‘Fear the Walking Dead’ or The Zombie Boat

Fear the Walking Dead returns and asks the question, “Can zombies swim?”

AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead has a lot going against it. Its second season premiere debuts a week after many fans of The Walking Dead threw up their arms in disgust and annoyance as that series closed its sixth season with a lackluster and frustrating extended episode. Fear also suffers in comparison, in some circles, because the audience views it through the prism of having already experienced six years of The Walking Dead. We know the rules and the pitfalls already. Fear‘s characters do not and, justly, make the same rookie mistakes.

So, with its second season, the creators obviously tried to shake things up by having its main cast flee California on a yacht. There seems to be a desperation at hand to keep the two series as different as possible. Viewers, I suspect, are meant to feel the separation between the two series. Interestingly, I’m not sure it’s a problem they really had to solve.

I was a staunch defender of Fear the Walking Dead‘s freshman season. To me, watching society crumble as people gradually woke up to the impending zombie threat produced a near-tactile sense of unease and dread that has largely been missing from The Walking Dead for years. In a way, Fear the Walking Dead was always a more challenging show – one that embraced its broader scale while still dabbling in zombie gore here and there. I’m very worried that everything I liked in its first season is now gone.

Our survivors – only two or three of them I actually remembered – fled to the open seas thanks to the generosity of a man who just so happened to own a yacht. Madison (the great Kim Dickens) and Travis (Cliff Curtis) are still trying to hold their family together. This proves a challenge given that Travis was forced to shoot his ex-wife in the head after it was revealed she’d been bitten by a zombie. Naturally, that leads to father/son trauma overlaid with daughter Alicia’s (Alycia Debnam-Carey) radio libido and other son Nick’s (Frank Dillane whose hair rivals Heath Ledger’s Joker for its legendary unkemptness) loopy aimlessness. And then there are the supporting players of whom only yacht-owner Victor Strand (Colman Domingo) makes a strong impression.

The problem with the season two opener is that nothing really happens. There are two thrilling scenes for sure. One involves a zombie and an outboard motor which you could see coming a mile away but works still. Another scene involves a series of improbably dumb actions as the yacht approaches the burned out hull of an apparently fired-upon ship. Future clips seem to indicate the crew will eventually make its way to land – it’s not going to be Zombie Boat for long – but that sense of aimlessness and constant safety seeking takes the series dangerously close to its more famous sibling.

Perhaps I’m just burned out on the whole zombie thing. I’d tried to stay away from The Walking Dead because I had zero interest in waiting for people to die. Still, I watched and became attached to a few of the characters, attached enough to keep coming back. The Fear the Walking Dead characters have yet to grow on me that way, although I do still like Dickens’ work on the show. Until they develop their own “Carol” or “Darryl” or “Michonne,” Fear the Walking Dead only has the dawn of the zombie apocalypse to offer. Now that they’re distancing themselves from that, I fear for what mediocrity lies ahead.

And, yes, zombies can swim. Just not as well as humans.

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