Fear The Walking Dead has been in a rough place for a long time now. Ever since the end of the truly excellent Season 3, the show has been in a downward spiral. The deaths of some of its main characters certainly didn’t help, but it was the cheesy, cloying writing that really dragged the show down for the past two seasons.

Preposterous hot air balloon rides, a group so entirely devoted to helping people that they made not one, but two corny public service announcements and left them at gas stations all around Texas (and one guy even died filming one in what was perhaps the worst episode of the entire series), and various other glaring plot holes, annoying characters and ridiculous use of downright magical walkie-talkies made this show almost unwatchable.

Season 6 is off to a much better start. I’m going to give credit where it’s due down below, but first I’m going to issue a warning: We’ve been fooled before.

Season 4 of Fear got off to a really strong start also. It introduced John Dorie (Garrett Dillahunt) and set up a cool conflict between the Clark family and their group, and the newcomers like Morgan (Lennie Jones) and Al (Maggie Grace). I was genuinely excited after the first couple of episodes, and had high hopes thanks to the top-notch third season that came before.

Then things fell apart, beginning with the death of Nick (Frank Dillane) and slowly unraveling throughout the season.

I will never forget the episode where everyone was poisoned with antifreeze and they needed ethanol to reverse the poisoning. They couldn’t get it out of the tanker parked outside of the gas station they were holed up in. Then zombies attacked, and they accidentally shot a bunch of holes into the tanker. The ethanol started pouring out—which would be a good thing to any sane person (or writer of a TV show). Here is the ethanol, grab a bucket and fill it up.

But no. No, they just watched helplessly as it spilled into the dirt. I mean, that’s what you would do if you were dying from poison and saw an easy way to get the antidote right? Just watch it drain out into the dirt and stand there helplessly doing nothing. Later, Morgan brings everybody beer from that one annoying guy’s brewery and saves the day, though beer has relatively little ethanol in it.

I’m getting a little sidetracked here, but I wanted to just re-emphasize how bad things got in Season 4. Remarkably, they got worse in Season 5 with the aforementioned PSAs, an absolutely stupendously stupid plane ride to “save” people when nobody knew how to fly, and a beer-shaped hot air balloon.

So forgive me for wondering if a solid Season 6 premiere, which I very much enjoyed, will be the exception to the rule this season. I’d love to be proved wrong, I’m just dubious, and I think I—we—have every reason to be.

Another small note: AMC has decided to not send me screeners this season for Fear The Walking Dead. This means, from a practical standpoint, that I’ll need to watch the show Monday mornings when it releases on Amazon since I no longer have cable. My reviews will be Monday morning or afternoon from now on.

This is the first time in all my years reviewing any of these shows that AMC has chosen to take this step, and while I respect that they’ve been very patient with quite a lot of criticism, I think they’re making a bad decision here. I think it reflects poorly on them simply because they must misunderstand what it is I’m doing. I’m trying my best to vocalize what’s wrong with this show and how they can improve it, hopefully getting more viewers and better ratings in the process. If this season is better than the last two, I’ll have to assume it’s because its creators listened to criticism and not just sycophants and fanboys.

AMC did provide screeners for World Beyond and the season 10 finale of The Walking Dead, which I appreciate. I respect that this is AMC’s choice to make, but I absolutely dispute their reasoning. Apparently I have made my criticism of this show too personal, presumably because I have called out showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg as the reason behind the show’s decline.

I can only humbly suggest that the evidence all points in that direction—things were much better when Dave Erickson was running the show (though it still had its problems) and declined when new showrunners came onboard. I have nothing personal against anyone, but one cannot ignore the obvious. Season 3 of Fear was excellent. The next two, eh, not so much.

Moreover, I will always give credit where it’s due, and much like I did at the beginning of Season 4, I will happily give the Season 6 premiere its due—regardless of whether or not I ever get another screener, or the show gets worse again, or even better.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Morgan Jones Is (Only Mostly) Dead

“Morgan Jones is dead. You are dealing with somebody else now.”

