Spoiler Warning for the Season 4, Episode 4 of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series. Spoilers from “The Walking Dead” will also be discussed.
The apocalypse is complicated…really complicated. The latest episode of “Fear the Walking Dead” plays with time to tell the story prior to the fall of the Dell Diamond Stadium. Moral questions are raised and the history of the series is referred back to as the characters mark the course for their future. The multiple timelines make the story a bit confusing, but also adds layers and allows for the plot twists to pack some serious punch. How did our survivors end up so down and dirty, and WHERE IS MADISON?
This isn’t an easy episode to recap due to the constant flashing between timelines, so bear with me this week. In the “NOW” timeline, the combined groups travel together in the SWAT truck. Strand, Alicia and Luciana sit on one side while Althea sits on the other with Nick’s corpse laying in the middle; each person looks like they have been hit by a truck, clearly struggling with the loss of Nick. Footage taken by Althea earlier in the day shows Luciana putting a knife in Nick’s head to prevent him from reanimating as Alicia dispatches turned-Ennis. Strand decides that now is the time for him and his family to open up and tell Althea the story of how they ended up here. Luciana states that a single day changed their course and ruined everything for them; this plays into the common theme that decisions in this world carry a lot of weight to them and that every action can drastically change the future. This episode plays out as Strand, Alicia and Luciana explain their decisions on this particular day, all of which contributed to the death of Nick. Just a side note, the updated title card for Season 4 changes each episode and showrunners Ian Goldberg and Andrew Chambliss have confirmed that by the end of the season, a full story will be told through these cards; this episode features a shot of the desert glitching out, a nod to Althea’s camera.
In the “BEFORE” timeline, Luciana observes the Vulture camp as it continues to grow; she notes that “a couple of weeks” had passed since their initial arrival at the Diamond. At the dining hall, the effects of the food shortage are already beginning to set in as the survivors have turned to blending cattle feed into their pancakes to make it last longer. Still, there is optimism in the air as Strand cracks jokes and Alicia notes that things can always get better, seemingly trying to make Naomi feel more comfortable. Madison arrives with plans to send out supply runners to search locations that might not have been looted yet. This is incredibly wise as plenty of unusual places can sometimes hold the best supplies; Glenn Rhee’s line in “The Walking Dead” of “there’s nothing left in this world that isn’t hidden” is the perfect explanation of this. As the characters find themselves deeper and deeper in the apocalypse, scavenging becomes trickier as the most obvious places such as grocery stores, pharmacies and ordinary homes have been long picked clean. This episode places a heavy focus on three separate teams as they head out in search of whatever they can find, learning more about their run partner and also themselves.
The first team up is Strand and Cole, who head to a greenhouse in search of any plants or seeds that they can bring back to the Diamond. Cole once again tries to connect with Strand, revealing that he once attended Texas A&M University and “smoked” quite a few plants. Strand isn’t one to reveal much in the way of personal information and Cole questions if this is because he is afraid of him. Viewers have been following Strand’s journey for years now and know exactly what type of person he is, whereas Cole is still getting to know him. The apprehension Strand shows could be related back to the death of Thomas Abigail in Season 2, which left Strand heartbroken and hesitant to get close to others. A small cluster of Infected covered in strange prickles attack Cole and Strand, leading to a tense fight sequence that ends in Strand rescuing his potential love interest. It’s important to note that some of these prickles penetrate Cole’s skin; is it possible that he will turn from this, much like the “infected” weapons that Negan and the Saviors introduced in Season 8 of “The Walking Dead?” While traveling back, Cole holds onto his shoulder where the prickles entered his body, possibly foreshadowing his demise. However, this element in the shared universe doesn’t exactly have the best track record as far as continuity is concerned, so this could honestly be nothing at all.
While driving back with a small collection of plants, Strand tells Cole the real reason they haven’t been on runs together. The attraction between the two is palpable, but Strand concedes that he is hesitant to get closer to Cole because of the dark things he did in his past. The betrayal at the Gonzalez Dam is one of Strand’s greatest regrets and Strand reveals a small piece of the Dam’s rubble to Cole, explaining that it serves as a reminder for him to never return to that version of himself. Strand brings Cole to an abandoned car lot and proves that while he may have changed, Victor Strand is still Victor Strand. He had prepared a bug-out vehicle with supplies for himself in the event that the Diamond falls. Cole is shocked and disgusted by this revelation and calls Strand out for even thinking about abandoning the rest of the group. Strand makes it perfectly clear that this is just the type of person that he is and that self-preservation is his primary objective. Even though he may care about Madison and the others, Strand will always put himself first.
