The Buzz: ‘Fear’ Season 4 Started Strong, But Lost Momentum Quickly
Fear The Walking Dead’s mid-season finale leaves a lot to be desired. Which is a shame because season four had so many things going for it. Fear added three great new characters, experimented with its filmmaking and had two of the best episodes in its entire run this season. Unfortunately, none of this was enough to stop the show from falling into many of the same pitfalls as The Walking Dead has before it. Stretched out storylines, lackluster antagonists and uneven character writing are just a few of the things that plague the first half of season four and hold it back from reaching its full potential.
One of the most egregious mistakes The Walking Dead makes time in and time out is how it stretches out its material for far too long. It’ll make a daylong event last multiple episodes and stretch out a couple issues from the comic it’s based on to last entire seasons. Fear has no comic to go off though, so it doesn’t have to worry about overpassing its source material. Regardless, the first half of Fear goes nowhere quick. Roughly half of the episodes are made up of flashbacks, while the other half only manage to cover about three days total. Most of the episodes feel aimless and pointless as the show takes eight episodes to cover a storyline that really should have only taken half as many. We know as far back as episode three that the survivors’ sanctuary collapsed, but it takes four more episodes until we know why. We spend so much time in the past following characters who are dead in the present for no other reason than to kill time.
On top of this, the previous main characters of Fear are horribly written and are made very unlikable throughout several episodes. Alicia got the worst writing as she shot John and tried to kill both Al and June for petty reasons. Sure, Alicia was going through a very rough time with everyone she lost, but that doesn’t justify her trying to kill very likable characters who did nothing wrong. If she was a villain this kind of behavior would be more acceptable, but I don’t see how I’m supposed to root for a character who had become as evil as Alicia was at points this season. Luciana and Strand were almost as bad as they went along with her, but at least Luciana had enough restraint not to shoot the little girl who had killed her boyfriend. Honestly though, even if Lucina had, it would have been far more justified than anything Alicia did this season. Strand also had some strange writing as he came off quite one dimensional. One minute, he’s packing a truck to abandon the group at the first sign of trouble and the next he’s super hopeful saying anyone can restart. Prior to season four Strand had been the most compelling and layered character in the series, but it only took one episode for the writers to drop all the depth he’s had for so long. Maybe if the writers had made this more of a gradual change, I could accept it, but as presented Strand changed over the course of just one conversation.
The villains don’t fare that much better as The Vultures are as lame as antagonist come. Besides dressing like hipsters and looking ridiculous, their motivations make no sense, and they accomplish just about nothing before getting slaughtered. Despite this, we had to suffer through five episodes containing these lackluster villains. With how incompetent they are, it’s hard to feel any real tension or fear for the safety of our characters as the only competent member of their group is a little girl. Worst of all though, is how these incompetent idiots actually end up leading to the deaths of two of the series’ longest lasting characters. Leland’s group in the first episode were far from original and interesting, but they at least got the job done of causing danger to our protagonists without looking like complete buffoons.
While John, Al, and Morgan were great additions to the cast, the same cannot be said about June. As a character, she was all over the place. One week we’re supposed to like her, the next we hate her, and then we’re supposed to go back to liking her. It’s insane. Not only does the constant flipping of sides make her unlikable, it also makes her character extremely inconsistent. She has no defined traits other than that she has medical training and that she’ll act however the plot demands her to. To make her character even more inconsistent, June’s name ended up changing from Laura to Naomi to finally June. The first time made sense in context as it led up for a good reveal, but the second time was just silly and for no real reason. Any goodwill that could be had for the character is long gone before episode eight. It’s beyond me how anyone could be expected to root for a character that changes personality in the blink of an eye or what John could possibly find so appealing about her.
Skip this paragraph if you don’t want two of the main deaths this season spoiled. Fear has become known for its Game of Thrones level of main character deaths. I’d venture to say Fear runs through a higher percentage of characters than the actual Walking Dead, but a high death count hardly guarantees high quality. Nick’s death was unexpected but actually worked very well as it was driven by Nick’s failure to let go. Even though the death resulted from Nick’s actor wanting off the show, it was a well-earned death and one I respect. Madison’s death, on the other hand, was a horrible decision. Madison had grown considerably over season three and I was excited to see where the writers would take her this season. Unfortunately, it felt like all that all that development and moral ambiguity that Madison had was all dropped in favor of making her the ultimate good and self-sacrificing hero. Now while there’s nothing wrong with having characters that are good people, it feels like the complete opposite of where her character’s arc was going. It seemed like there was so much more room for the character to go, but instead, they took her back to square one and killed her off.
Despite season four’s uneven quality, there’s still a lot to appreciate. Both What's Your Story? and Laura are some of Fear’s best episodes ever. What’s Your Story? does a wonderful job of crossing Morgan over to Fear, all while simultaneously introducing new characters, John and Al. All three of these characters remain compelling and fun to watch throughout the season. The only time I ever felt as if these characters were being written poorly was when Al needed to be convinced by Morgan to help save John’s life. Other than that though, these characters were the only thing keeping me invested as our previous leads became more and more unlikable. Special mention should be made for John who quickly became one of the best characters to ever grace Fear, even managing to outshine Morgan from time to time. John’s bottle episode Laura is by far my favorite episode this season and maybe of all of Fear. It’s nice to see a genuinely nice and wholesome character on a show like this now and then to help to break up all the death and misery.
Even though much of the first half of season four failed to tell a compelling narrative, Fear still has the chance to save this season with its next eight episodes. It still has plenty of interesting characters to follow and now that there are no more mysteries to be solved, the show can finally go back to telling smaller and more contained stories. These are the kind of stories Fear’s team seems to be best at, especially if Laura and What’s Your Story? are anything to go by. Let The Walking Dead be the more plot-driven show with larger than life villains and overly big set pieces, while Fear can focus more on its characters and their personal journeys.