These are the words Morgan says (over a walkie talkie of course because they have yet to nerf this form of communication in the show) to Virginia (Colby Minifie who you may recognize from The Boys) the leader of the Pioneers.

But Morgan Jones isn’t dead. He’s just mostly dead, at least for the majority of this episode. He’s so mostly dead—with red eyes and a festering wound—that zombies actually mistake him for one of them, passing him by as though he’s covered in walker guts.

(In every new community, people call zombies something different. It’s “rotters” in this episode, and “empties” in World Beyond. But really, “walkers” makes the most sense since this is The WALKING Dead. It’s just kind of funny how there’s no linguistic consensus whatsoever despite all these people not being totally cut off from one another from the beginning. I digress).

How Morgan survived the big fake-out death at the end of Season 5 remains a mystery. I was actually really rooting for him to be dead (rooting for them all to die really) simply because he’s one of the chief reasons this show has gone downhill so drastically, transforming every other character into a wannabee Morgan, or “Morganite” as I started dubbing them. In Season 5 he was basically a cult leader in the cult of We’re Here To Help. Death seemed like the only way to end the misery, but it appears Morgan has once again shed his skin and become something else.

Hopefully this time he’ll be a character we can truly root for. Certainly by the end of the episode, that appears to be the case. That makes me happy because Morgan, despite some bad twists and turns with his character, has still always been one of my favorites. I’d like to be on Team Morgan again.

Morgan is being tracked by Emile (Demetrius Grosse) who, at the beginning of the episode, decapitates a man and takes his head and a key hanging on a chain around the man’s now headless neck. He’s then contacted by Virginia (who can magically contact any one over any distance it seems) to track down Morgan who she worries is still alive.

Morgan, meanwhile, has set up a pretty sweet little water tower bungalow for himself. But he’s not doing great. When he shambles into a nearby town, the zombies all mistake him for the dead. He’s almost taken out by a stranger, but manages to speak up before taking a knife to the brain. The stranger is Isaac (Michael Abbot, Jr.) who we learn recognizes Morgan from those stupid tapes. We also learn that he’s a former ranger for the Pioneers.

He’s out looking for help for his pregnant wife Rachel (Brigitte Kali Canales) and tries to recruit Morgan, who he also offers to help. The bullet needs to come out if Morgan has any chance at survival. But Morgan is stubborn. He doesn’t want help and he doesn’t want to give any, either. Those days are long gone.

In any case, Emile shows up and questions Isaac. Has he seen Morgan? He even has a sketch.

Isaac says he hasn’t, but the bounty hunter’s dog paws at the door of the shop where Morgan is hiding. I’m not sure how Emile got his dog something of Morgan’s in order to track his scent to begin with, or how in all of the massive state of Texas he managed to find him here. It’s been weeks, after all. Morgan could be anywhere. But this is, sadly, one of those things about Fear The Walking Dead. Convenient coincidences abound, and lazy shortcuts, too.

Morgan escapes and Emile seems to believe Isaac. But Isaac tracks down Morgan (using coordinates that Morgan wrote on his bag, which he left at the shop apparently). So Isaac finds the water tower and either leads Emile there by accident or Emile is just one hell of a good tracker (and that hound dog now legitimately has the scent thanks to Morgan’s blanket).

Before Emile shows up, Isaac tries to coerce Morgan into helping him. Morgan gives him his gun, which he loads and then points at him. That’s when Emile pulls the water tower down with his truck. There’s still plenty of gasoline in Texas thanks to the refinery Virginia controls.

Isaac gets tangled up with some walkers and Emile goes in for the kill, but Morgan shoots him twice in the arm and they make their escape, using Emile’s truck to get away. Emile is an intimidating figure. He’s huge and he does his killing with a rather deadly looking battle axe. Morgan should have shot him in the face, but it seems (at first) that his reluctance to kill people remains.

