldberg gave Madison a hero’s exit, sacrificing herself for her daughter and the others, and the flashbacks revealed that Madison had previously crossed paths with video journalist Althea (Grace), who had recorded her memories of pre-zombie life with her children, giving Dickens several opportunities to shine.  This string of episodes has been more technically inventive than the series (or Walking Dead) have been before, with different textures for past, present and Althea’s recordings, and director Michael E. Satrazemis expertly handled the shifts in tone and style, including what was probably the most emotionally-staged zombie attack of the franchise.

Even though Walking Dead‘s ratings have been plunging over the past season or two, Fear remains far lower, and that’s unlikely to change.  It’s also possible that Chambliss and Goldberg will falter now that the remodeling is done and it’s time for them to provide their own personal vision of what they want their show to be.  (The second half of the season premieres on August 12.)  But in its first half-season, Fear is quickly establishing itself as the Walking Dead show to watch.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."