Fear the Walking Dead: “Still Standing” (S5, E7 review)

The zombie apocalypse was made for pensively whimsical glances (Photo credit: Van Redin/AMC)

SPOILERS AHEAD … RADIOACTIVE ZOMBIES AND SCARED KIDS AND HOPE DYING … AND NOT …

We all like to think of ourselves as good people right?

Cross at the lights. Give old ladies our seat on the train. Stand up to demented racists with orange hair (no one in particular; haha, kidding).

But if what we’ve done stuff that isn’t good? As in really, really bad? As in Darwinian level of survival apocalyptic bad? How do you live with yourself then?

Very badly, it seems, if Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) is any kind of guide.

Doing her last desperate best to convince Annie (Bailey Gavulic) that flying away on a kind of propeller-challenged jet plane away from radioactive, certain death poisoning – what’s not like about that scenario? ESCAPING CHERNOBYL 2 sounds like a damn fine offer to me – is a pretty good course of action, Alicia is forced to dig deep, way down in the existential basement deep, to added some extra persuasive swagger to her argument.

That means going beyond the “I care about what happens to you” altruism, which I suspect is genuine, and opening up her soul to cynical teenage scrutiny, which if you’ve seen the fierceness of Annie, mother hen to the max, is not something you do lightly, and admitting she’s doing this in part because she needs to atone for past sins.

Really, really bad past sins, the kind a kid like Annie, despite her role as zombie orphan in chief, thankfully knows nothing about.

That girl is scary! And while younger brother Dylan (Cooper Dodson) does look her could be persuaded, his loyalty is to Annie and unless his sister says “YES!”, he ain’t budging. (That holds for everyone else in the Lord of the Flies troop of parentless kids that occupy a treehouse down by the river that, uh-oh, only has one major way in or out. MAJOR … DESIGN … FLAW, PEOPLE … MAJOR)

So Annie brings out the big emotional guns, and looks to be making some sort of headway when all the zombies who followed Annie and brother Max (Ethan Seuss) home, suddenly decide they want in on the all Swiss Family Robinson treehouse action … or the tasty flesh within … same, same …

Handed back her weapon by a clearly-shaken Annie, who knows she’s in over head, but doesn’t have the necessary to make the best choice – she is just a kid, after all, cut her some slack – Alicia heads off to kill zombies while Annie gets the troop to safety.

… and, it seems, for staring up into the sky at …??? (Photo credit: Van Redin/AMC)

Talk about doing penance.

Alicia goes at the horde, who helpfully only break through the rickety gate in an orderly queue, with the kind of manic energy only the atoning possess, determined that if she can’t save the kids long-term, she can at least save them now.

Alas, in so doing, she splatters herself with radioactive zombie blood which is NOT GOOD.

So, the kids are saved, after a near miss with two zombies who tumble down the riverbank, right themselves and think “FREE LUNCH!” – gotta say for dead people reanimated by a virus, they sure move okay – arriving back at the truck stop to meet a newly-rescued Victor (Colman Domingo) and Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) who have had their own brush with glow-in-the-dark undead (let’s hear it for the strength and resilience of hot air balloon material!) … but Alicia?

The poor thing is wrecked, all her redemptive efforts – which by the way, Annie noted had to be worth much more than her sins; ah, the sweet guilelessness of youth – worth something but her life, potentially, now ticking down to an inevitable end … or is it?

Not if Morgan, saver of everyone, has anything to do with, thank you very much.

When he’s not suiting up and head to the nuclear reactor to save Grace (Karen David) from her own laudable efforts to delay the meltdown of the second reactor – it’s great to see Fear the Walking Dead throwing in these kinds of real world scaenarios, since if humanity mostly disppeared off the planet, who would keep the reactors etc ticking over? Answer: likely no one – he’s trying to find Alicia, driven by the need to make the world a better place by saving the people who are working, counter-intuitively for an apocalyptic situation, to make it a better place.

… and for zombie balloon parties (Photo credit: Van Redin/AMC)

There’s a lot of than going around, a wonderful change from survival of the freaking fittest.

John (Garret Dillahunt) tries to save Dwight (Austin Amelio) from despair and hopelessness by lying about Sherry’s “Dear Dwight” letter but eventually realises that not only is this unfair to Dwight but that it could get them both killed since they really need to both get on the plane and get out of radioactive Dodge.

Both men need to live another day since they are both committed to the Gospel of Morgan, and while Dwight doesn’t handle the news of the letter’s existence well at first, he realises later on that John was doing what he always said he’d do, which is to save him.

It’s a touching moment, anchored by some fircely substantial emotional resonance since by agreeing to prioritise himself over a dream of finding Sherry again, he’s giving up on a major source of hope and motivation.

His decision though is a powerful one and feeds into the central theme of “Still Standing” which finds everyone, including Al (Maggie Grace) who is trying to balance the hope of seeing her new love again – a hope that Naomi/Laura/June urges her to hang onto despite the odds (look at her and John for example) – with the grim reality that she may not, finally having to grapple with the truth of the fact that it’s OK to look after yourself at the same time as you’re looking after everyone else.

It might sound a little self-involved and self-serving but dig down, and it’s actually not.

The philosophy basically pivots on the idea that while looking after others ahead of your own bloodthirsty fight for survival is a good thing, yes even in the apocalypse – to be fair, especially in the apocalypse where you need all the help you can get – it shouldn’t come at the expense of living your life.

Actually, fruitfully, wonderfully, happily living your life.

There’s a big difference between surviving and living, something that The Walking Dead, Fear‘s parent show only just discovered, sort of at least, in season 9, and “Still Standing” celebrates that, acknowledging through Morgan’s wise words (to be fair he still talks too much but that seems to be schtick), that you can both look after those around you and live a fulfilled life too.

Both are necessary and in fact, very much intertwined, something each person in the group came a little closer to discovering in an episode which embraced both hope (Dwight, Al, June etc), and its stark lack (poor Alicia feels like a dead woman walking), all too aware that while life in the apocalypse is a convoluted, messy, complicated challenge, that some things, like basic human decency persist, no matter what the naysayers may profess and reality would suggest.

Next week on Fear the Walking Dead in “Is Anybody Out There?” …

Posted In TV

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