The series that launched on often uninteresting or annoying notes has recently turned into a worthy companion series to The Walking Dead. After the horrifying events of the season 6 finale ("The Beginning"), the fate of the heroes is more uncertain than ever before... Fear the Walking Dead Season 7 Premiere / Episode 1 - "The Beacon" In the aftermath of Teddy's nuclear missile strikes, most of the region surrounding the sub has been turned into a barren wasteland of charred trees, thick, orange dust, ravaged buildings...and of course, more walkers. A young man named Will is dressed for the occasion, with his entire body using makeshift protection, while he uses a Geiger counter to scan the food he finds, which is is not much, and most of it is irradiated--including the recently chewed up carcass of an opossum. Will lives in a van with the windows and shell covered in aluminum foil as a poor radiation shield, where he is forced to nibble on what edible food he has, and mark off the days. On another trip out for food, he discovers a damaged lighthouse (hence, this episode's title), housing one walker, and a few empty food cans, suggesting the man used up his resources, starved and turned into a walker. Thoroughly depressed, Will returns to his area, passing the opossum for a second time... That evening, Will cooks the carcass, and cries out of pure hopelessness, to the point he sees a walker shambling toward him, but he's now willing to let it devour him. Just as the walker is an inch away from biting Will, it is shot down by a group of armed men. Will tries to run, but trips,and knocks himself out. He's taken to a familiar high rise, just outside of the blast area, where hes scrubbed down (radiation exposure). Given fresh clothes, Will still sees this as a trap, and fights his way to the floor where Howard stored his artifacts. Speaking of Howard... Strand: Strand and Howard still occupy the building Howard called home--only now, they are running a mini-community of other survivors, including a number of armed guards. Will arms himself with a sword, but is disarmed and held at gunpoint by Strand, who now prances around as if he's a military dictator. Strand informs Will that the effects of the nuclear explosions were carried elsewhere, allowing the tower to become the only habitable place in the area. He learns Will was once an assistant to a Senator Vasquez, but that information is of no use to Strand, who orders Will out of the building..until Will tosses him a St. Christopher medallion, which Strand instantly assumes belonged to Alicia. Promising to allow Will to stay if he helps him locate Alicia, Will escorts Strand and a few of his guards to the location of his van/home, but are ambushed by armed men Will calls "Stalkers." Strand's men are either shot or attacked by walkers, leaving Strand to hide with Will in the van/home, until Strand goes into cutthroat mode and bails, leaving Will to fend for himself... Strand makes his way to the lighthouse and up to the beacon level. He is quite satisfied upon discovering a map marking off the lighthouse, and the Franklin Hotel / bunker, where Alicia was imprisoned by Teddy. Night has fallen, but Strand has no choice but to try to return home, only he's now facing dense fog (SEE NOTES). Out of the fog comes Will, armed and forcing Strand back into the lighthouse. Will analyzes the overconfident Strand, telling him he is no leader, the residents of the "tower" are not truly loyal to him, and above all else...that yes, he knows Alicia, and was testing Strand to see if he was worth saving. Obviously up to speed with Alicia's experiences, Will mentions her being locked up as Teddy's missiles destroyed the region, but it appears she escaped the bunker, formed another group--one which banished Will, and he's been trying to get back into Alicia's good graces ever since...by bringing Strand to her. Will has second thoughts about that, as he assumes Strand--based on his coldblooded behavior--is not a man Alicia would recognize. Strand agrees. As Will hands Alicia's medallion back to Strand, Strand attacks, but fails to subdue Will, who now feels neither he or Strand is worth reuniting with Alicia. Acting on that belief, he opens the lighthouse doors and stares in disbelief for a moment, then prepares to let a group of walkers in for the inevitable, but Strand pulls Will inside (SEE NOTES), closing the doors. Demanding to know what Will was trying to do, the man regretfully mentions that he knew the walkers...they were once survivors at the bunker which held Alicia.... Strand assumes Alicia must have died too; Will notes no one should have died because they were underground with enough food and water to last a decade. Strand is determined to find out Alicia's fate, and readies his suicidal trip into walker-filled fog. Will did not intend to leave, but helps Strand by powering the lighthouse beacon, so Strand can follow the rotating beams and avoid walkers. Typical of ZA lock, the beacon fails, leading Will to go into the fog after Strand, who returns to save the surrounded Will. Will states he helped Strand because he now knows Strand is not looking for Alicia to make a point, but due to his care for her (IOW, who would run out into fog populated by walkers if they didn't?). On horseback, Strand and Will find the ruins of the Franklin hotel; the bunker is still sound, but has been abandoned by its former 128 residents for some time, with no sign of Alicia. Originally, Will, Senator Vasquez and their companions occupied the bunker, until Teddy and his scouts arrived, killed the staff and took the location for themselves. Will survived by hiding, and just happened to be locked into the bunker when the missiles detonated. . The duo find what was once an emergency broadcast room for the President, now a makeshift "church" with another version of Teddy's tree sculpture centered in the room; and an odd painting of a woman with a familiar ponytail seeking a shadowy male figure on the wall. Strand wonders if Alicia painted it, which Will confirms, along with finding a note addressed to him, with one word: Padre. Padre was a code for some imagined better place to live, which Will was trying to locate so she would not need to. Strand correctly assumes Will loved her (SEE NOTES) Using a walker-drawn trailer, the men transport an intact beacon back to Strand's tower, and activate it. Howard believes it can be seen for 15 miles in any direction, and with hope, Alicia might see it. Strand finally reveals he considers Alicia the closest thing he has to family (SEE NOTES), and wants her to know. Will believes that Strand--with help and being a better man through Alicia--can turn the tower into something better; Strand counters, saying others tried building based on love and it failed, and with that, Strand grabs Will and tosses him from of the rooftop. Will's crushed, but reanimating body acts as walker food, while the beacon's true purpose was to draw armies of walkers around the property to prevent anyone from attempting to visit. Howard--completely unfeeling about Will's murder--warns Strand that others might come, including Morgan and the rest of that group. Strand is not worried. NOTES: Good fake-out when Strand pulled Will back int the lighthouse, as i'm sure viewers were expecting Strand to shove Will into the crowd of walkers. Strand with a vintage sword...leaving a lighthouse into the nighttime fog...shades of John Carpenter! Will loved Alicia, which should lead to a love triangle, as Wes and Alicia seemed sweet on each other. Strand seeing Alicia as family is no surprise, as she's been the only other survivor he's cared about post-Madison. That said, one must wonder how frosty their reunion will be if she first runs into Morgan, who will undoubtedly fill her ear with the account of Strand's constant treachery.. ...about that fake out...well, it really worked, right until the final, and now, after the previous 6 seasons, Strand has become the Big Bad of the series, who sees proving he was "right" is the best revenge against his old companions. Fascinating. A bit of a Saviors retread in the sense that Strand's group takes photos of the dead and uses the pictures to cover a wall, and almost act as if they knew the creatures when the were alive. Bold start to the season. I see Strand having no redemption arc, and if that's the case, I feel he will go out in a blaze of glory---but take someone with him. GRADE: A.