We stepped away from the Clark family for the Season 4 premiere of "Fear the Walking Dead" to journey with Morgan (Lennie James) as he literally walked away from "The Walking Dead" and found his way onto a new show. Along the way, he picked up newcomers John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) and Althea (Maggie Grace) before getting attacked by the Clarks in the closing moments. Althea's question closed the hour. "What's your story?" she asked Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey). This episode serves the beginning of that answer.
"Another Day in the Diamond" took us to a time simply called "BEFORE" as we reconnect with the Clark family, now living a life of relative luxury in a baseball stadium. But that isn't where we left them. The newly rebooted "Fear" is apparently going to play with time like "Lost" did, parceling out information on a need-to-know basis, which means it's also already in the business of leaving us with lots of questions and in two different eras.
When we last saw the Clark family, they had just survived Nick's (Frank Dilane) destruction of a dam, but they were split up again. How they got from there to life together in a baseball stadium is the first era of mystery. The second is how they went from living in a baseball stadium to scavenging on their own, as they were when they accosted Morgan and his new friends at the end of last week's episode.
We may have gotten the beginning of the answers to that second question with the introduction of the new "big bad" for this season of "Fear the Walking Dead." Below are the burning questions we need answers to after this latest hour.
Who are The Vultures?
They were named in the color-diluted "NOW" era, but introduced in the color-saturated "BEFORE" era. We gotta admit, the different filming styles really help differentiate not just the eras we're in, but the general tone of them as well. If that continues, we expect the color saturation to fade quickly as the Vultures continue to linger.
These new villains are a wholly unique concept to the "Walking Dead" universe and they are a very cool concept. Led by the amiable Mel and using a little girl to infiltrate settlements and gain information, they simply show up shortly before everything is about to fall apart and set up camp just outside. Their offer is you either give up and give them everything, or they'll wait until you die.
Like the sinister bird that lingers close by in the final moments of an animal's life there is something eerily cool about these guys as villains. They've shown no signs of violence, and seem to be quite patient in their strategy, but we don't expect that to last. Even the vultures get more aggressive as the animal grows closer to death, jumping in and pecking as their patience wears thin.
As we saw in the "NOW" era, the Vultures are still very much on the remaining Clark's minds. The Vultures corral the dead and leave flags to indicate their number. A "51" flag found with Althea's SWAT truck certainly got the Clark's attention, making them think the newcomers are Vultures as well. So even after however much time has passed between "BEFORE" and "NOW," the Vultures are still a problem.
We didn't see her at the close of the last episode, and after this hour it looks like Madison (Kim Dickens) is legitimately not traveling with the rest of her core group. Nick, Alicia, Luciana (Danay Garcia) and Strand (Colman Domingo) seemed to be very much alone and living lean as they took command of Althea's truck and demanded the newcomers take them back to where they found the "51" flag.
We know that Madison is obsessively driven to a dangerous degree. She admitted that this trait, along with her growing ruthlessness, almost cost her her children as they almost abandoned her. And yet, she still shows that same stubborn streak in the "BEFORE" story as she forced a search party to fruitlessly look for Charlie's parents. That trip, however, did bring in Naomi (Jenna Elfman), who unconvincingly said she's been on her own all this time.
Who is Naomi?
Unseen in the "NOW" scenes as of yet, Naomi officially joined the show this week by pointing a gun at Madison's head and trying to steal her truck. Only, she didn't have the nerve to actually pull the trigger and put her down. In fact, everything about Naomi's story rang false as she doesn't look like someone who could have survived all this time just traveling on her own. Maybe she'd been very lucky up to that point.
All we know of Naomi is that she used to be a nurse, which proved helpful after Nick once again did something extremely stupid and injured himself. He went out to save his family and immediately wrecked into a light post right outside the gate. Nick's lucky Madison is as ruthless as she is or his idiocy would have seen him dead years ago. When he pushed Naomi to tell him more about herself, she shut him down. We're not sure why she's being secretive about her past ... unless she's totally lying about it.
