When Robert Kirkman and Dave Erickson set upon the task to create the first television spin-off of The Walking Dead, they knew whatever they created would have to shine brightly in order to escape the shadow of the original series. Last August, Kirkman confidently called Fear the Walking Dead a “great appetizer” for season six of the original series. And while he promised that fans would love this show as much as they love TWD, the final product seemed to fall well short of the expectations of many. While it may be impossible for FtWD to ever reach the critical and commercial heights of its predecessor, there’s certainly room for improvement.
With year two of California’s version of the zombie apocalypse just around the corner, here are 12 Things We Want to See in Season 2 of Fear the Walking Dead.
12. A Lot Less Nick
The series opened up with Nick Clark (Frank Dillane) waking up from his latest drug-fueled bender. The opening sequence, which focused on the addict waking up to find his girlfriend had turned into a flesh-eating zombie, was brilliantly done. But why did the writers decide to spend so much time on Nicky during the short six episodes of season one? Viewers who felt the show moved too slowly to cover very little ground are likely to point to Nicky’s on-going drug saga as a major culprit.
He’s the wayward son and junkie. He’s weak and mostly pathetic. Way too many plot points centered around whether or not Nicky was high, looking for a fix, getting his fix, or puking. It seems safe to say that we’ve seen enough already. The guy is practically wearing a “Hey Walkers, eat me!” shirt and yet somehow he’s still plugging away.
While he may or may not have ended the season having “kicked the habit,” audiences have to hope writers are finally ready to move on. It’s not necessary to kill Nicky off for good (although there wouldn’t be many tears if that happens) but the larger narrative would benefit from his fading a bit more to the background — or at least living up to the potential that Victor Strand (Colman Domingo) inexplicably sees in him.
11. More Daniel Salazar
A character that needs to be a little more in the forefront of things is Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades). The former interrogator for the El Salvadoran secret police is one FTWD’s most compelling characters. He is almost always calm, speaking barely above a whisper, and the few people we’ve met so far who seem equipped to handle the extreme situations this new world will be presenting on a regular basis. Just as the likes of Dale, Hershel, and Morgan have provided moral balance to Rick Grimes on TWD, Daniel seems set to do the same for Travis (Cliff Curtis). Granted, the dynamic is inverted, since Travis doesn’t want to hurt or kill anyone and Daniel is ready to do both at any moment — something Rick hasn’t had a problem with since season 2-ish. The two characters of FtWd desperately need each other, and their reluctant “survival buddies” relationship provided us with one of the more interesting dynamics of season one.
It would seem critical for that relationship to continue to evolve in season two. Likewise, Salazar needs to have a bigger chunk of screen time and more essential role in the story. While he eventually proved vital to the conclusion of the first season, it seemed as if the writers were trying too hard to use him sparingly, perhaps due to some level of uncertainty they had as to how audiences would react to a character who’s as extreme as Salazar before the world has even truly fallen apart. Fans can only hope his survival will mean a deeper role in season two.
10. A Purpose Beyond Survival
Survival will always be the number one goal of any group living in the world of the Walking Dead. After all, it is a world that is experiencing a zombie apocalypse. But even so, the show is likely to work best when the group has something else to work for. Survival is always a given, but the group needs to have a more tangible focus. Survive how? Survive where?
TWD has provided some of television’s best drama by putting its central characters on missions with focused efforts. They have something to do, someplace to go, something to achieve. As entertaining as it can be watching zombie brains relentlessly getting smashed in, audiences need to believe these characters are actually going somewhere.
And they need one more thing — hope. It might appear counterintuitive to worry about giving the characters a glimmer of hope in a world that is clearly so bleak. But the story is at its richest and the drama at its finest when hope is out there, driving the survivors. Even if audiences know that hope is a mirage, it’s an illusion they want to believe nearly as much as the characters. This has been a plot element that has worked fantastically in TWD, from the CDC building in season one, to Hershel’s farm in season two, and especially with Terminus in seasons four and five.
FTWD really hasn’t had this element yet. Mr. Strand’s yacht only came into the story in the final minutes of season one. While Kirkman has promised that there “will be lots of cool stuff coming” in the second season, one can only hope the group doesn’t find themselves stranded on that boat for too long. A lone yacht adrift on the ocean might be a bad omen for things to come in the series.
9. The Mystery of Victor Strand
One area where the spinoff prequel has started to differentiate itself from the original series is with the diversity of its characters. Kirkman and Erickson were clearly conscious about not cloning the core members of TWD and simply renaming them for FTWD. Audiences are meeting characters that feel very west coast (versus primarily southern folks) and very urban. So far, there isn’t a single survivalist or outdoorsy type in their ranks, which makes sense since such people wouldn’t likely choose to live in L.A.
