Jeffrey Kopp

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Jeffrey Kopp is the Editor-in-Chief of the Niner Times. He is a senior double majoring in Communication and Political Science. His interests include writing and keeping up with an excessive amount of television shows. He is also the go-to expert on all things “The Walking Dead." Reach him at editor@ninertimes.com or @JeffreyKopp97 on Twitter.

TV REVIEW: ‘The Walking Dead’ – ‘A New Beginning’

Spoiler Warning for the Season 9 Premiere (Season 9, Episode 1) of “The Walking Dead,” as well as all episodes of the previous seasons. Certain spoilers from the graphic novel series will also be discussed. Minor spoilers from “Fear the Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

“We’re looking to the past to help us with the future.”

It is back. “The Walking Dead” is back. That sentence has more than one meaning as not only has the show made it’s return to television for a ninth season…but the show that fans fell in love with all those years ago is back. The past two seasons are notorious for being far lower in quality than the usually high standard of the show; with a new showrunner and tone that blends a classic feel with a hopeful future, this zombie story is far from dead. It’s alive…and it is BACK.

A year and a half has passed since the conclusion of All Out War when the forces of Alexandria, the Hilltop, the Kingdom and Oceanside successfully defeated Negan and the Saviors. This is the largest time jump the series has done to date, and a lot has changed since we last left our characters. The episode opens up with a tour of Alexandria, now rebuilt following its destruction last season; a new sign at the main gate welcomes visitors, the church is being reconstructed, gardens flourish with greenery, solar panels sit in front of each house. It’s quite the sight to see. Rick Grimes makes his way onto the porch of the Monroe family apartment, now claimed by his own family. Judith paints on an easel as Michonne watches and giggles as the young child pokes fun at her father for having a “big belly.” Judith has grown a lot and she is now speaking full sentences for the first time in the series. One of Judith’s paintings is of her late brother Carl, showing that while he may be gone, Judith still remembers him and misses him dearly. The Grimes family take a trip out of their community to a field where they watch as a flock of crows fly in formation. It’s stunning to watch, and there is absolutely some symbolism and foreshadowing hidden in there, possibly in regards to Rick’s impending exit. For the first time in quite a while, there is peace here. There’s not an immediate threat. We are just seeing Rick spending time with his family…and that feels good.

Zach McGowan as Justin, Elizabeth Ludlow as Arat. (Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

There’s an excellent transition between the shots of crows flying over the field to crows wrecking havoc at the Sanctuary gardens, where life is extremely different now that Negan is no longer running things. Eugene, Rosita, Regina and others are in the process of making fuel out of the dead corn that failed to grow properly. Daryl has taken on the role of leader at the Savior community and he is running a tight ship. Arat and new character Justin (Zach McGowan) make a scarecrow of sorts by stringing up a walker, but Daryl is having none of it, clearly still bitter about the fact that the Saviors are being allowed to live freely after all of the bloodshed they caused. It’s established in this opening scene that the communities are more linked up than ever before with established routes and radio channels connecting everyone. Eugene, Tara, Aaron and Jesus pass along vital information about their forthcoming scavenging mission via the radio channels. It is here that we get one of many great character bonding scenes as Aaron asks Jesus to be trained in the art of his badass walker-slaying martial arts. During the time jump, Jesus established a class for the children of the Hilltop, similarly to what Carol did back at the Prison. This is just one of many tidbits of information that is provided to fill in the missing time and also show that elements of civilization are slowly making a return.

Over the past few years, both “The Walking Dead” and “Fear the Walking Dead” have explored the post-apocalyptic world and showcased countless new locations. In this Season Premiere, the series does just that as the characters venture into Washington D.C. on a scavenging mission. Nature has overtaken the streets and is reclaiming the land; the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument, along with the National Mall are all shown to be decaying after years without maintenance. Walkers stumble up and down the streets in several shots the mirror those from the Pilot episode when Rick entered Atlanta. Survivors from each of the communities have joined this massive supply run into the city, each riding on the back of a horse or in a wagon; this is showcasing the transition from cars to more medieval forms of transportation as the modern luxuries of life slip away and become less feasible. As such, the characters decide to pay a visit to one of the Smithsonian museums to collect artifacts that they can use in their communities. The museum is awe-inspiring, but it holds a darkness to it as the remnants of what appear to be a survivor camp are strung throughout. It’s worth noting that the filming location for this museum is actually the Georgia State Capitol Building in Atlanta. Yes…”The Walking Dead” actually got the approval to trash up a government building for filming. How many shows get to do that?

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Sydney Park as Cyndie, Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, Danai Gurira as Michonne, Khary Payton as Ezekiel. (Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

The horror roots of the series can totally be felt as the characters explore the museum. A small subgroup enters a claustrophobic room that is decked out in spiderwebs and is pitch black dark aside from the flashlights. Siddiq becomes a witness to one of the most horrifying walkers to be featured in the series as he is grabbed and pulled to the ground; this walker is almost completely decomposed, and is now the home to a family of spiders, which pour out of the eyes and mouth and all onto the floor as Siddiq puts down the walker. We learn here that Siddiq is afraid of spiders, seemingly more so than the monster he just faced. Father Gabriel, now partially blind after falling ill last season, kills a walker in a way that makes its corpse part of an evolution display; this is a unique way at highlighting the full “devolution of man” from primates to walkers. Anne (formerly Jadis) is shown to be fully committing to the efforts of the group as she assists in finding seeds that the museum stowed away for their gardens prior to the apocalypse; she’s also given some backstory as it is revealed that Anne was a teacher before the outbreak and led school field trips to the museum. These seeds could be an absolute game-changer for the future of the communities, specifically the Sanctuary, which is having an especially difficult time growing crops.

