Fear The Walking Dead's increasing level of connection to The Walking Dead may be doing the spinoff more harm than good. When Fear The Walking Dead began in 2015, the show sat distinctly apart from the adventures of Rick Grimes. Set on the opposite side of the United States during the very early period of the zombie apocalypse, Fear The Walking Dead offered a different take on Robert Kirkman's universe of the undead, as military influence corroded and the world struggled to come to terms with the madness happening around them.
Inevitably, the passage of time eventually took Fear The Walking Dead into more familiar territory, as the characters became accustomed to life after the outbreak, but the spinoff retained its uniqueness, covering topics such as drug addiction in a world without dealers and whether it's possible to ride out the end of the world in a yacht. In season 4, however, Fear The Walking Dead underwent a soft-reboot. Fresh showrunners and multiple new characters were introduced and Lennie James' Morgan was drafted in from The Walking Dead, with brief cameos from Carol, Jesus and Rick himself in the season 4 premiere.
Fear The Walking Dead's fourth season was largely well-received, with the new characters proving popular and Morgan's presence affording the spinoff more legitimacy and exposure. The currently-airing season 5, however, takes the synergy between Fear The Walking Dead and The Walking Dead to a whole new level. Firstly, the spinoff has introduced Dwight, after his departure from the parent series. The former Savior is still searching for his wife and has now, against all odds, bumped into the familiar face of Morgan Jones. More intriguingly, Fear The Walking Dead has begun to drop some small details regarding the disappearance of Rick Grimes - something the main series has yet to approach.
It's easy to understand AMC's thinking in adding more elements from The Walking Dead into Fear The Walking Dead. The spinoff was experiencing a slump in ratings towards the end of season 3, in addition to a mixed reception from fans and critics. The obvious solution was to draw in more viewers from The Walking Dead by increasing the level of crossover between the two series and, in season 4 at least, this tactic appeared to have worked.
Thus far, season 5 hasn't been quite as effective. While Fear The Walking Dead season 4 did begin to add more familiar franchise elements, the biggest stories were still original to the spinoff. John Dorie's search for June, the mysterious truck stop villain and the deadly freak storm formed the central pillars of season 4's narrative. The first five episodes of the current season, on the other hand, have revolved almost entirely around lingering plot threads from The Walking Dead, whether that be the helicopter that took Rick away or Dwight's continuing search for Sherry. This makes Fear The Walking Dead feel like less of a series in its own right, and more of a setup to The Walking Dead season 10 and the forthcoming Rick Grimes movie.
For better or worse, Fear The Walking Dead's main strength has always been having its own unique identity in the franchise, but season 5 is offering very little in this regard. None of this season's original plots, such as the group of orphaned children or the return of Daniel, are developing into major arcs, because those slots are taken up by material that follows on from The Walking Dead, leaving long-standing characters such as Alicia and Luciana with very little to do, other than push along the plot to the next Rick hint or outlandish zombie-killing set piece (which have, in fairness, been a highlight this season). It could also be said that the more characters connect between the two series, the smaller the overall world of The Walking Dead begins to feel.
In a sense, Fear The Walking Dead's connections to the main series have generated a level of conversation around the show that hasn't always been there, and this arguably justifies the increased crossover. In terms of creating a worthy and compelling spinoff that can stand alone as a single entity, however, Fear The Walking Dead is spending too much time picking up The Walking Dead's loose ends.
Fear The Walking Dead continues with "The Little Prince" July 7th on AMC.