Fear the Walking Dead has put itself in a precarious position heading into the back half of its fourth season but it is a familiar territory for the AMC show.
Spoilers for Fear the Walking Dead Episode 4x08 follow. Major spoilers!
The early seasons of Fear the Walking Dead struggled for a few reasons. The overall narrative wasn't what fans expected, as the fall of the world and governing bodies was the exciting narrative advertised but was brushed over in favor of pre-apocalyptic family drama. This paired with the fact the audience knew much more about what was happening in the world than its characters thanks to five season of The Walking Dead, making Fear's survivors seem infuriatingly slow.
However, the first two seasons of Fear the Walking Dead had their biggest struggle because they did not define any character as a clear cut lead.
When Season Three came along, Cliff Curtis' Travis Manawa was killed in the two-part premiere episode, clearing the way for Kim Dickens' Madison to emerge as the clear cut leader of the show. From there, Fear the Walking Dead thrived. Season Three offered up the best run of the entire series and Season Four appeared to be topping it when it returned. Along the way, a couple of episodes seemed to lose focus and became a bit muddled in questionable choices by characters, but a strong standalone episode centered on its new characters and an emotional Mid-Season finale proved the show was still on track but runs a risk of de-railing upon return.
As a lead, Madison was a divisive character for the audience. Some fans loved her and wished for more of their favorite female-lead on TV, especially considering there were so few alternatives, let alone in a genre series. Others struggled to find the character interesting, which wasn't a fault of Dickens' but the early writers who didn't offer her the proper dimensions early on. Enter Season Three and she is the leader forced into difficult scenarios. She was making strong decisions to protect her family, manipulate enemies, and create necessary allies. Following her sudden exit, fans seem to be having had a case of not knowing what they had until it's gone.
Moving forward, Fear the Walking Dead will have to name a new leader.
The smart choice for a lead would be moving Alycia Debnam-Carey's Alicia Clark into the Number One spot on the call sheet (although the showrunners wouldn't reveal to ComicBook.com who holds that place, now). The character of Alicia has suffered tremendous loss and evolved more than any other character on the series, with Colman Domingo's Victor Strand as a close second having overcome a selfish desire to flee.
Third in line would be Morgan Jones, having lived through several iterations of himself on the original The Walking Dead series. Original Fear fans can act as if it would be unfair to focus on the character since his journey didn't happen here but the fact is that the majority of Fear's audience most likely watched The Walking Dead, too. Morgan will be heavily featured in the back half of Season Four after not playing as considerable a role as some might have expected heading into the crossover event but he isn't the best fit for the show's lead.
In the end, it is Alicia Clark who remains the best candidate for Fear the Walking Dead's lead character. As a leader, she can continue to evolve but also carry her fellow survivors, but TV gets itself yet another strong female lead. Look at Debnam-Carey's following, after all. The biggest individual fanbase of any Fear the Walking Dead star on social media, Debnam-Carey's fans are still hungry to see her bounce back to The 100 form where she played a strong female leader.
Naming Morgan the show's new lead would have made sense two or three years ago. The Walking Dead was nabbing 17 million viewers for big episodes, the crossover would have been the biggest news of the year, and Fear the Walking Dead did not have a clear cut leader. It would have been more exciting, in the past. Now, Morgan has survived several years and never been a leader. While none of the remaining Fear characters have, either, the position seems more fitting for them to inherit, even from a business perspective. Lennie James joining the show has been a solid narrative adventure, especially in the brilliantly written and acted moment between Alicia and Morgan in the Mid-Season Four finale, but staying true to the series and its growth seems to offer more to gain, at this point.
"The back half of the season is gonna to answer a lot of those questions," Fear the Walking Dead co-showrunner Andrew Chambliss told ComicBook.com. "It's going to be a story about all these characters, who were united by Madison. Who were united by their then quest for revenge, really asking themselves, "What's next? How do we move on from this? How do we reconcile all the dark things we did with what Madison wanted for us?" So, without getting into too many details, we'll just say that really is about the story, going forward.
The show has a strong roster of characters in the wake of Madison's death. The newly introduced John Dorie played by Garret Dillahunt became a fan-favorite when his big heart was put on display. Maggie Grace's Althea has proved to be mysterious (just mysterious enough to be interesting and only a little frustrating at times) and capable. Jenna Elfman's June has a dark past and a lot of emotional damage to overcome. They all just need someone to lead them.
Fear the Walking Dead is not in trouble yet. It's fourth season is on a roll. The show needs to quickly refocus in its second half of Season Four, continue with the overall quality narrative and impressive locations, and deliver a leader. With only two characters remaining from Fear the Walking Dead's first season, the show needs to name one of them as its leader. It needs to do it quickly and do it clearly.
The Walking Dead will return for its ninth season in the fall. Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 pm ET on AMC. It will return for the second half of its fourth season in August. For complete coverage and insider info all year long, follow @BrandonDavisBD on Twitter.