Sunday, May 26, 2024

So You Want to Watch Fear the Walking Dead

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The wild popularity of newcomer actor Alycia Debnam Carey has caused some unexpected buzz for AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead. If you haven’t already heard, that buzz is a reaction to the death of Debnam Carey’s character Lexa on CW’s The 100. Despite the actor only featuring on Fear the Walking Dead in a secondary role, a number of dedicated fans have boarded the zombie train to support her. If you’re reading this article, odds are you’re one of these die-hard Debnam Carey fans. Or you’re a The 100 viewer looking to pointedly take your viewership elsewhere after the controversy. Or maybe you just really like zombies. No matter your reason the question remains: should you watch Fear the Walking Dead? With Season Two premiering in April there’s no better time to find out. So buckle up, and let’s weigh the pros and cons.

Cliff Curtis in Fearing the Walking Dead

Pro: You don’t have to watch The Walking Dead  first

Fear the Walking Dead (FtWD) is a spinoff series to the six-seasons-strong The Walking Dead (currently airing and reviewed weekly on our site by Meg). But the good news is you don’t have to shovel your way through all 80+ episodes just to get to this six-part series. At this stage in the game, FtWD is only a prequel. The Los Angeles counterpart to The Walking Dead’s Georgia setting, the show follows Travis Manawa and his dysfunctional blended family as they navigate the horrific beginnings of what will soon be a worldwide zombie apocalypse. Series creator Robert Kirkman confirmed that the two shows’ timelines will eventually overlap, but if you’re keen to eat up this brief single season you can go right ahead.

Con: But you will miss references if you skip it

FtWD drops subtle hints to its parent show here and there for those who love their nerdy media. If that’s your style, it’s worth putting aside time for the long haul and watching both shows. If you’ve already seen The Walking Dead, keep an eye out for references. One notable example is the golf shot in Episode Four.

Frank Dillane in Fearing the Walking DeadPro: The casting and performances are excellent

Cliff Curtis carries the series with ease. Usually known for playing characters who are rough-around-the-edges, he’s well suited to the family man role here. However, that doesn’t come easy. His character Travis Manawa’s heart is split in two, between his girlfriend Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) and her two children, Nick and Alicia (played by Frank Dillane and Alycia Debnam Carey respectively); and his son Christopher (Lorenzo James Henrie), who lives with Travis’ ex-wife Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez). The casting of the two families is near-perfect. Lorenzo James Henrie is a great match as Cliff Curtis’ son. Alycia Debnam Carey in particular feels extremely believable as the daughter of Kim Dickens. In turn Dickens gives a great performance as a mother who’s had to steel herself against unnecessary stress even before the undead begin to rise. The cause of that stress is her drug-addicted son Nick. As Nick, Frank Dillane is far and away the stand-out performer on the show. Nick is the first to come face to face with the undead outbreak, and his character brings a disturbed and frustrated (yet fascinating) dynamic to the family as they try to put their issues aside and deal first and foremost with their safety.

Con: The stereotypes are everywhereLorenzo James Henrie in Fearing the Walking Dead

Continuing with the great performances thread, Elizabeth Rodriguez, probably best known to the Netflix generation as Daya’s mother Aleida Diaz in Orange is the New Black, is an equally great addition to the cast. However her characterization seems to exist purely for plot purposes. A leading source of conflict, she even occasionally bears the Conflict Ball when she acts out of character to move the plot forward. The Idiot Ball gets passed around too, but it’s mostly carried by the military who come on the scene to protect the living from the undead.

The third family that is part of the main cast is led by Ruben Blades as Daniel Salazar, who serves some stereotypical tropes including Badass Old Guy and Papa Wolf. Revealed in a later episode to be unforgivably violent, Daniel’s only redeeming quality is his love for his family. However, when it comes to helping others he has an extreme eye-for-an-eye mentality. None of this feels very fresh or original for a Latino character. And although the show is led by the presumably immune Travis Manawa who is Maori, FtWD seems to have it out for black men, seeing a hugely disappointing dose of Black Dude Dies First within the first two episodes alone.

