An unfailing lead and zombies of the western frontier
By Jonathan Pabico, Senior Columnist
The dry deserts and the growling zombies walking aimlessly blends with the old west’s genre tropes to study how devolved the undead world has become.
The newly aired season six premiere of spin-off series Fear the Walking Dead has a typical narrative structure but compensates this shortcoming with a compelling lead and story. We reunite with Morgan (Lennie James)—the mighty Zen warrior of the zombie apocalypse—after he’s betrayed and left for dead by new villain Virginia (Colby Minifie). He reluctantly decides to help new character Isaac, while being pursued by the cold-hearted bounty hunter Emile.
What makes Fear so unique from the other shows in the Walking Dead franchise is that it has the look and feel of a neo-western. The story presents a violent world of outlaws, drifters, and rogues that pays gleeful homage to Sergio Leone’s old spaghetti westerns. The dry deserts and the growling zombies walking aimlessly blends with the old west’s genre tropes to study how devolved the undead world has become.
Lead star Lennie James plays Morgan as a morose man in pain struggling to hold onto the remnants of his moral code. The use of harsh lighting, close-ups, and obstructed camera shots farther away from him convey his distraught state of mind as he drifts farther away from human connection. However, Morgan assisting Isaac evokes not only his good heart, but also stresses how important it is to be selfless by going the extra mile for those that need it most.
During the deadly encounters Morgan has—with Emile, or zombies during action scenes—his goodness is brutally tested. These moments represent what James’ character stands to lose and how much he’s changed that violently transforms his identity with unpredictable results for the rest of the series. Aside from this, the viewers will enjoy seeing Morgan take on every zombie with his Zen master skills.
As for flaws, the premiere doesn’t show what happened to Morgan immediately after the last episode and is explained only through his short expositional dialogue. This omitted time frame could have been shown to establish more tension for his lonesome journey.
The episode also has predictable narrative beats, despite tremendous cinematography, locations, and zombies. It’s a multi-faceted arc that hardcore fans have seen from the entry’s lead countless times before, so there won’t be that many surprises for them.
Still, Morgan nonetheless remains a fascinating character because his adventure in the premiere is really a story about restoring faith and trust in both yourself and others. His interactions with Isaac explore how it’s alright to be open with people, even though it can be hard. Morgan learning to trust Isaac and himself reflects the value of having faith as we struggle, stumble, and sometimes slip away through life. He is a complicated reminder of how there is always meaning in doing the right thing.