Welcome to the first episode of ‘Walking Morgan’, a new spinoff from ‘The Walking Dead’ that has virtually no association with the existing spinoff ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ despite misladingly putting that show’s title in its opening credits.
I exaggerate, of course, but only a little. The premiere episode of the much-hyped crossover between ‘Walking Dead’ prime and ‘Fear’ prioritizes and focuses almost exclusively on the original show, with only a brief appearance at the very end for any of the ‘Fear’ characters. On the one hand, the ‘Fear’ characters are typically an annoying and useless bunch. On the other hand, the show made genuine improvements last year, and the idea that the premise is being soft-rebooted to make room for a castaway from the other show seems kind of insulting to fans of this one.
When it was originally launched, ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ was positioned as a prequel set in the early days of the zombie apocalypse that would show how civilization crumbled. Over the course of its first three seasons, it largely abandoned that conceit and became ‘The Walking Dead 2.0’ with a different group of characters in a different location doing the same type of things and facing the same type of challenges as those on the main show. With the fourth season premiere, the series officially makes a big time-jump to catch up with ‘The Walking Dead’. It’s no longer a prequel in any sense.
In fact, the premiere picks up immediately after the events of the ‘Walking Dead’ Season 8 finale which immediately preceded it on the same night. In that episode, the mentally-scarred Morgan (Lennie James) left all his friends to go live in solitude in a trash dump. The ‘Fear’ premiere takes place after that and sticks with Morgan for the entire hour.
Before we get to that, we start with a brief flash-forward teaser in which a lonely man in a cowboy hat (Garret Dillahunt) hears a noise in the forest and breaks over a year of silence to call out to whoever might be listening, asking for friendship. The sound turns out to be a zombie roaming the woods. The man proves to be a quick-draw with his classic six-shooter and nails it clean in the head from a considerable distance. Behind the zombie is Morgan, who was about to stab it in the head with his staff before the bullet got to it first.
Now we flash back to the dump. Morgan has been living there alone for an indeterminate amount of time. He’s periodically visited by his old friends Jesus (Tom Payne), Carol (Melissa McBride) and Rick (Andrew Lincoln), all begging him to come back to join their community again. He eventually gets tired of the pestering, so he packs up and leaves, taking a long trek westward, by car when he can find one with gas but mostly by foot. Morgan generally avoids other people during the weeks or months that follow, but when he gets to Texas and hears the cowboy’s plaintive calls, he feels compelled to help and tries to kill the zombie for him. As it turns out, he needn’t have bothered.
The cowboy introduces himself as John Dorie (“Like the fish,” he adorably explains) and tells a story about trying to find a woman (presumably his wife) he’s been separated from. He’s eager to strike up a friendship, but Morgan slips away in the night. He still wants to be alone.
The next day, Morgan is accosted by a pair of highwaymen who sneak up on him and knock him out. As they root through his stuff and make plans to kill him, a shot rings out and blows the gun out of the lead guy’s hand. It’s John, who followed Morgan and wants to help. Unfortunately, a third bad guy reveals himself and forces John to surrender. As this situation looks pretty bad, an armored S.W.A.T. truck pulls up, driven by a woman the men call “Al” (Maggie Grace from ‘Lost’). She barters for the “karate man and gunslinger” and buys their freedom for some noodles and cigarettes.
As they drive away, Al introduces herself as Althea and claims that Morgan and John owe her. That sounds ominous, but she claims to be a journalist and simply wants to interview them and get their stories – for what purpose is not clear. John is up for this, and talks about the woman he’s searching for, named Laura. Morgan isn’t particularly talkative, however. Nevertheless, John continues trying to strike up a friendship with him.
Later, this new trio are ambushed by the bandits from earlier, who want Althea’s truck. They fight back, in the process letting a large group of zombies out of a trailer. The scene quickly turns chaotic. Morgan gets shot in the leg. Althea clears most of the zombies with a handy remote-operated machine gun contraption in her truck that is remarkably precise at nailing head-shots. The bandits are all killed in the skirmish as well.
Morgan agrees to tell his story (a condensed version of it, anyway) on camera, but then walks away yet again.
After his latest car runs out of gas, Morgan limps down the highway on his injured leg. He gets chased by zombies and drops his staff. Just as he’s about to get eaten, John miraculously shows up and saves him again. They reunite with Althea, whose terribly gas-inefficient truck somehow never runs out of fuel.
While driving, they spot what appears to be an injured woman in the middle of the road. They stop the truck and cautiously approach… but not cautiously enough to see the obvious trap. The woman is Alicia, and she has a gun. Suddenly, other familiar faces (including Nick and Strand) pop out of hiding and take Morgan, John and Althea captive. Then, just as some of the characters who are allegedly the stars of the show we’ve been watching finally appear, the episode ends and cuts to credits.
Even though I don’t have a particularly huge amount of love for or investment in ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ or its characters, I’m not sure how I feel about the show being taken over by Morgan and a couple of brand new characters. The previews for upcoming episodes suggest that the old ‘Fear’ crew will get plenty of screen time as well, but for the season premiere to almost entirely ignore them seems kind of wrong.
On the other hand, even for as inconsistently as Morgan has been written on the last couple seasons of ‘The Walking Dead’, he’s still one of the best characters from that show. If anyone can anchor a crossover, he’s a good choice. I also really like Garret Dillahunt and his character. Maggie Grace is fine, though her Althea seems kind of useless so far.
Honestly, once you accept it as The Morgan Show, the premiere is a pretty good episode for the most part. It has about two too many deus-ex-machina rescues (seriously, where did John come from in the last scene that Morgan wouldn’t have noticed he was being followed?), but it’s interesting and suspenseful and has a lot of good character work. It seems to be a promising start for the season. We’ll have to see where the show takes it from here.