Without The Walking Dead, there would be no Fear the Walking Dead, so regardless of the fact that it ran for too long and sadly lost sight of itself towards its end, the original show deserves respect. That said, with a handful of new series on the horizon, it's time to admit that it's first-ever spin-off has been better than it for years.
In its early days, The Walking Dead might have just been a zombie show on paper, but Frank Darabont adapted Robert Kirkman's hugely popular graphic novel in a way that felt refreshingly intimate and character-driven. Sure, our heroes would regularly find themselves getting out of scrapes with creatures that wanted to eat their brains, but the real tensions stemmed from things like Carol's abusive husband, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) trying to find his family, and Shane's secret relationship with Rick's wife Lori.
That approach stuck around for a while, through the group's time at the prison and Alexandria, and coming face-to-face with Negan. It lasted longer than expected in truth, considering Darabont stepped away from the show in season 2. But as the cast list grew, there became less and less time to delve deep into each individual. As The Walking Dead got more and more cinematic, and started thinking bigger with its stunts and action sequences, Fear never seemed to forget that character is what has kept us long-term fans so invested for so long.
I was worried for a while, after tuning into Fear's sixth season, that it was heading in the same direction. Having found themselves separated by the Pioneers at the end of the previous chapter, Morgan (Lennie James) and the gang make their own stands against corrupt leader Virginia (Colby Minifie), before squaring off with Teddy, a doomsday cult leader who intends to detonate a bunch of nuclear missiles. It's a lot – and what's more, they don't fully stop him from doing so. By that point, in 2021, the characters in The Walking Dead had become pretty invincible, more like superheroes than the fragile humans they once were. It was then that I realized Fear had become the more ballsy show of the two.
Sure, none of the main characters died in the subsequent blasts, but it positioned them all in serious peril. I was blown away by the claustrophobic second episode of season, and how it centered on Grace and Morgan setting up home in a submarine, and their efforts to scavenge food in a radiation-filled wasteland. It also tackled the former's difficulties with caring for baby Mo after losing her own child a few months before. The showrunners, Ian Goldberg and Andrew Chambliss, clearly saw the nuclear fallout as a framing device to amplify Grace's depression and grief; not merely as a thing to titillate viewers.
Speaking of Grace and Morgan, another thing that Fear has been much more successful at than The Walking Dead in recent years is romance. With so many villains and mysterious organizations to battle or infiltrate, Daryl (Norman Reedus), Carol (Melissa McBride) and co never really had time to find companionship towards the end of the show. Many viewers thought that something was blossoming between Daryl and Connie (Lauren Ridloff) for a while, given the actors' natural chemistry and the tease that Daryl was actively trying to learn sign language to talk to her more, but nothing ever came of it.
At times, it felt like, with Daryl, the writers didn't want to annoy those at home who ship Daryl and Carol, so deliberately avoided going down that route for him – and that's a shame. Former couple Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) and Magna (Nadia Hilker) spent most of the last two seasons apart before reconciling out of nowhere in the series, and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) met his wife offscreen.
In comparison, Fear satisfied my love-loving heart with partnerships like Grace and Morgan's, Sherry and Dwight's, June and John Dorie's, despite the fact that the latter's was ill-fated. Heck, even Maggie Grace's Althea got her happy ending when she reunited with her s̶t̶a̶r̶-̶c̶r̶o̶s̶s̶e̶d̶ l̶o̶v̶e̶r̶ Civic Republic Military soldier Isabelle. While romantic love is far from the only thing to live for in post-apocalyptic times, seeing such sparks encapsulates the characters' sense of hope for a better, more peaceful world – not to mention, it makes them more likeable, too, as we see them through their other half's eyes.
One of the biggest reasons that Fear the Walking Dead has stayed so strong across its eight seasons, while The Walking dipped in and out of greatness, is how adaptive it has been. When it kicked off, we were in Los Angeles, and the Clark family was the focus, then Madison (Kim Dickens) disappeared and her daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) became the de-facto lead. Morgan ventured out West and suddenly became the center of most of the action. Now, the show's current events are taking place in Louisiana. All of those updates, and its revolving door of characters, have kept things interesting.
Subsequently, it never kept characters around for the sake of it, either, which meant that the core group always stayed small enough for audiences to actually spend quality time with, and subsequently care about. It also meant that it could take big swings with some of them, like killing off certain players – something that The Walking Dead was good at in the beginning, but lost confidence with around its eighth season – or turning Colman Domingo's Victor Strand into a villain without it feeling unearned or left-field.
For better or worse, The Walking Dead was always Rick's story, really, and while it had its fair share of strong episodes since his departure in season 9, it never quite found its footing after Lincoln left. That was never more clear than when its final season concluded with an epic, yes, but admittedly shoe-horned sequence that caught up with Rick on the outskirts of Philadelphia, as the CRM closed in on him.
Fortunately, Fear the Walking Dead had the foresight to reintroduce its former lead Madison at the end of season 7, meaning that she's a fully-fledged part of the proceedings going forward. Two episodes into season 8, and we've caught up with Madison seven years after her and Morgan's rescue attempt of Mo from PADRE. Towards the end of the most recent installment, Madison helped Morgan escape and reassured him that she'd hold off the bad guys while he goes off and fixes his relationship with surrogate daughter, Mo. There's no denying that she's an essential part of the story.
As Fear the Walking Dead's final season continues to roll out, I'm glad it's not overstayed its welcome and optimistic that upcoming spin-offs The Walking Dead: Dead City and The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon will follow suit. Without the promise of a Fear the Walking Dead spin-off, the last chapter of the show feels excitingly unpredictable, as we tune in every week not knowing who'll make it out alive. Where The Walking Dead fizzled out, it's first-ever spin-off has every opportunity to go out with a bang. Given its track record, I'm confident it will.
Want to explore the entire Walking Dead saga, including spin-offs? Check out our guide on how to watch The Walking Dead if you're wanting to watch/rewatch the main series and its spin-offs in order.