Picking up in the aftermath of the devastating nuclear detonation that ended the showdown of season six in such a shocking style, The Beacon doubles down on the bleakness that has come to define the world of Fear the Walking Dead. With Teddy Maddox’s doomsday cult overlaying one apocalypse on top of another there’s barely a glimpse of light amongst the encroaching darkness and dust (in both a literal and a figurative sense).
This opening episode of the new season is an extraordinarily powerful fifty minutes of drama. It’s all the more unusual in that its focus is on the desperate struggle for survival by solitary refugee Will (Gus Halper), a new character who’s wandering lost and alone in this most desolate of environments in search of refuge and supplies. It’s a lengthy but superbly shot sequence, which prioritises imagery and impact over dialogue or exposition. And it sets out the different tone and mood of this new season to impressive effect. Before more of his backstory is revealed, Will is shown to be broken by the horrors of his predicament, sobbing by the fireside as irradiated walkers close in.
It’s Will’s rescue that brings into focus the transformation of Victor Strand (Colman Domingo) into a demagogue of the post-nuclear era. Strand’s motives have always been opaque, but the revelations of The Bunker establish him as a machiavellian operator driven by an ice-cold ruthlessness. Despite lording over the seemingly thriving community at The Tower, Strand is unable to rid himself of his obsession with Alicia (an unseen Alycia Debnam-Carey) even as the new bizarre spectre of the zombie-stripping Stalkers looms into view. Excellent visual and sound design add to the relentless and forbidding atmosphere that permeates this piece. With few accommodations to the casual viewer, this is a confident opening instalment that confirms that the showrunners are not in the least interested in the idea of compromise.
Season Seven of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD is screening in the UK on the AMC channel and is available to rent on Amazon.