Spoiler Warning for the Mid-Season Premiere (Season 3, Episodes 9 & 10) of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series.
After a two month hiatus, “Fear the Walking Dead” makes its return with two uneven episodes that are filled with story and character developments. There are plenty of great moments within the episodes, but the pacing feels almost too fast and it seems as though a large amount of material is being crammed in; this makes some of the conversations and actions feel clunky, forced and at times, unnecessary. That being said, the sense of danger feels real and frightening, reinforcing the themes of horror and survival that make this show so great.
The Mid-Season Finale left the story at quite possibly the most interesting place it has ever been at with Nick shooting Jeremiah in the head, leading to a cover up by Madison and a truce formed with The Nation. Life at the Broke Jaw Ranch seems relatively calm following this apparent suicide and Madison seems to have moved into the Otto household for some odd reason. Outside of the fences, Nick works with the militia to clear a small herd of Infected, but rather than using this as an opportunity to show off the characters’ skills, there is no real action and the scene is mostly glossed over; this is true for most recent episodes as the Infected are usually ignored and not shown, a major problem I have with this season. Back on the Ranch, Alicia talks to a sickly Jake about his slow recovery from the anthrax attack, but he mostly plays it off; I’m really wondering if there is something more going on here as nearly everyone else has recovered. Could Jake have been bitten off-screen at some point? The opening sequence culminates into a final scene of The Nation arriving at the gates of the Ranch; worlds are combining and drama is about to become more real.
In the first half of the season, there was plenty of discussion about who would assume leadership of the Ranch if anything happened to Jeremiah; with him now dead, it seems as though Jake is ready to step into the position. He treats Walker like an honored guest and gives him partial control of the supply bunker, even as Troy vocally protests. Speaking of Troy, he is far from content with the new arrivals and even calls Ofelia out specifically for mass poisoning the militia. While Jake’s decision may be the most diplomatic route and it should earn the trust of Walker, I’m not sure that handing over control of the bunker is the smartest play here. Later, Nick checks in with Troy at Jeremiah’s grave and there is a really impactful discussion between the two about their respective fathers; this is where the similarities between the two really come to the surface. Troy is angry that Jeremiah left the Ranch like he did, but Nick does his best to explain that he died to create a lasting peace. We know that Nick’s life took a turn for the worse following the death of his father, so it is really fascinating to see the parallels here.
In order to form a better understanding between the two groups, Jake and Walker host a meeting with all of the survivors to discuss their plans moving forward. Both Jake and Walker really seem to be on the same page when they speak to their people and both share the belief that in order for them to survive, they will all need to work together; Walker even goes so far as to say that the crimes committed by the Ranch’s Founding Fathers died with them. Alicia becomes suspicious of her mother and questions why she is working with Walker behind everyone’s back, effectively demeaning Jake as leader. There’s also a brief bit of foreshadowing as Walker asks Madison for assurance that she will keep Troy on a short leash and that she will handle him if he becomes dangerous. We also see Nick and Ofelia speak to each other about the poisoning that she committed; she nonchalantly states that she is glad he survived, making it seem as though she doesn’t feel any shame or guilt for literally murdering people. It appears as though Ofelia may be on to Nick for what he did to Jeremiah, but it’s possible that she is still unaware. I wasn’t really liking Ofelia’s story these episodes and this scene is epitome of why; sure, her character has developed, but there doesn’t seem to be any real emotion behind her at the moment.
Inter-cut throughout this episode are scenes taking place at the Gonzalez Dam and while they don’t directly tie into the story currently taking place, they definitely set up future storylines. Following the death of Dante, Lola has assumed leadership and she is really embracing the role; she wants to make sure that everyone is given access to water and she makes it clear that she will personally be part of the distribution. In a small town, Daniel and Lola hand out water to desperate local residents; Daniel is seen staring at each person that gets into the line, clearly still searching for Ofelia. A few Infected show up, putting an end to the water line; this threat feels rather empty as everyone leaves before there is any real sense of danger. Back at the Dam, Daniel tells Lola that a large collection of Infected are gathering in the area and may soon pose a risk, but she doesn’t feel that it needs to be dealt with yet. She does take the time to tell Daniel to keep his mind focused on helping her distribute water. Sometime later at another distribution point, chaos erupts as an angry survivor lashes out at Lola for being selfish with the water (this is pretty stupid because she is literally giving it away for free when Dante was charging people for it); a rock is thrown at her and Daniel and Efrain rush her out of the area as a riot breaks out. These feel out of place in the overall episode, but do serve to showcase how just how important water is and how far people are willing to go to get it.
