Warning: This article contains spoilers for Fear the Walking Dead season three.
It's funny how much can change in one year.
This time last year, anticipation for The Walking Dead was at an all-time high as fans were desperate to know who Negan killed. By contrast, prequel series Fear the Walking Dead struggled creatively. Viewers were jumping ship (pun intended), and even some of the most ardent fans called the spin-off a slog to get through.
As Fear ends its third season, things couldn't be more different. The Walking Dead underwent a dramatic slump in its plodding and incredibly divisive seventh season.
Meanwhile, Fear has wowed fans and impressed critics with an incredible turnaround, its third season creatively nailing it almost across the board and producing one of the finest run of episodes in the Walking Dead universe.
Make no mistake: Fear has surpassed its mother series. With news of a crossover incoming and fan theories that Abraham Ford could be coming back from the dead to appear in the spin-off (it's a prequel, remember), now is a great time to be a Fear fan.
If you're not on board yet, or you gave up on Fear in the middle of the second season, we think you owe it to yourself to pick up with the third season premiere.
It's interesting to compare Fear's third season to where The Walking Dead is now. While the introduction of Negan in The Walking Dead has made things very black and white – Saviors are bad, everybody who opposes them is good – Fear explores characters' morals and what it means to survive on a much deeper level.
There is no cartoonish Negan-type character in Fear. The 'villains' that Madison, Nick, and Alicia come across are grounded in reality, and the storylines that result are even more topical given the current political climate.
The Clarks find themselves staying at a ranch owned by Jeremiah Otto. Jeremiah and his younger son Troy are extremely questionable and openly racist. Troy does despicable things for his own selfish interests, as Jeremiah is embroiled in a feud with Native Americans over the ownership of the land the Ottos and the ranch are occupying.
Although the Native Americans, led by Qaletaqa Walker, aren't completely innocent, over the course of season 3A and after some mystery, it is eventually made clear that Madison and her kids have landed on the wrong side in allying with the Ottos.
Does that make Madison (Kim Dickens), the lead character, a villain as she initially doubles down on her alliance with the Ottos? Her actions as she defends the ranch on behalf of the Ottos against the oppressed Native American group certainly provide an extremely solid argument for that viewpoint. Or are her motivations and her need to protect her family understandable?
Fear is being daring in asking these sorts of questions, especially by throwing its leading characters into the incredibly murky grey.
The Walking Dead never really attempted to explore these grey areas with Rick Grimes and co – not truly. The show is usually written in such a way that Rick is pretty much always in the right. For every new group that they come upon, Rick's righteousness comes out on top.
Fear's third season continues to evolve in season 3B, when the residents of the Broke Jaw Ranch community and the Nation begin to live together. Tensions are extremely high – many of the Broke Jaw community are extremely distrustful of the Native Americans, and despite the best efforts of moral compass Jake Otto, things threaten to spiral into violence.
The brothers' contrasting viewpoints culminate in a shocking episode when Jake considers putting down his own brother to protect the ranch, as Troy lures a humongous zombie horde towards their home.
Episode 13 'This Land Is Your Land' is a particular highlight in the season which mixes action with heartbreaking character development. Over the course of one hour, Madison's daughter Alicia becomes the de facto leader as the ranch survivors are trapped in an underground pantry, which is surrounded outside by the horde.
Alicia, discovering that they are running out of oxygen inside the pantry, is forced to make devastating decisions to maximise the chances of survival for others, and the teenager hardens as a survivor before our eyes as a result of her experience.
That's the brilliant thing about Fear season three. Each character has a real sense of individuality – from the Clarks and Salazars to the Ottos and Walker to the morally-grey Strand, who appears to be more concerned about self-preservation than loyalty.
Whereas in The Walking Dead, a vast percentage of characters on Team Rick are interchangeable – fitting in the same badass, virtuous, loyal mould – with little room for character development, Fear accepts that every character has their own motivations and flaws and it makes for a more engaging TV show.
That's not to say that Fear is perfect. There have been a couple of slight missteps, including its handling with Troy.
During the back-end of season three, Troy is dangerously positioned as somebody people may be encouraged to root for – which presents the debate on whether or not the writers are normalising racism. But the two-part finale ultimately and thankfully course-corrects that particular problem, while in turn delivering a spectacle as the season ends at the dam.
The dam is an interesting base for more reasons than one. It's a home with a bountiful supply of water – a resource that thousands of people in the area are desperate for – and so comes with extra power. That power is sought by an intimidating gang in the season finale, leaving the Clarks, Strand, and Daniel Salazar to make difficult decisions.
As the war against Negan kicks off, The Walking Dead will undoubtedly bring the action and mayhem, but what is action without substance?
Fear, benefitting from a lack of source material to stick closely to, has raised its game tremendously this past season with engrossing arcs and complex characters. If that's what you want, if that's what you miss from present-day The Walking Dead, then it's time to switch. What do you have to fear?
You Might Also Like
- Hollyoaks: 14 new spoiler pictures as Joel and Cleo make travel plans and Darren faces prison trouble
- EastEnders: 42 new spoiler pictures reveal Stacey and Martin's marriage crisis and more turmoil for the Taylors
- Coronation Street: 26 new spoiler pictures as Bethany Platt hopes for justice and Andy Carver's ordeal continues