Fear the Walking Dead: A Spin-off That (Probably) Shouldn’t Exist

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

As we continue to live in the midst of pop culture’s zombie craze, it’s unsurprising that AMC opted to expand upon the universe of The Walking Dead, their massively popular television series. This expansion has come in the form of Fear the Walking Dead—a show created by Dave Erickson and Robert Kirkman that follows a group in Los Angeles as they struggle to survive an emerging zombie pandemic. What remains to be seen, however, is whether or not The Walking Dead is a world worth expanding.

Whereas season one of The Walking Dead promptly skips over the initial zombie outbreak, Fear the Walking Dead takes a different route by showing life just before the imminent apocalypse. Because of this, the show is slow to start, including only very brief moments of horror and suspense. Early episodes lack the numbers of undead that The Walking Dead fans are used to seeing, and while the absence of large-scale zombie action isn’t necessarily a shortcoming, it does put pressure on the showrunners to create meaningful and engaging drama in the spin-off.

The results are ultimately varied. While Fear the Walking Dead features a variety of storylines, some of them lack adequate development and payoff. In particular, the second half of the season tries to integrate a military intervention narrative that proves to be hollow and unavailing. Certain characters also suffer at the hand of poor, underdeveloped writing. The biggest victim is Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis), whose poor characterization has him teetering between being a tough, assertive father and a helpless bystander. While these flaws might coincide with the fact that the season is compacted into a short six-episode format, I also think they’re indicative of a larger problem.

This issue is rooted in the fact that The Walking Dead has already answered so many questions pertaining to its fictional universe. As a result, Fear the Walking Dead is inherently at a disadvantage. Many of the show’s attempts to create drama fail simply because the scenarios are so emblematic of situations that have already occurred in The Walking Dead. Moreover, anyone who’s watched the original series will have to tolerate the ineptitude that many characters within the spin-off exhibit. To give an example, one scene shows Travis attempting to confront and console a zombified neighbor, even after he’s seen several zombies and their blatant hostility.

While this naiveté is occasionally understandable, it’s hard not to cringe when Fear the Walking Dead’s characters are consistently making terrible decisions. After following the battle-tested survivors of The Walking Dead for five seasons now, witnessing the ignorance of the spin-off’s protagonists can be an incredibly frustrating transition.

This isn’t to say that Fear the Walking Dead is a complete misfire. In fact, there are quite a few redeeming qualities that can perhaps justify the spin-off’s continuation. The show’s California setting is a nice break from the eastern rural areas where The Walking Dead has lingered for the majority of its story. Additionally, a handful of Fear the Walking Dead’s characters show considerable promise. Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) immediately stands out as female lead, displaying the decisiveness and resilience that her husband Travis lacks. Also memorable are Frank Dillane’s heroin-addicted Nick Clark and Rubén Blades’ no-nonsense Daniel Salazar, both of whom face the most turmoil throughout the season. Despite the show’s various imperfections, I’m genuinely interested to how these characters continue to function and adapt in future episodes.

Still, I’m not quite convinced that Fear the Walking Dead is a necessary addition to the universe of The Walking Dead. The spin-off’s most distinctive characteristic is the fact that it visualizes the initial outbreak that the original series omits, yet Fear the Walking Dead essentially wraps up this storyline by the end of its third episode. From that point on, the spin-off follows a far more familiar path, albeit with a different cast of characters. Judging by the way things conclude in the finale, I find it hard to imagine how the new series can tell a story that is all that  different from that of The Walking Dead.

With that in mind, Fear the Walking Dead has a lot to prove next season. Just as Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have done with their wonderful Breaking Bad spin-off entitled Better Call Saul, the creators of Fear the Walking Dead need to demonstrate that their show can distinguish itself as a unique and worthwhile story. If they fail to do so, the series will be forever crippled and undermined by inevitable comparisons to the far more celebrated The Walking Dead.

Featured Image Courtesy of www.unrealitytv.co.uk/


  1. I stopped watching The Walking Dead about a season ago and this sadly does not inspire me to get back into the now expanded universe

  2. Yes i feel the same way about super hero’s. How can anyone follow Super Man and be a compelling story of a hero. I mean Batman; seriously… He doesn’t even have super powers. How in hell did he become so popular.

