When I was writing about the first season of Fear the Walking Dead, I talked quite a bit about the difference between an adaptation and original material. Adaptations have a clear advantage over original material in that they don’t really run out of story if they pace themselves correctly. The Walking Dead may have had a messy, messy sixth season, but there was a story that ran throughout the entirety of its 16 episodes. The same goes for Game of Thrones. Killing off the majority of the “heroes” back in the third season could prove potentially fatal for a show without a plan, but source material gave them a clear way out. Having source material can take a lot of the pressure off of writers when it comes to creating story.
But. It can be very, very easy to rely on source material, simply taking it from Point A (the page) to Point B (the screen) without thinking about what is between the lines. Game of Thrones, even though it occasionally runs into trouble with simply translating plot points to the screen, really does dig into the purpose of the source material, how power structures are so easily perverted and work to empower some at the expense of others. The Walking Dead REALLY struggled with this during its sixth season, as it often seemed like a collection of plot points that the comics hit. Fear the Walking Dead has this in its favor, as it doesn’t have to follow plot points. It can go wherever it wants to go and do whatever it wants to do.
Fear the Walking Dead really succeeds in this regard. It tries very hard to differentiate itself from its “parent” series, primarily by changing locations and taking the narrative to places it hasn’t gone yet. What does it mean to be out in the open water during the beginning of the zombie apocalypse? What does it mean do not know who to trust, and to make these moral decisions that are more convoluted than they seem? The Walking Dead is at the point where trusting somebody is stupid, because of course there is going to be somebody trying to screw you over. But Fear the Walking Dead can exist with a level of innocence, and its important for the show to remember how it is different from The Walking Dead, not only to set itself apart, but to avoid some of the deep, deep pitfalls that The Walking Dead has fallen into.
“Monster” hasn’t fallen into any pitfalls yet, but it’s certainly not a great episode. If there’s anything wrong with it, it’s that it doesn’t really reach very high. It’s an episode that, more than anything else, works to remind the viewer what the show is about, characterizing the people as best it can, even if it doesn’t do it particularly well. For an episode of a “Walking Dead” franchise, it is very, very light on plot. Once the yacht makes its way out into open water, nothing really happens (aside from Liza’s funeral) until they find the capsized boat in the water. That’s all great, but great shows are able to mix together plot and character development in a way that is effective and, more than anything else, efficient. Fear the Walking Dead is a young show, to be sure, but it really isn’t efficient, as the focus on character development is accomplished at the expense of the plot.
But the character development is fairly strong all around, even if some of the children are more frustrating than anything else. Travis is still conflicted about his morality, as he wants to help others but isn’t really sure how to do so and still protect his family. Madison is drifting further and further towards being cold and calculating rather than open and inviting. Chris, Nick, and Alicia all still have very little personality aside from a singular personal struggle. It helps to focus on a character’s struggle for the sake of character development, but that struggle has to illuminate something deeper about the character, something about their humanity. Really, none of the children have anything underneath, at least not right now. What do we actually know about Chris or Alicia? Not really much of anything. However, what’s interesting is that the show knows not to emphasize characters like Daniel, as we all already know who Daniel is, considering the intense focus on him in Season 1. There are certainly areas for improvement, especially when it comes to the children, but there is a strong base to build from.
“Monster” certainly isn’t a great episode, but it accomplishes its goal. It reminds you who these people are and it sets up an issue for the characters to contend with. The real question now has to do with length. Fear the Walking Dead can handle a six-episode season, but now the season length has been extended to fifteen weeks, back-to-back. Not even The Walking Dead has to deal with this length, as it always splits its run into two eight-episode chunks. “Monster”, for the most part, held my interest, but only time will tell whether or not it can keep its momentum over the course of four months. We’ll see.
What did you think of the season premiere? Where do you think the show is going next? Let me know in the comments!