This South Korean Netflix series isn’t as dark as Squid Game, but some families will still probably want to steer clear.
Rest in peace? On AMC, that’s purely wishful thinking.
On cable’s prime locale for all things zombie-apocalyptic, the only dead at rest are those resting in pieces. Fans of AMC’s wildly successful The Walking Dead learned a long time ago that the only surefire method to dispatch a so-called walker is with a bullet to the brain, which makes the title of this prequel—Fear the Walking Dead—less a title and more a superfluous command. I mean, do you really need to be told to fear the walking dead? It seems completely unnecessary.
Which, I guess, you could also say that about the show itself.
Fear the Walking Dead takes us back in time to a slightly more innocent, slightly less zombie-riddled era. Oh, sure, zombies are staggering out in force by Season Three, and civilization has definitely regressed a millennia or two. But things haven’t quite gotten to the primal stage we see in The Walking Dead. People still drive cars and trucks. Regular food is still pretty easy to get for the most part. And in the midst of all the strange, inhuman goings-on, we find a few hints of humanity.
Take the Clark family, for instance. Back when the zombie apocalypse was more of an apoca-lapse, mother Madison was a high school guidance counselor with a live-in fiancé (Travis), an over-achieving daughter (Alicia) and a heroin-addicted son (Nick). And frankly, none of them were in all that great a place. As Alicia says, “My family was crazy before it all happened, and now we’re just …”
Always at threat of becoming a zombie hors d’oeuvre? Well, yes. Travis and Nick alas, are no longer with us. But hey, at least Alicia and Madison are still around.
And by the final seasons of the show, the latter two have seen just how much damage in this post-apocalyptic world is the result of the living rather than the undead: A whole compound was burned to the ground; A dam was intentionally destroyed, sending a flood of water to wipe people out; And Texas was turned into a nuclear wasteland following the detonation of a dozen nuclear warheads—even resulting in the onscreen disintegration of a (albeit villainous) teenage girl.
Yes, scraps of civilization’s previous ways are still there, flapping in the breeze. But as the environment grows ever more barbaric and the zombies multiply like decaying, shambling rabbits, we understand that life (and death) will never be the same. Now our survivors are asking different questions: Can it still be worth living?
And by the start of Fear’s final season, the answer to that question is still marinading within our protagonists’ heads. Specifically, it’s bumping around Madison’s and The-Walking-Dead-turned-Fear mainstay Morgan’s. After a nearly eight-year time skip, Madison’s stuck in the captivity of a group of people only known as PADRE and would love nothing more than to find a way to end her life. Morgan, on the other hand, has become a cog in the PADRE machine, going so far as to allow the colony to turn his now-8-year-old daughter into an estranged child soldier.
There is no chance this zombie outbreak will be safely contained. AMC spoiled the story (so to speak) in advance when The Walking Dead premiered in 2010 on Halloween. Initially, Fear gave viewers a different world to digest—one where civilization might be teetering on the brink, but it hadn’t collapsed altogether.
Now that the zombie population is out and galumphing openly in the streets, The Walking Dead and Fear look and feel pretty similar in some respects. Instead of worrying about how the fear of zombies might impact the workday, Alicia and her fellow survivors are brushing up on their best brain-bashing techniques. And some characters fans knew in the original Walking Dead are beginning to show up in Fear, as well.
Naturally, Fear’s gore quotient has gone up considerably from its earlier days. We see levels of blood and brain matter here that might make even a Walker gag. Remember, this is a show about dead things eating us, and they’re not known for their table manners. Blood and flesh and organs are a constant feature—as well as people saying really, really bad words when they stumble across a walker and/or his dinner. While it carried a TV-14 rating in its earlier days (a stretch even then), it’s flat-out TV-MA now—the equivalent of an R movie rating. And even that, frankly, can seem a little low. And while its final season may come to a gore-covered close, AMC’s unkillable franchise seems to shamble ever on. A new series, The Walking Dead: Dead City, features original series characters Maggie and Negan and releases June 2023.
It’s important to note that AMC’s zombie shows have been more about the monsters living inside each of us than the shambling undead outside: It’s about retaining one’s humanity in inhumane times. And Fear—perhaps because it takes place earlier in the apocalypse, perhaps because its writers are just sunny optimists—seems more apt to focus on that humanity. That’s a good thing.
But personally, I like my dose of imperiled humanity served without all the blood and brains.
Following a nearly eight-year time skip, a mysterious girl tries to help a now-captured Madison escape PADRE, a strict colony that keeps an emphasis on training young children for war.
