[AUTHOR’S NOTE: There are spoilers for Fear the Walking Dead in here. If you haven’t watched up to Episode Three and you’re sensitive to those kind of things, come back later when you decide that it really doesn’t matter how badly I spoil this suckfest for you.]
Watching Fear the Walking Dead reminds me why I wrote the Unlucky Seven books they way that I did.
Too often in fiction, the writers create a world in which something crazy or unbelievable happens for which there is, apparently, no precedent. This is a common trope but one that I think needs to be called out. It’s a particularly frustrating one to deal with for the consumer of the product if those consumers are already familiar with the subject matter.
When I say no precedent, I mean that characters in the given story have no idea of previously written fiction about the subject matter.
You see it all the time in comic books; an origin story where people decide to become costumed heroes as if the concept never ever existed anywhere. They have adventures like the same sort of adventures never happened in anything they’ve ever read before. The major comic book universes exist in a reality where superhero fiction was never a thing.
I wrote Unlucky Seven in a universe where everyone understand exactly what is happening to them based on the proliferation of superhero fiction.
What I will call the Clueless Universe trope is far too prevalent in fiction and can be especially frustrating when applied to specific genres.
That said, let’s talk about how this makes Fear the Walking Dead borderline unwatchable.
After watching last night’s episode three with some of my friends (a tradition carried over from the parent show if for no other reason than continuity) I realized something: we have not shut up and watched through any of these episodes. We are screaming at the screen constantly because of the overwhelming level of ostrich syndrome exhibited by the show’s characters. Specifically, last night, the small family holding up in the suburbs waiting for daddy to get home.
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Yes, I care so little about this show that I don’t bother to keep up with names.]
Their heads are so far in the sand that, even though they have power and cable at a relatively undisturbed house in the suburbs far from any of the horrors of downtown LA, they refuse to turn on a television or a radio to gain any valuable information instead relying on asking each other “what’s going on?” in an unending circle of stupidity – as if one of them is going to suddenly gain some divine knowledge on the situation as they sit around and play Monopoly like it’s family game night and not the dawn of the zombie apocalypse.
They peer through the blinds, make stupid mistakes like shining flashlights outside during a rolling brownout, convince themselves that their neighbor – who has dead eyes and is growling and pawing through their backyard fence to get at their tasty bits – is just sick and in no way harmful. Even though she has been at the back fence all night, reaching longingly toward the house full of delicious live human flesh, they continue to give her the benefit of the doubt the entire time. This after dealing with at least two different walkers previously in the same day.
While I appreciate the writer’s attempts to show people struggling to deal with the beginnings of a worldwide crisis, the gullibility level placed on these protagonists is simply staggering. The only conclusion we can draw is that it falls into the previously mentioned trope: the world of The Walking Dead must have had absolutely no zombie fiction to look back on to help aid with the survival or even outright prevention of the zombie apocalypse.
Is this a world without George Romero? Was there no original Night of the Living Dead? No sequels? No remakes? None of the basic knowledge of zombies that someone could have some kind of clue as to what the “walkers” actually are when the shit starts tenuously dripping into the fan and is poised to hit full on? I mean, the only kid with any inkling as to what was happening made a shiv to defend himself. A SHIV. SERIOUSLY. Get a nice one of your mom’s kitchen knives at least, dude. You should know better than to rely on something so makeshift in the beginning. Save those shiv-making skills for when you’re in a Woodbury- or Terminus-type situation.
I’m ok with the characters being reticent to take a “human” life (or whatever) but come on. You know what Mrs. Tran became. You know she’s not reaching through the crack in your fence to try to give you a hug. Not to mention the fact that you just iced another neighbor in your living room after he looked up from his dog chow with a not-so-right look on his face. The writing isn’t just on the wall as to what is going on in this world, it is blazing fire, three-hundred stories tall. People are turning into zombies. Zombies die when you get them in the head. They are not friendly no matter who they might have been before they died. Get with it quickly or get eaten.
Would any of us act differently? Yes. Mostly because we have shows like The Walking Dead and other, older, more revered reference material to look to for assistance. Would we put our head in the sand? Sure, some of us would. I don’t think that we would be having family game night after watching our neighbor across the street get eaten on top of a deflated bouncy castle. These characters are so helplessly written (except for the barber-dad who we have termed Latin Carol) that they seem even more improbable than the cast of the main show in the way they escape and kick ass. They are a gross caricature of those who would be in the vicinity of Ground Zero should the outbreak ever occur. I am not as prepared as some of the people I know should “shit go down”, but I like to think I would be able to handle myself at least slightly better than these chumps.
I honestly have a hope that every character on that show gets bit or eaten because their ignorance demands it. They are not Rick, Michonne, Daryl, Carol, or any of the others who have had to make the really hard choices. They are not survivors. They are zombie food. I know, I should give them time to develop that hard outer shell our usual gang has but, to be honest, I don’t care enough about this group of ignoramii to want to watch them make the transformation.
I will continue to watch this show because of the connection it has to the main show. I just think that, after five previous seasons of zombie ass-kicking, it is a little too late to go back to the well and see how people reacted to the start of the thing. A prequel involving one or more of the main characters of The Walking Dead would have been much more interesting (Michonne’s backstory, anyone?). Showing us strangers who would rather pretend the world isn’t crumbling around them rather than adapting to it is not the kind of thing I was looking for in a spinoff.
They drove to the hospital. In LA. In the middle of a full-scale riot. With zombies. And they drove right by like “NOPE” like it wasn’t a thing. Like, “whoa, hey, look at those cops unload on that old lady in a hospital gown. Glad their cruisers aren’t blocking the road. Glad there aren’t thousands of residents trying to barge their way into the ER for treatment. Nope, an LA hospital in a zombie riot is just a breeze to drive through. Wave and say what’s up.
Not to mention their flatbed truck was left parked and pristine in the middle of the street right next to where people were chucking molotovs into other random cars. Fancy that.
Keep fighting the good fight.