Fear The Walking Dead returned this week with the premiere episode of its third season - an action-packed double offering that saw our ever-decreasing band of survivors taken captive by a bunch of sadistic military types. After making a tentative peace, both groups converge upon a ranch which will seemingly be the focal point for many of the episodes to come. Crucially, second episode 'The New Frontier' also featured the sudden demise of main character Travis.
In the premiere, a large part of the credit for the group's survival can be attributed to Madison (Kim Dickens) who, as she did many times in season two, used her quick thinking and fiery survival instinct to claw both herself and her family out of trouble.
Unlike The Walking Dead where Rick Grimes is the clear lead protagonist, Fear The Walking Dead has previously been more of an ensemble piece and arguments could have been made to suggest that any one of Madison, Travis or Nick were the show's main character. However, with Travis now nothing more than a red smudge on the ground and Nick reverting back to a more immature state, Madison seems primed to become the series' bona fide lead and this makes perfect sense, since she is essentially Fear The Walking Dead's Rick Grimes...
Adapting To The New World
Perhaps the most significant quality both Madison and Rick possess that separates them from the majority is their ability to intuitively adapt to the zombie apocalypse. Despite all the craziness and tragedy around them, both characters continuously find the strength to push through, remain (relatively) calm and do what needs to be done. This trait has made Rick the undisputed leader in The Walking Dead and the former cop has bounced back from any number of setbacks and Madison is beginning to show the same level of spirit and determination.
In addition to her efforts in the season three premiere, previous seasons have seen Madison be instrumental in some of her group's key moves. She was the driving force behind the attempt to save Harry and Willa in 'We All Fall Down' and later played a key role in securing the safety of the hotel location when she and her fellow survivors first arrived there.
Other characters have not adapted quite so naturally to their new surroundings. Madison's son Nick attempted a more solitary life post-apocalypse and even though he retains a keen moral compass, Nick also lacks the ability to see the big picture, as showcased by his outwardly hostile actions at the Otto ranch. On the other hand, Travis perhaps retained too much kindness and morality in the early days of the zombie apocalypse but then seemed to lose his way after the death of his son Chris, almost inviting death to come for him.
Like Rick, Madison has managed to navigate her brain around the crazy new world and remain mostly level-headed but of course, both characters have had their moments of weakness. Travis' death had a clear and strong impact on Madison, just as Rick had his infamous 'telephone' breakdown and post-Governor slump. Importantly however, both characters came back from those dark places stronger than before.
Leadership and Strategy
Being calm and collected enough to implement a strategy is one thing but you've got to be able to come up with a decent one in the first place and this is another area where both Rick and Madison are similar. Nowhere is this more evident than in the closing moments of the premiere's second installment which sees Madison stake her claim to the Otto ranch, promising to take the stronghold by force if necessary.
The speech was eerily similar to Rick's assessment of Alexandria when his group first encountered that settlement. Just like Madison, Rick recognized that his people had happened upon an ideal place to settle down that was ripe for the taking and extreme methods were to be taken if necessary.
Madison's commandeering of an enemy firearm is another trick that Rick Grimes would surely be proud of. Although the theft was eventually discovered before use of the gun was necessary, it's this kind of precautionary measure that ensures the likes of Rick and Madison are ahead of their enemies at all times, even when outnumbered and outgunned.
The Importance of Family
Of course, the one thing driving both Madison and Rick is family. As The Walking Dead has progressed, Rick's family unit has added new members such as Michonne, Daryl, Maggie and Carol and everything their leader does is designed to keep the people he cares for safe. Madison's survival instinct is currently running on a similar basis, albeit a somewhat more maternal one. The Fear The Walking Dead group haven't had much opportunity to form new bonds just yet but Madison does have her two kids to worry about.
Alas, much like Rick, family is also one of the few things that can cloud Madison's judgement. In season two, the mother lit up her group's hotel sanctuary in an attempt to attract her missing son's attention, a move which in turn saw the entire building thrust into peril. Similarly, Negan's threats towards Carl seem to be the final straw that forces the leader of Alexandria to surrender to the Saviors in The Walking Dead.
Naturally, Madison and Rick aren't the only characters in the franchise to prioritize family above all else but they do have strikingly similar attitudes and methods when it comes to protecting loved ones. On the other hand, the likes of Nick and Strand in FTWD seem content to strike out on their own and Daryl arguably has a closer relationship with Rick in latter seasons of The Walking Dead than he ever did with his real brother, Merle.
With the death of Travis and similarities between Madison and Rick seemingly increasing this season, it seems Fear The Walking Dead is finally setting up a single heroic protagonist. Whether this will be enough to increase the show's critical approval remains to be seen.
Fear The Walking Dead continues with 'Teotwawki' June 11th on AMC.