Editor’s Note: There are spoilers ahead…
Fear the Walking Dead continues to shamble on to its season finale, with another slow-burner that offers up some bright moments. I really began feeling the show’s pacing issues last week when the second half of the episode (the Monopoly game) drowned out the excellent first half of chaos. A downtown zombie-infested LA burning down somehow led to quaint suburban family living. It felt almost like cheating, like the show’s budget knocked on my television glass to say enough was enough.
I enjoyed watching last week’s early devastation, including the zombie riot policeman eating his partner, which teased a man-made apocalypse, not in terms of the virus but savagery. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from watching The Walking Dead over the years (and every George A. Romero Dead film), it’s that mankind is way more evil than the mindless monsters creeping towards you. After a while, the zombies blend in with the environment, creating a sort of all-encompassing jungle filled with very hungry wildlife, while the humans shut themselves in and commit atrocities against one another. Last week showed that the beginning really wasn’t all that different.
We could go all the way back to the pilot, Calvin as the self-interested and scheming human who will do anything to survive in any environment, with no reservations about killing Nick, the metaphorical zombie in thiat situation. Fear the Walking Dead set up the allegory from day 1 and now its built the fence. We begin to see in the best moments of this episode that the end of the world wasn’t so much a slow decay, but a shedding of systems. Most of LA has been lost, and the people left to rebuild it can’t do much to fight against their own nature amidst the loss of order.
The episode’s best moments showcase what’s going on beyond the fences. We get some morse code from across the city in a brilliant little refrain in between hectic scenes involving Chris, Madison, and Travis, who are all trying to cope with the military presence. It really struck me when Chris referred to the soldiers as “our saviors” as if they suddenly found themselves a “liberated” people. It was a powerful moment in which the teenager’s sarcasm wasn’t the worst. We don’t see much more of Chris and the camera, but I was glad he’s started the inevitable documentary, something I hoped for since the second episode. Wouldn’t it be nice to watch a mockumentary-style episode in this universe?
Madison’s adventure beyond the gates reveals the very expected human bodies littered all over the streets in a scene reminiscent to 28 Weeks Later‘s clean-up crews or the useless soldiers from The Crazies. Gas-masked men walk menacingly down the street, inspecting the corpses, while a stunned Madison hides under a car. We get confirmation that the “saviors” aren’t really saving as much as containing. When the faux-Governor said Travis and friends were “the lucky ones,” he meant lucky they weren’t beyond the gates when they rolled in.
The beginning of the episode gives us glimpses of the six-mile safezone, the supply deliveries, the medical team, soldiers marching with their rifles high and proud, and Travis on a normal morning jog, and tricks us into believing that humanity is actually winning. I even turned to my girlfriend during the commercial break and pointed out that it was hard to figure out how the humans eventually lost the fight against the walkers. Everything seemed so under control. Then I thought, “Well, maybe it’s Griselda’s foot that’s going to doom everyone. She’ll bite someone and then that person will bite someone…” But we see that the army is prepared for that, dragging people off to their “hospital,” which is so obviously a death camp. So how does humanity eventually fall? Or is there a part of the United States that still stands in this universe and we’re none the wiser?
No, by the final scene, when Travis finally decides to climb up to the roof of their house to see what Chris and Madison have seen, we see that humanity isn’t winning. It’s running scared. Whatever sense of control Travis felt humanity had over the situation is clearly a farce. Daniel Salazar said it himself, “It’s already too late.” The spark and crash of the gunshots in the night is the episode’s most powerful moment.
So much of the episode is about feigning control by doing something radical. Nick pretends to be on the ups by hanging out in the pool until its time to steal a dying man’s morphine. Alicia has to sneak into an abandoned house to mourn the death of her beloved Matt and tattoo herself. Liza fakes her registered nurse credentials to help the sick. Madison beats the crap out of her son to put him back in line. The army is killing everyone outside the fence just to be sure. The “not fading away” of the episode’s title refers to order.
Even neutral Travis is rocked by that realization that his world is coming to an end, that there aren’t any heroes anymore, and Jack London’s lesson on how not to die can have a very dark meaning. It’ll be interesting to see how he deals with the “saviors” next week.
Fear the Walking Dead presents a thoughtful episode that requires a lot of digging into and plenty of patience due to its pace. I can only hope that next week will speed things up a bit while still getting the message across, even if only by the use of mirrors.