Nick and Luciana team up to check out a local library, not to search for food…but rather to search for books. Luciana questions Nick’s priorities and wonders why books are needed to which Nick explains that people need a reason to stay at the Diamond other than their primal human needs. Luciana is able to deduce that Nick brought them to the library because of Charlie, who Nick wants to get back on their side. Luciana notes the parallels between herself and Charlie, citing her time at La Colonia and her unwavering dedication to Alejandro’s warped world view that ultimately led to her people dying. Nick and Luciana come across an Infected that seems to have been chained up when he was still living. This is a haunting sight to Luciana, who fears that she will end up like that. She predicts that the Diamond is on the same path as that of La Colonia and states that they should leave before the community falls. She finds an atlas and comes up with an idea of selecting a random page and leading the residents of the Diamond to whichever location is on the page. This would effectively allow them to have a fresh start away from the Vultures and the incoming famine.
Althea tries to give the trio a break from sharing their stories, but Alicia seems dead set on providing an account of what happened even after losing her brother hours ago. She opens up about her own supply run with Naomi to Whirlin Wavez, an abandoned water park. Both Alicia and Naomi bond over the fact that they previously visited similar water parks and had fond memories of delicious churros. The two venture into the park and discover that it was once a community of survivors that was overrun at some point. Naomi spots the top of a water slide complex that seems to be the spot where the final stand of the community took place. Alicia notes that they will need to climb up the slides to reach the point, but a collection of water-logged Infected stand in their way in the connected pool. In some truly manufactured drama, Alicia and Naomi enter the pool and try to climb up the slippery slide without killing the Infected beforehand. This leads to an “intense” few seconds as they scramble to pull each other out of danger, but we know that Alicia definitely survives considering she appears in the present timeline. This move is quite amateur and is a case where the writers make two hardened and intelligent characters rather dumb for a moment to stir up tension; both Alicia and Naomi would know better than to put themselves in such immediate danger after spending roughly two years surviving in an apocalypse.
After climbing up a slide, Alicia and Naomi eventually reach the top of the platform. They discover a machine gun and some other supplies, but two Infected come out of hiding and attack. Naomi is pushed down a slide with one Infected while Alicia fights off the other, holding onto the flash suppressor of the gun; Alicia accidentally pulls the suppressor off and falls down the slide into a circular “toilet bowl” exit that is teething with Infected, along with Naomi. The two struggle to fight off the Infected, but ultimately manage to regain their footing on the slippery surface and avoid dropping into the pool. Alicia uses her badass new weapon of the flash suppressor for the first time, which is later seen in the present timeline. After climbing back up to the top, Alicia and Naomi discover a stash of medical supplies and pack them up to take back; however, Naomi has different plans and slips away while Alicia is scanning the horizon for other locations to scavenge. Using the vehicle she found, Naomi tries to make a run for it, but it runs out of gas and Alicia catches up to her. There’s a sense of understanding in Alicia as she explains that she also tried to run away, but later realized she didn’t need to be alone, referring to the events following “This Land is Your Land.” Naomi states that she doesn’t want to try to make it work “again,” hinting that she may have been part of a failed community at some point. Naomi warns Alicia that the Stadium won’t last, citing her experience as an ER nurse giving her the ability to predict who will live and die.
The downfall of the Diamond is heavily foreshadowed in Madison’s storyline this episode. She is called over to speak with Mel in the parking lot while he grills hot dogs. Life is going rather well for the Vultures and they have plenty of food and supplies to sustain themselves. Mel tells Madison the story of where he and his brother Ennis were before the Vultures.; they were part of a small settlement with their family and a few others. Some nearby wildfires were cause for worry, but Mel convinced the community that they would be fine if they stayed. The wildfires eventually spread and burned down the settlement, leaving only Mel and Ennis alive as they were forced to listen to the death screams of their friends and family. Madison offers the Vultures a place in the Diamond, stating that “we could all make a go of it in there if we work together,” but that just isn’t how Mel rolls. A theme of this episode is the decisions each character must make in whether to stay at the Diamond or leave. The interviews with Althea reveal that the fatal mistake was that they all decided to remain at the community. Madison is overjoyed when she sees Strand return with a load of supplies, showcasing the fact that he isn’t giving up on his friends just yet. Nick’s optimism shines through as he and Luciana present the location “up north” from the atlas that they could visit once and collect seeds to be planted at the Diamond, allowing them to have a fresh start without leaving. There’s even more optimism as Naomi returns with Alicia and the two tell Madison that they plan on setting up an infirmary.
