“The Beacon” embraces change once again, repositioning a long-time character as a new villain.
This recap of the Fear the Walking Dead Season 7 premiere, “The Beacon”, contains spoilers.
You have to admire Fear the Walking Dead. Don’t get me wrong, when it was bad it was abominably bad, but it recovered from that miserable period by completely reinventing itself. As a Western, of all things! And sure, it was still Fear the Walking Dead at heart, but the tone and aesthetic and style were all different. The writing was better for the change, as were the characters, who had languished for too long in a zombie drama that was following too closely in the footsteps of the zombie drama to make a name for itself. Now, it has reinvented itself again, this time as a post-apocalyptic drama. And yes, I know it was always one of those on some level, but a viral zombie outbreak apocalypse is different from a radioactive nuclear wasteland apocalypse.
Fear the Walking Dead Season 7 premiere recap
Just like that, all the imagery and color grading and stuff are different again. There are new threats and interesting new set-pieces. Exploring outside requires makeshift radiation suits and gas masks. Rain might kill you. And amongst all this carnage and devastation, Victor Strand, of all people, has risen to a position of power. He commands his own kingdom in the high-rise he and his new buddy Howard watched the nukes detonate from. Thanks to some throwaway dialogue, we know that the weather carried the fallout away. Strand’s tower, which is stocked full of people of value and artworks and trinkets foraged from all around, is the only haven for miles. But how safe is it, really? Well, since Strand has finally decided to follow his instincts and his instincts alone, probably not very safe at all, as “The Beacon” will show.
This is all taking place some unspecified amount of time after the sixth season’s finale. We don’t see any of the other familiar characters, and we’re reintroduced to Strand from the perspective of Will, a scrappy new survivor who has previous with Alicia but takes a while to admit it. He presents to Stand as some guy simply impressed with his self-sustainable community, its electricity, shelter, and group yoga sessions. But once he lures Strand outside using Alicia’s necklace, he begins to reveal more about himself, her, and the leftovers of the world that Strand has refused to venture out into since the explosion of the nukes.
Strand’s personality and motivations are what keep “The Beacon” ticking on a dramatic level. He has never been particularly altruistic, but it seemed as if his newfound power had softened him. He seemed to be risking himself just to save Alicia; he admits outright, eventually, that he loves her, in his way, but that love and attachments don’t make people strong. This is the closest Fear the Walking Dead has come to The 100, the show which made Alycia Debnam-Carey’s reputation among her sizeable, vocal fanbase, and that doesn’t feel like an accident. Even though Alicia isn’t in the episode, the way she’s spoken about paints her as almost a mythic figure. When Strand and Will eventually make it back to the bunker, she’s gone but has left behind a note addressed to Will, reading simply “Padre”, and a mural on the wall that depicts her the way a cave painting might represent a minor deity. Alicia isn’t here, but you can feel her presence everywhere.
Will and Strand’s little excursion gives us a sense of this new world. The wasteland of gnarled, dead trees has a sepia tinge. It’s populated with warped animals and violent scavengers in homemade radiation suits. The highlight is a fight with limited visibility in thick smog that Will tries to guide Strand through using a spotlight. On the way back, that very spotlight is taken to Strand’s tower, to function as the titular beacon, a way for Alicia and others to find the place. Or so Strand says, anyway.
The “twist” of the Fear the Walking Dead season 7 premiere is that Strand really wants to use the beacon for the opposite purpose. He wants to keep Alicia and everyone else away. The power he has over his new community has gone to his head a little, and he has become a slightly crazed dictator, believing his self-preservation instincts to be the only thing worth listening to. Of course, we’ve heard all this before from Victor, and the show anticipates we’ll be thinking, “Okay, if you say so.” So, to prove his point he throws Will from the roof of the tower to his death. This, I must admit, shocked me. It’s a big moment, promoting Strand from a morally ambiguous survivor to an outright villain. It’ll split opinion, for sure. But it’s certainly an interesting direction for this new season to be going in. Judging by the promotional posters, Strand versus Morgan is the conflict we’re anticipating. I’ve heard worse ideas.