‘Fear The Walking Dead’ Has A Villain Problem

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Fear The Walking Dead introduced the show’s latest batch of villains last night.

Suffice to say, I was not impressed.

Then again, I’m not sure any new group of bad guys could impress me at this point. Why the show’s creators think that every single episode must be filled with some kind of antagonist is beyond me. There was a time in this show when the lines between who was good and who was evil were not that clear. Now?

Now we have the Believers and they come in a long line of villains that, ever since the start of Season 4, have been lackluster, mediocre and lame.

The Believers

These are the Believers. They live in the Holding.

Every group needs a name like this in The Walking Dead and its spinoffs. The Wolves, The Whisperers, The Saviors, blah blah blah. Fear The Walking Dead actually avoided this before Season 4. Unless I’m greatly mistaken, Season 3’s conflict was between the Otto family and their group of white survivalists and Qaletaqa Walker of the Black Hat Reservation. It wasn’t the Survivalists vs the Indians. It was just people with different objectives and values and ways of doing things coming into conflict over water rights in a zombie apocalypse. How refreshing that was!

Even before that, though, FearTWD avoided some of these pitfalls by having our group encounter relatively normal groups of people. One antagonist was a father who wanted to kill his own family and commit suicide to protect them from the horrors of the end times. Another was an abuela loca running the hacienda where Strand’s lover lived.

Sometimes the Dave Erickson-era villains were over the top; sometimes the conflicts played out in truly silly ways, like at the end of Season 2 with the cartel. That era of this show was far from perfect (though Season 3 came damn near) but my biggest gripe remains how quickly they moved past the early days of the zombie outbreak. At least one or even two seasons should have been devoted to that. The antagonists were mostly fine. In fact, often my other big complaint was how bad Madison and her group seemed to muck everything up everywhere they want (both parents on that island ended up dead, their children left to survive on their own just as one example).

But ever since Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg took over—and Scott Gimple took more of a role after leaving the showrunner job at The Walking Dead—things have taken a pretty radical nosedive. This extends way beyond just the villains, but we’ll focus on these for now. If you want to read my scathing review of last night’s episode of Fear The Walking Dead, which gets into a few of the show’s other problems, here’s the link.

A Brief History Of The Villains Of Fear The Walking Dead Post-Erickson

I didn’t think things would get so bad when Dave Erickson left Fear The Walking Dead. Season 3 ended on a pretty open-ended—but still fascinating—cliffhanger. Nick blew up the dam. Proctor John and his goons were either dead or dispersed. We didn’t know what happened to our heroes other than Madison. There was a cool story waiting to be told about how the gang got back together. Maybe they’d be hunted by Proctor John or have to avoid more dangers in Mexico. Maybe once they got together we’d follow them on their journey to Texas or maybe the show would have headed north into Colorado and the Rockies, giving us a new landscape beyond the flat and dusty.

Instead we got a time jump and some teleportation to accommodate the crossover arrival of Morgan Jones. Who could have predicted what a disaster this would be? As a long-time fan of the character (though not his final days in The Walking Dead and the “YOU KNOW WHAT IT IS” crap) I had no idea he’d be such a huge setback to Fear. In fact, at first I thought the change in direction was actually a good thing. The first episode of Season 4 introduced John Dorie and Al and it was, quite frankly, a very strong episode that led me to believe great things were on the horizon.

It also set up Alicia and Strand as the new bad guys—sort of. They ambush the other group in a surprise twist and leave us thinking that we’re about to have a showdown between Morgan and his friends and Madison and hers. Little do we know that we’re about to be subjected to a time-jumping farce of epic proportions, all tied to melodramatic, maudlin “testimony” given to Al and her camera. The story of Nick and Madison’s deaths unfolds over the course of the next six or seven episodes and the dawning realization that all is not well hits us several episodes in. Nick’s death was a bummer, but things got worse later on. I think the first true red flag for me was when Strand and Luciana were talking about how they should have convinced Madison to leave and they were basically finishing each other’s sentences and it was just so egregiously cheesy and unrealistic.

This was also when we were introduced to the first Chambliss/Goldberg-era villain grou.

The Vultures

Madison had fortified a baseball diamond somewhere in the middle of nowhere Texas (though a football field would more appropriate given that state’s fixation on the sport). All is going well until the Vultures arrive.

The Vultures had exactly one interesting thing going for them: They had snuck an adolescent spy into the Diamond. Charlie was befriended by Nick but the whole while she was poisoning the crops inside the Diamond. Pretty cool twist!

