Directed by Lennie James (hey, that name sounds familiar!) and written by Justin Boyd & Ashley Cardiff, this week's episode of AMC's Fear the Walking Dead apparently heard all of the talk over the past several episodes and a good chunk of last season how the show was carrying a Western film/action movie vibe. Because "Till Death" felt like a rollercoaster ride of feels overflowing with excitement & heartbreak, triumph & tragedy. Oh, and possibly one of the most unexpected and effective uses of the World A Reggae song "Out in the Street They Call It Murder." This time around, the spotlight shines on Dwight (Austin Amelio) and Sherry (Christine Evangelista)… or as they're otherwise now going by, The Dark Horses (yes, that's badass). Following through on their Robin Hood-like commitment "code" at the end of last season, we see that the pair have been pretty effective with their efforts and have gained a bit of an "urban legend" reputation. A reputation strong enough to get Victor's (Colman Domingo) attention, having them brought to his sanctuary so he can make them an offer. In exchange for finding and bringing back Mickey (Aisha Tyler), a survivor that Victor is oh, so worried about so he wants her brought back safely- whether she wants to return or not. So with that, we're throwing on the "MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD" sign and throwing down an image spoiler buffer as we do a deep dive into why Fear TWD might have the first serious candidate for a storyline in the upcoming Tales of the Walking Dead anthology.
Okay, a quick observation right from the start. Whether it's what James did with this episode or TWD alum Michael Cudlitz has done with episodes he's directed, I'm a big fan of the way franchise players use music to tell their stories when they direct. It's always a pleasant surprise and helps break up any potential "formula" to the episodes. James gave that pro-wrestling gym smackdown between Dwight, Sherry, Mickey, and a crapload of walkers a serious "grindhouse" feel. Okay, that aside? I actually had to laugh at the end of "Till Death" because at one point during their run I wouldn't have cared if Dwight or Sherry (or both) were killed off. Now, I've flipped 180 degrees and find myself rooting for a "The Dark Horse" miniseries during Tales TWD that includes Mickey.
Speaking of Mickey, we can now (hopefully) welcome Tyler's breath of fresh air to the spinoff series' cast. What I appreciated bout her character's arc in this episode is that it wasn't an original one at its core, and that's why it worked. Because in Mickey, Sherry found a kindred spirit she could share her hopes and concerns with- something we haven't seen her have in some time beyond Dwight. These are two women with completely different experiences and backgrounds (we loved the pro-wrestling backstory for Mickey aka "The Bride," by the way) who at their core are dealing with issues of love, commitment, and the need to live in even in the face of utter loss. Their exchanges felt real as did the timing of the quieter moments, creating an opportunity for them both to lean on each other for the support they both desperately needed.
But as much as it would be easy to make this all about Evangelista and Tyler's performances, I would be a royal jerk if Amelio's evolution of Dwight wasn't also given top honors. What I appreciate right from the start is that Dwight is still worried about becoming a "Negan" and returning to his Saviors ways. Good. He should be. Because that's the kind of thing that people in the real world wrestle with constantly, so having it still be a factor for Dwight beyond the sixth season finale gives Dwight's journey just that much more meaning. I never thought I would ever mention the name "Rick Grimes" in the same sentence as Dwight but this episode presented Dwight in so many "Rick" situations that I would be remiss if I didn't. When he made the argument to abandon their plans and return to Victor's sanctuary, there wasn't anything cowardly or defeatist about his position- though there could've been. But Amelio presents viewers with a Dwight who's seen some of the worst of what's out there and wants to think about a future for himself & Sherry (and as we learn later, the family they want to have). So when he learns the truth later on and apologizes to Sherry & Mickey before their "walker-palooza smackdown," there's never a sense of "I told you so" as there was this desperate need I had for him to make it there on time to save the day and make things right.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Is it wrong that I wasn't as heartbroken over the family getting killed as I should've been? We had Victor confirm once again that Wendell was there, so maybe it's true? Then again, Victor is playing a bit of a f**ked-up deadly game so maybe he's just keeping the lie going? Speaking of which, if we needed any more of an argument for Victor being at least one of the big bads this season, "Till Death" pretty much confirmed it with the revelation that he's the one behind the killings so he can have those photographs to hang up back at The Tower as a psychological advantage in keeping folks from leaving. From "The Grapple Chapel" to the squared circle-themed walker kills, we were all about the pro-wrestling theme in this episode.
But before I sign off from reviewing what was yet another all-star outing of AMC's Fear the Walking Dead Season 7, I do have to call out one thing that I hope gets clarified a bit more and that's the "real" reason for Victor wanting Mickey back. Maybe a rewatch might shift things a bit different for me but I didn't exactly find Mickey's way of getting past Victor's horde of walkers anything so game-changing that he would need to silence her before others found out. It looked like something any number of people would probably be able to work out, though supplies would be where things get complicated. But a small point on an otherwise excellent chapter. Next week? CRM is looking to clean up evidence of what it's been up to and that includes Morgan (James) and Al (Maggie Grace).