Victor Strand has to be considered the most compelling character from season one. While it appeared at one point he’d be walker chow, it was a relief (and presumably to the show’s benefit) that he survived. His background and his motives all remain a mystery. He has some money. He has a knack for working people to get what he wants. He’s fairly pragmatic while remaining strangely philosophical. He’s a man who may prove to be the group’s most valuable asset — or a hidden enemy. Time will tell, but it’s without question that season two needs to spend more time on Strand. He’s a unique character unlike anyone we’ve met thus far in the Walking Dead world, and one audiences deserve a chance to get to know better. Just don’t give away the farm on this guy just yet. His mysterious motives may just be the most interesting thing about him.
8. Travis Needs to Step Up
For a variety of reasons, viewers struggled to connect with the central characters of season one. This ability to connect through a bridge of empathy where the viewer can understand a character’s rationale and even imagine what he/she would do if forced into a similar situation is a critical element to make this series work. In fact, it’s the secret ingredient for its predecessor, as viewers don’t merely care about the main characters, they relate to them. They cheer for them. They cry for them. For the most part, these deep emotional connections were missed during season one.
On the upside, this is an area where they show can easily improve (given that it had to focus on establishing itself) and that probably starts with Travis Manawa. However big and expansive TWD becomes, fans understand that the main narrative will always be told through the eyes of Rick Grimes. He is the central protagonist on which relationships with the rest of the fictional world is built. In FTWD, Travis appears to be that character.
That doesn’t mean Travis has to become more like Rick Grimes. To the contrary, he’s much more interesting when we can see how he is notably different from Rick (ex. Travis is a noted pacifist and Rick is a man of violence). While his aversion to violence may frustrate longtime fans of the original show, that characteristic can be played to make Travis’ personal struggles more profound and complex. But being a pacifist shouldn’t necessarily make him indecisive. That’s more likely where viewers had a hard time rallying around him.
Whether this was all a product of indecisiveness on the part of the writing team, or Cliff Curtis trying to find the core of his character, it’s an area that urgently needs fixing. Viewers are unlikely to ever become nearly as passionate about FTWD if they fail to rally behind Travis as the hero. Viewers may not have to wait long to see a new Travis, though. The death of Liza could very well has been a turning point for him, and we may finally see a more decisive lead character take charge of his group in the second season.
7. More of the Collapse of Society
One of the biggest appeals to this show was the potential to see everything viewers missed in TWD. Since Rick essentially slept through the first several weeks of the zombie outbreak, there were so many questions left unanswered by the original series, so many things the audience never saw. While FTWD provided some glimpses into the collapse of society as we know it, those scenes seemed too far and few between. Much of the first season’s story was still told on a smaller scale. While such an intimate approach does help bond audiences to characters and heighten the anxiety levels, too much of that can make it feel artificial, especially when the setting is the vast landscape of Los Angeles. While there were some truly great shots mixed into the season, the deeper story of how society ultimately broke down remained untold. This may have been intentional, due to budget concerns or Kirkman and Erickson’s prerogatives. Regardless, injecting more of this into season two will be another way to distinguish FTWD from TWD and satisfy audience curiosity.
While many viewers are dying to know how the outbreak started (i.e. who was patient zero?), it’s not necessary for Kirkman to ever reveal that. Sure knowing the origin of the outbreak would be interesting to say the least, a compelling argument can be made for never revealing that part of the back story. From the perspective of FTWD‘s main characters, it’s plausible they would never know. But their journey would benefit from experiencing more of the collapse of society firsthand. In season one, audiences were given an awkward nine day leap between the middle of the night arrival of the California National Guard and when Travis and Madison’s neighborhood was fenced in as a “safe zone.” What was lost in those nine days couldn’t adequately be made up with dialogue. Fans will want less time jumps in season two and more focus on how society crumbles around our heroes.
6. Less Teenage Drama
It goes something like this: Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) hates Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) for now but there some interesting seeds being sowed; Alicia resents the attention her junkie brother Nicky gets but loves him anyway; Chris thinks Alicia is stuck up and entitled but he might be intrigued after seeing another side of her; Nicky only really cares about himself and spends most of his time feeling sorry for how pathetic his life has been. This tangled mess of teenage drama actually tried to pass as relevant plot points during season one. And every time the show diverted down one of these rabbit holes, audiences around the world could be heard letting out a collective sigh.
The teenage drama needs to be toned way down. It can work in limited doses though, when it serves to add to the overall narrative. But this is a world where only the strong survive, so these kids badly need to toughen up, and perhaps even mirror Carl’s Walking Dead character arc into badass-ery.
5. More Easter Eggs
Fans of the TWD are typically a bit on the obsessive side, and that’s putting it mildly. Millions of devoted faithful hang on every turn of fate for Rick Grimes and his group as they try to survive in the zombie-filled world. This matters for FTWD, since the majority of their fans will be crossover fans. Meaning, it’s highly unlikely (although data on this seems to be nonexistent) that many people will be fans of FTWD and not already be devoted followers of TWD.