It was, we discover, an act of subterfuge designed to help the Vultures lay siege to the Diamond. The only problem? The Vultures’ idea of a siege includes allowing Madison and her group to go out and scavenge to their hearts’ content. I have never heard of siege warfare being run this way, probably because the entire point of a siege is to starve out your enemies. They have the advantage of a fortification, you have the advantage of relatively unlimited resources and time is on your side.

But no, the Vultures were totally cool letting Madison and her crew out to scavenge. Why they bothered poisoning the crops is beyond me. Ultimately this showdown becomes personal with members of both groups dead, but it all plays out in a pretty ridiculous way. The Vultures feel like toothless Saviors, forgettable and meek by comparison.

From the ashes of the Vultures a new threat arises:

Martha

After the Vultures Morgan decides that a really super fun and clever idea would be to start leaving boxes of supplies along the road just in case survivors walk by. While a fortified depot would make more sense, we’ve already learned by now that the new showrunners have no interest in making sense. Plausible, well-written plots are so last year. What we really need is a villain who thinks living human beings are weak and she needs to make them strong by killing them.

Yeah because not only does that make lots and lots of sense, we’ve also never heard anyone in The Walking Dead universe talk about the “strong/weak” dichotomy that way.

Martha has been inexplicably living all alone since the outset of the zombie outbreak when her husband was killed in a car accident. This isolation has driven her mad—mad as a hatter! She is filthy and crazy and possessed with great intellect that allows her to track her enemies’ every move. She also starts tampering with the supply boxes and poisoning water—another reason to have a static location for these supplies rather than just setting them on the side of the road.

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In any case, Martha—like almost every post-Erickson villain—develops a major hard-on for Morgan. She really wants to make him “strong” and in order to do that she poisons the water at a gas station with antifreeze.

This leads to the single worst scene in Fear The Walking Dead of all time. The infamous ethanol tanker scene. (If you need a refresher on that scene and why it was so bad and how it could have so easily been handled in a better way, please do click that link. There’s lots of other ridiculous stuff in that episode, including Morgan finding the beer that saves everyone from the antifreeze poisoning and the ridiculous final showdown between Morgan and Martha.)

In any case, Martha is finally killed off and the season ends but not before we discover that Morgan—who has tried so hard to get everyone to go to Alexandria with him—now wants to stay in Texas to “help people” which will become the driving theme of Season 5 because somehow there are people who make big budget television shows and are paid handsomely to do so but still have no clue how to tell interesting, compelling stories that people actually care about. And Morgan has to “help people to make up for all the bad things I’ve done” in Texas, obviously, not in Virginia because of reasons. You know what it is.

We also learn that somebody has returned to the warehouse that Morgan hopes to make his home base. This is the new Big Bad. The most terrifying of all:

Logan and the Loganites

No, this is not an image of Honey I Shrunk The Audience but yes, that is Matt Frewer from Honey I Shrunk The Kids, Altered Carbon and various other shows and movies. He’s a talented guy, just one of many talented actors who shows up on Fear The Walking Dead only to discover that the show is a joke and they deserve better roles.

Logan was partners with Polar Bear, the trucker who started the whole “let’s drop boxes on the side of the road” nonsense. The warehouse Morgan sets up in is his warehouse and he wants it back. Instead of handling all this like responsible grown-up people, he tricks Morgan and his group into flying a plane far away to some other location in Texas that apparently you can’t drive to and then takes the warehouse for himself.

And yeah, that’s about the extent of Logan’s villainy.

I call Logan’s group the Loganites in jest. I call Morgan’s group the Morganites because they got pretty cult-like in Season 5. But Logan’s people have no moniker like the rest of these bad guys (just like Morgan’s group isn’t called anything officially for some reason). One thing leads to another and after our heroic heroes return in the plane they can’t fly and previously crash-landed with zero casualties, Logan figures out how to follow them to Tank Town, an oil refinery that somehow Morgan knows about but Logan doesn’t, despite Logan having lived in these parts for some time.

They find Tank Town and just when they start to figure out how they can all get along, since nobody here actually seems like a bad person to begin with, the next group of bad guys shows up and kills Logan and all the Loganites while leaving Morgan and the Morganites alive for reasons we will probably never know. Oh right, it’s because the writers wanted to move the plot along after realizing how dull and uninteresting Logan’s group was!

This brings us to . . .

