Warning – FULL SPOILERS for Tonight’s Season 2 “Monster” Premiere:

Fear The Walking Dead began its run with something of a natural handicap, devoid of any recognizable characters or story beats, and essentially bound to replicate the same stock zombie apocalypse machinations we’ve seen through dozens, if not hundreds of different films, let alone once already within the same universe. There was never any chance Season 1 could become the crowd-pleasing gorefest of its progenitor, at least yet, but at a time when The Walking Dead proper has generated significant unrest within its audience by cheap tricks, Fear Season 2 seems primed to reach a certain sweet spot.

After all, we’re past the gruntwork of acclimating characters to the new world order, but still treating it as enough of a threat, exactly the kind of balanced approach that feels refreshing in the wake of such a frustrating sixth season.

Setting Fear Season 2 on the high seas is an interesting way to explore that new world order as well, not just for visual contrast with the main series, but also the creativity required to draft tension. Floating walkers and stray bodies are unavoidably a bit silly, forcing the group ashore in certain instances (the opening beach escape was a particular highlight, as was the visual of California burning behind them), but the Abigail isn’t a place of total safety either. Instead, the tension flows inter-personally, as Strand keeps his motivations hidden, while repeatedly asserting both his place of authority, and sneering “generosity” for allowing others aboard in the first place.

It’s a worthwhile question, his interest in accommodating this particular group, while denying salvation to many still stranded (heh) on the water, though one that ends up validated when a mysterious “Jack” Alicia encounters on the radio turns out to be sinister after all. Maritime threats are a new one for The Walking Dead to be certain, but an arresting source of tension, even if it seemed painfully obvious throughout the hour that Alicia had been conned into giving up their location.

“This would never have happened if we’d just let her stay with 'The 100.’”

If anything, that’s where Fear struggles the most, to define its youngest characters as impulsive teenagers without descending into cliché, the way Alicia treats Jack as a boy she can finally open up to, or the way Chris throws tantrums over his mother’s death, upsetting her burial at see by blithely tossing the body overboard in the midst of everyone’s reflection. The emphasis here is still on family, that Travis needs to protect his son from harm while acknowledging his “mercy” with Eliza, though Madison is ultimately the one to break through to Chris with her own history of standing up to her father. It’s no accident that both Strand and Salazar treat Madison as the group’s unofficial leader, and Fear could use a better place for Travis beyond a well-meaning boor.

AMC sent out three episodes to critics, and I can’t promise to check in on every single one (don’t forget, we’re up to fifteen episodes this season from six last year), but Season 2 definitely establishes itself in a ripe position to treat characters more like people than invincible killing machines. We don’t know exactly what Strand intends, nor the nature of the vessel now following the group, but Fear feels fresh and open in ways long since past The Walking Dead, and tonight’s premiere offered a solid, if not outwardly attention-grabbing means to open up a newer, unknown corner of that world.

AND ANOTHER THING …

  • Is it me, or does the Abigail have display readouts on the wall comparable to Star Trek ships?
  • No sign of Flight 462 just yet, though the presence of so many other survivors on the water is a bit curious.
  • Nick is into Ofelia, it seems. Kay.
  • Just to clarify, the Abigail is Strand’s boat? I’m not sure he ever mentions it.

Fear The Walking Dead Season 2 will return on April 17 with “We All Fall Down”, airing at 9:00 P.M. on AMC.

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