Spoiler Warning for Season 3, Episode 13 of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series.
The latest episode of “Fear the Walking Dead” will go down as Alicia Clark’s defining hour as she fights to save the lives of her fellow survivors. With the clock ticking, the group in the bunker is left gasping for air and must make major sacrifices to prolong survival. Not only is this episode one of the best in the series, it is one of the strongest in terms of Alicia’s story, as well as the performances across the board. With a terrifying horror element at play and a sense of unpredictability and tension, this episode proves that “Fear” continues to break new ground.
Following Troy’s attack on the Ranch with the Infected herd, Alicia and the others are trapped in the supply pantry and there is a clear feeling of fear present as everyone wonders what the next move will be. Alicia steps forward and basically becomes the de facto leader as she unites the members of the Nation and the Ranch when she reveals that the pantry is running out of oxygen. With just two hours of oxygen remaining, Alicia asks the survivors in the pantry that have been bitten to step forward and reveal themselves; this is just one of many powerful scenes as members of both groups courageously stand up. This is where things take a really grim turn as Alicia is left to deal with the bite victims while Ofelia and Crazy Dog head up into the vents to try to get the air back on; Alicia and Blake (Michael William Freeman), a bitten member of the Militia, find a collection of morphine injections that will allow the bite victims to peacefully slip away. While there is some initial hesitation when Alicia explains the plan, a Rancher named Christine (Linda Gehringer) rallies everyone into accepting the morphine and sacrificing themselves for the greater good. While “Fear” has mostly focused on the human threat up to this point, this is where there is a clear shift to the threat of the zombie infection.
In crisis situations such as this, humanity really shines through, as seen with a bitten Nation man who volunteers to be the first to be executed. Alicia and Blake take the man into a backroom and inject him with the morphine before stabbing him in the head; there’s a brief moment where Alicia realizes what she has just done and it sends her into a mental breakdown. There’s no sugarcoating what Alicia is being tasked with doing; she is having to put people down before they have even died and turned, something that is far different from simply killing an Infected. Christine notices that Alicia is having a hard time handling the situation and does her best to get her back on track; “I know it’s hell, but those people have done their part. You need to do yours,” she calmly tells Alicia, reminding her that this isn’t easy for anyone. Moments later, Alicia is shown taking a pause as the camera pulls out and reveals that she has executed nearly all of the bite victims. All that remains is Blake, who begs for forgiveness for his role in the sick experiments that he took part in at the army depot in “Eye of the Beholder.” It’s in this moment that Alicia once again demonstrates her humanity as she does her best to comfort a dying man; what point is there in lambasting someone for their past crimes just seconds before they will be dead?
While the oxygen is quickly running out in the pantry, Nick and Troy are left to formulate a plan from the outside. Troy begins to bury Jake, but Nick states that there is no time for that while simultaneously calling him out for killing his brother and leading the herd to the Ranch; Nick is really motivated to save his sister and those trapped in the bunker, deciding to blow up the fuel reserves to distract the Infected. Nick uses the grenade launcher to set off an explosion in the middle of the Ranch before he and Troy stupidly drive their truck into the herd, throwing blood and guts all over the place. Troy crashes the truck into an RV, forcing the two to get out and fight the Infected as they make their way to the nearby helicopter; this is rather ominous considering nothing good has ever happened in this helicopter (RIP Travis). Nick turns on the rotors, which slices the face off of an Infected; this is a fun callback to the Season 1 Finale “The Good Man,” where a bitten solider walked into a helicopter rotor at the military hospital. My problem with this entire scenario is the fact that Nick doesn’t even bother to use the guts trick that he pretty much utilized every episode in Season 2; while it did become tiresome and stale after a while, it is a method that really worked for him, so why wouldn’t he use it here?
The air is still running out, even after the bitten folks have been put down, but what comes next is a surprising and touching scene that once again reinforces the humanity that still exists in the apocalypse. Alicia sits next to Christine and the two discuss their lives prior to the end of the world; Christine tells Alicia about her husband who perished when the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed on 9/11, tying the fictional world to reality. Christine later remarried to a doomsday prepper who believed that 9/11 was the beginning of the end, prompting the two to link up with Jeremiah and move onto the Ranch, something that Christine has come to regret seeing as how they wasted the final years of civilization by hiding away. She imparts some wisdom onto Alicia, urging her to live her life to the fullest and not make her life decisions out of fear, a small allusion to the title of the series. Alicia shares the story of an embarrassing experience at summer camp when she was younger; she was supposed to sing “This Land is Your Land” in a talent show, but she froze up in front of the audience, prompting young Nick to come to her rescue and sing part of the song. Alicia and Nick have always had a rocky relationship, but this story reinforces the fact that they are always there for each other and that their sibling bond remains strong.
