The Walking Dead (TWD) has been a ratings juggernaut for the last eight seasons. While it has declined some over time, it still finishes near the top every year. And with this success, AMC network continues to add to the franchise. First, it was an after show called The Talking Dead where host Chris Hardwick discusses with various cast members and fans about the episode that just premiered. Then, there was Fear The Walking Dead (FTWD), which is a show set in the same universe that follows another group of survivors. Along with these variations on a theme, the premieres and season finales have gotten bigger as well.
So for TWD’s Season 8 finale, the network decided to air it right before the premier of FTWD’s Season 4 premiere. Not only did it air on television, but they decided to combine with Fathom Events to show the two new episodes on the big screen across the country.
I’ve been to several Fathom events, and this presentation not only had the largest crowd assembled but the earliest arriving crowd as everyone was there a half hour ahead of time with only a few people coming in at the last minute. From the moment I walked in, they were already playing a video with the cast talking about how much they enjoyed the show and how much they appreciated the fans. After that, it was a mixture of videos of the fans talking about their favorite scenes, a trailer for FTWD, commercials for upcoming AMC shows, and ads for Walking Dead Merchandise. It was a little disappointing that there wasn’t much behind-the-scenes footage or more discussion with the cast. In fact, after the first half hour and the show being advertised at starting at 5:30, when it became obvious that the TWD wasn’t going to start for another half hour at 6:00, the crowd began to get restless after watching some of the same commercials multiple times. You could audibly hear people grown each time something came on that wasn’t one of the shows. A large number of people left to get food or use the bathroom while some started to complain. It didn’t help that the video stopped playing a couple different times and during one such glitch there was nothing but audio for five minutes.
Once the show started, everyone quieted down immediately and sat intensely watching the screen. It was nice finally seeing a television show I’ve been watching for eight years on a giant screen. Although I was slightly irritated that the quality was worse than my TV at home. It was a grainy picture with white lines that would appear randomly throughout. On one hand, it gave the appearance of watching an older film on celluloid but knowing that it wasn’t actual film, it ended up being more of a distraction.
The first episode started with an old flashback of Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) walking along with his son when he was just a small boy. That image would permeate throughout the episode and appear at various times. The overall effect was to show that Rick was thinking about the fond memory before the apocalypse that his son had written to him about in his final letter. It was also used to solidify his final decision in regards to Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). The majority of the episode was Rick leading his people into a trap, culminating with a final battle with the Saviors, and the final confrontation with their outspoken leader mano-a-mano.
Without commercials, which was a nice change, the battle was over in what felt like minutes but at the same time because everything resolved so quickly it kind of felt like a letdown. I actually was looking for a prolonged battle sequence. There were a few issues with the storyline, mostly Rick, as he charges blindly once again into a fight. At the start of the episode, it’s brought up that it could be a trap, but he doesn’t bother to scout anything out.
As soon as TWD was over the season premiere of FTWD began. There wasn’t any commentary or indication that it had started. If not for the credits that showed up later, you may not have even realized the shows had changed. One of the reasons for the big event was also because Morgan (Lennie James) was moving from the main show to the secondary one. He had been in the big fight with the Saviors and was slowly losing his mind and beginning to hallucinate. In order to try and pull himself together, he had chosen to isolate himself at the garbage dump. But after visits by Jesus (Tom Payne), Carol (Melissa McBride), and Rick trying to convince him to return, he decides to head out West to truly be by himself.
But Morgan is not truly meant to be left alone as along the way he runs into a lonely cowboy, John (Garret Dillahunt), who has a fast draw but a slow wit. Before he can get back out on the trail by himself, the two are set upon by a group of scavengers and are rescued by a kind journalist, Althea (Maggie Grace), in a heavily armored S.W.A.T. vehicle. The rest of the episode is spent with the three bonding while trying to avoid the scavengers and a trailer park where for some strange reason every trailer is packed full of walkers.
John is probably the most interesting and likeable of the three and will be a nice addition to the show with his "aw shucks" kind of personality. Morgan has just become too broody and solemn to like, and Althea’s character is not believable. Not only does she get jumped twice and lose her vehicle, but when she finally gets Morgan to talk so she can video record his story, she shoots directly into the sun. The average person knows better than to film into the sun, let alone a supposedly skilled journalist.
Overall, this was not one of the best Fathom events I have attended. I expected some cast interviews or some good behind-the-scenes information that you cannot get anywhere else. For the last two events I attended, I went to the same movie theatre and both times there were quality issues and film problems. Next time, I will try a different theatre to see if they have the same issues. I did enjoy being in a theatre to watch these television episodes even though they weren’t quite what I was expecting. Even when things are not perfect, the overall communal connection with like-minded fans is what makes these Fathom events special. You could sit at home on the couch and watch these episodes, but the crowd experience is something that you cannot replicate and makes it worth the effort to get up and go to the theatre.