I was excited for Fear the Walking Dead. Excited for a lot of reasons. For one, I’m a huge fan of the show’s progenitor. Despite the more languid seasons of The Walking Dead, with their excessive prolonging of foregone outcomes, I kept tuning in for the next episode. And—like Herschel losing and regaining his faith—I was sporadically rewarded throughout the series with the satisfaction of things like Rick’s “I hear Nebraska’s nice; moment, the introduction of The Governor and finally the All Out War with Negan.
But there was another reason I was excited for Fear the Walking Dead. As enjoyable as The Walking Dead was for me, I always found the basic premise of the show left a lot of questions unanswered: When does society collapse? Why does it happen so quickly? Where do American governmental authorities flee to? How does the military become so immediately ineffectual? These were the questions Fear, by my estimation of the early previews, was going to address while Rick was asleep in a hospital bed thousands of miles away. Unfortunately, the first and second seasons of Fear blew past any opportunity to explore these circumstances and chose to relegate the collapse of zombies’ greatest adversary—the armed forces of the United States—to a scene not dissimilar to this:
So I tuned out. However, while flipping through channels one insomnia-plagued evening in my A/C-free apartment, I stumbled across the first episode of Season Three of Fear the Walking Dead. It was a gamble, but knee-deep in a Bud Light Lime-a-Rita bender, I resigned myself to seeing where the Clark family had found themselves. Then something happened. I was actually entertained by things happening in the show.
1. The Day of the Dead Homage
Of the George Romero zombie trilogy, Day of the Dead remains my favorite. It’s a dubious statement to many purists I’m sure, but the concept of a strung out, morally ambiguous, resource-deprived military unit trying to fulfill their orders from who knows how long ago speaks to what an apocalypse is about: Desperation. So when the Season Three premiere starts with a similarly questionable group of paramilitary folks, I found my interests piqued. Among them is Troy Otto (Daniel Sharman), son of doomsday prepper Jeremiah Otto, Sr. (Dayton Callie), who is experimenting on Walkers—though the rest remain unaware of these macabre procedures. It’s more than a subtle homage: It begins to explore what people who end up becoming the Governors and Negans of The New World are doing before they turn into mega-villains. Does Troy Otto’s abusive childhood, the end of the world and the subsequent loss of his Father turn him into a grinning sonuva bitch with a baseball bat? Or is it simply a World Gone Mad that allows anyone to indulge latent, savage tendencies that modern civilization has suppressed? Tell me more, Fear. Tell me more.
2. “Are you ready for TEOTWAKI?”
The cold open of Jeremiah’s “TEOTWAKI” VHS was classic Romero/Carpenter-esque satirical humor at its finest. “Time’s up, Patriots. The Great American Experiment has… failed,” followed by a Playstation 1-era spinning globe and superimposed explosion. Then, Jeremiah comes on screen, tying up his horse in a thin attempt to emulate Reagan, stopping to “casually” fix a boy’s paper airplane before transitioning right into the introduction of his 4-Part Video Series (with free Survival Bucket). It gives insight into what the Clark family (and viewer) are getting themselves into, but more importantly, it’s hilarious. Something creators of modern post-apocalyptic programs often forget to incorporate into their depiction of the end of society. Yes, it’s the collapse of civilization, but out of that comes macabre comedy—a form of connection to our own reality, which is what End of Days fiction should do.
3. This Is Ground Control to Victor Strand
Season Six of The Walking Dead teased a “Larger World” that seemingly ended up consisting of downtown Atlanta and its surrounding suburbs. For a curious sci-fi/horror fan, that’s a pretty boring scope from the apocalypse. So, when Victor Strand (Colman Domingo) awakes from his champagne hangover on board the Abigail to the radio crackle of a Russian Cosmonaut by the name of Vaschenko, it refreshingly gives the series its first taste of how truly global the scope of the epidemic is. Victor asks Vaschenko if he knows what’s happened to North America, to which the cosmonaut wryly responds, “North America? You sound like an American, my friend. Thinking everything happens only to him.” And with that brief exchange, we’ve learned more about The Walking Dead universe than anything Daryl and Rick have explored since the destruction of the CDC in Season One. The cosmonaut bids farewell with, “We’re breaking up, my friend. The world turns,” and ceases comms without us or Victor ever seeing him. Just a voice watching the end of humanity from the darkness of Outer Space. That is how you show an audience a “Larger World.”
Read Paste’s report from the set of Fear the Walking Dead Season Three here.
Duval Culpepper is a writer and comedian (originally) from New York City that unironically maintains that Wild Wild West was leagues better than Django Unchained. Check out his standup at www.duvalculpepper.com and follow him on all the things @evertheoutsider.