If you’re a fan of AMC’s The Walking Dead, you’ve most likely ventured over into the spin-off series during the off season; after all, we have to keep our hunger for walkers satiated year-round, and Fear The Walking Dead offers us that. Both shows are set in the same exact universe -- one where the dead are never truly dead until their brains are destroyed and the fight for survival is a daily struggle, yet it’s hard to deny that TWD and Fear TWD seem like two completely different series. Whereas the looming threat and the very heart and focus of its predecessor in the early seasons seemed to be walkers, the world of Fear TWD has seen very few of the infected in comparison. The heart of the spin-off series seems to be focused on the individual characters and how they are coping and adapting to this new world that they’ve suddenly been thrust into.
From the very opening scene of the show, Fear TWD has paid special attention to the characters. Nick waking up in an abandoned building. Finding Gloria bent over a body. Nick running out in panic straight into traffic. Something wasn’t quite right, and, while, as an audience, we knew that it wasn’t simply a hallucination and that it was indeed the beginning of the outbreak, as a character living in that world, Nick didn’t. Gloria and what he witnessed was a manifestation of his own struggles, a possible side-effect of whatever drug he had taken that night -- at least, that’s what the characters believed. And, within the first scenes of Fear TWD, we learn that these characters are not living ideal lives. They are all struggling with something, and what they are struggling with doesn’t suddenly disappear with the collapse of society. Their struggles transform in the apocalypse. They either become something that motivates them going forward or something that holds them back.
Such an in-depth look at the characters is something that The Walking Dead lacks at times, and it’s something that vastly sets the two shows apart in a shared universe. For all intents and purposes, it can be argued that Fear TWD is a character study and has been a character study since the beginning.
An Advantageous Edge in the Apocalypse
Nick’s drug addiction has been at the forefront of his character and of the show since the beginning. It’s an issue that has negatively impacted not only his life but the lives of his mother and sister as well. It created a rift in the family, and it was the very reason that nobody believed him when he told them what he had seen. But, whereas Nick was lost in the old world, he belongs in the new world. The post-apocalyptic world is one that he is familiar with and knows how to survive.
He is familiar with the concept of life and death; death is something that he has faced on countless occasions, and the collapse of society and beginning of the apocalypse allows him to face death in a more literal sense. It’s the very reason why he isn’t afraid when he comes face to face with the infected and why he makes such bold moves, like threatening the Las Manas. Facing death is his new fix; it’s what drives him, and it’s what makes him a leader well equipped to survive.
The Fall and Subsequent Rise of Characters
While Nick entered the apocalypse with an advantage, two other characters found themselves at a disadvantage, living in a world that they couldn’t recognize. While in two completely different situations, Alicia Clark and Ofelia Salazar are respectively in the same place. Both had a vision for their futures, but that vision is stripped from their grasp with the onset of the apocalypse. Alicia lost the future that she had dreamed of, and Ofelia eventually loses both of her parents. They both fall at first and struggle to adapt. The life that they had known is no longer there.
It is slow and takes a while to happen, but, eventually, they begin to adjust. They both have a devotion to their families and a strong sense of humanity and morality. It’s why Alicia is determined to find her family when she is separated from them in the hotel, and it’s what leads her to kill Andres in order to protect Travis. Ofelia’s devotion to her parents leaves her lost when she loses both her mother and her father, and it’s why she ventures off on her own to find herself and her own strength. In the apocalypse, Alicia and Ofelia have to learn to define their new selves.
The Making of a Villain
Fear TWD has given us something that we have never seen on TWD: the making of the bad guy, and the equation that equals bad guy isn’t cut and clear. In Chris’s case, it starts with a fractured family. The catalyst is the death of his mother. What happens next is a rapid descent into a frame of mind where the line between what is and isn’t morally right is blurred.
The Chris that is introduced in Season 1 is vastly different from the Chris we meet in Season 2. His mother’s death breaks him and then hardens him. In a way, he gains a fascination with death. It becomes evident when he kills the infected along the fence and then again when he kills the man in the plane wreckage. It reaches its climax when he sides with Brandon and the rest of his group. The emotional trauma of his mother’s death is Chris’s motivating factor going forward, and it defines every action that he makes.
Choosing Blood or Bond
Travis and Madison are two characters who find themselves having to make the ultimate choice. Do they choose the bond they have with other characters or do they chose blood relation? It is the apocalypse, and saving everyone likely isn’t a possibility. This decision, bond or blood, confronts them head-on in Season 2, and they both choose blood. When Chris becomes aggressive and threatens Alicia, Travis chooses to stay with his son rather than Madison, and Madison chooses to protect her daughter rather than side with Travis. It’s a decision that they struggle with throughout the season until Travis ultimately chooses bond over blood when he realizes that Chris can’t be saved.
The plot of Fear TWD isn’t driven solely by the apocalyptic setting. It’s driven by the characters and the actions they make in response to this setting. The audience watches as the circumstances the characters are put through either makes them stronger or breaks them and reveals more about their personality. It is the characters who move the plot forward. Their personalities define the way in which they’ve adapted to this new world, and it defines the actions that they make.