‘Fear the Walking Dead’ Trudged to the Finish Line With Season 8 | Commentary

Despite Kim Dickens’ well-deserved return, the AMC spin-off’s last batch of episodes suffers from clunky writing and a gas tank on empty

Kim Dickens as Madison Clark – Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 11 – Photo Credit: Seth F. Johnson/AMC

You’re not gone until you’re gone. At least that’s what I told people when they realized it took eight seasons for “Fear the Walking Dead” to wrap up.

“Fear” bested predictions and became one of the longest-running television spin-offs currently on air. While ratings dwindled and characters were written off over the years, it maintained a decent cult following — some tuning in for Alycia Debnam-Carey, who came into her own as an actress on the show following “The 100,” while others begrudgingly watched to keep up with the “Walking Dead” universe, after characters like Morgan (Lennie James), Dwight (Austin Amelio) and Sherry (Christine Evangelista) were transferred from the original series.

A key to its success, “Fear” never shied away from a soft reboot. Every season tackled a new approach to its storytelling, sometimes in the span of a few episodes. Early seasons of “Fear” felt migratory even, from traveling down to the coast of California on a yacht, to a stint in Mexico, and settling in Texas before a move to Georgia for the truncated final season.

In brief moments throughout the episodes leading up to the finale, “Fear” revived what made its early seasons so captivating, from its horror-centric sensibility to a revolving door of the writers’ audacious creative ideas. Remember water park zombies and walkers tinged with radiation? Unfortunately, the show ran out of gas some time ago, leaving its final episodes to trudge to the finish line like, well, a zombie ready to call it a day.

There is so much about the last half of season 8 that felt hastily put together, including bringing back Troy Otto (Daniel Sharman) from the third season, who apparently survived being bashed in the head with a hammer in the rubble of an exploded dam. Although his motivations were slightly more compelling than the average “Walking Dead” cardboard cut-out villain given his history, the general formula of the show felt unchanged from the previous season. P.A.D.R.E. was essentially Victor Strand’s (Colman Domingo) tower, and there was once again a villain followed by a group of non-descript grunts trying to take it down. Even Troy’s child Tracy (Antonella Rose), who bounced around as a hostage for a few episodes, felt like a reiteration of the children of P.A.D.R.E. from the first half of the season.

It all became tiresome to watch, despite talented actors holding it together the best they could. The show always attracted outsized talent, from Emmy-nominee Jenna Elfman to “Barry” guest star Karen David and Domingo himself, who still made room for the series as one of its most long-running characters, despite a prolific shooting schedule between Oscar-nominated films and “Euphoria.”

Colman Domingo as Victor Strand – Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 11 – Photo Credit: Seth F. Johnson/AMC

For loyal viewers, these last few episodes did offer a somewhat satisfying closure to its central cast, along with many callbacks. Some moments feel appropriately full circle, like Luciana (Danay García) picking up the “take what you need, leave what you don’t” humanitarian practice from Morgan’s time on the show. And the last 15 minutes of the finale were sweet and optimistic, with an ode to previous characters that will please the fans.

Seeing Kim Dickens sink her teeth back into matriarch Madison Clark was also a decent reward for the fans, who were understandably in an uproar after she was written off back in Season 4. Madison was the lead of the show, the equivalent to Rick on “The Walking Dead” and the moral center of “Fear.” There is no doubt Dickens was doing extraordinary work in those first few seasons as an anti-hero mother and leader. Her return felt like a satisfying course correction, despite the darker sides of Madison’s desperation showcased here.

But it all feels too little, too late for a show running on fumes, with writing that was at times nonsensical. What happened to walkers being actual threats that bite instead of just hug? There were one too many hugging zombies in this final stretch. At one point, Madison got pulled out of a body of water and was completely dry in the next frame. Characters also seemed to find each other in the wilderness as if they were using Find My Friends on their iPhones, appearing at any given critical moment to save a character from the brink of death. The lack of care for such details felt sloppy and frustrating to watch.

Among other puzzling choices: Introducing the three young women in episode 10 as Alicia’s spiritual successors, only to have them follow the main cast around inconsequentially. I would have much preferred getting closure on Sarah (Mo Collins) and Wendell (Daryl Mitchell), who were unceremoniously written off this season.

There were still a few surprises left in the final two episodes, but the twists felt simultaneously predictable and ridiculous. They’re predicated on having characters like Troy confronted for lying, only for an exposition dump that likely included a few more lies, and on and on we go.

It’s in these details and more than made me feel thankful for the care and attention of “The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon,” which has found a fresh way to tell a “Walking Dead” story.

“Fear the Walking Dead” was uneven throughout its run, and it consistently course-corrected its way through eight seasons as its memorable, engaging storylines gave way to clunky plotlines and cheap villains. While the series finale ties up the story neatly with easter eggs for its fans, you’ll probably mostly be relieved the show is finally over.

“Fear the Walking Dead” is available to stream on AMC+.


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