It took a long time for Fear the Walking Dead to get going. Three whole seasons to be precise.
The first season held the promise of an absorbing origin story, giving viewers a front row seat to the start of the zombie apocalypse in an entirely different location (albeit still in America), and boy were we excited! Unfortunately, the reality was six protracted episodes that were about as fast paced as a herd of zombies with elephants chained to their backs.
Still, ever the completionist, I persevered.
Season two prodded along in much the same fashion, with the additions of an expanded universe a host of new characters. The first half of the season had its moments (namely the intrigue of zombies at sea and post-apocalyptic piracy), but pacing remained an issue, particularly with the splitting of the groups, and the show frequently lost momentum as a result.
The second half of season 2 improved and the decision to base the story in one location (Mexico) helped settle the story. The drama intensified. The characters started to become more flawed and therefore more interesting, and generally, the show started to make you care.
But problems remained. All conflicts and villains that could have been potentially interesting were dealt with far too quickly – rather unlike The Walking Dead, which flounders on the same storylines for too long. The writing was at times nonsensical, with some of the decisions and behaviours of lead characters often coming across as contrived, lazily derived for plots that never really went anywhere. Worst of all – contrary to the name of the show – there was nothing particularly fearful about Fear the Walking Dead. It was that feeling that made me think it was perhaps time to cut my losses.
Miraculously though, things changed. Right from episode one of season three, the pace became immediately more electric, delivering more shock, horror and intrigue in 40 minutes than seasons 1 and 2 combined. Once again, the universe and character list expanded, but this time the additions felt like they actually mattered and the narrative felt more consistent – but most importantly, more fun!
With season 4 now in its stride and the improvements continuing, the question must be begged – is Fear the Walking Dead now better than TWD?
I’ve been a dedicated Walking Dead fan since the show’s inception but things have been going down hill for a while, mainly due to the Negan arc. Sure, it was good to begin with. The tense introduction of Jeffrey Dean Morgan, the chilling sound of the whistling saviours, the masterful small screen adaptation of Glenn’s demise. It was all good stuff. But it was dragged along too long for its own good and in the process, TWD lost its mojo. With the season 8 finale receiving the lowest ever viewer figures for an end of season episode, I’m clearly not alone.
Of course, things might improve, especially if the Whisperers storyline plays out in season 9. But even so, I can’t help but feel that the show has left its best days behind it. Arguably then, Fear the Walking Dead is currently the superior show. Here’s more on why:
The zombies are a threat again
At the start of the Walking Dead, the ‘walkers’ were the scariest thing that plagued Rick and his merry band of survivors. Of course, as the show evolved, you came across characters like Merle and the Governor who caused havoc and added a human threat in-between, but walkers were always the primary concern.
In recent seasons, the zombies have played second fiddle and often felt like a nuisance that could be easily dealt with by everyone. They don’t pose any real danger anymore, except to nameless extras you have no emotional attachment to. This means there is no longer any tension when it comes to the walkers. “But hang on,” you ask. “Isn’t this a show about terrifying flesh-eating zombies who’ll just as likely eat your nose as they will your delicious thighs?” The answer is yes, but you wouldn’t know it.
In Fear the Walking Dead, the zombies are back on the table. Sure, there is human conflict. But the walkers feel like the main threat again, providing some of the most terrifying encounters (and deaths) in either series and adding the painful ‘cover your face with a cushion’ tension back into the equation. Long live Fear the Walking Dead.
It looks better
The Walking Dead has never moved location unlike its younger sibling. This results in a very drab and static colour palette, with locations that are painfully similar and often bland.
In contrast, Fear the Walking Dead makes use of cinematography and diverse locations that feel far more cinematic – just look at those beautiful sequences on the dam or at the ranch in season 3. Admittedly, it’s the zombie apocalypse, so the visual aesthetic set by the Walking Dead feels appropriate and tonally consistent with its apocalyptic narrative, but it’s refreshing to see the end of the world as we know it through a more picturesque lens.
One of the issues plaguing the Walking Dead is that it is inextricably linked with its source material, which means that followers of the comic and TV show more or less know where things are going at all times.
Of course, as we saw with the demise of Carl in season 8, things don’t always play out the same way as they do in the comic, but from a wider perspective, this is an issue that Fear the Walking Dead will never have. It’s completely original storytelling, meaning there are infinite possibilities for the show to always surprise, shock and upset. Fear of the unknown is a powerful device when it comes to storytelling and Fear the Walking Dead really stands to benefit.
The characters are more believable
A possible criticism of the Walking Dead is that its characters often feel far-fetched, almost to the point that they become caricatures – especially Negan, but equally characters like Merle, Daryl and Michonne. Even Rick has made decisions in recent seasons that feel both inconsistent with his character and hard to swallow. Again, given that the Walking Dead is based on a comic book that depicts gruesome and over the top horror action, it’s understandable why the TV show has such a fantastical tone.
In comparison, the characters in Fear the Walking Dead feel far more real. For one, they aren’t categorised into ‘good’ and ‘evil’ like they are in TWD. Madison, Nick and Alicia have all done bad things, sure. This is a terrifying new world where unforgivable actions are necessary. But there is a far greater degree of ambiguity as to whether these actions make them good or bad people. They are merely acting in the way they think is best for their family.
Even objectively evil characters such as Troy (introduced in season 3) are given an origin that contextualises why they behave the way they do, and why these behaviours might be exacerbated in a zombie apocalypse. This adds a level of intrigue and believability that really makes this show stand out. And it is a key reason as to why Fear the Walking Dead is on top right now.