Where Did 'Fear the Walking Dead' Season 5 Go Wrong?

Emily Hannemann
Opinion Van Redin/AMC

[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for Fear The Walking Dead Season 5.]

If Fear The Walking Dead Season 5 was boiled down to a single word, that word would be "help."

After all, "help" was the singular motivation for most of the main cast—even those who didn't have much to do for the last 15 episodes. Led by Morgan, the group insistently helped, even when it was illogical or impossible or just plain hardly understandable to do so. The result of rigid insistence to that theme is a season that was, more often than not, uneven, uneventful and sometimes almost unwatchable.

Here are the ways we think Fear's fifth installment fell flat... and some early hopes for what'll appear when Season 6 premieres next year.

Moving at a Snail’s Pace

It feels like nothing happened for most of the first half of the season, probably because it didn’t. Most of the events of 5A could’ve occurred in the space of a single episode or two, and the story felt improperly stretched so that it filled eight installments. The pacing was totally off. And the stuff with the plane was ludicrous at best: It had no right taking up that many episodes when Logan, who was far more interesting, was back at the factory doing nothing.

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The second half of Season 5 didn’t exactly break any pacing records, either. Huge chunks of time were spent on Logan, which, just when it started to get interesting, ended up being a setup to introduce Virginia. At the end of the season things finally happened, but the action felt cheapened by the fact that we took so much time to get there. Yawn.

Missed Connections

At this point, it’s fairly clear that Chambliss and Goldberg have little interest in capitalizing on the existing relationships among the characters on the show that existed before the crossover. That’s a bit of a bummer. Daniel’s main bond this season really should’ve been Alicia, considering she was the last person left with real memories of his daughter. Sure, they had that nice scene when the plane landed. But—and you can correct me if I’m wrong—I think those are the only meaningful words Alicia and Daniel exchanged this season, despite the fact that they had known each other since the world ended.

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I’ll concede that the showrunners did resolve the issues between Strand and Daniel, and they put Alicia and Strand together quite a bit. It was nice to see Strand care for the last remaining member of the Clark family, and be concerned for her. It seems they’ll continue to be in each other's orbit in Season 6, which is great. But the metaphorical ball was dropped hard with Luciana, who got practically nothing to do again this season besides repeating what other people said and getting captured. Danay Garcia deserves better.

The General Cringeworthiness

It was obvious from last season that Fear The Walking Dead was no longer a show about, well, fearing the walking dead. From the moment Morgan took over, it wasn't about survival at any cost; It was about helping people. That’s fine—as I’ve said in previous opinion pieces about the show, there are compelling stories to tell in saving whoever’s left of humanity. But geez, Season 5 wasn’t always, or even often, heading in the right direction.

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The show has made a definitive statement about Alicia's strength and her ability to be a leader.

Instead, many of the central plot points and scriptwriting were utterly cringeworthy. The word “help” surfaces at least 10 times, if not more, in many episodes. Filming with Al’s camera was fine the first time it happened, but that episode was predictable and largely ruined by that plot device. We certainly didn’t need another two episodes devoted to it. The characters don't feel like real people, developing only as the plot needs them to and speaking in moralistic “big ideas” that sound cool but have little substance. (“If you’re reading this, you’re still here.” Um, duh. Unless a walker is reading it?) And then there was the whole beer-shaped hot air balloon… I don’t even want to talk about the beer-shaped hot air balloon.

It would do the show well to take the time and make sure the characters are moving forward and regressing in organic ways, and acting logically and conversing like real people would. That’s something the main show has been excelling at lately, and if Fear could follow its lead, it would become TV worth celebrating again.

Plot Points that Went Nowhere

Season 5 could’ve been interesting, but several of the major concepts the show set up remained totally unaddressed. The absence of CRM post-5x05 was a bummer, especially after Al’s bottle episode, which was one of the few installments this season I enjoyed. Logan’s people had Al’s tapes and then presumably destroyed them, but that never came up again. 5A was rendered somewhat useless by relegating the kids Alicia fought so hard to rescue to the background. Speaking of 5A…

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What’s up with there being zero fallout from the nuclear radiation issue? The show dramatically showed Alicia getting irradiated walker blood in her mouth, but then refused to address the characters who were in the irradiated zone and what that might mean for them, for the whole rest of the season. Grace apparently isn't even suffering radiation poisoning, despite the fact that she worked at the plant and deliberately, repeatedly put herself in danger. Now that they’re all with Virginia’s group they likely have access to some better medical care, so maybe this is a storyline that will resurface in Season 6.

Looking Ahead

For a moment, let’s set aside the fact that the show chose, again, to use a cliffhanger for the main character’s fate (and it's highly unlikely he'll die, anyway). It’s fairly obvious that the show is setting up a Walking Dead 4B situation for at least the first half of Season 6, where multiple episodes will likely be bottle installments that focus on one or two characters in a new settlement. Could this be exasperating? Sure, and at times it probably will be. But at least we’ll have some new settings to work with, and maybe some new characters whose sole motivation in life isn’t earning atonement for some murky “wrongs.”

But at the end of the day, in order to be worth watching in its sixth season, Fear really needs to revise its script and its themes. The dialogue was hard to listen to this season, and the constant reiterating of “we’re here to help!” didn’t help at all. It’d be nice if some of the main characters explore their morally gray side in the next 16 episodes (looking at you, Strand), or realize Morgan’s way of doing things wasn’t the best way after all. We need some non-manufactured, truly emotional and layered conflict on this show, and Season 6 could provide that… if it’s done right. Here’s hoping it is.

Fear the Walking Dead, Season 6, 2020, AMC