In most towns and cities, you’ll know of at least a few. A place where someone was tragically killed and their loved ones have set up a small roadside memorial. As the years pass, some will fade away while others will have fresh flowers on them every few weeks. Why? Because everyone deals with death in different ways: some people need to reach a point of distance and moving on while others need to keep the memory fresh. In a zombie outbreak, death becomes a bigger part of life than breakfast so it’s only natural that people will deal start dealing with it in different ways but on this week’s Fear the Walking Dead, we meet someone with very alternative and potentially dangerous views on the subject.
Sicut Cervus – After some unexpected coastal resistance, the group finally makes it to Mexico and the vast home of Strand’s lover, Thomas Abigail. Their new home seems like a paradise but is everyone within those walls what they really seem?
Now when the second act begins with the group pulling inside the walled perimeter of Abigail’s expansive (possibly a plantation or vineyard) estat,e there are some unsettling feelings of familiarity. The show feels like it’s trading its interesting and unique aquatic setting for a mirror image of the main show, especially in moments like the group surrendering their weapons or discovering home comforts, it feels very reminiscent of Alexandria (Abigaldria?) but thankfully as things develop, that quickly passes. In fact, as the episode progresses the closest comparison becomes Season 2’s barn collection but approached in a highly different fashion. Just as with Hershel, we meet someone that doesn’t view the walking dead as....well dead, merely a different state of living. This works very well when tied into existing Mexican culture, i.e. The Day of the Dead celebrations. The local matriarch Celia even nicely spells out their alternative beliefs in a tender moment to Nick, “Our dead, they have always walked among us.... only now we can see them”. In a society that does not fear the idea of death pre-zombie apocalypse, it feels a logical and fascinating approach to see them taking a less fearful approach to The Walking Dead.
The opening act utilizes the new locations very well. The opening church scene sets the running theme of spirituality as it soon becomes clear that the congregation is being held as a form of moral rally against the zombie outbreak. Then of course, having the main characters show up there barely 10 minutes later after the worst has happened turns what could have been a regular zombie encounter into an utterly gripping affair. The fresh corpse nature of the attackers makes them among the most human-looking the group has faced since the outbreak began. Then from an audience perspective, there’s so much visually to enjoy as everywhere we look, you see a walker. Not to mention some really creepy imagery like a line of zombie choir boys. The way, we see the group genuinely reeling from the ordeal as the aftermath represents a good knock back in their journey. Over the last few episode,s we’ve seen them growing more proficient in zombie-killing but just when their starting to gain survivors, confidence in being able to handle whatever their environment can throw at them; they get a harsh reminder of just how real and visceral it can be.
Not all of the supporting character arcs work out this week. The biggest problem is Chris, whose actions feel rather haphazard. We can understand if he’s still a bit shaken up after having to shoot last week’s captive but it doesn’t feel right at all. Chris’s new aggressively emo phase feels very out of character. However, seeing the results of his actions become a divisive point among Travis and Madison is far more interesting as the threat of conflict sees both falling back upon base instincts of protecting “their” kid rather than maintaining a united family front. Despite becoming a lesser feature of the episode, the Strand/Abigail reunion is very effective in the tragic love story it presents. The moments of the typically hard and uncaring Strand breaking down in emotion are highly effective in their contrast and director Kate Dennis manages not to overdo the sappiness. Instead we have two men in full acceptance of their fate finding whatever enjoyment they can in their last day together.
With the ocean left behind, this episode marks the beginning of a new chapter in the season that still continues to deliver. Not all of its characters are developing like the show runners would want them to but this is The Walking Dead: if you don’t like a character, you just kill them off. With these new foundations built, what the show really needs is a new longer term objective or impending threat, and let’s hope that next week’s Shiva will deliver it.