As with most Walking Dead episodes, we’ll see zombies taken out in a variety of gut-and-brain-spilling ways. One zombie has its teeth smashed out of its blood-filled mouth. Humans are punched, beaten and knocked out. One woman is subjected to having her blood drawn weekly against her will: The moment seems to be her only contact with people. Someone tries to shoot herself in the head, but finds the gun has no ammo. She also tries to cut her wrist with a piece of broken glass.
The s-word is used four times. We also hear “h—” 10 times. “A–” and “d–n” are both used once. God’s name is used in vain twice, including once in the form of “g-dd–n.” Jesus’ name is used in vain once.
Time is of the essence after Morgan (of the OG Walking Dead group) and Alicia crash-land their plane in the mountains near a radioactive zone. They’ve teamed up with a group of local kids who survived an earlier nuclear meltdown, and together, they attempt to repair the plane before the imminent second meltdown. As Morgan says, “We’ve done the impossible before.”
As per usual, viewers can expect to see the zombified corpses of walkers—some with guts spilling out. A character stabs a walker in the head with a wooden staff. Another character gets blood on her face while cleaning a plane engine covered in gore. Two characters also come across the dead body of a man who shot himself in the head to avoid turning after being mortally injured. Another man’s “self-sacrifice” is discussed.
Annie, one of the kids, recounts the story of how her and the other kids’ parents died of radiation sickness after killing radioactive “growlers” (another term for the zombies). A couple exchanges a peck on the lips. A character asks for a “brewski,” commenting that she works better when she is buzzed. “D–k” and “b–ch” are each used once, and the s-word is used 3 times.
Rogue wanderers John and Morgan are on a search for John’s missing girlfriend, Naomi. In a flashback, Naomi, Madison and Victor look for provisions for the compound in the most unlikely of places.
When Madison, Naomi and John arrive at their destination, they fight off the undead, who are covered in dried blood and sport gaping wounds (dead zombie children lie on the ground). The living stab the zombies in the face, chest and neck in order to survive. People are held at gunpoint and death threats are hurled. A man’s finger is shot off (we see it fall to the ground as blood spurts out). A man is shot in the chest. Someone shares a story about their daughter dying while another holds a pessimistic outlook on life. Two people drink hard liquor and words like “h—“and “s—” are uttered.
In the Season Four kickoff, characters from The Walking Dead cross over to AMC’s prequel. Morgan is perhaps the most notable. While his character arc in the original show is deeply checkered, here he’s introduced as a mysterious, lone wanderer who has left a place called The Kingdom without explanation. As he travels by foot in an attempt to get away from his past (both figurative and literal) he meets other people ,like a mysterious man called John Dorrie. And though Morgan wants to be left alone, his travels force him to befriend some and fight others, all in an attempt to save his own life.
A man reads a book called Love Story and a couple is seen embracing on the cover. The man also admits to having feelings for a woman who may or may not be dead. People carry guns, knives, sharpened sticks and whatever else is necessary to attack one another and the zombies that lurk around. Zombies are impaled, shot, blown up and stabbed in the face. They’re often covered in blood. A few men are shot (though not killed) and smacked in the head. Someone is bit by a deadly snake, while another is eaten alive by zombies. Words like “s—,” “d–n,” h—,” and a–hole” are uttered once or twice.
Madison rises early in preparation for the arrival of a Native American leader named Taka, along with his people, at the compound. Meanwhile, Nick, Troy, and the rest of the soldiers wait behind the wall, and they begin to kill the walking dead as they approach. Nick smashes in the head of a zombie with his bare hands, and slaughters others who approach, too.
Taka’s people eventually show up. The transition is rough from the start because the two sides, who were formerly enemies, don’t trust each another. Jake then leads Taka to the armory, where Taka is given a key and told that he can only access the weapons when Jake is with him. To facilitate peace, the two sides hold a meeting that night where Taka announces, “Fear creates fury. … Fury lets blood. … No more of that.”
Troy soon disrupts the uneasy peace, telling others how Taka’s people want to take over and steal their freedom. The next morning, there is an attack on one of Taka’s men. This incites a battle between the two sides as Taka demands access to the armory. Madison grants his wish. Later that night Taka, Madison, and Nick search Troy’s home. Troy pulls a gun on them, and Nick stays to try and calm him. Just as Troy is thinking of backing down, a shootout begins. Madison and Taka eventually decide that exile is proper punishment for Troy’s rebellion.
