By Rich Cross
As Fear The Walking Dead returns for its eighth and final series, the opening episode breaks open the new fracture lines between the show’s antagonists and propel the narrative forward through a seven-year time leap. Remember What They Took From You sets in motion new character dynamics and threads those through some original – if not exactly nerve-shredding – action set pieces. It’s an effective enough reset, but there’s nothing here that would count as an arresting development.
The latter half of Season Seven focused on the battle between Alicia and Strand for control of The Tower. This settlement offered sanctuary but only at the price of total surrender to Strand’s despotism. Events wrapped up with the shocking reappearance of Madison, the matriarch of the series’ original family-in-peril (and Alicia’s mum) last seen making what appeared to be the ultimate sacrifice to save others back in Season Four.
Surviving that showdown, a lost and desperate Madison had been recruited as a kidnapper of children for the mysterious community known as PADRE. She had accepted the horrifying job of child catcher (a ‘Collector’) in the hope that PADRE would, in return, trade information about the whereabouts of Madison’s children. When she learnt from Morgan that her son, and most likely her daughter Alicia, were dead, she realised that PADRE no longer had a hold over her.
Eager for vengeance and desperate to make amends for her own crimes, Madison agreed to help Morgan liberate his own adopted daughter Mo: a young baby that she had snatched from his arms and handed over to PADRE’s tender mercies.
Remember What They Took From You begins seven years on from Madison’s and Morgan’s rescue mission. That night, Madison’s atoning act of surrender had made it possible for Morgan and Mo to escape. The cost to Madison was incarceration in solitary confinement in PADRE’s grim jail. Years later, an inquisitive young teenager named Wren, who’s struggling with the fundamentals of walker combat, finds Madison’s cell. But Wren’s hopes that the prisoner might know how to improve her confidence as a fighter are dashed when Madison realises Wren’s true identity and kidnaps her as the two of them flee. Reaching an area of swamp far beyond the PADRE perimeter, the pair are intercepted by Morgan – and the full tragedy of this father and daughter backstory is finally revealed.
The key reason for the producers of Fear the Walking Dead to begin the endgame season with a time jump seems to be to allow the character of Mo to become a new pre-teen protagonist. Her agency as a young adult empowers the scriptwriters to amplify the existing and already complex tensions between Madison and Morgan and to wring more drama out of these different characters’ perceptions of the morality of PADRE’s efforts at enforced social engineering.
Zoey Merchant is great as the wide-eyed and indignant Wren/Mo, and her introduction is one of the best handled aspects of this season’s debut script from Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg. As always, Lennie James is excellent as Morgan Jones, even as the showrunners perform the latest (and hopefully last) abrupt recalibration of his character. Kim Dickens captures Madison Clark’s steely determination very effectively throughout. Still, if the audience is to invest in her ultimate fate, the writers will need to allow her to reconnect with some of the emotional warmth and humanity that her experiences have ground out of her. Director Michael Satrazemis wrangles some unusual walker surges amidst the sucking mud and dense vegetation of the swamp. But there’s not much sense of genuine jeopardy, and the risk of a houseboat being overturned by the weight of walkers leaning on it is executed with little conviction.
The closing season of Fear the Walking Dead does not set out to win over any new adherents or draw in casual viewers. This is a finale aimed squarely at those who’ve stuck with the show and who are versed in its mythology. There’s still a lot of PADRE plot backfill to get through in this opening episode as the contours of the coming conflicts are established. It’s a serviceable beginning, but it’s not unreasonable to expect better rewards for loyalty in the weeks ahead.
New episodes of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD – SEASON 8 premiere on Mondays on AMC in the UK