This Fear the Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
Fear the Walking Dead Season 5 Episode 16
When it comes to the zombie apocalypse, even the heartiest survivors are ultimately expendable. That is, unless they’re endowed with magical plot armor. Such is the case with Fear the Walking Dead, which hasn’t killed off a main character since Madison Clark died last season. Since then, the series has gone an impressive (and implausible) 14 episodes without losing another main character. This isn’t to say that Fear’s mortality rate is low—just the opposite is true. If you’re a minor character like Jimbo or Tom or Logan, you’ve essentially got a target on your back. But all of that changes with the Season 5 finale, “End of the Line.” Be warned, if you haven’t watched the episode yet, MAJOR spoilers ahead.
So, yes, it appears this is the end of the line for Morgan Jones. This is a significant death for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that Morgan is a very big, very important part of The Walking Dead’s mythology. Not only does he have roots in the Image comic, he’s also a day-one character in TWD’s pilot episode, “Days Gone Bye.” Whether you first met Morgan on the page or on the small screen, were it not for him, Rick Grimes would have died an early death indeed. Either way, I’ve been a fan of both Morgan and Lennie James for a long time. James brought a lot of depth and complexity to the role, illuminating Morgan’s inner turmoil, often to heartbreaking effect.
And now, for better or worse, Morgan is dead. Or is he? Showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg would have us believe that maybe, just maybe, Morgan survived—that perhaps he was wearing plot armor beneath his bloodied shirt. (For more on this, read our interview with Chambliss and Goldberg here.) I’d like to think Morgan is dead, not because I’m being morbid, but because I believe Fear would be a better, stronger show for his passing.
But if Chambliss and Goldberg are to be believed, the episode’s ambiguous ending leaves the door open to Morgan’s possible return. When it comes to ambiguity, sometimes it’s up to audiences to fill in the blanks, to meet a creator halfway to complete his or her vision. This isn’t just an act of faith, it’s an act of trust. Some might say Chambliss and Goldberg violated this trust by killing off a favorite character. Others might grumble that Morgan’s death couldn’t come soon enough. Either way, this begs the question of who exactly “owns” Fear. Is it the show’s creators, or the fans?
Fandom can be a slippery slope, what with its attendant sense of entitlement, its possessiveness over the very thing fans deign to cherish. Does a given franchise, like Fear the Walking Dead, or Star Wars, or Game of Thrones, belong to their respective creators, or to the willing legions that champion these creations? Are fans within their rights to call a mulligan if a long-anticipated movie or finale doesn’t live up to their expectations?
As a media journalist, I’m mindful that I’m part of a larger conversation about a property that holds different meanings for different people. While some fans may see Fear’s fifth season as a triumph of the human spirit, others may instead see a failure of imagination. I’ve been of both minds throughout this season, though the latter is where I find myself now. While the finale’s grim ending is arguably a dramatic high point for the season, I can’t help but wish Morgan’s final bow were in a much better episode.
Indeed, anything I’ve enjoyed about Fear under Chambliss and Goldberg’s creative direction is nearly wiped away by a finale that is frankly all over the place. Worse, it’s unintentionally funny at times (yes, I’m looking at you, whitewater zombies). I was hoping we’d get a real barnstormer of an episode, one in which our heroes fight to the bitter end in a desperate bid to maintain their independence. “End of the Line” delivers none of that. June tells Morgan, “You really did everything you could,” but just the opposite is true. The group doesn’t even make a token attempt to clear the Gulch of walkers before Ginny arrives.
If 300 Spartans can use a narrow pass to take on the entire Persian army, why couldn’t a similar tactic work here? Would it be so difficult to redirect the horde through a single hole in the fence and kill them off one by one? Instead, we get multiple shots of the caravan staring blankly into space, silently bemoaning their collective fate. To me, this is a retread of last season’s finale, in which everyone but Morgan spends the majority of the episode immobilized by antifreeze poisoning. That Morgan tries to negotiate the terms of their surrender rather than fight is pathetic at best. He’s made a deal with the devil that could have been avoided; there’s no backing out of it now.
I could rant and rave about the myriad ways this episode disappoints, especially because it’s clear Chambliss and Goldberg were hoping to make fans smile with John and June’s wedding, or with Morgan and Grace finally confessing their true feelings for each other. These moments speak to the season’s bigger themes of hope and optimism. But, again, I wish these beats were in a better episode than this one.
In the end, Ginny is even worse than imagined. Not only does she shoot Morgan in the chest and leave him for dead, she arbitrarily sorts the caravan into different settlements. If splitting up newlyweds John and June isn’t cruel enough, Daniel and Skidmark are separated, too. This dark turn of events certainly tees things up for next season. Taking Morgan out of the equation is also another reboot for the show, as his mission to help others likely died with him. Considering Fear spent the last 15 episodes peddling wide-eyed hopefulness, this downbeat ending is a brave storytelling choice. Even the surprise revelation that Grace is pregnant doesn’t leaven the pervasive sense of dread.
In order for Fear season 6 to succeed where perhaps this season failed, Chambliss and Goldberg need to keep making brave choices—no matter what fans want. More importantly, they need to make smart choices, too. Only then can fans and critics alike truly meet them halfway.