Fear the Walking Dead: “Welcome to the Club” (S6, E2 review) + The Walking Dead: World Beyond – “The Tyger and the Lamb” (S1, E3 review)

Smiles? SMILES? Are they even allowed in the apocalypse? (image via SpoilerTV (c) AMC)

FEAR THE WALKING DEAD

SPOILERS AHEAD … AND SWEET, SWEET ZOMBIES …

You could safely say that being smack bang in the midst of the zombie apocalypse is a great big steamy pile of the proverbial.

Metaphorically speaking, of course, and as it turns in episode 2, “Welcome to the Club” of Fear the Walking Dead (now with mercifully less Morgan), quite literally as Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Victor (Colman Domingo) find themselves on latrine detail at Lawton, which appears to be one of Virginia’s (Colby Minifie) postcard picture perfect towns.

It’s all neat buildings and people sunnily walking the streets, a manicured Wild West fantasy sprung to life where everyone looks safe but no one is actually safe, on account of Virginia being all too ready to send everyone and anyone to punishment camps for the least bit of provocation.

It’s basically Stalin with zombies and honestly, if this is the future of humanity, you really have to wonder who’d actually want it?

Alicia and Victor certainly don’t but they also want to stay alive so they keep shovelling and burning shit – it looks working sewage systems are on the civilisation menu just yet – and wondering what it must be like to live with Lawton’s picket fence surrounds.

If you recall, Virginia has split everyone up, and it is at Lawton, or rather outside Lawton (good thing the two of them are good at killing zombies), that Victor and Alicia have landed, together because, it turns out, Victor did a deal with Virginia to keep the woman he describes as his moral compass close.

For Victor, it seems, is afraid of what he might do in the name of survival – he has, if you remember, a rather elastic moral code – and so he wants Alicia close to remind of the very best, or at least the very NOT worst, he can be.

It’s touching, it’s like a Hallmark card sprung shittily to life, and Alicia is touched. (Well, until later in the episode when Victor decides, after earning Virginia’s favour through killing a warehouse full of molasses-covered undead, that Alicia should be elsewhere so his inner situational moralist can run free and so whatever he needs to to survive.)

Time for Zombiecise, everyone’s favourite apocalyptic cardio regime (image via SpoilerTV (c) AMC)

The relationship between Victor and Alicia has always been an entertaining and even somewhat endearing one, and you get the sense that Alicia especially is touched that Victor has fought so hard to keep her close.

When one of the bigger-than-his-boots Rangers, Marcus (Justin Smith), essentially Virginia’s police force, tries to push Victor around and Victor pushes back, the craptastic twosome are sent to another part of Virginia’s down-at-heel empire of hellishness, after briefly reuniting with Daniel (Rubén Blades) who appears to have lobotomised and can’t seem to remember ever knowing them.

It appears to be all theatre on Daniel’s part but he’s so damn convincing, and so committed to being Virginia’s barber and nothing else, that Victor and Alicia leave dispirited that one of their number has lost the plot and through his own choice or not, ended up deep within Virginia’s clutches.

They’re determined not to go down that path and so when the opportunity comes to seize a mysterious weapon in a warehouse, the one full of sweet molasses horror-movie-dragging-people-under-doors zombies, Victor takes it, at the urging of Virginia’s stowaway sister Dakota (Zoe Colletti) who appears to be disaffected but may just be playing Alicia and Victor.

It’s hard to tell since this is zombie East Germany and everyone is playing whatever role they think will keep them alive the longest. (Except good old Sanjay (Satya Nikhil Polisetti), who’s scared as hell and happy to admit, and who ends up falling prey to more of Victor’s elastic morality; he’s also fine Hallmark-worthy species and pragmatic ethical responses.)

For all the lovely moments of Victor and Alicia bonding, and the appearance of Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) and Janis (Holly Curran) to join the Virginia-defying zombie killing spree, “Welcome to the Club” (a phrase uttered to welcome Victor to the army-creating inner circle) is another tired entry in the Big Bad threatens everyone, some people capitulate, some don’t, and you know there’ll be a war somewhere down the track where Virginia will pay because Victor et all. are the holders of all that is good and morally defensible.

We are, of course, meant to prize the show’s protagonists over more pragmatic monsters like Virginia but overall, Fear the Walking Dead, for all its lovely relationship moments – Alicia, Victor, Charlie etc feel far more like a family than Rick’s gang ever did, and the writers are somewhat maintaining that but is it enough? – is beginning to suffer from the overstuffed, everyone-is-evil-but-out-heroes sins of its parent show, The Walking Dead.

We get it, the world is an awful, literally shitty place, but harping on it all the time, while diverting, strips the nuance from a show which used to have it in spades and runs the risk of reducing it to just another killing-zombies-and-taking-down-Big-Bad fests.

We can only hope that the relationships between the gang reassert themselves in primacy over mindless action, and the show finds its moral compass again – don’t look to Victor, he hasn’t got it, trust us ( or does he? Hmmm …) – and we can enjoy the nuanced storytelling that made Fear the Walking Dead such an entertaining alternative to its more thuggish predecessor.

