Spoiler Warning for the Mid-Season Finale (Season 3, Episode 7 & 8) of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series.
Wow. After six weeks of strong “Fear the Walking Dead” episodes, this half of the season wraps up in an epic two part Mid-Season Finale that is filled with action, character development, betrayals, deaths and an astronaut…yes, you heard that right. The Clark family are caught in the middle of a vicious family feud, but their hands aren’t kept clean as the situation rapidly escalates over the course of the two episodes. And oh yeah, Ofelia is finally back after disappearing 7 episodes ago. War is just on the horizon and everyone is dealing with it in their own ways.
Last episode showed Jake stepping up and establishing himself as more of a leader at the Ranch, deciding to take matters into his own hands and trying to negotiate with Walker. This episode picks up as he travels to the Black Hat Reservation, but he isn’t alone; Alicia has followed him and explains that the situation has changed due to the fact that the Trimbol family has been murdered, only she is unaware that Troy is responsible, not Walker. This doesn’t change anything in Jake’s eyes and he continues with Alicia until they reach the tribal headquarters and come face to face with Walker, who has just slaughtered a pig and now holds the head as a trophy (this is some heavy foreshadowing for what happens at the end of episode 8). Walker agrees to sit down with Jake and Alicia, but he isn’t budging and demands that the Ranch be abandoned, but also agrees to a parley. In the background, a figure can be seen bringing the trio their food; Alicia is stunned when she realizes that their server is none other than Ofelia (this isn’t all that shocking to me as AMC released an image of Ofelia with Walker before the season even began). The reintroduction of Ofelia sets in motion several events that intensify the feud, specifically because she is on the opposite side of her former group members.
Ofelia’s decision to leave the hotel comes back to bite her in the ass when Alicia scolds her for being so foolish and putting everyone in danger as they were forced to search for her. There is some disagreement between the two as they argue over Walker’s actions with Alicia citing the Trimbol family being killed as reason to distrust him. Jake speaks with Alicia and tells her about an agreement he has made with Walker to end the violence by exchanging “hostages” until the Ranch can come up with a better deal. Alicia immediately volunteers to be this hostage and stay behind at the tribal headquarters while Jake returns to the Ranch to update Jeremiah alongside Ofelia. At the same time, Madison launches herself into full panic mode after realizing that Alicia has gone missing, but Nick insists that she need not worry; Jeremiah reveals that Jake is no where to be found, causing the panic to grow. Nick takes it upon himself to join up with the militia to undergo proper training; while more gun practice is definitely helpful, Nick has proven himself to be a strong survivor with his trek from Rosarito to Tijuana in “Grotesque” being prime evidence of his survival skills. To usher in this new era of Nick’s character, he opts to cut his hair (with a knife, rather than scissors for some reason); haircuts in this franchise almost always signify a character becoming a new person or undergoing extreme changes.
The conflict really begins to grow as Jake’s return to the Ranch with Ofelia is met with absolute anger from Madison, who lashes out after realizing that Alicia is a hostage. There is some awkward tension between Madison, Nick and Ofelia as they voice their confusion about her relationship with Walker’s group. Jake stays quite calm whilst explaining that Walker has agreed to a truce if the Ranch hands over their water reserves. The irritating part of the episode comes via Madison who simply can’t sit still with Alicia in possible danger, even though Jake has assured her that Walker will keep his word. She plays her mind games on Troy and convinces him to join her in a rescue attempt, even threatening to expose what he did to the Trimbols. This is bothersome because it is pretty obvious that this plan doesn’t have any real weight to it and there is a real chance that it will result in Alicia being killed, not to mention the fact that it will dampen any hope of peace between the communities. While Madison lets her motherly fears get in the way, Alicia puts herself in soldier mode to gain information about the tribe. However, she is caught off guard when Walker brings her to a helicopter that they have recovered…the helicopter that she was on and that Travis fell out of; this revelation angers Alicia, but she keeps her cool and doesn’t lash out, although she does share her anger and hatred toward Walker for shooting down the helicopter. We also see Alicia learning about Walker’s history and culture as he shows her the remains of his ancestors; he tells Alicia that he was forced to remove his ancestors’ remains from their graves in a cave because of plunderers like the Ottos. This is just one case of many where Native American culture is blended into the story, specifically in their beliefs of the apocalypse and an afterlife.
