By Will Romine Age 32
Fear the Walking Dead returns for its mid-season premiere tomorrow, August 21. Lucky for you (and mostly me), I've gotten an early peek at the upcoming episodes. Because you are all my friends, I'd like to share my thoughts.
The first half of Season Two brought our survivors to Thomas Abigail's ranch. Since Season One, this location was a macguffin. Nobody knew where or what it was, but it kept the narrative and characters moving forward. The end of Season Two revealed a sanctuary; a safe place to wait out the apocalypse with all the comforts of home. However, if The Walking Dead universe has one rule, it's that no place stays safe. While Fear the Walking Dead's parent series tends to maintain these safe havens for a season or two, in Fear, the ranch gave up all promises of safety within an episode or two. When we last left our band of survivors, the group was scattered around the Mexican Border area with no safe harbor.
This is the moment I've been waiting a season and a half for. While a fractured group most certainly portends doom for the characters, it delights me as a viewer. With such a large core cast, I felt that Fear's narrative was becoming too unwieldy, trying to advance too many character arcs per 45 minute episode. Some characters felt overexposed, whereas others seemed extraneous and introduced only to die. Now that the group is divided, each character's story has room to be told.
Episode 208 takes advantage of this narrative freedom by focusing an entire episode on Nick (Frank Dillane); giving us a deeper understanding of his character. Season One introduced Nick as every parent's worst nightmare- an addict that can neither live at home or tend to his own needs independently. When the zombie apocalypse spreads, Nick is cut off from his supply of heroin, and any other pharmaceutical high, leading viewers to speculate that he will crumble in this new reality.
However, the universe of The Walking Dead rewards addictive behavior. Just as an addict will chase a high to extreme ends, characters in this universe will pervert their deepest held convictions, turn against friends and family, and take extreme risks, all in the name of survival. It was Strand that first saw how Nick's malady in the old world would prove to be an asset in the current. Survival is Nick's new drug.
Nick's outlook towards the walkers is more humane than most other TWD universe characters. He doesn't view them as the people they once were, but neither does he see them as something to be eradicated. Instead, they are like any powerful natural force; useful when harnessed and catastrophic when underestimated. Perhaps Nick's ambivalence towards the walkers is due to an underlying empathy. Just as Nick was once prisoner of innate compulsions, which distanced him slightly form his humanity, so too are the walkers robbed of their humanity by their need to consume. He feels kinship with them, more so than the men with guns who thrive in TWD universe.
Nick's kinship with the walkers might also relate to the flashbacks shown during throughout this episode. Episode 208 showed us a little of Nick's backstory. This episode's flashbacks focused around his relationship to his ex-girlfriend, Gloria. Like Nick, Gloria is a resourceful addict. She teaches Nick tricks to shorten his stay in rehab. What little of Nick's resolve to sober heroin left untouched, was quickly wiped out by Gloria's tips to cheat recovery.
Observant viewers will remember Gloria as Nick's ill fated girlfriend from the pilot. In that episode, we meet Nick as he is coming down from a high in an abandoned church/heroin den. He sees Gloria, recently turned, chowing down on a fellow junkie. For Nick, Gloria is patient zero. She is the first walker that he encounters, and every other undead will, in some way, remind him of her. The show plays with this idea when she emerges in the present day as a fatigue induced hallucination. She appears to Nick in her zombified form and urges him to "go home." At this point, "home" is ambiguous. It could be a physical location, or a state of being. I believe that "home", in this case, is the junkie's pursuit of the next high. It is a state where Nick is at his most resourceful, and his best chance to survive in this new world.
In death, Gloria performs the same role that she held in life. She is pulling him towards the pursuit of his drug. However, this time his drug is survival. Just as she pushed Nick away from sobriety in life, the undead hordes representative of her will keep Nick from death. Without giving any spoilers, walkers save Nick's life twice in this episode.
Fear handles character development differently than its parent series. TWD gives us a world in the thick of the outbreak. The story isn't "how did these characters get here", but rather "what are they going to do now?" Much like the Joker and (for a long while) Wolverine, part of the identity of the characters in TWD is the absence of a clear origin story. Fear is a different show. This series shows the evolution of the world that will eventually become TWD. I enjoy this show in a completely different way than TWD. With TWD, I feel like I'm a spectator. I enjoy watching the characters develop, but I can't relate to them. The divide between their world and ours is to extreme to understand some of the actions that the TWD characters perform to survive. It's like going to the zoo; it's nice to watch the animals, but hard to understand why they do what they do. Fear is a little more relatable. The world we're given in the first season is essentially our world and it eases us into the outbreak. I can project onto the Fear characters and speculate what I would do in a world going, but not completely gone, to hell. To that end, I need backstory. I need to know exactly who these people are and why they act the way they do.
Overall, I thought this episode was a great exploration of a breakout character. Delightfully cerebral and a true example of how this show is coming out from the shadow of its parent series. For those of you looking for tense battles or walker-slaughter fests, you might be a little let down, but this episode sets up a lot of characters who might facilitate those showdowns in future episodes. Just a reminder, Fear the Walking Dead returns on August 21 at 9:00 ET/PT
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