The pantry runs out of oxygen and the situation becomes increasingly dire as Alicia swings back into consciousness, only to find a woman who has died, turned and is now feasting on a corpse. She fights off the Infected and manages to kill it, but collapses to the ground under the dead Infected; there is a chilling shot as several Infected stand up in the background after reanimating, once again playing into the horror feel. Meanwhile, Ofelia and Crazy Dog are in the vent system, but a panic attack causes Crazy Dog to freeze up and basically become stuck; Ofelia does her best to calm him down and he eventually is able to regain his composition. We finally get some backstory on Crazy Dog’s character, learning that he served in the military and currently suffers from PTSD, which drew a wedge in between him and his young son; we also learn that he wasn’t with his son when the world fell apart, something that also weighs heavily on him. Ofelia and Crazy Dog find that the AC fan has a live Infected stuck in it; Ofelia climbs on Crazy Dog’s shoulders to try to dispatch the Infected, but he collapses to the ground, bringing Ofelia and the Infected down with him. This tense scene is resolved as Ofelia narrowly escapes being bitten before she shoots the Infected and the fan turns back on, bringing air into the pantry…but it is just too late for most of the survivors.
The release of oxygen immediately awakens Alicia and sends her into battle mode as she fights off several of her turned friends while pulling unconscious Christine into the weapons locker. There are a lot of close calls, but thanks to the power of Alicia’s plot armor, she isn’t bitten, nor does she suffocate; I’m obviously not mad about this because literally every television show does this, but it is pretty noticeable here. Alicia arms herself with a rifle and shoots several Infected as a series of explosions shock her, as well as Nick and Troy in the helicopter. She continues fighting through the Infected and receives additional help as Madison arrives with Taqa and Strand; they try to get her to leave the pantry before it is surrounded, but she rushes over to check on Christine, who has suffocated, leaving Alicia to put her down. The look on Alicia’s face is jarring to Madison as she sees her daughter covered in blood and surrounded by dozens of dead bodies; Madison knows that Alicia has been through trauma and that she has become a new person because of it. Alicia was forced to do some dark things to save the lives of her fellow survivors, but in the end, she was only able to save herself; all of that killing didn’t prevent the Ranchers or the Nation dying and that will surely affect her moving forward.
The group manages to flee the Ranch and catch their breath at a nearby ridge; Madison looks down on her burning home and expresses her sadness to Strand that the Broke Jaw Ranch has been destroyed. The moment fans have been waiting all season has arrived as Madison and Taqa tell Ofelia that Daniel is alive and at the Dam; Ofelia breaks down and cries as she looks to Taqa for comfort and thanks Madison. With the good news out of the way, it’s up to Nick to deliver the bad news to Alicia; he tells her that Jake died after being bitten by an Infected, something that visibly upsets and angers her, especially after Nick clearly lies about Troy’s responsibility in the matter. After having the weight of the world crushing down on her, this is the final nail in the coffin for Alicia and she tells Madison that she won’t be going along with the rest of the group to the Dam; instead, she plans on heading to the cabin that Jake told her about last episode. Alicia has been through Hell and while I understand her reasoning for leaving her family, I’m irritated that the writers are splitting up the group once again; this is almost an exact repeat of Nick leaving his family in “Shiva,” with their rationale even being similar. Nick and Troy decide to secretly follow Alicia as Madison leads the rest of the group to the Dam; everyone is split up and while they will obviously meet up again one day, this is a major negative I have with this episode and the season as a whole.
“This Land is Your Land” is an epic episode that really allows Alicia to develop as a character far more than ever before. This episode will forever be known as her defining hour in the series, something that will mark the moment of change in her character; this is similar to Rick’s “Better Angels,” Carl’s “Killer Within” and Carol’s “The Grove” in the original series, where the characters are forced to do something horrific that changes them forever. Not only is Alicia an absolute badass warrior, she is resourceful and caring, two qualities that are definitely needed in the apocalypse. In just one episode, Alicia has become my favorite character in “Fear the Walking Dead” and one of my favorites in the entire “TWD” franchise; there’s no denying the depth and growth of Alicia, especially in comparison to her character in the pilot episode. Alycia Debnam-Carey is simply amazing in this episode as she is given her darkest material to date, but she handles it beautifully, giving a raw and emotional performance that really showcases the trauma that the character underwent. I also have to praise the grim tone, excellent action, use of horror and the increased threat of the Infected; the surprising destruction of the Broke Jaw Ranch is another highlight that helps to keep the story moving forward. What awaits the characters as they begin their new lives post-Ranch?
Be sure to tune into “Fear the Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.