How Morgan Jones Saved 'Fear the Walking Dead'

Lennie James as Morgan, and Maggie Grace as Althea, in 'Fear the Walking Dead', Season 4

The following contains spoilers for Fear the Walking Dead, Season 4. 

I am a Walking Dead nerd. My Sunday schedule and cable subscription revolve around the show, and have done for years. My friends have stopped inviting me to viewing parties because, if I'm there, no one is allowed to talk. When Michonne and Rick first hooked up, I made a noise so loud, my next door neighbor heard me (and laughed at me the next day). You get the idea.

Because of my level of investment in the show, its ill-conceived spin-off, Fear the Walking Dead, has been nothing but a burden to me since it started three years ago. I wanted so badly to love it that I tolerated the splintered story lines, aimless roaming, endless subtitles, and interminably dull characters, in the hope that it would, one day, go somewhere good. It was partway through Season 3 that I had to call it a day. "If I don't care about the fact that Travis just fell out of that helicopter," I concluded, "I am never going to care about any of this." Reluctantly, but resigned, I quit the show, despite my love and admiration for Frank Dillane as Nick, because one interesting, well-drawn character does not a great show make.

When I heard that Morgan from the original Walking Dead was crossing over into Fear, I was pleased. Not because I thought it would make the show better, but rather because Morgan has, to me, always been the most boring major character on Walking Dead. It seemed perfect! Send the boring guy who keeps making infuriating decisions (Wolf in the basement, anyone?) to the boring show where everyone makes infuriating decisions.

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Then curiosity got the better of me, as the showrunners undoubtedly knew it would. I had to watch the first episode of the fourth season of Fear -- all of us nerds did -- because it showed how Morgan ended up leaving his old crew. Other Walking Dead characters, including Rick, made appearances and so, not wishing to be left with any plot holes in my favorite show, I tuned in. It was a manipulative but savvy move by the Fear creators to get viewers like me to come back -- and it worked. Because, thanks to some kind of illogical magic, when it comes to Morgan and Fear in combination, two wrongs somehow make a right. Putting the two boring things together made them both more interesting. It makes almost entirely no sense, but it is true. Suddenly, I am a convert to both.

In The Walking Dead, Morgan -- even as a fan favorite -- always felt like a side-note. As a pacifist, his "All life is precious" refrain kept him somehow separate from everyone else; as a fighter, his mental health issues did the same. But in Fear, Morgan acts as a grounding and centering force. In this world, his pacifism isn't the cause of trouble (as it has been in The Walking Dead); it has been redeeming, and a unifier. In the mid-season 4 finale, his philosophy -- and fearlessness in exercising it -- manages to bring together two groups who were trying to murder each other literally five minutes before. The loss of Nick, immediately after he ignored Morgan's advice to turn the other cheek, made Morgan's presence suddenly weighty and essential. He was never a leader in The Walking Dead; in Fear, he is the guiding light.

Fear the Walking Dead has upped the ante on every level during Season 4. It's obvious that, behind the scenes, big moves were made to try and rescue a show that had been going nowhere for far too long. The dual timelines, bold aesthetic choices, and a batch of new and interesting characters (my attachment to John Dorie is already at Daryl Dixon levels) infused the show with the lifeblood it has so desperately needed this entire time. The presence of Morgan was the thing that, most unexpectedly, brought it all together.

If you quit Fear back when I did (or before), please rest assured that it's safe to come back. A year ago, I'd have told you Fear the Walking Dead should just be canceled and quickly forgotten as a failed experiment. Now I'll be marking its return date in my day planner, as I do with The Walking Dead -- and all because my least favorite character showed up.