"No one's gone until they're gone." What were once the last words of Clark family matriarch Madison (Kim Dickens) to her children, Nick (Frank Dillane) and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), have become the defining theme of the eighth and final season of Fear the Walking Dead. AMC's first Walking Dead spinoff returns with the second half of its shortened, 12-episode final season on October 22nd with "Anton," named after the new identity of a drastically reinvented Victor Strand (Colman Domingo). By finally reuniting Madison and Victor, the first hour of Fear's remaining six episodes establishes the oft-stated theme of the back half of Season 8: "Everyone deserves a second chance."
The first half of the season saw Lennie James' Morgan exit the series after passing the figurative torch of lead role back to Dickens, who returned in the Season 7 finale following the revelation that Madison survived a seemingly fatal heroic sacrifice midway through Season 4. With Dickens reinstated as series lead for the first time since 2018, Madison takes central focus as she sets out to rebuild PADRE into the sanctuary that the Clarks' Texas stadium was meant to be before it was overrun and destroyed.
"The place I'm building, it's not about me," Madison says. "It's about keeping something bigger alive." That "something bigger" is Nick and Alicia, her kids who were long gone even before the final season premiere jumped seven years into the future. But when Troy Otto (Daniel Sharman) — who looked dead as a doornail when Madison twice bludgeoned him with a hammer to the head back in Season 3 — returns with his one good eye on taking PADRE, it threatens not just the Clark family legacy, but the futures that Victor Strand, Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades), and the little-seen Luciana (Danay García) have built (frustratingly, off-screen) for the past seven years.
Following Fear's recent slew of foes ranging from forgettable ("Filthy Woman" Martha, Logan, PADRE's Shrike and Crane) to formidable (Virginia, the nuclear bomb-dropping Teddy, the CRM), resurrecting Troy Otto as the show's final existential threat is almost an admission that there's no better villain to end Fear with than a dead one — retcons be damned. Sharman reprises his role as psychopathic fan-favorite Troy for the first time since 2017, and he's exceptionally effective as the final foil for Madison, bringing to Fear the same charismatic swagger that made Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Negan as magnetic as he was menacing. The drama heightens whenever Troy is on screen — especially when he's needling Madison about Alicia and the reason why he has her daughter's prosthetic from her zombie-bitten, amputated arm.
Still, by bringing Troy and then a second once-thought-dead character back to life in the span of two episodes — for a total of three resurrections, counting Madison — death seems less consequential in a show where anyone could be killed off. Fear's biggest advantage over The Walking Dead was that it wasn't an adaptation of creator Robert Kirkman's comic book, which meant comic readers didn't have expectations about who might live or die (even if the flagship series often deviated from the source material). On one hand, AMC hasn't yet announced any Fear the Walking Dead spinoffs, thereby retaining the dramatic tension that was lost when viewers knew Daryl, Carol, Maggie, and Negan would make it out of The Walking Dead alive to return in spinoffs. On the other hand, Fear feels like a zombie soap opera based on the frequency with which characters return from the grave and then explain why they're not dead in expository dialogue.
Based on the first two of the final six episodes made available for review, there's a sense that Fear is a bit rushed. Characters who didn't appear at all in the first half of the season return with major roles to play in the back half, and so much happened during that seven-year time skip that even viewers who have been watching since the first season in 2015 might feel left out knowing that an entire show's worth of story happened between the Season 7 finale and the Season 8 premiere. Even with its smaller ensemble, the show would have benefited — and certainly deserved — more than 12 episodes to wrap things up. That's just half of the three-part, 24-episode final season that The Walking Dead had to deliver a satisfying conclusion.
Fear the Walking Dead Season 8 is at its best and its most compelling when it's providing Dickens, Domingo, Blades, and Sharman dramatic material to sink their teeth into. In the first two episodes, Dickens, Domingo, and Blades are serviced with emotionally powerful performances deserving of their long-surviving characters, and longtime fans will appreciate seeing Madison, Strand, Daniel, and Luciana all together for the first time since Season 3.
Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg, who have served as showrunners since the duo replaced series co-creator Dave Erickson in Season 4 onward, have almost reset Fear the Walking Dead to where Erickson left off when he killed Troy and blew up the Gonzalez Dam to end the acclaimed third season in 2017. While the new season naturally builds on some of the seismic shifts that occurred during the semi-rebooted fourth season that crossed over with The Walking Dead to bring Morgan to Fear, thematically, Chambliss and Goldberg circle back to Season 3 in such a way that it plays almost like a direct continuation of the Erickson era.
Tenured viewers might remember that Erickson envisioned a seven-season arc transforming Madison into a villain, and there are echoes of that as Madison's benevolence, inspired by her kids, is called into question when she reckons with vengeance, also inspired by her kids; mostly, Madison is a flawed anti-hero, who lived, died, and is living — again — for her kids.
"We're building PADRE for Alicia, for Nick," Strand says at one point, asking Madison: "What's the point of saving it if we turn into the opposite of what Alicia wanted us to build?" The Clarks are still the beating heart of the complex human drama churning the final episodes of Fear the Walking Dead, which is worth seeing through to the end. After all, everyone deserves a second chance.
Rating: 3 out of 5
The final episodes of Fear the Walking Dead Season 8 premiere Sunday, October 22nd, at 9 p.m. ET on AMC and AMC+.