Turns out that’s not exactly the case. Morgan and Isaac make it back to Rachel who is just then going into labor. But Emile follows them there, too, somehow. There’s a big final showdown in which Emile fatally wounds Isaac (though not instantly, as he has time to help with the baby and patch up Morgan before he dies offscreen).

Morgan tries to offer himself up to Emile if he’ll spare Isaac, Rachel and the baby, but Emile won’t bargain. He aims a killing blow at Isaac and Morgan attacks. Even one-armed (his other arm is messed up) and limping with a festering bullet wound, Morgan is an impressive staff fighter. We saw his fighting skills on full display against the zombies earlier, and now he unleashes on Emile.

Emile doesn’t stand a chance, partly because his arm is also wounded, partly because Morgan is just more of a badass. The red-eyed hero stabs the bounty hunter in the chest and then, when Emile mocks him for not being able to finish the job, Morgan cuts his head clean off.

When he wakes up he’s all patched up. Rachel is there with the baby but Isaac is no more. He takes the head and leaves it in a box with his name on it (presumably the box intended for his own head) for Virginia to find.

Virginia, now driving Al’s SWAT van, finds Emile’s head and gets on her walkie talkie, threatening Morgan that if he does anything to help his friends, she’ll kill them one by one. Super awesome idea to call her for help last season!

This is when he tells her that Morgan Jones is dead, that she’s dealing with someone else now. We get one last look at Morgan and he’s looking much better, all healed up and wearing actual clothes instead of rags. And rocking a very nice beard which I hope he keeps for the rest of the season. The red eyes are gone also.

In the final moments of the episode we return to the guy spray-painting that we saw at the very opening moments. He’s spray-painting the words “The End Is The Beginning” on a red wall. The name of the episode. Not sure what significance it has. Perhaps the episode takes place at the end of the season or half season, and the next few episodes will still have Emile because they’ll take place before this one. I doubt that, but it’s possible.

In any case, the spray paint artist kills a zombie with his paint can (no simple task, that) and then another guy shows up. “They should have been here by now,” the artist says. “We’re gonna need more. We can’t stick around,” guy two says.

“We need that key,” the artist says.

“We’re gonna have to wait somewhere else,” says guy 2, as the camera pans out and we see they’ve been standing in the shadow of a massive, beached submarine. Please tell me our heroes aren’t going to fix the submarine and pilot it out to sea this season.

The key is definitely the one that Emile took from his bounty at the beginning of the episode, which Morgan now has. Maybe it’s the key to the submarine! (Just kidding!) Whatever it is, these are probably new bad guys who our heroes will encounter once they’ve dealt with the pesky Pioneers. Presumably they’re down in Galveston where maybe a hurricane has washed the submarine up onto the beach. It’s hard to say.

Next week’s episode looks like it will focus on Strand and Alycia, who are apparently indentured at Lawton, the home base of the Pioneers (who are big on law in that town I guess).

This whole season is apparently going to be structured quite differently from any that came before it, with each group of characters getting their own stories told in separate episodes. We’ve seen that before to some degree in The Walking Dead. Season 5 had a lot of episodes that dealt with just one or two characters. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Whether it will work here remains to be seen.

I can see myself enjoying Morgan episodes or Strand/Alicia episodes, or John Dorie episodes, but I’m having a harder time imagining an entire episode devoted to the truckers.

This was a good season premiere for the most part. I really enjoyed the bounty hunter and I think Lennie James did a terrific job as Morgan. I’m really hoping he’ll finally just become an awesome character that’s tough and strong and good but not constantly obsessing over “making up for his past” or seeing dead people or going on crazy killing sprees. It’s time for him to evolve, much like it’s time for this show to evolve.

I will hold out hope, however fragile, that Season 6 will continue to be as good as the season premiere. I worry that I’m judging it too much as a comparison to the last two seasons which set such absurdly low bars for quality. But I did enjoy it, even if it still feels like a very, very different show than it originally was.

What did you think of the episode? Let me know your thoughts on Twitter or Facebook.

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