Operation Rescue Alicia is put into effect when Madison and Troy’s militia make their way onto Black Hat territory in the middle of the night. Unsurprisingly, this “covert” operation doesn’t go as planned and Troy kills a guard, setting off a tense gun battle that leaves multiple fighters on both sides dead; Alicia is successfully recovered, but can you even call it a rescue mission when she wasn’t in immediate danger to begin with? That question is discussed when the team makes it back to the Ranch as Jake calls out their stupidity and claims that they just ended all hope of a peaceful treaty; he loads up the water reserves and once again tries to play peacemaker by returning to the headquarters to speak with Walker and keep his end of the deal, returning Ofelia in the process. This simply isn’t good enough for Walker and he is shown to be tired of the Otto’s games; “Fear the Walking Dead” once again ramps up the horror level as Walker uses a blade to cut the top of Jake’s forehead, beginning to scalp him. Ofelia tells him to stop and he complies, showing that his real issue is with Jeremiah and not Jake. This scene made me extremely fearful for Jake and I actually thought he was a goner, especially after the horrific crow scene in “Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame.” That being said, I’m not exactly sure why they decided to do this to Jake, other than to freak the audience (and him) out, as this seemingly grave injury doesn’t really affect him after this scene. However, it does showcase the fact that Ofelia has a strong enough relationship with Walker that she can influence his decisions.
This is where things really heat up as a motorcycle rolls up to the main gate of the Ranch. That solidified relationship with Walker seems to have crumbled for Ofelia as she is thrown from the motorcycle, revealing her face to be badly bruised. In the Otto house, Ofelia is interrogated by Jeremiah and she shares that Walker lost trust in her after learning that she was friends with Alicia. Madison expresses a bit of guilt and states that she promised Daniel that she would keep Ofelia safe, although the situation has obviously changed and it wasn’t Madison’s fault that Ofelia fled the hotel. Later, Madison is shown speaking with Ofelia and gives her a job working in the kitchen. All seems rather calm until some of the guards at the gate begin violently vomiting before dying and turning. This causes absolute chaos as other residents of the Ranch experience the same phenomenon. The Clarks make their way around the Ranch, killing Infected in the process; Nick spots Ofelia fleeing and calls for Madison to chase after her as he himself collapses to the ground while vomiting. Did Ofelia really just Trojan-horse the Ranch? I have to point out the poor choice AMC made in putting up the ending credits in the final few seconds of the episode (while transitioning to the next hour), which just so happened to be an action scene at night, making it incredibly hard to see what was happening.
“Children of Wrath”
The second hour of the night continues with the intensity and craziness as the Broke Jaw Ranch descends into complete chaos. Rather than picking up right where it left off, this episode rewinds to Ofelia’s border crossing into the United States, which was originally shown in “Wrath” last season. We knew that Jeremiah had shot at and apparently captured Ofelia shortly after crossing the border, but we never saw the full scene play out; this episode shows that Jeremiah gave Ofelia a little bit of water, but ultimately left her in the desert to die simply because she is “brown.” Jeremiah has already been shown to have racist tendencies, but this fully confirms that he is an absolute dirtbag. With no food, water or cover from the sun, Ofelia slowly walks through the desert in a state of delirium; her skin turns red from extreme sunburn and she collapses into the sand to try and escape the unbearable heat. However, it is clear that Ofelia was not meant to die alone in the desert as we see her hallucinating Daniel, who urges her to stay conscious. Suddenly, Walker arrives on horseback and discovers her on the edge of death; in an act of humanity and kindness, Walker brings Ofelia back to tribal headquarters where he treats her sunburns and gives her food and water. This opening scene shows the viewer the stark difference between Jeremiah and Walker; Jeremiah literally sentences an innocent person to die simply because she looks different from him, while Walker is ready and willing to help. This plays into the morally gray area that literally every character exists in; there are no fully “good” guys or fully “bad” guys, everyone is just doing what they can to survive.