    12 weeks of zombies out of 52 weeks is enough right? how many ways can you tell a story of people getting bit and coming back to life wanting to eat people …. As you pointed out it does seem kind of redundant. Well since you already know how this thing plays out, could you tell me how season 2 ends so I won’t have to wait another year.

    For the record i happen to like Fear the walking dead, way better than Znation; which is probably something you think is innovative and refreshing.

    Yeah people do stupid things in FTWD, but how does one react to seeing a friend or family member fall victim to disease no one fully understands. Yeah we have all watched the news and realize people can do evil things but what would you do if a friend or sibling came toward you acting weird? I already know… One between the eyes.

    We have the luxury of knowing they are walkers and friends and family members have to be put down like rabid dogs once undead. In reality I don’t know what I would do if my mother comes at me with a crazed look in her eyes. Regardless if I just saw someone get off a ambulance stretcher. I would like to think my first thought wouldn’t be to crack her skull. That is the reason why it spread so quickly. Watch the original zombie flick that started it all to see stupid. The night of the living dead. Locked in a basement and zombies everywhere and a little girl near death lying there with her mother. The mother goes up stairs for a while and when she gets back the child is up eating her father. The mother goes into shock and just stands there and is then killed by the daughter. All the idiot had to do was run.

    I am looking forward to see how a new group handles the apocalypse. They will probably meet a Darrel, Rick, Michone and a Glenn and a 1 eyed governor. I mean how many ways can someone tell a zombie story… Countless I hope.

    Whatever AMC does, do not cancel this show. I am sure you can come up with a compelling enough story without retelling TWD.

    By the way, I like Batman. The universe is big enough for more than one super hero. Even as flawed as he is.

    • You make a nice comparison to superheroes, but characters in TWD’s universe, unlike superheroes, are all facing the same overarching threat: zombies. Sure, there may be human villains that occasionally show up in TWD, but they’re usually thwarted within a season or two. There are only two major dynamics at work: humans vs. zombies and humans vs. humans. As a result, the subject matter doesn’t seem to have a lot of flexibility, particularly since it has been established in TWD that there’s no cure and everyone is already infected.

      Also, like I mention in my review, I do think it’s understandable when characters display ignorance and make poor choices. I’m sure I’d make those same dumb decisions if faced with a similar scenario. My qualm is that we’ve already seen TWD’s major protagonists overcome that ignorance and transform. I’m not so sure we need to see that transformation again with a new group.

      I know I’m giving the spin-off a bad rap, but I still plan on tuning in for the second season. FTWD only has six episodes under its belt, so it could easily prove me wrong. Personally, I’d love to see it succeed in the future.

      • I do understand what you are saying, It is like watching Spiderman’s origin story for the fifth time. That is the worst part of the reboots. You sit through it anyway because you know the payoff comes when they suit up. The final episode was when the super hero finally suits up and it starts kicking but. Until this Season the walking dead normally starts off slow also, but once it gets going, it reels you right in.

        Yes the family is totally dysfunctional, but they will be more entertaining in the apocalypse way better than the Brady Bunch….I take that back….Marsha on a rampage…oh the possibilities.
        Watching the end the 2004 Dawn of the Dead, they escaped to a marina, jumped on a yacht only to run into more trouble. I said then that would make a great concept for a sequel. Now season 2 of FTWD, I will finally get my wish.
        I do believe the show will make you a believer, hang in there.

      • And you have to tell story of their awaking in their new reality . You cant just skip from cracking the egg to the omelet if you are giving someone the recipe. unfortunately you have to cover all the mundane retreads, Once they have had the same clothes on for about a week, Then the story telling will really began. I hope it all comes down to us just being patient for the payoff. If it is anti-climatic….I will be the first to slam it on Disqus, I agree with you though after about the 3rd episode in season 2, it will need to be epic writing from then own. like we are accustomed to in TWD.

  3. I waited for a year for this show to see the apocalypse begin anew, but now I’m pretty much wishing AMC had never done FTWD. They could have spent the $$$ on TWD (which sometimes tends to play cheap, with characters endlessly running around in the woods) and made their flagship show that much better.

  4. FTWD can only be improved by killing off all characters except the former torturer. The acting is terrible. The only beneficial character development is death.

  5. This show is not very good in comparison to TWD. The writing is just not in the same realm. Instead of AMC, FTWD, looks like it’s been written and produced by the same people that do the show, “Once Upon a Time.”

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