Blu-ray Review: Fear the Walking Dead: The Complete Third Season

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Forget AMC's The Walking Dead, whose title has become uncomfortably apt as the show has drifted into self-parody over the last few seasons. The real deal these days is AMC's spin-off Fear the Walking Dead. While its maiden season was admittedly a shaking affair as it sought to establish new characters and a sense of purpose, Fear hit its stride in season two. The Complete Third Season, newly available on Blu-ray and DVD via Lionsgate, continues with the same level of excellence.

Anyone who has become frustrated with the "main" Walking Dead's overall sameness, predictable twists, and general lack of inspiration—get caught up with Fear in time for season four's premiere on April 15. By now, if you're unfamiliar with Madison (Kim Dickens), the fiercely intelligent mother of teen Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and young adult Nick (Frank Dillane), proceed directly to the beginning of season one. But those who've been along for Fear's ride will find plenty of shocks and thrills in an evolving plot too complex for simple recap.

That's what Fear has that the main Walking Dead lost years ago: an honest-to-God story. Rather than just the endless roaming of a pack of "heroes" who must face a increasingly nutso villain, Fear the Walking Dead takes us (in season one) back to the beginning of the zombie apocalypse. In Fear the walkers are peripheral for the most part. The healthy survivors have not yet completely thrown in the towel on civil behavior. But as primal instincts begin to re-emerge and take hold, Fear's writers explore socio-economic issues in often startling ways.

The Caucasian and Native American conflict that adds incredible drama to Fear is embodied by one of the show's most valuable supporting character, Qaletaqa Walker (Michael Greyeyes, on the ensemble's standout performers), the uncompromising but principled Native leader. His battle with ranch patriarch Jeremiah Otto (Dayton Callie) plays out in believably measured way, never overreaching. The human drama run thicker, deeper, messier, and often more deeply emotional than anything The Walking Dead mustered even during its prime early years.

Special note must be made of Colman Domingo as Victor Strand, arguably the most complex of Fear's many complex characters. As a reformed conman who has become bone-deep friends with Madison, Domingo travels the greatest emotional and intellectual distance of any actor on the series. Add to that the fact that he possesses one of the most expressive, seductive, gravitas-drenched voices in all of Hollywood (just listening to him deliver lines is one of Fear's unbridled pleasures), and Victor Strand becomes of the most vital characters on TV today.

But as soon as that's been said, let's not forget the excellence of RubĂ©n Blades as former gang member Daniel Salazar, willing to stop at nothing to protect his daughter Ofeilia (Mercedes Mason). And Daniel Sharman as as Jeremiah's wildcard son Troy. Sharman is also flat-out amazing in the way he plays with Troy's shades of gray, never allowing him to be characterized as a totally "good" or "bad" guy. None of this is to take away from powerhouse work by the aforementioned Kim Dickens, Frank Dillane, and Alycia Debnam-Carey—a dysfunctional family who must constantly strike compromises with the like of those often morally ambiguous supporting characters in order to figure out a new social structure.

I'd shout it from the hilltops if I could: Fear the Walking Dead is not some mere offshoot of the franchise-establishing original show. It's better in every single conceivable way. You have to get through a sometimes ho-hum first season to appreciate the brilliant ways in which Fear reinvents its characters and forces them to reconsider traditional notions of right and wrong. Beginning with season two and carrying on throughout all 16 episodes of The Complete Third Season, it's first rate. Bring on season four.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray edition of Fear the Walking Dead: The Complete Third Season contains audio commentary for two episodes and a variety of deleted and extended scenes.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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