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The Stand – Fear the Walking Dead Review – “Wrath” and “North”

It is with a heavy heart that I write this. “Wrath” was the FTWD episode that made me realize, forced me to acknowledge, that the show’s planners and writers are unable to understand character development, story structure, and pacing. The mistakes we’ve seen were not just flukes, as hoped. They are not part of a bigger picture. I’m not exactly Shakespeare but I’m also not writing for a major franchise. I will not be watching next season. Maybe I will find a hobby or something?

That’s not to say the two hours weren’t action packed.

In the previous episode, we saw Chris take his new sociopathic talents out for a spin and betray his father by playing to the older man’s greatest hope: that his son would come around and regain his empathy. No such luck. Even though you could tell what was coming, it was a great scene, a hard one to watch, and made some viewers thaw on Travis, a character once seen as too doughy to survive in the Dead universe. Instead, he is now the last man who is willing to take a stand for lost humanity, no matter the cost. I think his resolve adds another layer to a show that has a couple of badass survivors in Madison, Alicia, and Nick.

I couldn’t wait to see how they followed up the brilliant “Date of Death”. Things were moving at a nice, steady pace. Alicia and Madison were making the most of a storyline that began in the very first episode. Chris was set up to give us one hell of a villain. Strand was around to make me smile. Nick had his hands full with Luciana and an impending attack. Daniel was, I swear, only moments from saving the day. Travis’s flashback last week was fulfilling and patient. The ending was thrilling as there were so many ways things could implode at the hotel. Then…

 

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Don’t mind me. I’m just wasting your time. Trying to force a new arc.

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Of course, when the most pointless character on FTWD (Ofelia) shows up front and center, the whole episode started to go downhill for me. What she did in her scenes (now sans stolen truck, walkers sneak up on her and she kills them) is nothing we haven’t seen dozens of times in the Walking Dead universe. If I wasn’t so annoyed, I probably would have fallen asleep. Priceless minutes that could have been used to flesh out the attack and hotel drama were wasted on watching a woman kill a couple of walkers. I don’t even hate her in a “I can’t wait to watch her get eaten” sort of way. I don’t care to watch her die or live. I am ambivalent. Long story short, she gets to America but border patrol catches her. Zzzzzz.

Ofelia could have left with a beautiful send off and it would have made sense. The last we saw her, there were flashbacks of the fiance she broke up with in order to be with her mother and father. Then you saw Ofelia taking her truck towards the U.S., presumably to find her lost fiance. That could have been that. It would have made people who don’t like her (I’m not alone) not have to watch her again while still getting Daniel back and the people who like her would feel as though it was dignified closure. But FTWD is so bad at just letting a good decision made by writers, speak for itself. See below: Alex and the raft.

And this is after last week’s riveting and well directed, “Date of Death”. Two steps forward, one step back. Well, after this episode, ten steps back. You lost three viewers at my home, alone. Allow me to explain.

Let us return to Chris’s story. He’s finally made two friends who share a love of chaos and they’ve decided to try for San Diego despite Travis saying over and over again that he was told it had burned to the ground. Chris gets to drive the Bromigo truck and life is good. All of the freedom a sixteen-year-old kid would want. The future is what he wants it to be and he will likely lay waste to entire communities, becoming a villain in the vein of Negan and The Governor.

Until he wrecks the truck after falling asleep.

He also receives a nasty leg wound in the process but surely…no. No way. Just because the Bromigos popped a cap in Chicken Killer last week doesn’t mean that they would take out one of the most dynamic characters on FTWD to date. But pop a cap they did. In a wrenching moment (ridiculously short, considering this is the death of a main character) that made you feel a twinge of sympathy for Travis’s little monster, he was shot and killed while crawling for his life.

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“Maybe it’s a dream sequence,” offered my friend when it was obviously not a dream sequence.

So…FTWD writers and Showrunner. You’ve decided to hitch your wagon to Ofelia’s star while killing off a well-developed character, layered and with hundreds of possibilities. It was the moment I turned to my neighbor and we both said without laughing, “I’m done”. Sure, we hated Chris but you need characters that people have an “invested hatred” in so we show up week to week. Killing him off let us know that you have no idea what you are doing.

But there was more show to watch. After all, we have two points of possible attack. Nick’s commune and the spoooky hotel. We have to stick around to see Daniel’s righteous rebirth, right? That’s why Ofelia’s still around, right?

Nick’s back this week and he’s in a spotty bit of trouble. The Grocery Store Gang wants to take over his commune in what we can only presume is a bad decision made after a drug binge. Who’s to say this safe space won’t try to defend itself? Well, they don’t and with Alejandro’s approval, sneak out before the attack takes place. Much of the two episodes is wasted on Luciana and her people’s bizarre obsession with staying, despite knowing there is about to be a gun battle. It just showcased the writer’s incompetency, not knowing what real people say or do in certain situations. Nick and Luciana go off into the sunset with the remaining community survivors but Alejandro stays behind like the commune is his personal Alamo.

