After missile-based armageddon dominated last season’s finale, the return of Fear The Walking Dead provides the perfect opportunity to mix things up. A fresh threat and some new faces are just what the show needs – lurching along as it has been, like a groaning walker waiting to be put out of its misery. But on the basis of the first two episodes provided to critics, the writers think differently. Season seven, sadly, is more of the vacuous same.
With Teddy (John Glover) killed shortly after launching a set of warheads, Victor Strand (Colman Domingo) is now the main villain. No longer a dabbler in the morally dubious, he’s building a high-rise settlement that’s exclusive to those who earn his approval. After standout turns in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Euphoria, Domingo’s step into the spotlight feels long overdue. He’s clearly relishing the switch to deliciously wicked dictator, and it’s enjoyable to watch his capacity for evil fulfilled to the max. Some might mourn the loss of nuance, but these new episodes are always better when he’s on screen.
Yet Strand is one of the few bright spots. Despite Teddy’s nuclear attacks the season before, it’s mostly business as usual in the apocalypse. The only difference is the gas masks, which our survivors strap on to protect themselves from toxic gas. A thick, yellow fog hides new radioactive zombies, but despite exposure to the blast and frequent supply runs into the open, Morgan (Lennie James) and Grace (Karen David) remain unharmed by their toxic environment.
The unanswered logistical questions (where have all these gas masks come from?) and the reckless way in which characters behave shatters any illusion of raised stakes. Fear The Walking Dead has often cut corners to amplify thrills, but even fans will find it difficult to buy into the silliness this season.
The overriding sense of déjà vu doesn’t help. Every season starts with our survivors scattered about the place. Then a new villain emerges, while a mysterious threat loiters on the periphery – this time roaming bandits called stalkers – until they eventually take centre-stage down the line. The Walking Dead added complexities in recent seasons to the show’s benefit, but Fear seems content to turn the same page over and over again.
It’s ironic that the worst bit of the franchise is the only show not facing cancellation. Despite the radioactive clouds, Fear The Walking Dead’s flaws have never felt clearer than in season seven – a show so rigid and creatively bankrupt it won’t blow up the formula even after it’s blown up the characters. “I don’t wanna be here anymore,” yells Grace into the wasteland during the new season. We quite agree.
‘Fear The Walking Dead’ season seven airs weekly on AMC from Sunday October 17 (Mondays at 2am in the UK)