Back on the Ranch, a ridiculous conflict erupts when Terrence (Phillip Fallon) walks up to a member of The Nation and shoots him; this prompts Crazy Dog to put him in a choke hold as various residents chaotically try to stop both sides. Walker steps forward and ultimately ends the skirmish, but realizes that the Ranchers are far too angry about the situation to be armed and decides to take full control of the armory; he demands that Jake and the others round up the rest of the guns on the Ranch and hand them over to the Nation. Jake is initially hesitant to do so, but Madison persuades him to comply; this move from Walker is eerily reminiscent to Negan taking all of Alexandria’s firearms after Carl pulled a gun on him. Gun collection goes rather well at the Ranch until they try to take them from Troy; this is when shit kinda hits the fan and Nick tries to intercede by telling Troy that Jeremiah’s death will be for nothing if he doesn’t work toward peace. Troy doesn’t want to listen and makes a stand with Nick inside the house as Nation soldiers enter and begin firing on the two. Nick begs for Troy to surrender, even revealing the truth about Jeremiah’s death. This particular battle feels somewhat forced, but really allows for a deeper emotional connection between Nick and Troy; the acting of Frank Dillane and Daniel Sharman is simply spectacular here, taking the place among their greatest performances in the series.
With the firefight being subdued, the characters are left with a choice to make; what do they do with Troy? With such a following on the Ranch, there is a sense of worry that killing Troy could cause those loyal to him to avenge his death. Therefore they settle on banishing him from the Ranch and sending him out into the desert; Troy is allowed to meet with Jake for a final time and the two have a genuine heart-to-heart. They all agree that Madison will drive Troy away from the Ranch, along with a single Nation soldier; with a limited amount of provisions, Troy is about to be cut loose, but he decides to taunt the Nation soldier before ultimately killing him. This shocks Madison and she pulls her gun on him, but doesn’t shoot him for some reason; Troy tells her that he is aware of what Nick did, leading to a tense standoff. Troy is able to knock Madison to the ground and a struggle erupts before she is able to recollect her gun; Troy tells her that he is tired and wants to be with her, but she orders him to walk off. This strong scene allows for the unique relationship between Madison and Troy to be explored as Kim Dickens and Sharman give powerful performances.
The second hour picks up shortly after the first and finds Nick in the midst of his punishment; he’s locked in a hotbox at the Ranch and randomly begins hallucinating Troy as an Infected, who turns back into a human, taunts him and then releases him. This sequence is beautifully filmed, but is not all that effective and could have been left out of the episode as it feels gimmicky and overly confusing. As Nick roasts in the hotbox, Madison and Walker discuss a new problem that is becoming more and more troubling; the Ranch is quickly running out of water and the nearby reservoir is almost completely dry. They share this information with a few other characters, but warn that it must be kept on the down-low so as to not cause a massive panic. This is a minor complaint, but Madison mentions that the upcoming summer may be dry, a statement that contradicts that the common held belief that the story is currently taking place in early fall (the apocalypse is believed to have begun in Aug/Sept and only about two months have passed). Regardless, this causes enough worry for Walker to propose a trip to a trading center in Mexicali. With Madison and Walker gone, Alicia and the others will ration the remaining water supply; this is yet another case of a realistic survivalist scenario that is typically breezed over in the two shows, but is thankfully explored further here.
After Walker and Madison leave the Ranch, Nick is released from the hotbox and taken to the cabin to recover; he looks terrible and I have to commend the acting and the various departments for making it look as though Frank Dillane was actually trapped in a metal box for hours. At the lookout post, Jake tries to calm some of the angry Ranchers, but he isn’t all that successful until Alicia shows up and puts them in their place; in a scene that reminds me of Rick Grime’s post-Farm speech, Alicia tells the Ranchers that they are free to leave and take their chances out in the wasteland if they are unhappy with the new rules. That night, Alicia speaks to Madison over the radio and gives her several updates about the rationing and Nick; Walker calls Madison out for hovering over her children, but she points out that he doesn’t know what it is like to be a parent. All seems well until Nick is awoken by members of the militia who are annoyed with the current situation and wish to retake control with Nick in charge, seeing as he stood beside Troy during the shootout. This serves as a parallel to Alicia as both Clark siblings are now furthering their leadership skills and working in their own way to maintain the peace.