Coming up next week in “Alaska” …

THE WALKING DEAD: WORLD BEYOND

Nothing says a good workout like burning tyres and choking smoke and zombies (image via SpoilerTV (c) AMC)

SPOILERS AHEAD … AND SECRETS REVEALED … AND NOT

The third episode of The Walking Dead: World Beyond is full to its tyre-burning gills with secrets.

You wouldn’t think people would have a lot of them in the zombie apocalypse since with all the external stress ever present on your existential radar, why hang onto any of the internal stuff?

Surely, it would “Goodbye emotional baggage – there’s no room on my soul’s carousel for you!” (your soul by the way has a really cheesy of talking and something should be done about that) but then again, in a world where putting your best put forward is essential if people are going to like you enough to help you, perhaps keeping secrets close to your chest is key any sort of workable long-term survival?

Whatever the rationale, and whichever has primacy in the misbegotten world of The Walking Dead, two of our characters were holding big secrets in this episode, with one (Hope, played by Alexa Mansour) choosing to spill the beans to her sister Iris (Aliyah Royale) while the other Silas (Hal Cumpston) staying mum, quite literally as it turns out, on what is eating at him.

It was actually a clever contrast in this Silas-centric episode to compare these two approaches, allowing World Beyond to explore the primacy of connections in a world where they are simultaneously all important but also as tenuous as they come and prone to be stripped bare or severed for any kind of honesty.

Proof of that came at the end of the episode where we saw the Civil’s Republic’s chief military officer, Lieutenant Elizabeth Kublek (Julia Ormond) send one of her most trusted fellow soldiers and personal bodyguard, Sergeant Major Barca (Al Calderon) to the gulag because he dared to voice an honest opinion and deviate from the party line.

Confirming what this reviewer suspected back in episode 1, the Civil Republic looks to have laid waste to the university compound in its entirety, neutralising what Kublek clearly regards as an incipient threat to the CR’s dominance and power and Barca isn’t happy about it, believing they have lost their humanity on their way to supposedly preserving what is left of civilisation.

It’s a huge conundrum – in silencing all dissenting voices to a grand vision because you believe it to be so fragile and prone to collapse (fair enough in one sense; have you seen the Lord of the Flies-ness of the zombie apocalypse lately?), do you not run the risk of killing off the very thing you are trying to save?

Yes, you keep the lights and the sewerage and the running water etc etc (and 200,000 people alive behind the walls!) but human civilisation is much more than that – it is ideas and voices raised in discussion and creativity and a whole host of other things that have allowed Homo sapiens to dominate the earth (well, until now, anyway).

Clearly Barca thinks they still matter but thinking his relationship with Kublek is strong enough to withstand his dissenting opinion, he discovers that relationships in the apocalypse don’t have the tenacity and strength of their pre-end of the world counterparts.

Serious conversations face engaged! (image via SpoilerTV (c) AMC)

It’s a masterful way both of advancing our knowledge of the Civil Republic and its obvious clear role in the narrative, but also underscoring both the primacy and fragility of connection in this dark, terrible new world.

By taking us into Silas’s past – it’s never clear what he did exactly but there’s enough revealed to suggest he was subject to ongoing parental abuse and finally snapped to murderous result – and letting us witness the grief of past regret on the young man’s face and to thus appreciate why being on this redemptive mission of sorts to find Iris and Hope’s dad, we can appreciate why his close links to Iris, Elton (Nicolas Cantu) and Hope matter so much to him.

This is not some whimsical adventure for him; this is everything, a do-or-die undertaking for Silas and the partial revelation of what he has been through, and his view that telling anyone what he did exactly would endanger the connections that are life and everything to him, went a long way to not just fleshing out this intriguing character but adding further emotional resonance to a series already rich in it.

Hope, by contrast, finally opened up to Iris about her role in their mother’s death, a weight of guilt so profound that it caused her to leave the other three sleeping and go and enact Elton’s risky place to sound the siren and lure enough zombies that the other three could get to the exit.

That’s some guilt at work there, and while it paid off and everyone, including Felix (Nic Tortorella) and Huck (Annet Mahendru), made it out the other alive, it required some explanation of why she risked her life so brazenly and so, thus exposed, she finally shared everything to a clearly shocked Iris who, to her credit, didn’t run screaming in the other direction (which would’ve been off a pier into a lake so probably a good thing).

While ostensibly an action-packed fiesta of running from zombies, “The Tyger and the Lamb”, which takes it title from a famous poem by William Blake, which takes a lyrical look at what it means to be ferocious and meek, the episode was far more about how people hold onto secrets, the corrosive damage these secrets do and whether it is possible to spill those secrets and still stay connected to the people that matter to you, people who, in the apocalypse, aren’t just good brunch buddies but the difference between life and death for you.

It was a powerful examination of the fact that survival can’t be all staying alive is about; there must be more to the question that simply keeping the lights on and the toilets flushing.

Kublek would disagree but Hope would not, and while both their relative positions have merit, and while you can understand why Silas remains terrified to open up too much, if there’s one thing this episode underscored, which after all is all about saving a relationships between two daughters and their dad, it’s that connections matter now more than ever and you must tend them every bit as much as you tend your weapons.

Next episode is “The Wrong of a Telescope” …

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