SPOILERS AHEAD … AND HORSES AND COWBOYS AND WATERSLIDING ZOMBIES …
One minute you’re riding high-ish … the next? Well, let’s just say whatever the opposite of high is, go there and then keep digging.
In the case of the season 5 finale of Fear the Walking Dead, the riding high was a very literal thing with Dwight (Austin Amelio) finding some of Ginny’s (Colby Minifie) equine castoffs wandering around, miraculously without hungry zombies hanging off their rumps (never an elegant look), all saddled and readied for John (Garret Dillahunt), Naomi/Laura/June (Jenna Elfman), Morgan (Lennie James) and Grace (Karen David) and of course Dwight to go and doing their zombie herding thing.
Okay officially until the horses were found they didn’t have a zombie herding thing per se since of all the things to do in the apocalypse, getting up close and personal, even high atop a horse, is way down on the list of acceptable pursuits.
Unless, and gotta say this is a BIG unless, the entire fate of the Convoy group hangs on a good healthy bout of Rawhide-esque “Move ’em on, head ’em up / Head ’em up, move ’em on” undead action is the only thing standing between you and absorption into Ginny and the Pioneers (do not buy their albums; it’ll cost you) carnival of surviving the end of the world horrors.
Dwight, who knows a thing or two about tossing your hat into the ring with someone whose values are anathema to you, knows exactly how valuable the horses might be.
With Ginny and her subservient, key brooch-wearing flunkies on their way after Morgan very reluctantly put the call out for her “help” – which is “help” only in so far it avoids death by thirst and starvation and not much else; goodbye any form of self-determination for one thing – their options are slight to non-existent until someone hatches an idea to send the zombiefied occupants of Humbug’s Gulch into the path of the Convoy group’s supposed saviours.
Why do that when you’re close to running out of, well, everything?
Because as Dwight points out, the presence of the horses means that there is water nearby and if there’s water, then there can be food etc etc etc … suddenly the list of available options widens considerably to the point where keeping your independence begins to look feasible again.
You’ve already told Ginny where you are and so if you’re going to make a go of it in the weather-worn surrounds of Humbug’s Gulch and you’re short of, oh, a gazillion or so guns, then the only way to get the upper hand back is to send a herd of zombies her way.
It ticks all kinds of boxes – not only do you get the zombies of your planned new home but they can make life super difficult for the person who was your only hope and greatest enemy is one deliciously-friendly passive-aggressive package.
(Turns out that Ginny has lied to them again and again – not only does it appear that there is water when she said there wasn’t BUT the presence of the horses and 4-5 Pioneer henchpeople in a state of obvious undeadness would indicate they didn’t starve to death as she said but were KILLED … yeah, some kind of saviour she is.)
At first, it all seems to go swimmingly well, with the zombies herded to where they are needed, right near the abandoned SWAT van and convoy trucks, that Ginny naturally is going to purloin for her own Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest-survivors purposes.
All systems are go until someone spots Luciana in the midst of the Pioneers’ future cult acolytes and they have to call the whole damn herd ambush off … which is quickly followed by Dwight getting into peril, a horse getting eaten by zombies and the only solution anyone had for the Convoy group’s continuing autonomy gone the way of civilisation.
In that arresting piece of storytelling, Fear the Walking Dead played to its greatest strength which is its consistent ability to draw the raw highs and lows of authentically-experienced humanity of any situation.
Rather than overplaying things in some sort of dementedly melodramatic showdown between Ginny and the Convoy group, it chose to focus on the great highs and lows that are common to anyone who has been alive for longer than five minutes.
We all experience them but in the zombie apocalypse, their existence is heightened to an almost exquisitely painful degree, with real very issues of life and death hanging the pendulum swings of good fortune and catastrophic loss.
By playing a nuanced hand on what could so easily have been a desperately OTT battle in its parent show, Fear demonstrated once again that like anything else in life (and death) tantalising possibility can quickly become glaringly depressing reality.
Tempting thought it must have been to ratchet things up, Fear kept to its steady as she goes storytelling mantra, which lets things develop in their own real life kind of way and is all the more affecting for it because we can ourselves handling things not that differently.
Fear, as a result, feels like its happening in the real world and not some hyper-violent cartoon universe making the eventual separation of everyone in the Convoy group by Ginny in a divide and conquer ploy everyone saw coming (but Morgan pleaded with her, fruitlessly to avoid) and Morgan’s bloodied abandonment in the deserted streets of Humbug’s Gulch after a shooting gone wrong by his erstwhile “saviour” all the more profoundly moving.
Here were people who had fought hard and long and done the right thing over and over, only to have the universe stomp all over them like cockroaches beneath its gigantic uncaring feet.
It’s unfair but so often life is; the only hope, of course, is that Victor’s (Colman Domingo) Trojan Horse approach pays dividends – doubtful; look at what happens to so many well-intentioned people elected to government – and that one of the great truisms of history play out, which is that authoritarian regime always eventually collapse in whole or part simply because no one bar those in power is invested them and so they fall apart under the weight of their own lack of self-sustaining tyranny.
Who knows how long that will take with Ginny, whose idea of the future sounds fiendishly regressive and almost certainly bound to fail.
What’s interesting in Fear‘s approach, and it will be fascinating to see how this plays out, is that it consistently puts forward the idea in ways big and small – everything from John and Naomi/Laura/June’s wedding, which is beautiful, through Morgan’s sweetly awkward declaration of love to Grace to the run to the aged care home to get hydrating medication for Grace – is that the idea that love and kindness are stronger than coercion and violence.
That may sound counter-intuitive but organisations where people feel loved and to which they truly feel they belong have far more staying power in the long run than those that practise enforced obedience and loyalty, a truism that has run through Fear from the beginning but never more so than in season 5 which has worn its belief in muscular love and kindness very much on its sleeve.
Quite whether that will be enough in season 6 remains to be seen but though Morgan has been left for said, don’t count him out just yet, nor the members of the Convoy who have a driving impulse to do the right thing that far more powerful than anything Ginny can do to stop it.
Let the battle between love and hate begin anew …
Fear the Walking Dead returns in the first half of 2020.