Pro: There’s a great brother-sister relationship

I sincerely hope we get more of this in Season Two, because the dynamic between Nick and Alicia is one of my favourite small details about the show. Where Nick is the drop-out drug addict, Alicia is the straight-A student. Although Alicia is justifiably frustrated by Nick’s behaviour and seems (on the surface) happy to let him fall victim to his addiction, she clearly loves him. The two have a definite bond that shines through at key moments.

Ruben Blades in Fearing the Walking DeadCon: The bad moments in the writing are really bad

You know that frustrating thing TV shows do where someone has Important Information that they need to relay to another character? But instead of interrupting and just spitting out the necessary information, they let the other character talk over the top of them and misinterpret what they’re saying? And later that lack of information has consequences that come back to bite everyone in the ass? Yeah, FtWD has that in droves. Did I mention Idiot Plot already?

A subplot featuring Alicia and her boyfriend Matt also has a wild amount of unanswered questions. The plot falls to pieces during this particular thread. I won’t go into spoilers here, but if you want to read for yourself check out the final bullet point in the second entry on Tv Tropes’ FtWD Headscratchers page. (Beginning with “More puzzling is…”)

Pro: The good moments in the writing are really good

I never do this, but I frantically and repeatedly screamed “oh my god, oh my god” out loud at my laptop at the end of Episode Four when a major piece of the plot was revealed. It was intense. Needless to say I was button-mashing my keyboard to get to the next episode as soon as possible.

Pro and Con: Queer the Walking Dead

Although no known queer characters appear in FtWD as of yet, newcomers to the series are riding the tidal wave of grief and love from The 100 right into the FtWD fandom. The result: a character invented entirely by the fandom who doesn’t exist in canon. For totally unknown reasons that character looks exactly like Clarke Griffin, the love interest of Alycia Debnam Carey’s The 100 character Lexa. Dubbed “Elyza Lex”, she’s a foil to and love interest for Debnam Carey’s FtWD character “Alicia Clark”. (Geddit? Alicia Clark, Elyza Lex? Yeah, okay okay okay.) This character has suddenly been appearing in fan art and fan fiction all over tumblr and elsewhere. For fear of overwhelming the original FtWD fandom, a new content tag was developed on tumblr to accomodate Elyza Lex. It’s called “Queer the Walking Dead”.Alycia Debnam Carey in Fearing the Walking Dead

Elyza Lex” is a reaction from a fandom whose queer representation was heartlessly ripped away. She is an example of transformative fandom — the act of changing or transforming parts of a story or character in order to see yourself represented in them. For queer fans with little representation in the mainstream media, this is a regular and familiar practice, and it results in new and interesting interpretations of characters all the time.

Transformative fandom can be incredibly powerful, as the Elyza Lex fan art will demonstrate. An entire character was invented out of nowhere and is being treated to an abundance of fan works normally reserved for canon characters. It’s a fascinating practice and goes to show how important representation in mainstream media can and should be. Mark Hamill’s response to the possibility that Luke Skywalker is gay is another example of transformative fandom at work. In the same way, the delves of fan works that have imagined Hermione Granger as black likely contributed to the casting of Noma Dumezweni in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Where representation does not exist, fandom will unstoppably find a way. That determination is starting to see some real results.

Whether or not Fear the Walking Dead will take note and include a queer character in future remains to be seen. We can hope that it will. But in saying that, it’s important to note that transformative fandom is not about pressuring media creators or the existing fandom into including fan-created material; rather it’s about taking what creators have given and developing it into something that positively demonstrates the importance and necessity of diverse representation — so that one day, the fans only won’t have to do it themselves.

Creators have a responsibility to demonstrate the range of diversity within society and not sideline minorities. Like all great art, the values of society are reflected in the media that we consume. In other words, we are what we eat. (Yes that was a zombie pun. You can punch me. I’m sorry.) With a 15-episode season forthcoming (more than double the length of this first season), FtWD has plenty of room to step up its representation game, so let’s hope it’s all up from here.

So, will you watch Fear the Walking Dead?

Why or why not? And if you have already, what are your pros and cons?

Fear the Walking Dead Season Two premieres April 10th on AMC. Be sure to also check out the bonus miniseries of webisodes promoting Season Two, Fear the Walking Dead: Flight 462.

All images courtesy of AMC.

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