TV Review: Fear the Walking Dead Season 1 Episodes 5 & 6 (USA, 2015)

With six episodes to weave a coherent first season, the team behind Fear the Walking Dead certainly took their time, carefully (and sometimes clumsily) building a bunch of everyday characters, spanning three different families, into a distinctive and likeable group of potential zombie apocalypse survivors. Some of this was successful but most was not, with the difficulty of balancing realisism with the kind of horror tropes we have come to expect of zombie pop culture. Having a lack of actual zombies (or walkers) was certainly a bold move in the first five episodes, building up to the release of an arena full, and all the carnage that comes with it.

Although episode six, the finale, finally gave us a good deal of action and drama, the writers had to unfortunately sacrifice the fifth episode and relegate it to a pure table-setting piece in order move the plot towards the end. How we got there, with Daniel discovering a locked arena full of walkers, felt contrived and messy with the kidnap and torture of Cpl. Andrew Adams (Shawn Hatosy) so our survivors could extract information about where Nick, Liza, and Griselda were.

The other main use of episode five was the introduction of the charismatic Victor Strand (Colman Domingo) who was locked up with Nick and hatched a pretty simple plan to escape. I love it when it’s revealed that a character has pick-pocketed another even though it makes absolutely no logical sense; although it was convenient and saved us wasting more time with the fairly hum drum scenes at the military hospital-slash-prison.

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.

Daniel releasing 2000 walkers from the arena just so they had a way to distract the military seemed like a very foolish and reckless plan, completely short-sighted as once the walkers were through with the military they inevitably swarmed into the hospital. What resulted was a bunch of close calls and a hell of a lot of deaths. And we are supposed to be rooting for these guys?

We also got a weird scene where Adams returns to shoot Ofelia, completely trashing the level-headed guy he was made out to be in the little time we had spent with him (to my understanding, Adams was actually really into Ofelia, whereas Ofelia was not). It was necessary only to give Travis some regret (he had let Adams escape earlier) and make him snap, beating the hell out of the Corporal in a very surprising, Rick Grimes-esque way.

The casual pace of previous episodes was thankfully abandoned here as we got in and out of the hospital with a lot of time to spend with these characters as they headed to Strand’s unbelievably grand home by the lake. The plan to get to Strand’s large, luxury yacht, Abigail, seems like a good way to rouse interest in season 2, especially because The Walking Dead has never dealt with these other situations such as boats and planes (of which will also be dealt with in an online companion series to Fear).

I decided in episode four that Liza was my favourite character. She’s likeable, doesn’t do anything remotely as frustrating as Travis, Madison, or Nick, and quickly adapts to the situation. The writers must have anticipated that she’d stand out as a fan favourite – which isn’t hard – because killing her off was cruel and perfectly in-line to what these showrunners have learnt over five season of The Walking Dead. Having Travis agree to shoot Liza after she revealed that she was bitten back at the hospital was a great move for dramatic effect and both Cliff Curtis and Elizabeth Rodriguez played the scene well.

The finale was hands down the best of the six and does justify the faith we have placed in these writers to take this show where it needs to go, without having it coast along on the fact that it’s a spin-off of The Walking Dead. I’m not happy that they killed off Liza with the obvious purpose of cutting her out of the dynamic between Travis and Madison, but anyone else dying would have elicited less of an emotional response – as mild as that response was.

I’m also not sure ending the season with her death was the right way to go either, but that lovely wide shot that bled out into the ocean at the end was quite striking.