- SPOILERS AHEAD … AND WAY MORE HUMANITY (AND WAY LESS OXYGEN) THAN YOUR AVERAGE PIECE OF APOCALYPTIC STORYTELLING …
The thing that has been most compelling about Fear the Walking Dead from the word go has been its willingness to wear its humanity on its sleeve.
While its parent program The Walking Dead often showed bad things happening, and yes, showing how badly it affects the people involved, it has never really shown the full existential drip feed of life in the apocalypse to the extent that its progeny has.
Fear the Walking Dead rarely show people getting their apocalypse on without considerable moral repercussions nor are its bad guys or girls ever as one note; lordy, even Troy (Daniel Sharman), head cheerleader of the zombie horde cleansing movement, has some weirdly redeeming qualities (not many mind you but they are there, you know, somewhere).
The brilliantly-etched humanity of the show was on immensely evocative display in these two episodes, with every character facing up to an titanically epic event – the overunning of the Ranch by Troy’s shepherded horde and the imprisoning of the survivors, bitten or otherwise, in an airless bunker – in ways that spoke of the toll its taking on them.
Sure, they did what needed to be done and did it, for the most part, impressively well, but there was always an undercurrent of frailty, of moral loss, a slow, crippling ebbing of what it means to be human and it made the storytelling all the richer.
Take Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) as prime example #1.
Trapped in the larder with all the survivors of the Ranch, it quickly dawned on Madison’s “least favourite child”, Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) and Lee aka Mad Dog (Justin Rain) that there wouldn’t be enough air to keep them alive beyond the two hour marker, what with the block air shaft showing a determined reluctance to do its job. (You had one job! ONE JOB.)
Kinda of a big deal when you’d like to live for as long past that time period as possible, and when failure to do so, at least by your bunker companions, means that you’ll be trapped in a room below ground with newly-minted zombies.
Yeah, not exactly an optimum survivability scenario is it?
Realising how high the stakes were and with Ofelia and Lee off to find out why the air wasn’t flowing, Alicia stepped up, despite significant reluctance to take centre stage, painfully and with a real sense of the anguish it was causing her, moving to cull the numbers in the bunker by despatching, with real grace and sadness, the dead people walking aka those bitten by zombies in their midst.
Granted, it involved massively big doses of morphine to everyone affected, which means their deaths were as humane as possible under the circumstances, and the unstinting moral support of Christine (Linda Gehringer), who sadly didn’t survive the asphyxiation ordeal, but the whole process, necessary though it was, took its toll and you could see the agony written all over Alicia’s face.
She knew it had to be done, and she was brave enough to do it, but it sucked away a little bit more of her humanity, and convinced her that there was no safe place left in the world, that Madison’s quest to circle the wagons and fend off the bad guys was a fool’s errand that could never be satisfactorily completed.
This led her to strike out on her own, battered by the loss of Jake (Sam Underwood), in the hope she could find the idyll he spoke of, find some peace, and maybe retake some of her humanity back in the process.
Her willingness to do what needed to be done while still remembering she was a person contrasted powerfully with Nick (Frank Dillane) who, god bless him and his aspirations to completely shoot hole’s in his status as Madison’s favoured child, ineffectually handled Troy’s horrifically bloodthirsty acts and to add insult to injury, went on a drug and alcohol fuelled bender at the trading post.
Yep, pick the exact last thing you should do after you’ve covered for the guy who killed almost everyone at the Ranch and Nick went ahead and did it!
He even decided that he and Troy were the bad black sheep of the piece, as Troy had alleged, and that he might as well live up to that; yeah, not the brightest thing he’s ever done and proof that humanity is a gift well served in some (I’m looking at you Alicia!) and poorly entrusted to others (Nick you freaking idiot).
The other great and powerful moment of raw, palpable humanity came when Madison (Kim Clarke), who played the part of the cavalry with Victor (Colman Domingo), Ofelia, Lee and the others, rescuing Alicia (and alas no one else) from the Bunker o’ Hell, stood her ground and ensured that Ofelia got her wish to be see her father again.
She moved heaven and earth and sold a shit load of guns to the mercenary souls at the trading post, staffed largely by ex-fast food workers by the looks of things, to get Ofelia drugs and drinks to ease her final moments as the zombie bite she suffered while clearing the air shaft took its toll.
Sadly Ofelia died just minutes before dad Daniel (Rubén Blades) made it to her side, imperilling Madison who almost earned a summary execution for her troubles, leading to one of the saddest father-daughter reunions I’ve ever witnessed.
In one emotionally-charged scene, the kind Fear the Walking Dead does so well, we witnessed the kind of heart-searing loss that the apocalypse has delivered to everyone, and the high price paid for sins, real or imagined.
It was powerful, arresting, desperately human television which left you reeling, not because of the epic nature of the storytelling, thought that was definitely there, but because it focused on the intimate, soul-scarring human toll that survival is taking on everyone.
We all know that living in the apocalypse isn’t easy but Fear the Walking Dead, fearless in its narrative bravery and willing to take the time to really tell a story and address its authentic, damning effects on the soul, is excelling still in taking the time to show us what humans to people, on a stripped back, existential level, when the new brutal realities of life call for all kinds of horrific choices to be made.
- And so onto the series 3 finale, “Things Bad Begun” / “Sleigh Ride”, where everything, as you might expect, goes right royally and cliffhangeringly, to shit and Alicia’s idea that there is no safe place proves rather prescient …