Flash-forward to the present time when all seems lost.
“We should have talked my mom into leaving.”
“I should have followed my gut. I should have kept that car a secret.”
“We should have flipped to another page. We should have found some place else to go.”
“We wanted to believe.”
“We wanted to stay.”
“I wanted to be a better person.”
“That’s why my brother is dead.”
“That’s why Nick is dead.”
“That’s why my friend is dead.”
“We could have stopped it all.”
This is the most poignant moment within the episode as Strand, Alicia and Luciana come to terms with the loss, pain and suffering they have experienced these past few months, each blaming themselves for their hardships.
This episode does an excellent job at furthering the characters of Morgan and John as they deal with the events of the day in their own ways. While driving, John opens up to Morgan and reveals that he was a police officer before the apocalypse (parallel to Rick Grimes in “The Walking Dead”?) and that he learned that a single good or bad day cannot make or break someone. John tells Morgan that he wants to find Laura and that he wants the two of them to meet each other. Morgan makes it clear that he will be heading out on his own after they bury Nick, but the narrative says the opposite as he continually becomes closer with these characters as each episode passes. The OG crew directs the truck to a spot in a field where they seem to plan to bury Nick, only this isn’t the case as they instead dig up a cache of weapons. John, Althea and Morgan realize that the trio plan on hunting down the Vultures and getting revenge. Alicia had previously found a map with the supposed meet point for the Vultures, giving them a place to stage an attack. Althea is angry at the fact that she had been lied to, questioning how she can ever trust Alicia’s group again. Before leaving, Alicia, Strand and Luciana bury Nick under a tree. It’s a somber farewell, but it is clear that the trio has one thing on their mind: vengeance. Morgan takes a moment to say goodbye and places a bluebonnet on Nick’s grave. After everything he’s been through, Morgan has to see yet another person torn away from the world.
This episode drops a helluva bombshell on viewers as the true identity of John’s lost lover Laura is revealed. While packing up the weapons cache into the SWAT truck, John spots a familiar looking bag and realizes that it belonged to Laura. The narrative flashes back to the Diamond timeline to show Naomi opening the same bag, which contains the identical revolver that John first mentioned in the Season Premiere. John quickly deduces that Laura is actually Naomi and that she simply gave him a fake name. He questions where she is and what happened to her, but Luciana and Alicia state that she didn’t make it out of the Stadium and is now dead. John doesn’t believe this to be true and breaks down, in shock over this dramatic news. Strand pokes a bit of fun at the situation to which Luciana shushes him, showing that she has some semblance of compassion for John and what he’s going through. Alicia tries to enlist John is joining their revenge force, but he just wants to be alone. Althea states that she will tag along with the trio and return back for John later. Morgan decides to stay behind with John, who is clearly headed down a dark path; this demonstrates the immense change in Morgan in just the four episodes since his crossover as he has gone from wanting to be alone to sticking with someone who has become a friend of his. The next episode looks to provide backstory to the relationship between John and Naomi, showing how the met and eventually split up. The question remains: is Naomi actually dead?
“Buried” is a strong continuation of various arcs of Season 4, specifically in the mystery of the two timelines. There are a lot of unanswered questions and this episode does fill in some blanks, but also opens up a plethora of more questions. The structure and use on non-linear storytelling is a unique way to allow the mystery to slowly unravel while developing the characters. This is the lowest we have ever seen Alicia, Strand and Luciana and Alycia Debnam-Carey, Colman Domingo and Danay Garía perfectly portray the pain and trauma the characters feel while also highlighting the anger and thirst for revenge. It remains to be seen exactly what happened at the Stadium, but it is clear from the dialogue that whatever happened will haunt the survivors moving forward, especially considering they feel responsible for it. The full story is sure to play out as the season progresses and it already seems as though this year’s Mid-Season Finale will be a drastic climax to the split timelines. Will Madison’s ultimate fate be revealed? Will Alicia’s team get the revenge they desire?
Be sure to tune into “Fear the Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.