Gather round, children, and hear a tale. The Tale of Alejandro and the Walker Bite. I never believed that the writers were going to throw down a great story behind the hole in Alejandro’s neck, where a walker supposedly bit him way back when. I was right. It was all one big tease and after Alejandro ends up really getting bit this episode he is ready to confess to Nick and Luciana that he was actually bitten by the human junkie in the melee. No new glitch in the Dead canon. Nothing interesting to add to the Dead universe. Whomp, whomp. The hits keep on coming.

Nick gets a promotion out of this and becomes the de facto leader of the fleeing community. Again, Fear the Walking Dead is so condescending to Mexicans. Apparently, this group is in need of an American white boy to save them just as the idiots at the hotel needed a Madison to lead and solve their problems. When the chips are down, not one Mexican has the ability to lead their own people, FTWD? No one? As the escaping commune citizens make it to the border they are attacked by what looks like border patrol and Luciana is shot in the shoulder. Don’t fret. After Ofelia’s miraculous recovery from her own shoulder wound earlier this season, there’s no real danger for Nick’s lady love. Yawn.

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“Eenie, meenie, miney, moe…nevermind. The white boy.”

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Back at the hotel, Madison’s decree of no violence comes to bite her in the butt when the remaining two Bromigos come calling at the hotel gates. They manage to get in (who’s the gatekeeper at this joint?) and she and Alicia overhear them talking about a situation that bears great similarity to Chris and Travis’s. Should Madison keep her mouth shut? Let Travis know they are around? That Chris is gone? She wisely tries to keep Travis away from the duo but he finds them and they confess to shooting his son in the head. No big deal. We’re living in a dog-eat-dog-world so them’s the breaks.

Not so. Travis unleashes hell in a furious scene where he beats his son’s murderers to death with his bare hands. The acting is on point. Cliff Curtis for the win.

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*whispers* “Mom, he might get an Emmy nod for this.”

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Witnessing Travis’s grief was excruciating. But it was strangely satisfying to watch Travis beat those guys to death. So satisfying it makes you fear for your own lost humanity. Any parent could relate to his rage or consider themselves doing the same thing in that situation. This man’s pent-up guilt and loss make him an agent of death and a one man wrecking crew of thoughtless violence. Like Bruce Banner spliced with King Kong. A hotel red shirt is killed just getting in Travis’ way. Like an animal ripping apart another animal, the Bromigos are left in heaps on the floor. The closest thing it reminded me of was TWD episode “A”, when Rick eviscerated that man who tried to rape Carl. Travis’s vengeance was kind of awesome but not enough to make up for killing Chris so soon.

My favorite little badass, Alicia, then shanks the brother of dead Red Shirt who is about to shoot Travis. It was Alicia’s first nonwalker kill and it’s in her eyes. But it also establishes her loyalty to Travis so when he has to scoot (no violence, remember?), she’s leaving with him as is her mother.

Just to add salt to the wounds of Fear fans, our beloved Strand, a bright star of the show, decides to stay at the hotel, leaving Madison, Alicia, and Travis to make their way towards Nick’s compound. That means we are traveling now with the Madison clan and no Strand? The writers had the decency not to kill him on screen but it’s no consolation for losing someone who had so much charisma. What it said to me was, now that Strand has no one to con or love anymore, the writers don’t know how to write for his character anymore. So because of their inadequacy, the brilliant Colman Domingo gots to go.

Oh, wait. It gets better. Alejandro (another fantastic character) is barely alive at the now abandoned commune, but Madison’s group is just in time to hear him tell them that Nick is alive and somewhere “border”. The trio arrived shortly after Alejandro made his last stand and set his trap for the Grocery Store Gang. The walkers flooded the commune and the gang became the buffet, obliterated completely. OFF SCREEN. Then Alejandro dies in Madison’s arms. So there goes another one with tons of potential. The scene kind of reminds me of that one finale when Daniel self-destructed. I also felt just as gypped.

 

 

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R.I.P. Lorenzo James Henrie’s wonderful interpretation of Chris.