This episode features one of the most epic and unique locations ever explored in “The Walking Dead” Universe. Madison and Walker arrive at a large stadium in Mexicali, which has become El Bazar, a massive marketplace. In order to gain entry, Madison and Walker are forced to hand over their radio, giving them a certain amount of time inside. In the desolate landscape of the apocalypse where mostly everything is dead, El Bazar is filled with life; people trade supplies, a man gets a tattoo on his eyes and prostitutes try to attract customers. Marketplaces are common in society today, but it’s fascinating to see the last remnants of the old world intermixing with the lawlessness of the apocalypse. Walker and Madison meet with a notorious vendor named Maria Lu (Keyko Duran) to trade a significant amount of gold for several thousand gallons of water. Suddenly, a familiar voice can be heard in the distance and Madison springs into action to save her close friend; it’s Strand and he is unsurprisingly in trouble with the man in charge of El Bazar, Proctor.
The reunion between Madison and Strand is seriously one of the best moments of the entire season and I have really missed their dynamic. There’s a touching conversation between the two as Strand asks Madison if she found Nick; Madison makes it clear that both Nick and Alicia are alive and safe, but doesn’t mention Travis. The unspoken bond between these two is powerful and Strand deduces that Travis died at some point and really comforts Madison; while Strand is absolutely a manipulative and selfish person, this proves that he does have a heart. Meanwhile, Walker scouts the marketplace, but is quickly captured and brought to Strand’s hideout; in order for Strand to get back on Proctor’s good side, he must stand guard outside of El Bazar and defend it from the Infected. The next day, Walker tries to trade the gold for Maria Lu’s water, but Madison has turned it over to Proctor to free Strand; while she obviously wanted to save her best friend’s life, there is much more at stake. Madison tells Strand to take them to the Dam that he previously mentioned as she believes that this will be a more permanent water source; this serves to tie the two locations together and possibly reunite Daniel with his former fellow survivors…and Ofelia!
Back at the Ranch, Ofelia and the others hand out the daily rations of water to both groups. A militia member points out a Nation woman who he believes has gotten more than a single ration; Alicia later confronts Ofelia and Crazy Dog about this, but they both deny it and state that she needs to stay focused on her own people. They also tell Alicia that Nick and some of the other Ranchers are putting the militia back together, prompting her to question Nick; she’s rightfully angry at him for causing unnecessary tension and also admonishes him for what he and Madison did to Jeremiah. This is a point of internal conflict for Alicia as part of her wishes that she had helped in the take down of Jeremiah, while the other part is glad she didn’t. Alicia is really put to the test when she spots a Ranch woman trying to take additional rations of water; a massive fight breaks out and Alicia lets out the secret that only a limited amount of water remains. No one really cares to ration anymore and Nick and the militia attempt to create a barricade around the well. It is interesting to see this parallel between life on the Ranch and at the Dam, with both groups having their own different water crises.
The episode comes to an end as the militia gears up to steal weapons from The Nation, only to be stopped when Nick spots Alicia helping some of Walker’s people dig a new well; both sides unite and help each other to dig this well and hopefully find more water. After several near-battles, it’s refreshing to see a happier ending that hopefully hints at a more unified group of survivors. “The Diviner” is a much stronger episode than “Minotaur,” but both episodes suffer from pacing issues and strange character choices. There is plenty of conflict and inter-group drama crammed into the episodes, making them fly through material at a breakneck speed. The fact that the Infected play such a minor role is especially problematic as they should be a major threat this early into the apocalypse; they are mostly an afterthought at this point and haven’t been a source of real danger since Season 1. The characters had some really fascinating interactions this episode and I’m excited to see how the relationships develop moving forward, specifically Alicia and Nick, and Ofelia with the Clarks. The performances this episode are absolutely stellar, but Frank Dillane, Daniel Sharman, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Colman Domingo, Kim Dickens and Michael Greyeyes really stand out as Nick, Troy, Alicia, Strand, Madison and Walker respectively. What will happen when Madison’s group arrive at the Dam? Will the peace at the Ranch last?
Be sure to tune into “Fear the Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.