Warning: This contains spoilers for Season 3 and 4 of Fear the Walking Dead. Not seen Season 4? Catch up with our spoiler-free review of the opening episodes here – or read our spoilery review of Part 1.
“I lose people and then I lose myself.” Those are the words of Morgan (Lennie James), after he joined Fear the Walking Dead’s fourth season, and as he becomes the de facto lead in the season’s second half, they become the words that define AMC’s zombie spin-off.
After an uneven start, Fear the Walking Dead really came into its own in its third season, bumping off Travis to place a bigger spotlight on Madison (Kim Dickens) and Nick (Frank Dillane). Season 4, though, made the surprise decision to bump both of them off too, almost resetting the entire ensemble in favour of a new cast – a decision that came as new showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg took over the programme. By the time we reach Part 2 of Season 4, only Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Strand (Colman Domingo) are left behind from the original line-up, and while you might expect them to become the default protagonists, the writers instead shift them into supporting roles to focus on their star transfer from The Walking Dead.
To fit Morgan in, Fear The Walking Dead had to execute a time-jump, and the feeling of chopping and changing things up for the sake of it never quite goes away over Season 4’s 16 episodes. Part 2 picks up after Madison’s death, with Morgan suddenly deciding that he wants to go back to Virginia after all – only a matter of episodes after he decided that he wanted to leave Virginia and head off to find his own way. It’s the first in a long line of illogical decisions that scupper a confused run of episodes.
It doesn’t help that Morgan is a character who has always been nomadic, a natural wanderer trying to come to peace with his place in the world – in other words, a great supporting character but not your go-to choice for a main hero. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that the season’s back end spends a large chunk of it moving from one place to another, as Morgan effectively leaves everyone, then heads back to save them. That wouldn’t be a problem, necessarily, but Season 4 Part 2 doesn’t fill in the remaining screentime with anything resembling a plot. The main driver of the action at first is a hurricane that has hit Texas, tearing apart our group and tossing some zombies about in the wind. But that (admittedly neat) gimmick subsides in a bluster of disappointment and leads us to another enemy: The Filthy Woman, aka. Martha, someone who gets her kicks by killing and punishing others for being kind.
She starts off wrapped up in an intriguing situation involving a gas station in Mississippi, where Morgan winds up – a gas station where there’s a seemingly endless supply of goods and food. That supply is watched over by Wendell and Sarah, two new characters who swiftly establish themselves as favourites – Wendell, a shotgun-toting man bound to a wheelchair, who is working with Sarah (his adoptive sister) to get supplies to others who need it. It’s all built around a trucker’s old business involving a former denim factory and opens up a whole new idea for surviving in this post-apocalyptic world – certainly a better survival strategy than Strand, who now apparently spends most of his time getting drunk.
But Martha, who takes against the idea of anyone helping other people and kills them in response, isn’t enough to sustain that intriguing idea for seven episodes, and with Strand and Alicia both largely sidelined, there’s a notable lack of character development to keep us occupied elsewhere. There are moments that work wonderfully, such as a low-key set piece that sees Strand and John Dorie (remember him?) stuck by a lake and needing to cross without angering an alligator. Another episode, which sees Alicia and Charlie stuck in a storm-battered house, is a superbly written bit of character-driven drama, as the pair try to reconcile what’s happened between them in the face of seemingly unavoidable death. There’s even a sweet reunion between John and June, as the ensemble comes together again in the final stretch.
Before we can get there, though, there’s a whole sequence involving a hospital, which sees Morgan stuck on the roof of the building surrounded by walkers. He throws one over the edge to distract the undead horde so the others can escape, but that sacrifice play is ultimately undermined by the group then coming back to save him with a fire truck and a ladder anyway – and it’s this kind of cyclical storytelling that makes Season 4’s concluding half feel underwhelming and repetitive. By the end of the finale, Martha has poisoned everyone with antifreeze – then, the group’s truck with ethanol (the antidote) is damaged, causing the ethanol to leak. Rather than just drink the leaking ethanol, though, they have to wait on Morgan to race to them with some alcohol just in the nick of time – compare this rashly thought-out scenario to the conclusion of Season 3, which gave us a memorable Big Bad in Proctor John and a carefully orchestrated emotional pay-off, and you sense that Fear… has strayed from its path.
“I lose people and then I lose myself,” declares Morgan, and while that’s what appears to have happened to the show, following the loss of Nick and Madison, Season 4 does at least use Morgan’s questioning of his identity to drive things to a hopeful ending: Morgan and the gang decide to move in to the former denim factory and continue the work of helping others with a network of supplies and other aid. It’s something we’ve never seen before in The Walking Dead universe (a universe primarily based around isolated communities looking out for themselves), which holds some promise for Season 5, but what a shame that it’s taken a whole lacklustre season to get to that point, just when Fear… seemed to have found its feet.
Fear the Walking Dead Season 4 Part 1 and 2 are available on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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