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Chris reminded me of the most enigmatic character in Stephen King’s The StandSpoiler alert for those who have not read the book Harold Lauder doesn’t fit the physical description but he is also a young loser in life who has found new meaning in the violent apocalypse. With a gun and no rules he feels he can re-brand himself as a badass with his tough new friends who enjoy killing. He has always felt like an undiscovered gem, someone who was ignored by his family and everyone else. Someone who should have known greatness only to be tortured by the bullies in school. He was a virgin who never got the girl but he feels this has made him tougher and it certainly made him a sociopath or psychopath (depending on how you interpret his character). Early in the book, when he tells the heroine about how his sister and parents died with a slight smile on his face, he has to suddenly pretend to be sad because she is put off by it. Having a character like Harold was essential to the story. You wanted to keep reading because he was so repulsive and you knew he could do so much damage.

Even in the book, he’s not important enough to be the Big Bad. Only a tool who thinks he’s hot stuff until he’s betrayed by his supposed comrades and left to die alone under the desert sun with a busted leg. It’s a powerful death scene as he realizes he was always the loser. Even in the apocalypse. Even with a gun. He cries, full of self-pity, and then shoots himself. Spoilers over.

That sort of ending, a sniveling, self-realization far too late, is what I suspected would come for Chris. And it did come…but far too early, to the detriment of the show. We didn’t even get to really see it.

I’m not sure why the action is only turned up to 11 when there’s a finale, but that’s just one of many flaws. You can bet that Greg Nicotero and company would have used Chris to his full potential and would not have made fools of the audience by writing an irrational Luciana or the incompetent Grocery Store Gang, with their unseen battle against the walkers. How about Nick sticking his fingers in that walker’s eye sockets when surely there was something in that room he could have used as a weapon? Then there is Travis and Madison miraculously finding the address of the commune in someone’s pocket or Ofelia’s pointless journey to who cares.

Travis’s revenge was sweet but having no Daniel as a last minute savior, amateur plot devices, and throwing away good actors for no good reason, leaves me no choice. It’s time to find another show or something else to do.

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IN REMEMBRANCE OF FTWD. A FEW SUGGESTIONS.

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Hire TWD Casting Agents

Especially for female actors. FTWD has a real problem with this. I can’t remember one female character from last season who wasn’t one of the main characters. I love Alycia and Kim Dickens is superb. The actress who played Celia was a fantastic pick but we blinked and she was gone. You have a problem here and this can be fixed easily.

You’ve been strong when it comes to hiring the men on the show. Strand, Alejandro, and Daniel. Everybody hates Travis but I just want to give him a big hug every week. Lorenzo Henrie is a natural at being an immature worm and Frank Dillane has won over audiences with his likability factor.

Perhaps it’s the writing and you haven’t allowed new women to have layered personalities. Like I’ve said before, watch the TWD episode “The Same Boat”. I still remember those women and that was almost a year ago! They didn’t just coast on their good looks, they were also good character actors.

One of TWD’s super casting agents shouldn’t be too hard to get because it’s in their best interest to help you. Fewer viewers mean less money from advertisers. When one show falls, everyone on AMC feels the pinch.

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These ladies could act circles around most of the FTWD actresses.

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Hire Writers Who Understand Pacing

You obviously heard people complain that the first season was too slow. Then you felt the need to go full throttle, jumping from doomed location to doomed location at breakneck speed. You can’t blame viewers when they are cynical during Nick’s compound settlement. We know it’s immediately going down in flames because you’ve trained us to think that way.

FTWD has had some amazing story lines but the pacing has always screwed them up. I liked, “We All Fall Down” but it could have lasted two episodes so we feel even worse when that family was destroyed. That whole pirate fiasco was amateur hour complete with a ridiculous Romeo/Jack and Juliet/Alicia love- over-the-radio story that lasted two seconds. You could have milked those bad guys and that pirate fleet for at least 3-4 episodes. Are you that scared of being Hershel’s farm? Because terror on the high seas gives you more possibilities than a barn. Stop worrying about that.

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Four interesting characters who should have lasted much longer.

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Hire a Good Director of Horror to Helm a Few Episodes…or All of Them

FTWD is not scary. Not in the least. The first moments of the first second season episode were nail biting as those walkers in the dark waters were coming after the main characters but ever since then, there has not been one frightening scene. Not one. Compare that to TWD and the skeleton walkers jumping at Maggie in the sewer or Sam walking in the conga line from hell. Find a director who has been good with horror, such as Fede Alvarez or Scott Derrickson, to take your scares to another level or direct a few episodes or help with the format. You will always bring in new viewers with the promise of terror.

Tie FTWD to TWD

It’s time to push the emergency button. You have to tie someone, anyone, to a character from TWD. You didn’t want to do it because you thought this show would be just as popular by itself but certain stumbles have prevented this (casting, pacing, lack of scares). You teased that Madison was from Alabama so it wouldn’t be so far-fetched that Rick is her brother. Just giving viewers a nibble like that should sate them for awhile.

