Why have some fans, and many critics, soured on The Walking Dead? You can point to a litany of issues with AMC's ratings powerhouse, but it can mainly be boiled down to slugging pacing and repetitive storylines. Perhaps most indicting, especially for fans: The show no longer lives up to the mantra that anyone can die at any moment.
Yes, I'm aware that the season seven premiere included the deaths of Glenn and Abraham, but it was less the series skipping to the beat of its own drum than slavishly following a big moment from the comic books (that's another issue: They're rarely willing to divert from the source material anymore). To that end, I'd put my life savings on Rick, Carl and Daryl surviving every season of the series, so long as the actors are willing to cash the check.
What's made me cautiously optimistic about the spinoff series, Fear The Walking Dead, is that it forces its showrunners to be creative. They aren't following any comics. They can do whatever the hell they want. In the two-hour season premiere for the show's third season, Fear The Walking Dead pulled off arguably the gutsiest, and most shocking death, in either show's history.
Fear The Walking Dead kills off Travis; and rather unceremoniously at that. It happens in the opening of the second half of the two-episode premiere, after he, Alicia and Luciana escape a military base that's overrun with zombies in a helicopter. As a general, though not unwritten, pop culture rule, the helicopter escape is usually a safe zone after an epic confrontation — just look at the >ending to Jurassic Park (and for that matter, Jurassic Park III).
But the getaway is interrupted by a spray of bullets from an unknown assailant — or perhaps several. In the ensuing chaos, one of the bullets pierces through Travis' neck. It happens in an instant, about two minutes into the opening, and within the next minute he's trying to unbuckle himself from his seat. He's bleeding out, he knows it's fatal, and in one final act of heroism he jumps off the helicopter so his zombified corpse wouldn't ostensibly attack Alicia and everyone else aboard. Just as you're trying to process what the fuck just happened, Fear The Walking Dead will casually segue into its psychedelic opening credits (seriously, that thing needs a seizure warning).
The Travis death is shocking, yes, and for a couple reasons. For starters, the show just killed off one of its leads — I'd argue he and Madison were co-leads on the series, as heads of the Clark/Manawa family unit. It's also quite unspectacular. You can typically expect an epic sendoff for the zombie series' main characters, or at the very least a memorable one — none of us will ever forget how Glenn died. Shot by stray bullet in the middle of a helicopter escape just doesn't fit that narrative. It would be akin to The Walking Dead killing off Michonne by having Negan run her over with a truck after one of his cherished monologues about rules.
I don't mean the Travis death as a criticism, however: I absolutely love it. I was concerned with Fear The Walking Dead after it began making the same mistakes as its flagship series in the second half of season two, and it's never a good sign when a show starts to feel repetitive after only two seasons. But the unceremonious death of Travis is a subtle enough reminder: You're not watching The Walking Dead. And thank goodness for that.
It also makes me confident that, despite not technically seeing Travis die after he jumped out of the helicopter, we're not looking at a Glenn-Dumpster moment. (It's amazing that an adendum like this even feels necessary, but that's how bad The Walking Dead shit the bed.)
So, where does the Clark family go from here? They've made their way to a new safe haven, the oddly named Broke Jaw Ranch, and you can practically cut the tension between Madison and ranch owner Otto with Alicia's switchblade. Such is the case when Otto's sociopathic son Troy, who was holed up in the aforementioned military base earlier in the episode, tried to kill Travis and Nick in the guise of "science" at the base. He wanted to see how quickly people turn into zombies, and if different ethnicities play a factor in it (also, that's racist!). It goes without saying, but it's not the most welcoming community they've encountered.
But it does give the group a chance to recollect themselves, and most of all, process Travis' death. Madison and Travis' relationship was consistently strained on Fear The Walking Dead, but the series is ultimately an intimate family drama, albeit one in the zombie apocalypse. Losing Travis is a serious game-changer.
For the first time in a while, a show with "Walking Dead" in its title has an aura of unpredictability. Like I said, I'm cautiously optimistic about Fear The Walking Dead season three — and maybe you should be, too.
The third season of Fear The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. Eastern on AMC.
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