Ginny and the Rangers

I mean, Virginia and the Rangers were so un-villain like they may as well have been a country music band. Ginny and the Rangers has a nice ring to it. They could sing songs with lines like:

I was doing the honky tonky

with my wonky tonky

when Morgan came up and said to me…

we’re just here to help y’all

it’ll be a real ball

and we’ll do it with this documentary

yeeeeeehaw!

Cut a rug.

Anyways, Virginia—like Logan—wasn’t actually all that bad in the big scheme of things. And like the Vultures, her group of cowboys were basically just watered-down Saviors. They talked tough but were mostly not that awful as far as groups in the apocalypse go. Ginny was basically a super mild Negan. Sure, she shot Morgan (can you blame her?) but other than that the worst thing she did was cover up her sister’s crime. Breaking up the group was clearly a plot device rather than an actually sensible decision on her part. She had no reason to split up a married couple or take Daniel’s cat away. I blame the writers for all that silly crap.

Virginia wasn’t a very compelling antagonist but she did run a fairly solid organization as far as these things go. We were supposed to think she was awful, but she never really did anything that bad and June killing her felt pretty uncalled for in retrospect. She may not have been the nicest person, but then again neither was Rick. Neither are a lot of people in this brave new world.

But Virginia’s death and Strand’s takeover of the Rangers basically spelled the end for this villain group. Which, of course, means that we need to introduce the next group of bad guys ASAP. We couldn’t have a TV show without a new group of mildly insane antagonists, right? Wouldn’t want that. Wouldn’t want to explore other types of conflict—like survival, intergroup dynamics, pestilence, starvation etc. Nope, we need…

Teddy and the Believers

So far, from what I can tell the Believers and their bearded leader Teddy are basically Martha but at a much larger scale. This is partly a hunch on my part, but I don’t think I’m wrong.

Alicia—and the three other disposable characters who accompanied her, all of whom should be killed off or written off the show as soon as possible—finds this new group living in an underground parking garage in Season 6, Episode 11. This place is called The Holding because I guess the writers think that sounds cool or something.

They grow stuff underground, though we have no idea what they’re using for power. They embalm zombies. They use zombies for fertilizer which, uh, that’s probably not safe or healthy but okay. They’re ruled over by Teddy, played by John Glover, and honestly I think Teddy could be a pretty cool villain.

On some other show. I have zero faith that he won’t just be another wasted talent on Fear The Walking Dead. After all, we just keep repeating ourselves. The show keeps recycling plot after plot. Both Nick and John Dorie died when a teenage girl shot them out of the blue. Each villain group shows up out of nowhere to replace the next almost instantaneously. The motivations of each group are always opaque and the confrontation between each group has almost always revolved around Morgan and is resolved in an unsatisfying and abrupt manner.

Why should I hold out hope that Teddy will be anything other than a lackluster villain? He’ll either fall into one of two categories:

  • Actually Not A Villain: Logan and Virginia are this type. They are set up as bad guys and then they turn out to just be pretty normal people who are neither very bad nor very good. Negan is an example of an actual villain who turned out to be a decent man in the end, but that’s not the case with Logan and Virginia who were just never all that bad to begin with.
  • Loco Crazy Villain: Martha, Alpha, that Wolf dude with the bad teeth, the Mexican abuela. Out of all the Loco Crazy Villains in these shows, only Troy Otto and the Governer were at all complex or interesting (unless I’m forgetting someone). I guess the Termites fit this bill and were pretty good bad guys all told.

There have been other types of villains, of course. The Petty Bastard, the Coward, the Managerial Boss, etc. But Teddy, I think, will be a Loco Crazy Villain. He and Morgan should get along swimmingly, too, since both are cult leaders.

And of course he’s after Morgan. Other than the Vultures, each of these villains has been after Morgan. Virginia was desperate to find him; Martha had a twisted crush on him; Logan wanted his secret knowledge of Tank Town.

Okay, I’ve gone on long enough. Suffice to say, Fear The Walking Dead has a villain problem. It is one of many, many problems that plague this show. I cannot for the life of me understand why AMC allows it to continue this way. Then again, they allowed The Walking Dead to collapse almost entirely in its 7th and 8th seasons and only changed course after ratings plummeted. But here we are in the third straight season of Fear’s collapse into total mediocrity and yet they do nothing. They do not listen to the criticism of fans and reviewers alike, choosing to side with the sycophants.

Oh well.

At least we have Army of the Dead to look forward to.

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You can read my review of last night’s episode right here.


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