Imagine a flashback in an episode where Madison is a little girl protecting her brother who happens to be named, Rick? People would go crazy and it would establish her or her likable daughter, Alicia, as the stars of FTWD. I just don’t think Frank Dillane would want to stick around for 8 seasons, at least not without an exorbitant fee. You also have a man running the show in TWD. It’s more ground breaking and safer for AMC financially to have a flawed mother and kickass daughter both leading the way.

Stay Out of Mexico

Is Fear the Walking Dead working hand in hand with Donald Trump? I don’t know any show outside of 1980’s anti-Russian spy shows that paints such a disgusting picture of its country’s citizens. On FTWD, Mexicans are either…

  • Angry Mexicans – Luciana, The Grocery Store Gang, the men Nick encountered on the road
  • Religious Nutter Mexicans – Luciana, Alejandro and his commune, Celia and her farm
  • Drug Dealing Mexican Gang Bangers – The Grocery Store Gang
  • Worth a two-minute conversation when filler is needed or when lots of people have to die – The Grocery Store Gang, everyone at the hotel, everyone at the commune, everyone at Celia’s farm

You couldn’t find one person on Celia’s farm who didn’t believe in her shtick and carry them over into the story line? You should have gone to Mexico to reap some charismatic newcomers, letting us get to know them as they fought along our main characters, but that didn’t happen by a long shot. It’s not working. Now that you’re north, maybe go east?

Get Rid of Trigger Happy Writers

One of the greatest moments on FTWD (or perhaps both series) was when Strand cut that line and stranded Alex and her little buddy. I hated the whole Flight of the Walking Dead publicity stunt or whatever the hell it was called. However, that moment with Strand was redemptive. I jumped off of the couch and put my hands on my head, screaming, “no way!”. It was such an adrenaline rush that I had a hard time going to sleep that night. I, and most people were perfectly happy never knowing what happened to those two. It was like Schroedinger’s Raft. Were they alive or dead on the ocean?

Then you had to go and screw it up royally by having Alex make this melodramatic, telenovela entrance as she snarls and points like a Shakespearean ghost, accusing Travis of murder while he submits, blubbering. When she entered the ship’s prison area in as dramatic a fashion as possible, the only thing missing was the organ music. It was one of FTWD’s worst moments.

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Alex’s hair vs. humidity.

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“Trigger happy” means you just can’t sit and let a good moment simmer. The island in “We All Fall Down” could have been a chance to take a breath. The pirate ship and its people and inner workings would have been interesting to explore but you were so concerned with cramming an entire attack, kidnapping, and ransom exchange within a two-hour frame. Daniel’s two episode adventure to crazy town felt as though you guys had a great idea and had to hurry and add it to the script, overnight. You are so impatient, you wouldn’t let Chris morph into the Big Bad over another season and since viewers didn’t like him, you just went ahead and killed him.

You also had that pregnant psycho who took the boat hostage and this was a goldmine never reaped. I hated her like I hated Chris but that’s good! A reaction like that from your viewers is what you want because I will continue to watch just to see that bitch go down. There was also potential water cooler talk. Should the baby have died because of its evil mother? Could you really kill her to protect yourself? But you had to have her get locked up on the ship after one episode and…that was that.

You could have kept Alex and her friend out there on that raft and left well enough alone. People would probably still be talking about that moment, today.

You’ve Saturated the Market

Congratulations. Your panicked move in splitting Walking Dead seasons has succeeded in making zombies walkers, boring. At least until Shiva shows up on TWD and knocks viewer’s socks off. This must end, you know what to do. Only make both Walking Dead shows take up 6 months of our year. I know you’ll never do this because – stocks – but Game of Thrones only does about 10 episodes a season and people can’t stop talking about them all year round. It’s like a relationship. Stop being around all of the time. You have to make us miss you.

The shows also suffer by doing this. I would love to get comfortable into an entire season of FTWD or TWD but I’m always on edge because there’s a countdown clock to the mid-season finale and the writers are pressured to pull out two finale punches. So far, FTWD casualties of this gimmick have been Celia and Daniel. My friends and I just want to roll with this good show while waiting for the eventual, no holds barred, final episode. Cutting seasons in half also makes it easy for viewers to blow off the premiere of the second half of the season if they’re still salty about the first half of the season’s last episode. Even typing that sentence felt like too much work.

And AMC must think it’s working! From what your FTWD numbers look like, it’s done more harm than good and numbers are what I believe. I’m going to take a wild guess and say that your stock holders are forcing you to do this?

Adios, Fear the Walking Dead!

Nicolina Torres
Nicolina Torres

Nikki worked for Barnes & Noble for 15 years, in seven stores. She is the author of This Red Fire, Young Nation, and Girls Who Wear Glasses. She prefers to live in the country and is a new aunt to a potential bookworm.

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