Blu Ray Review: Fear the Walking Dead Season 1 (USA, 2015)

As we look towards the second season of Fear the Walking Dead – which is shaping up to be fantastic – there’s now that chance to re-watch it’s predecessor with the home release of the first season. What started as a spin-off to AMC’s mega successful The Walking Dead turned into a show that could completely stand on it’s own, a feat accomplished in just six episodes – much like the first season of The Walking Dead – which is impressive, despite some major flaws in both character and narrative, muddled with a pacing that was strange at the best of times.

What showrunner Dave Erickson and the rest of the crew did was justify all that faith fans of The Walking Dead universe had placed in the show, eventually giving us something exciting, fresh, and satisfying with characters that were very slowly built up over time. At it’s core, choosing to focus on a dysfunctional blended family was a risky move that made the show much more about family drama than anything else, placing the show’s characters in the midst of impeding doom – as opposed to just doom – and watching them try and make sense of what is going on, and how this panic affects their relationships. It worked at first, but then as we got into the middle of the season nothing really happened; the military came and saved the day and turned out to be oppressive villains, setting up a rescue mission for the finale.

And the finale was an awesome progression from the rest; first Daniel using the horde of walkers as a weapon against the military and then that same weapon coming back to cause chaos for the ensemble, before they escaped to Victor Stand’s super convenient mansion in the middle of nowhere and found out that one of their own was bit in the fray and had to be put down (the most likeable character nonetheless). There was a lot of tension and a lively sense of action that was a huge departure from the uncertainty and house-arrest vibe of the middle string of episodes.

The finale leaped things forward with focus and a great sense of timing, with a well-paced, measured episode that brought out the tension we didn’t even realise was there. As it turns out, what the writers did over the previous five episodes was enough to at least make us care if these characters live or die, and even though most remain only barely likeable, the majority of scenes were effective and involving.

Above is a quote taken from our original review of the final two episodes. The writers tied it up all together in the end; The Walking Dead have taught the crew to be patient and save the pay-off for later, but there needs to be a balance somewhere. Though the season is just six episodes – highly binge-worthy – it was still important to keep us engaged in the middle, and for the most part Fear the Walking Dead failed at doing that.

Fear the Walking Dead’s second outing still hasn’t shown us what this series is capable of, but there is enough there to justify sticking with the story. A quick mention to production and direction as well; L.A is, again, used beautifully with some really atmospheric shots of claustrophobic creepiness juxtaposed with wider shots of an increasingly panicked city.

The above quote is taken from our review of episode 2, “So Close, So Far”. The technical side of Fear the Walking Dead was almost consistently excellent, with the urban environment proving to bolster the narrative simply because it was a stark comparison to all the forestry and abandoned strongholds viewers were used to from The Walking Dead. Putting our characters as middle-class survivors, right in there with the cracks and grit of L.A streets, proved to be a good choice, even if we had to put up with Nick until he finally became an endearing character in the finale.

The characters need a bit more fleshing out in the second season, and we’re confident that the writers can take this where it needs to go, especially now that we are going to get a very close-quarters setting with the mysterious Victor Strand and his luxury boat.

Season Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The Special Features for the Blu Ray edition are surprisingly lacking for a new television show. There are only two here: “A Look at the Series” and “Inside the Characters”, both under five minutes each. There’s barely much insight here although there is somewhat of a close look at the production values of the show and how the urban setting comes into play here. We expected a bit more seeing as The Walking Dead always has some great features. Aside from that it’s just “play all” or “play by episode” options with additional settings like subtitles and scene selection. It’s simple, but maybe that’s what they were going for.

Special Features Score: ONE STAR (OUT OF FIVE)

Fear the Walking Dead Season 1 is available on DVD and Blu Ray now.