Directed by Heather Cappiello and written by showrunners Andrew Chambliss & Ian Goldberg, AMC's Fear the Walking Dead came charging back from its mid-seventh season break with "Follow Me" this weekend (and S07E10 "Mourning Cloak" if you subscribe to AMC+). Now if you've followed my reviews in the past then you know that with season/midseason returns (as well as series-openers), we have two basic but important criteria that must be met. First, you need to get me caught up on as well as clear up some things from before the break. Second, you need to leave me with some sense of where the season is heading- or in this case, where it might lead with regards to its finale. I can safely say that Cappiello, Chambliss & Goldberg cleared those two bars with room to spare, in large part due to amazing performances from Alycia Debnam-Carey (Alicia) and Warren 'Wawa' Snipe (Paul). For the former, it was an opportunity for Alicia to have her "dream" moment & finally learn to listen to her own voice. With the latter, we had someone who offered not only Alicia but viewers a unique and refreshing perspective on how to approach guilt. And then Chambliss & Goldberg went in a direction that wasn't necessary, was slightly confusing, and way too much of a cliche for a series that's done an excellent job of avoiding those for two excellent seasons. So with that, we're throwing on the "MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!" sign and throwing down an image spoiler buffer before going any further- see you on the other side!
Okay, let's address what worked right from the start. First, the scenes between Debnam-Carey & Snipe were of Broadway play-caliber and would be deserving of awards season nominations if there still wasn't prejudice against "geek programming." Much like she refers to in the episode, it was nice to see Alicia get her defining "dream" moment, and here's hoping that her dream doesn't become a nightmare (for everyone). Of course, she wouldn't have been able to get to that place without some insightful perspectives from Paul, who in one episode had us feeling like he's been with the show since the jump. And he was able to help Alicia by getting her to consider something we wish had been echoed more in the TWDU. While Paul understands the hurt and pain Alicia feels over losing those who put their faith in her to find PADRE, he also reminds her that they were adults who made their own decisions and that the tragedy doesn't wipe clean the fact that Alicia took the chance to bring those people a better tomorrow. So while Alicia will mourn and even look to avenge those she's lost, she should never lose sight of the fact that her decisions came from a good & honest place.
And then Chambliss & Goldberg killed him. Now setting aside the emotional aspect of it, there are some problems. First, I'm not sure what kind of message it sends about Alicia's newfound confidence as a leader to get people to follow her again when the person who last decided to follow her ended up dead. If we didn't like Paul so much, it would almost be comical. And second, haven't we gone down this route in the TWDU soooooooo many times before? I'm not saying it's not a useful narrative device that's still effective, but having Paul wounded but surviving would've been a nice change of pace. Paul's living wouldn't have lessened in any way what Alicia had learned about herself. In fact, if anything it would've enhanced it. And trust me, we have no problem labeling Arno (Spenser Granese) as a villainous piece of trash already- he didn't need Paul's blood on his hands to make him look trashier. It was a big miss that hurt the episode for me, especially considering it came from the showrunners.
Random Thoughts: Paul with the line of the episode, referencing Alicia's prosthetic that integrated her arm bone: "That's quite a statement." Does anyone else get the feeling that the little girl and that Madison (Kim Dickens) name-drop on Alicia's part connected? And just when you thought that scene from The Walking Dead when Alpha (Samantha Morton) shows Daryl (Norman Reedus) the horde she's been keeping in a valley as her "ultimate weapon" was jaw-dropping? Substitute a valley for a huge crater, have no one in control of a very large amount of walkers, and jack up the threat levels a thousand-fold by having them all breaking of radiation. Suddenly, the battle for control of the Tower has taken on a greater sense of urgency- and now it's going to be a three-way dance. So let the games begin next week with "Mourning Cloak"…