Fear The Walking Dead's Latest Twist Threatens Its (Relative) Optimism

SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for "Good Out Here," the latest episode of Fear The Walking Dead, which as of publication has not yet aired on the west coast.

This week’s episode of Fear The Walking Dead saw its most significant character death since Travis fell out of Jake Otto’s helo. Nick Clark (Frank Dillane) made it through addiction, the desert and a dam break only to get shot (accidentally?) by Charlie, the young girl he and Maddie had taken in last episode only to see her betray them to the Vultures, Season 4’s newest villains.

All signs point to this death being permanent, too -- there was an undeniable sense of finality as the camera lingered over Nick’s face until he stopped struggling for air. Here’s hoping that’s the case and episode 4 doesn’t start with some former paramedic popping out of the bushes ready to undermine the impact save the day. That said, Nick's death feels so unearned and without preamble that it’s hard not to get nervous that Fear is hurtling in the direction of its predecessor and leaning too hard on death for shock value. And on any other show, that would be a valid concern, but this season of Fear is the exception.

The spinoff's new story structure means that this is far from the last we’ll see of Nick. Episode 3 confirmed last week’s time zoned narrative that shuffled between the present and a year before will be this season’s format (presumably at least until the midseason finale). While The Walking Dead and Fear have played with time shifts before, they’ve never done so to this extent, building an entire season on the back of two separate parts of the same timeline. Their new showrunners have, though.

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Last year Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg departed ABC’s Once Upon a Time and took over for Dave Erickson on Fear. If the first three episodes are any indication, they haven’t left the Enchanted Forest too far behind them. If you never caught an hour of Disney’s ambitious fairy tale universe blend, it distinguished itself early on by indulging in some complicated, but surprisingly easy-to-follow non-linear storytelling. Half of the narrative took place in present-day Storybrooke, where Snow White’s Evil Queen had confined a veritable Who’s Who of Disney fairy tale characters who’d been cursed into forgetting their identities. The other half took place decades before the curse and played out the backstory of present-day events. The result was an interesting exploration of actions and their consequences that ultimately proved that nothing about life is as uncomplicated as a fairy tale -- even fairy tales.

Fear is aping this technique in almost exactly the same way. Madison and her family live cocooned in an "idyllic" community until a catastrophic series of events breaks it apart (as it always will). We start with the bookends of a story and watch what's in between and after unfold over time. Nick’s death is unearned and without preamble, but it also serves to neatly foreshadow the past and allows each storyline to increase anticipation for the other.

All that said, it’ll be interesting to see how knowing Nick’s fate will affect the viewing experience this season. One of the ways Fear has distinguished itself from TWD is its marginally higher level of hope. While both shows deal with the same apocalypse, they seem to feel differently about it. Where TWD is a bleak, rock bottom for human society, Fear never felt that jaded. Things are bad, but Madison’s journey has seen her becoming an able leader, more benevolent than vicious; and Alycia has blossomed into a well-adjusted and intelligent young woman. Nick stopped destroying himself and Strand became less selfish. Overall, their collective gains almost balance out their losses, and that can often feel like an antidote to the cynicism of TWD where everything feels so much more dystopic.

But an entire season (or half of one) watching Nick hurtle toward what is ultimately a pretty tragic death could undermine the optimistic vibe that’s become one of Fear's biggest strengths. We won’t know until we actually watch it play out, but this season looks like it’s going to be one of two things: a deft exploration of the relationship between cause and effect, or an example of a season that tipped its hand.

What did you think about "Good Out Here"? Is there any hope for Nick? Are you excited about the split timelines or do they make you carsick? Let us know in the comments!

Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9p p.m. on AMC. Fear stars Kim Dickens as Madison Clark, Frank Dillane as Nick Clark, Alycia Debnam Carey as Alicia, Coleman Domingo as Victor Strand, Danay Garcia as Luciana, Jenna Elfman as Naomi, Maggie Grace as Althea, Garret Dillahunt as John Dorie, Evan Gamble as Ennis, Alexa Nisenson as Charlie and Lennie James as Morgan Jones.

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