The show jumps right back into the action as the madness at the Ranch continues. Madison chases after Ofelia, who is attempting to flee in a truck (throwback to when she fled the hotel, leaving the Clarks on their own). Madison goes savage, breaking the truck window, smashing glass at Ofelia before pulling her to the ground and repeatedly punching her, while demanding answers from her. In the infirmary, several of the poisoned Ranchers, including Nick, are treated by Jake, but it is clear that things aren’t looking good as multiple people have died. Jeremiah enters the infirmary tent and mercilessly shoots one of his now turned constituents in the head. Madison tells Jake and Jeremiah that Ofelia had spiked the camp’s coffee with something, causing the attack. The patients can’t be properly treated because they are unsure of what the poison was, so Madison returns to the Black Hat Reservation with Ofelia at gunpoint to get answers from Walker; while driving over, Madison accuses Ofelia of being brainwashed and turning against her own people, including Nick, who was a close friend of hers. Upon meeting with Walker, Madison is stunned to find out that the coffee was poisoned with anthrax, a likely death sentence for everyone that ingested it; Walker expresses his admiration of Madison’s strength in comparison to the Ottos. I have to admit, this caused me to become extremely worried for Nick’s survival; with Travis dying in the second episode, the norms are completely out of play when it comes to character deaths.
While most of the Mid-Season Finale deals with the Ranch and its feud with Walker’s tribe, some time is spent with Strand following him being abandoned by Daniel at the overrun hotel. With no real plan in place, Strand wanders near the beach, but is stunned when he spots the Abigail partially submerged in the water, its first appearance in the series since the early Season 2 episode “Sicut Cervus.” Strand makes his way to the yacht and boards it, but he quickly realizes that it will never sail again; not only is it partially capsized, but it is overrun with multiple Infected, many of which are the Mexican Navy officers who stole the vessel last season. Strand dispatches all of the Infected before collecting some weapons and champagne and heading up to the top deck; the combination of seeing the shipwrecked Abigail and being alone in the world has caused Strand to lose hope and he almost seems suicidal. That is until a signal comes through on the radio, shocking both Strand and the viewers when it is revealed that the voice on the other end is a Russian cosmonaut named Vaschenko (David Agranov) trapped on a space station orbiting the Earth. The two have a simple conversation where they quote the last words of famous writers to each other. We also receive complete confirmation that the entire whole has been overtaken by the apocalypse, with Vaschenko citing that he saw the lights of the world go dark just three days before he was scheduled to return to the ground; while the CDC storyline in Season 1 of “The Walking Dead” made it clear that the entire world was affected, this is definitive proof. Vaschenko basically tells Strand that he will die in space and urges him to go live his own life; this pushes Strand to keep surviving and he decides to set the Abigail ablaze is an epic scene that symbolizes him burning away his old life and setting course for his future (this scene is incredibly reminiscent of the TWD episode “Still” in which Daryl and Beth burn down a shack for similar reasons). Strand’s scenes this episode will go down as some of the most beautiful in the entire series, specifically the powerful conversation with Vaschenko.
Back at the Ranch, Madison returns and alerts the infirmary that anthrax was used in the mass poisoning, but thankfully Nick seems to be recovering. He convinces Jake to release him as Madison, Alicia and Troy prepare for the impending attack. Something pops into Nick’s head and he rushes over to his house to the spot where Jeremiah drunkenly shot at the floor; Nick investigates and finds a skull buried deep under the home, which he brings to Jeremiah, literally revealing the skeletons in his closet. Jeremiah tells Nick that the rivalry with the Black Hat tribe goes back to when Jake and Troy were younger; the Ranch’s Founding Fathers became tired of the tribe’s attempts to reclaim their land, so Jeremiah killed three of their people, including Walker’s uncle and father. I was always suspicious that the Ottos had some darker history and this backstory makes it almost impossible to sympathize with them. At the same time, Madison and Troy are leading another attack on the tribal headquarters, but this time it is with the intent of stealing the trailer filled with antiquities. The militia sets fires on the reservation and several fighters on both sides are killed, but the Ranchers are successful in stealing the trailer; however, Walker leads his people to the Ranch in what seems to be the final standoff for control of the land. What this episode does best is that it places the viewer right in the morally gray area where they are forced to have a hard time picking a side; I wholeheartedly believe that the Ottos are in the wrong and that Walker’s actions are simply to reclaim his land, but I don’t believe Walker is 100% right as he is responsible for innocent people such as Travis being killed. This is what makes the situation so fascinating and it really shows off how complex the writing has become.
