Fear the Walking Dead has seen one of the most unbelievable swings in quality ever to come across television. It's still early and the plane might not land perfectly but a quarter of the way through its sixth season, Fear the Walking Dead is thrilling on Sunday nights and it has not been that way for quite some time. In fact, it was quite the opposite for the majority of its Season 4 and Season 5 episodes, shedding the interesting elements of its characters and delivering a plot which often had fans scratching their heads about why or how any of it was happening or should be really interesting. Now, though, Fear the Walking Dead is must-watch television for the first time since its third season.
This time last week, I was writing something similar having seen one less episode. The first three episodes of Season 6 followed the "anthology style" which the cast and crew very clearly have had in their talking points for press regarding the new season. They delivered, though. First, Morgan Jones came in for an episode which showed a truly compelling evolution of his character in the Season 6 premiere which landed on an exciting new story for one of the strongest actors in the entire TWD franchise. Then, Strand and Alicia were back in Week 2, centering much of the story around Strand in a ruthless effort to survive which called for one specifically jaw-dropping moment and showed signs of life for Alicia as a leader, again. The character had previously been reduced to aimlessly painting trees. Finally, Colman Domingo and Alycia Debnam-Carey are back to showing off what they're capable of. In Week 3, Dwight and Al returned for an episode isolated to one building with a chance of relying on an unfulfilling tease of ties to the group which took Rick Grimes away from us years ago. Instead, the episode focused on characters and teed up a wonderful reunion.
Now, going into Episode 6x04, I was a bit skeptic. Season 4 started very strongly, as well. The first three episodes got me to write a glowing review. As the season went on, I ended up disappointed and frustrated by some of the show's decisions. Without Cliff Curtis on the show as Travis, Kim Dickens was able to grow into her Madison role with tremendous vigor by the end of Season 3. This seemed to be completely disregarded when the character was killed off in a fashion which seemed to blindside Dickens.
There were some bright spots, like Dillahunt and Jenna Elfman's fantastic "Laura" episode, for example. However, when the characters like Alicia, Strand, and Daniel become shells of their former, highly-interesting selves, the show lost a lot of its appeal as much of its seemed senseless and silly, at times. This group of survivors were able to rebuild a plane by themselves? They were willing to die for just about any stranger who might need help?
After Episode 6x04, though, it feels safe to say the appeal is back. The Key put Dillahunt at the center of the episode and not only was the script very well thought out both in its own hour but with ties to other characters and the overarching scheme of Virginia's community. John Dorie became a detective, going back to his pre-apocalyptic policing days, and doing his best to serve justice. It was a clever, short story which will inevitably have more implications further down the line in Season 6. For the first time, Virginia actually felt like a menacing, worthwhile villain in her manipulation of everything in Lawton. Until recently, especially back in Season 5, the character felt like a cartoon-ish sketch of a typical old western villain. Now, her cunning ruthlessness is on display, offering vibes similar to the monster Virginia actress Colby Minifie has to play assistant to in The Boys. Spoiler alert: The Boys has an epic villain in the form of Homelander.
The cherry on top of it all: Dillahunt's performance. The actor put every bit of talent on display multiple times over. This is much more than the thrilling sequence which saw him come to blows with Victor Strand. This is Dillahunt honing in on every beat of an emotional conversation with Jacob, this is the painful, "Oh, Jan," he let out in the graveyard, and the look of sheer confusion about what to do when being honored before the town. Should he blow Virginia's head off right there and take dozens of bullets from the crowd or play along while carrying the guilt of not doing what's right? It was a tremendous sequence which also resulted in viewer emotions being torn about such a decision, as well.
Heading into the next few episodes, Fear the Walking Dead still has to revisit characters like Elfman's June, Danay Garcia's Luciana, and reveal what has been going on with Ruben Blades' Daniel Salazar. All the while, it seems a grander villain other than Virginia might be looming outside of Lawton and Morgan Jones is spearheading that saga.
With cautious optimism, it feels good to say Fear the Walking Dead is a thrilling saga every Sunday night, right now. The writing has been brilliant this year. Each episode has offered its own start to finish story with a compelling surprise along the way. For a while, it seemed as though The Walking Dead shows might have had their audiences taken down to the core fans who will be riding it out to the end, regardless of quality or character deaths. Fear the Walking Dead is so good right now, though, that it should be puling in new viewers. It's almost hard to believe how sharply the quality of Fear the Walking Dead has turned around to trend in the best direction.
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