Now, I must confess that when a show comes back from a break, I usually have a seat reserved on the hype train. I love getting caught up in the anticipation of an eagerly awaited comeback, whether its having a cliff-hanger being answered or merely seeing what some beloved characters have been up to for a while. Indeed if anyone’s ever read such an episode review on this site, this is normally the point where I’d be getting more excited than a six-year-old that’s just caught their first Pikachu (which I actually saw a few days ago... that was pure happiness), yet forgive me hype father for I have sinned... I really haven’t been feeling it over Fear the Walking Dead’s return. I even had to remind myself what happened on the mid-season break. The last episode wasn’t a bad one, quite good, in fact, but it left me with no sense of yearning for the next chapter, no urgent questions to be answered. There’s been criticism and backlash in the last year over big shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones going on break with huge teases/unanswered questions that leave audiences on the brink of frustration.... but this paler comparison leaves me wondering. Secretly, do we need the hype? Do we need the agony and the frustration? Do we need the bombshell plot twists that turn a show’s return into an event rather than just another episode? Well, maybe we do and maybe we don’t; because FtWDs is in every sense just another episode but it still delivers an entertaining and personal story.
Grotesque – After leaving the group behind, following the compound fire, Nick makes the long journey to Tijuana in the hope of finding somewhere else where the dead are not treated as monsters. His journey quickly turns into a much bigger ordeal than he expected.
A mildly spoilery warning to start: this is all-Nick episode. It introduces a few new faces but none of the other main cast feature so if the underachieving ex-addict normally annoys you this won’t be your favourite episode.... but still give it a watch because as well as bigger picture plot tease, Nick does deliver a good story as we follow his personal journey. Firstly, there are some interesting themes of learning the hard way that no man is an island. There’s a great feeling of increasing desperation as his situation gets ever more desperate with each encounter; living or dead, most of which could have be avoided by having someone to watch his back. Neither is his <Eugene voice> skill set as complete as he’d like to admit as he encounters problems he’s not capable of solving. Similarly, there is the way his journey boils down slow trudge until he literally can walk no further. It links in well to his rehab flashbacks as it allows the journey to become a representation of battle against drug addiction. That no matter no determined he is, he will eventually reach his breaking point without having someone there to help. It all cements the idea of Nick pulling a U-turn on his decision to abandon humanity in the prior episode which builds well towards the episode conclusion.
This is a dry episode though, and not because of the desert climate. There’s barely a laugh across the whole episode as it takes a more serious approach, which doesn’t entirely suit Nick’s character. We get a few sympathetic chuckles out of his extreme survival methods that would get the thumbs up from Bear Grylls but otherwise, it’s very sombre and sedate tone. That’s okay for overall effect but, especially with Nick as the focal character, the odd injection of humour here and there would have been very effective and certainly make this an easier trip for fans that are less invested in Nick’s personal journey. The flashback scenes are also a bit more indulgent than relevant to the episode. Although they do tell us a few things about his character, and linking things all back to the show’s very first scene (Nick running form a she-zombie) is a nice touch that adds a new level to the events.
It all comes with some good imagery though from the picturesque landscape visuals to what is without a doubt the episode’s standout sequence, Nick’s confrontation with trio of looters while among the walker herd. Firstly, this is fantastically a unique setup from the show. We’ve seen plenty of bloody poncho sequences across both shows but there's always danger focused on how the camouflage will hold up. Adding an external threat suddenly takes that into a whole new dimension as shots are fired and walkers brain busted all around Nick while he must still hold his disguise. Not to mention the look of shock and terror on the attackers face when Nick is finally spotted as being human. Frank Dilane looks like a dirt covered Finn Balor as he keeps trudging forward, glaring all the way like he’s demonically possessed. It’s one of the show’s best ever scenes and ticks that all important comeback/premier episode box; it reminds you why you should still be watching.
The main show has long showed us that splitting up the cast into episodes all about each small group before a reunion can be a successful formula. FtWD’s return makes it clear that will be its approach for at least the first few, if not all 8 remaining episodes. Future weeks should see us catch up with Travis and Chris, the rest of the family and who knows, what else before it looks like they’ll all be joining Nick at his new location. Despite delivering a good episode here, the season can’t continue like this and will need a greater level of threat or purpose eventually but for now, this is happy trails.