If you gave up on Fear the Walking Dead, Season 4 is when you should get back into it. Through at least the first two episodes, it's a clever and entertaining reboot that doesn't require having seen the previous seasons.
The Walking Dead spin-off is embarking on a massive creative overhaul in Season 4, which starts April 15 at 10/9c, immediately after the Season 8 finale of The Walking Dead. The splashiest change that new showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg are making is bringing over beloved Walking Dead sticksman Morgan (Lennie James), but the changes are even more structural than just one crossover. There's a new location deep in the heart of Texas, new characters like Garret Dillahunt's cowboy John and Jenna Elfman's mysterious Naomi, a new visual identity that makes the show into a classic western (with zombies) as well as a more hopeful tone.
These are big changes, to be sure, but Chambliss and Goldberg say they're not out-of-character for the Walking Dead universe. After all, franchise chief content officer Scott Gimple has said The Walking Dead reinvents itself every eight episodes.
"I think one of the things that excites us so much about the world that The Walking Dead takes place in is that it really lends itself to reinvention," Andrew Chambliss tells TV Guide. "Fear the Walking Dead has seen itself change quite a bit from the pilot to where Season 3 ended." As the story has moved from Los Angeles to a boat to Mexico to a ranch on the US-Mexico border, almost everyone except the core characters has died. "So when we came into the show, we were excited to take the next step in the evolution of where these characters were gonna go."
Before we get to where they're going, let's recap where they've been for viewers who haven't watched or gave up on the show. The main characters are steely Rick Grimes-esque leader Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) and her children Nick (Frank Dillane) and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), the former of whom has struggled with drug addiction throughout the show; Victor Strand (Colman Domingo), an entrepreneur with slippery morals; and Luciana (Danay Garcia), Nick's girlfriend.
At the end of Season 3, all the characters were separated after Nick blew up a Mexican dam to keep control of the water supply from falling into the hands of gangsters with whom Strand had made a deal that went bad. Luciana wasn't with them at this point, having left Nick at the ranch.
Season 4 will find them reunited and living a relatively peaceful and happy life at a community Madison leads, and the story of how they got from the dam to the community (and then from the community to where they meet up with Morgan) will unfold over the course of the season. There's another wild card main character, ice-veined former Honduran death squad leader Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades), who also survived the dam explosion and is out there somewhere, because he's better at surviving than anyone. The Hollywood Reporter says he'll appear at some point in Season 4.
And that's pretty much all you need to know. The backstory is doled out judiciously, only as much as newcomers need for context. Knowing more will obviously deepen the relationship fans have with the characters, but prior knowledge is not necessary to understand what's happening in Season 4.
The peaceful, hopeful community at which Madison's crew finds themselves brings changes in how the characters talk to each other and interact with the world. The Walking Dead and previous seasons of Fear are bleak and dour and never let any light in. But Season 4 is fun in a way that neither show has ever been, a change that Chambliss and Goldberg made intentionally.
"We talked about how we wanted to explore what it was like to search for hope in a bleak world with danger around every corner," says Ian Goldberg. "In a world where so much is about survival from one moment to the next, what happens if it becomes more than just survival? What happens if you can actually live a life, and that life can include moments of levity, love, humor, just all different emotions on the spectrum that speak to what it means to be human in this world?" We actually see that this season. Characters smile and crack jokes and occasionally talk about things other than what they have to do to survive in this world. It's refreshing.
The new characters have their own conceptions of hope as well, and seeing how they interact with the returning characters will be fascinating. Viewers will experience the old characters through the point of view of the new characters, which then kind of makes the Clarks and co. into new characters, too.
This is all basically a long-winded way of saying that Fear the Walking Dead has a lot to offer fans who have been with it from the beginning as well as people who are just leaving their TV on after The Walking Dead ends.
"We love the first three seasons, we love the journey that these characters have been on, and we're absolutely honoring that journey going forward, but we're telling the story in such a way that people who have not seen the show before can jump into it," says Goldberg. "They can still appreciate that journey while also experiencing those characters colliding with our new characters."
Even disgruntled Season 3 fans should give the new season a chance.
Fear the Walking Dead Season 4 premieres Sunday, April 15 at 10/9c, and will air Sundays at 9/8c after that.