The writers couldn't have telegraphed Charlie being a spy for the enemy any more if they wrote "SPY" on her forhead with a black permanent marker, so we're thinking there might be some meat on Naomi's secrecy bone. Plus, she showed up the same night as the Vultures and she's M.I.A. in the "NOW" segment. Maybe Charlie is the advance scout and Naomi is their "inside man" once they've set up camp on the outside. Time will tell what her story, and true motivation, is.
Madison, Strand and Alicia were all washed away when the dam blew at the end of Season 3, but we only saw Madison survive. Meanwhile, Nick and Daniel (Rubén Blades) were atop the dam when it went, so their fate was equally uncertain. So far, there has been no sign of Daniel, but he's disappeared for stretches before only to show up again. Like Strand, Daniel is a survivor, only in a far more dangerous and menacing way.
And yet, from the wreckage the Clark family once again found their way to one another, with Strand and Luciana in tow. And thus, only five characters from the first three seasons have survived into the Season 4 reboot, with the how they did it still very much in the air.
We got a cryptic clue when Madison told Luciana, "You weren't there when I found him," referring to Nick. We also find out that Nick refuses to leave the stadium, seemingly suffering from some kind of PTSD after the dam bombing, or Madison bludgeoning his crazy best friend with a hammer (some crazy stuff went down in Season 3; the only good season of this show to this point).
How long are the two time jumps?
We may never get this answer, but we would love to know how long it's been since the dam exploded in the "BEFORE" segments, and how much after that is "NOW." As "Fear the Walking Dead" started with the outbreak of the zombie apocalypse, it would give a sense of how long this has been going on. Even the "Diamond" celebrating 365 days doesn't tell us anything for sure, though it does tack on at least one year after the Clarks reunited.
When Madison tries to bond with Charlie, who can't be more than eleven or twelve years old, she asks her favorite subject in school and Charlie has enough memories of that time to answer. That would potentially put us within the first five or six years of the outbreak, which seems reasonable. We know things haven't been progressing in real-time on "The Walking Dead," which has been on the air for eight years now.
Who's caravan is in the new intro sequence?
While it's still not as elaborate as the opening credits of "The Walking Dead" (we were kind of hoping it would be), the new intro for "Fear the Walking Dead" not only tweaked the show logo to more closely mirror the parent series, but it shows a caravan of vehicles moving across a desert landscape. The only caravan we've seen so far belongs to The Vultures. Is that supposed to represent them?
Or is it perhaps indicative of a caravan that will form in the "NOW" era with the Clark family coming together with Morgan and the other newcomers. We didn't see Althea's SWAT vehicle in the caravan (which appeared to be a car and two RVs), but the odds of such a useful piece of equipment surviving the season seems pretty slim. Presumably, it bears some relevance, though.
Another week, another stellar episode of "Fear the Walking Dead." Aside from the obviousness of Charlie being a mole -- and even then we didn't know what was coming -- everything about this week felt fresh and interesting. The Vultures are a great high concept for a post-apocalyptic villain, setting up their RVs and just waiting, and the addition of time jumps and narrative mysteries only ups the intrigue from episode to episode, which is a great way to keep viewer interest.
The good news for "Fear" is that viewership nearly doubled for its Season 4 premiere, but that only put it at 4 million viewers. Plus, that came with a "Walking Dead" finale lead-in that saw almost twice that. Hopefully, people started hearing the buzz about what a great premiere it was and caught it on delayed viewing. That said, if it can retain these numbers, AMC might just be pleased enough to keep going with it.
At this point, "Fear the Walking Dead" is significantly stronger than its parent series. It has a tighter cast and still isn't afraid to kill off major characters. Yes, the entire Clark family is still alive, but of all the survivors from Season 3, only five have showed up thus far this season. Compare that to the nearly two dozen that populate every season of "The Walking Dead." Apocalypses work better when the stakes are high and the world is dangerous. "TWD" has forgotten to fear the walking dead because they don't seem to be a threat anymore. Thankfully, "Fear" and danger is what this show is all about. It's right there in the title.
"Fear the Walking Dead" continues every Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on AMC.