Madison and one of Taka’s men drive a bound Troy far into the desert to release him. As she gets out of the truck, Troy stabs Taka’s man to death, then jumps on Madison, kicking a gun away from her. In the end, Madison retrieves her gun and tells Troy who really killed his father. Troy says that he is tired, tired of it all, and he slowly walks into the unknown.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the border, Daniel and Lola decide to stay in their town to help people there with the distribution of water. Lola refuses to leave, knowing she is in increasing danger the longer she stays. But a riot begins, and Lola gets hit in the head with a stone. Daniel forces Lola to leave the town.
Violence obviously pervades the entire episode. Zombies are slaughtered, men are killed with bare hands, and knives and guns are used repeatedly. We also hear a reference to wet dreams. The s-word, “p—y,” and “a–” are used once each; a–hole is used three times; and God’s name is paired with d–n once.
Madison and her family, including Nick’s girlfriend, Luciana, are staying at a compound led by Jeremiah Otto. (Jeremiah—or Big Otto, as he’s sometimes called—created the compound to prepare for the collapse of civilization, though he wasn’t prepared for something quite this drastic.) Luciana wants to leave, but Nick’s not so sure: He begins work repairing a burned-out shell of a house, with Otto chipping in. Meanwhile, former barber Daniel Salazar and former CIA interrogator Victor Strand head back to a one-time high-rise hotel, where Daniel left his daughter Ofelia.
Madison and Otto’s cruel son, Troy, go on an expedition with some of Otto’s heavily armed men. They slaughter several zombies along the way: Madison stabs one through the eye with a blade. Troy hacks off the arms and legs off another zombie before jamming a knife into its skull. Others are shot with arrows, bludgeoned with axes and killed in various bloody ways. Elsewhere, we see a living, poetry-reciting man sitting on a chair with part of his skull removed, and a raven slowly pulls out and eats bloody cranial matter. (An observer vomits at the sight.) Madison takes a knife and shoves it through the man’s brain, killing him. Charred, still smoldering corpses are piled high. Bloodstains on walls and vehicles suggests that a mass execution took place at a compound. Some people are forced to walk back to their own compound without shoes: Blood stains the bandages wrapped around their feet. An elderly man is attacked by his zombified wife: She wears dentures, so she gums at his throat as he dances one last dance with her, pulls a gun and shoots them both. (Both bodies are consumed by fire.) Someone holds a knife to someone else’s throat. A car hits some zombies. We don’t see the impact, but do see the gore on the car’s headlight.
Alicia and one of Otto’s sons apparently have sex. (We see them kiss. Then, sometime later, we see them both putting back on their clothes. We see Alicia’s bra.) Nick and Luciana have a picnic in a burnt-out building and spend the night there. They kiss.
Ecclesiastes is quoted. Someone talks about taking “an eye for an eye.” Someone talks about how he was “spared:” “maybe it’s the devil who wants me down here,” he says. Alicia suffers from a hangover. (Someone, perhaps jokingly, says she was at Bible study.) There’s a reference to a moonshine still and “the hair of the dog.” Jeremiah Otto talks about his past alcoholism—and how he only stopped when he almost shot a certain bodily appendage off while hunting. Characters say “a–” about six times, and also utter “b–ch,” “d–n” and “h—.” God’s name is paired with “d–n” three times.
When Nick wakes from a drug-aided nap, his friend, Gloria, is missing. He finds her later, a knife sticking out of her side as she eats the face off another person. Meanwhile, his mother and soon-to-be stepfather notice that an awful lot of kids are staying home from the school they work at.
A zombie is hit by a car twice and still staggers to his feet. The walker’s face is halfway torn off and a bone sticks out of his arm. A man is also hit by a car, breaking the windshield. We see a walker grab and bite a couple of folks before he’s shot about a dozen times in the chest—and then the head. Someone is shot in the gut. A man dies in a hospital bed (causing much consternation amongst the staff). Bodies of partially eaten people lay on the ground, displaying grievous wounds. Blood coats walls and furniture. There are references to suicide and self-harm.
Madison and Travis live together; they kiss and hug, etc. Madison’s daughter, Alicia, cozies up to her boyfriend, and they talk about getting together at his house while his parents are away. Nick was sleeping with Gloria at an abandoned church. (He wakes up shirtless and with his fly undone.) We hear about Nick’s drug problem and see him try to steal drugs. Characters say the s-word close to 10 times. We also hear “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n,” “h—,” “p—” and the f-word stand-in “fricking.” God’s name is misused twice, as is Jesus’ name.
Though he was born in Kansas, Kennedy Unthank studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He knew he wanted to write for a living when he won a contest for “best fantasy story” while in the 4th grade. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he was the only person to submit a story. Regardless, the seed was planted. Kennedy collects and plays board games in his free time, and he loves to talk about biblical apologetics and hermeneutics. He doesn’t think the ending of Lost was “that bad.”
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).
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