Given what may be an obvious point to some observers, it is reasonable that the audience at large would want a few extras thrown their way; a so-called Easter egg or two wouldn’t hurt. No one expects to get one of these every episode but a few a season seems reasonable. And they can be subtle. Remember this is a feverish fan base, and they don’t need to be hit over the head to understand a reference. Just throw them a bone or two and watch the social media conversation spike. Kirkman knows how to do this, and he’s already given these fans plenty of them when comparing the comics to the show. Now he just needs to make some subtle connections between the two shows.
4. Death with Significance
Death is obviously a central part of the Walking Dead universe. Of course, viewers expect lots of violence and carnage throughout the course of a season and even a single episode. But with all of that death, there is also an expectation of significance. The casual (or pedestrian) death on the show is the equivalent to roadkill. It can be gross and even shocking, but usually not something you’ll be talking about five minutes later. But when TWD is at its very best, a character death will invoke a genuine emotional reaction from fans, one they’ll discuss for weeks on end.
It’s irrelevant whether the character is loved or despised. The significance of the death is more contingent on how well the character was developed and how his/her ultimate undoing furthered the plot. Frankly, there just wasn’t enough of that in season one of FTWD. Through six episodes, one might contend that Liza’s death in the finale was the only one that met the significance threshold. Even hers, at the unwitting hands of Travis, may not have had the emotional impact it could have carried. It’s likely that most viewers saw Liza as an unwanted third wheel in the group, a meddler, and someone whose eventual death was more welcomed relief than anything else.
Here, FTWD has to take notes from its predecessor and do a better job of giving audiences deaths with significance. It would serve the show well to even try to do this early on in season two with a major character death (or two). After all, it is in death (more than in life) that the characters of this world show who they really are — the real walking dead.
3. Develop a Daryl-Like Character
One of the biggest surprises of TWD was the emergence of Daryl Dixon as a fan-favorite. An entirely original character not found in the comics, Daryl has become arguably the most popular survivor on the show. He has inspired numerous fan sites, social media channels, and has countless faithful followers worldwide. Finding the next Daryl (or writing one) may prove to be a daunting task for Kirkman and Erickson. Nonetheless, for FTWD to reach a fever pitch any near TWD, the show has to find its own Daryl — a true badass.
How to do this without completely ripping themselves off will be a tough task for Kirkman and Erickson. But the presence of one certified badass with a heart of gold among the group is critical. There are too many dangers ahead facing the group not to have such a savior (no pun intended) involved. Perhaps Strand could step into this role?
2. Expand the Global Perspective
Erickson recently participated in a panel at PalyFest 2016, where he reiterated that there was no planned crossover between FTWD and TWD. He was clear that the differing timelines and geographical distance (the two series take place on complete opposite sides of the country) made a crossover nearly impossible. Even if a Madison (Kim Dickens) and Rick pow-wow isn’t in the cards, FTWD still has a great opportunity to connect the main story arc with a larger picture. Much of the first season felt small in scale and unnecessarily cramped. This is L.A. we’re talking about here, a sprawling urban landscape. And yet, much of the season viewers were confirmed to a relatively small slice of suburbia.
Early previews coupled with cast and crew interviews seems to indicate the show is about to get much bigger. At the aforementioned event, Erickson noted that the cast will face dangers on both sea and land, and that they “weren’t the only ones with the bright idea to leave land.” That would imply an important dynamic that has been so vital to TWD: the danger presented by the living is often greater than the dangers presented by the dead.
It will go a long way to helping FTWD step into its own by using these interactions to share bit of information. New characters (who aren’t dead already) could be sharing their own experiences and background. If handled correctly, the audience should be able to put together a picture of what this global outbreak looks like (assuming it is global). So while Kirkman and Erickson are unlikely to ever give viewers an exact prologue, over time, fans could conceivably piece the puzzle together themselves.
1. Pick Up the Pace
There are plenty of TV dramas that work well with a slow burn narrative style. The delight of peeling the story onion one layer at a time can build to fantastic crescendos in finales. However, the slower pacing doesn’t tend to work in the Walking Dead universe. TWD found this out in season two, when many fans complained about the group’s lack of movement as they tried to make a home on Hershel’s farm. Fans demand a certain level of energy, a solid dose of frantic pacing. It doesn’t mean that characters should be shallow or plot lines flimsy, but the entire show (and thus, every episode) takes place in a widespread crisis, and characters can never be too far removed from their “fight or flight” instincts. Audiences can tolerate the temporary reprieve on the occasion, when characters have reason for an unusual sense of safety. But that safety should always be short-lived, as viewers are reminded of the brutality of the world of the Walking Dead.
There’s no sense in dwelling on what worked and what didn’t during season one of FTWD. But Kirkman and Erickson have to understand that their honeymoon with audiences is over. This second season will tell a lot about whether or not FTWD can stand on its own two foot. Or if you will, whether or not their boat will float.
What are you looking to see when Fear the Walking Dead returns to AMC on Sunday, April 10th? Let us know in the comments below.