The final act is some of “Fear’s” best material to date as it answers one of the series’ biggest questions and perfectly wraps up this half of the season. Seemingly paying tribute to “Hamlet,” Nick displays the skull that he found to Madison and Alicia and relays what Jeremiah told him. This sets off a tense argument when Alicia finds out that Troy is responsible for what happened to the Trimbols and that they may be on the wrong side of the conflict. Madison defends herself for covering up the murders and Alicia GOES OFF, yelling at her for being heartless and driving her husband to be depressed. Madison basically blames her children for the fact that she is so emotionless, but this comes back into play later. She then decides to meet with Walker to hand over his relics, but he is ready to fight for control of the Ranch property and he gives them a short amount of time to vacate the land. Madison returns to her children and FINALLY opens up about her past…and it is dark; she tells the story of her growing up in Montgomery, Alabama with an abusive father who happened to be a city councilman. After years of abuse, Madison decided to use her father’s gun to shoot him, effectively freeing herself and her mother from him; this revelation isn’t all that surprising as I have long predicted that she killed someone prior to the apocalypse, but I am thrilled to have confirmation of it in the form of a gripping backstory.
This shifts the story into a dark direction as Madison pays a visit to Jeremiah in his home, where she tells him to kill himself to satiate the demands of Walker, which would save his children; Jeremiah obviously refuses and calls Madison out for betraying him, even stating that he doesn’t care about Jake and Troy. Suddenly, Nick arrives and uses his gun to shoot Jeremiah in the head, launching Madison into coverup mode as Jake and Troy rush in. An absolutely beautiful cover of “Stand By Me” (by artist Ki: Theory) plays as Jeremiah’s body is placed in a coffin, while the Clarks stand triumphantly on the balcony of the Otto house overlooking the Ranch; this shot parallels one from “Red Dirt” with Jeremiah, signifying that the Clarks have just asserted themselves as leaders. Early in the morning, Madison meets with Walker to deliver him Jeremiah’s head in a bag, a gesture that will likely put an end to the bloodshed and hopefully unify the two communities. The use of the “Stand By Me” cover is a definite highlight of the episode as it perfectly encapsulates many of the themes of the series; people from all different backgrounds, races, etc. standing by each other in the name of survival. If that isn’t deep, I don’t know what is.
— The Walking Dead World (@TWalkingDWorld) July 10, 2017
After 8 of “Fear the Walking Dead’s” best episodes, the series goes on its Mid-Season hiatus, leaving things at an interesting crossroad. Peace and unity are definitely possible, especially with Jeremiah and the Founding Fathers out of the picture. I am very much excited to see what comes next for Walker as I find him to be one of the most engrossing characters on the show; I am really proud of the show for being inclusive of indigenous peoples that are not painted as flat, stereotypical villains, but rather complex survivors with their own ideas for how things should be done. Michael Greyeyes absolutely stands out in his performances of Qaletaqa Walker and I truly hope he becomes a mainstay in the series. Other noteworthy performances include Frank Dillane, Kim Dickens, Mercedes Mason, Colman Domingo, Dayton Callie and Alycia Debnam-Carey as Nick, Madison, Ofelia, Strand, Jeremiah and Alicia respectively. While we didn’t see Luciana, Daniel, or the Dam community this episode, I hope they are given a larger role in the second half of the season. All in all, this Mid-Season finale is damn near perfect and expertly develops the characters and story. Will Troy and Jake find out what really happened to their father? Will a power struggle erupt at the Ranch? Will Ofelia get back on good terms with the Clarks? How will Daniel, Luciana, and Strand meet back up with everyone?
Those questions and more will hopefully be answered when “Fear the Walking Dead” returns for its Mid-Season Premiere on Sunday, Sept. 10 at 9 p.m. on AMC.