Fear The Walking Dead returns Sunday for its fifth season, and slides comfortably into the new format the AMC series spent last year building. With a new mission and a revamped cast, it's nearly unrecognizable from the show that launched in 2015. Audiences can expect an outlook that’s far less bleak than that of The Walking Dead, and a story that’s executed on a more sensational scale.
The season premiere picks up a few months after last year's finale, in which Morgan and his crew decide to embark on missions of mercy, using the tapes collected by Althea in order to locate survivors who could use their help. They use Clayton’s supplies and network to travel around Texas, but it turns out that not only is it not easy to discover people, but many of those they do locate aren’t interested in the kind of assistance they offer. That's what propels the narrative, as the survivors wrestle with their own redemption in a world that makes it increasingly difficult for them to find it.
As is true of much of the franchise, Fear the Walking Dead is less concerned with the zombie apocalypse and more focused on how the survivors make sense of it. Alicia remains haunted by the loss of her entire family, and her grief sees her taking unnecessary risks even as Morgan attempts to guide her. Strand seems to have found a degree of peace, given his new line of work, but he struggles with Madison’s absence, his own selfishness and mistakes that continue to dog him. Frustrated by the team's lack of progress, Al isn't adjusting to her newfound lack of independence. However, June and John remain the cutest lovebirds of the apocalypse, and Sarah and Wendell provide the comedy shot in the arm from which the show benefits every time they're onscreen. Fear could do with a little more of them, and a touch less of June and John proclaiming their love for one another, but considering their happiness likely means one or both of them will be in for a rude awakening soon, at least they’ll be two people who are able to find a silver lining in a world seriously lacking in them.
Fear took a massive risk last season with a makeover that included the divisive decision to ax Kim Dickens, one of the few middle-aged female leads working in genre television. This new season stares fearlessly down that barrel and doesn’t blink, which was necessary if the new format were going to take off. The fifth season marks the first real test of how well this story will play, and if the premiere is any indication, Fear the Walking Dead is going to settle into its stride nicely. Plus, we still have another crossover from The Walking Dead to come: Austin Amelio joins the cast reprising his role as Dwight, the Savior traitor who has a lot of red in his ledger to clear.
The Season 5 trailer promised plane crashes and nuclear fallout would be on the docket for Morgan and his enterprising crew, and the premiere doesn’t waste time getting to some spectacular moments. Despite being a show about people more than anything else, Fear the Walking Dead doesn’t shy away from exploring the apocalypse in innovative ways. It continues to differentiate itself from The Walking Dead in ways that make sense and provide serious entertainment value for those burned out on the original. The series does face the potential to get a little too sensational with some of the plot elements coming up this season, but if the bets pay off, Fear the Walking Dead has the potential to break new ground for the AMC franchise, which is precisely what it needs.
Returning Sunday, at 9 PM ET on AMC, Fear the Walking Dead stars Lennie James, Colman Domingo, Alexa Nisenson, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Garret Dillahunt, Jenna Elfman, Austin Amelio and Karen David.