‘Fear the Walking Dead’ moves and compels, finally

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Daniel Sharman (left) as Troy and Kim Dickens as Madison

As the spinoff series of the “The Walking Dead,” “Fear the Walking Dead” has to deal with comparisons with the parent show, even if it does its best to deviate from it. But Season Three has arrived and, finally, the oft-languidly paced series has become its own saga, replete with complex character dynamics. Fair warning—spoilers are forthcoming.

“Fear the Walking Dead” (AMC, Mondays, 9 a.m.) starts with a bittersweet reunion: After much drama and dueling between them, zombie apocalypse survivors Madison (Kim Dickens) and her son, Nick (Frank Dillane), are together again.

Not even a well-armed group of paramilitary psychos can keep them apart. But their happiness is short-lived, as Travis (Cliff Curtis), Madison’s longtime lover, soon perishes in a sniper attack at the start of the second episode.

Madison, who has adapted to the radically changing world, sees no other option but to ally herself with an elderly survivalist, Jeremiah (Dayton Callie), even after all the trouble stirred up by his sadistic son, Troy (Daniel Sharman).

While Nick and his wounded girlfriend Luciana (Danay Garcia) protest this new alliance, Madison’s daughter, Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), soon becomes friends with, and finds herself attracted to Jeremiah’s other son, Jake (Sam Underwood).

Fans are speculating: Is Madison shaping up to be the villain from the comics, Alpha? The savage character will eventually show up in the seminal show in a few years. A crossover with “The Walking Dead” would inexorably make “Fear” an essential and tragic origin story. But showrunner Dave Erickson isn’t too keen on making that happen and said in a report that a crossover would be “too difficult to pull off.”

Rubén Blades as Daniel

Whether they’ll stick to that or not, viewers will know in due time. In any case, “Fear” is showing how violent Madison can be to protect her loved ones. If this is her transformation to the horrific Alpha, the leader of zombie-disguising, Darwinistic humans, it would make sense. She recently lost her partner, and may already be deteriorating in ways that can’t be seen through her steely façade just yet.

One of the surprises that’s also making the season compelling is the revelation that the killer-turned-barber from El Salvador, Daniel (Rubén Blades) survived the zombie swarm from last season. Long thought dead, he reappears at a crucial time, when an ally, charismatic conman Victor (Colman Domingo), is incarcerated by a vengeful acquaintance.

The episode revealing his whereabouts after his “death” is easily one of the show’s most moving. There aren’t many, to be clear—and the show could use more of these snappily paced stories.

“Fear the Walking Dead’s” past seasons made it difficult to root for its characters, especially since they often made monumentally dumb decisions. But, things are looking up. With its separate take on survival, the show has finally become what it’s supposed to be.

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