This episode features the welcome return of realistic dialogue between characters, something that has been sporadic for the past few seasons; to clarify, this means that the characters are no longer speaking in long-winded poetic monologues, but rather sound more like actual human beings. One case of this can be seen as Daryl and Cyndie work together to move a canoe and end up talking about their brothers. This is an unlikely pairing, but Daryl is able to pass along some wisdom to the young Oceanside leader as he cites his tumultuous relationship with Merle that ended tragically; he relied on the people around him to move forward after his brother’s death, and that’s exactly what Cyndie should do. There’s also a fantastic conversation between Carol, Maggie and Michonne, who haven’t really interacted together as a trio. They discuss an election between Maggie and Gregory that took place at the Hilltop during the time jump. They point out how ironic it is that the Hilltop had a democratically elected leader, while the Kingdom is operating as a monarchy. Michonne expresses her joy that Maggie won the election, and Maggie points out how glad she is that she grew up on a farm, a touching callback. Michonne notices a poster displaying the “conflicts that shaped our nation,” putting a flurry of ideas into her head about the future of the communities. These scenes are so simple, yet hold so much depth and character development. It’s these human scenes that the show has been missing…but now they’re back.

Seth Gilliam as Father Gabriel Stokes. (Photo credit: Gene Page/AMC)

There is some serious teamwork on display this episode as the museum scavenging team links back up at the main staircase to pull a wagon down. The survivors work slowly seeing as there is a glass floor with a collection of walkers below that they must pull the wagon over to get it out of the building. It’s a tough effort, but everyone is pulling their weight. After successfully moving the wagon out of the way, Rick and the others transport the various artifacts they have looted, but the glass is beginning to crack and they realize that they are running out of time. While carrying a plow across the glass, King Ezekiel falls through and dangles just inches above the grabby walkers as his friends switch into emergency mode to get him out. This scene really resembles Glenn’s daring venture into the well on the Greene family farm back in the Season 2 episode “Cherokee Rose.” Fortunately, Ezekiel is rescued and he is embraced with a kiss by a relieved Carol. The two have formed a romantic relationship during the time jump, something that had been building since their first meeting in Season 7’s “The Well.” This was a close call, and everyone feels it. They load their supplies into the wagons outside and march onward and out of the city, leaving the dilapidation behind them. It’s a shame that Abraham never got to explore Washington D.C. seeing as how he made it his mission to get Eugene there. Still, this feels like a minor homage to him.

“The Walking Dead” has always had as western vibe to it, tracing all the way back to the Pilot and this episode sees a return to that. While on the journey back, there are more of those human conversations between characters. Alden speaks with new characters Marco (Gustavo Gomez) and Ken (AJ Achinger) about Ken’s father who is the blacksmith of the Hilltop. There’s a superb moment with Carol and Ezekiel as the future of their romance comes into question; Ezekiel proposes to Carol, clearly as a reaction to his near death experience. She is having none of it, playing hard to get as usual. Come on, Ezekiel. You’re going to have to do better than a horseback proposal for our Carol. Ezekiel is clearly smitten with Carol, even flat out saying that he loves her, but it seems that the feeling may not be 100% at least right now. Rosita arrives on an ATV and links up with the crew to show everyone that one of the bridges linking the communities has been destroyed by a herd. Michonne proposes that they take an alternate route and stay at Alexandria for the night, but Maggie doesn’t want to and the characters split up here. The groups headed to the Hilltop and the Sanctuary encounter a problem when the horses are unable to pull the wagon through mud. Walkers show up and complicate matters further as the survivors scramble to escape, but Ken stays behind to free the horses and ends up being bitten by a walker and kicked by a horse. Siddiq and Enid try to save him after amputating his arm, but he slips away in Maggie’s arms before she puts him down. And just like that, a supply run for the future takes a deadly turn.

Seth Gilliam as Father Gabriel Stokes, Pollyanna McIntosh as Anne, Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Avi Nash as Siddiq, Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee, Danai Gurira as Michonne, and Alanna Masterson as Tara Chambler. (Photo credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

The mood dramatically shifts following the death of Ken as Maggie returns to the Hilltop and must break the news to his parents, Tammy (Brett Butler) and Earl (John Finn). They’re understandably devastated to learn that their son has died, but Tammy is furious that he died to retrieve tools for the Saviors. Maggie offers to help with Ken’s funeral arrangements, but Tammy is having none of it and questions whether or not the right person won the election seeing as how Maggie has been lenient on the Saviors. Times have changed at the Hilltop. Before the arrival of our group, the bodies of their fallen residents would be burned, but they are now buried and Ken is given a full funeral complete with drinks, speeches and a moving musical number by Alden (is he Beth reincarnate?). Gregory gives a rousing toast that even Jesus acknowledges as being heartfelt, especially coming from him. Following the funeral, Gregory offers the mourning parents alcohol; Earl passes seeing as how he is sober, but Tammy accepts and gets WASTED. Always the conniving and scheming son-of-a-bitch, Gregory takes advantage of Earl’s grief and gets him drunk also before spewing ridiculous anti-Maggie rhetoric at him even though Gregory was the one to align with the Saviors the past two seasons. Fans of the comic can see that he is fulfilling his counterpart’s arc to a tee…and it won’t end well.

At some point during the time jump, Maggie gave birth to a beautiful son, whom she named Hershel after her late father. After first revealing that she was pregnant in Season 6’s “Now,” this baby has been a long time coming. Taking an evening stroll with Hershel in a stroller, Maggie stops to speak with Gregory about the difficult day they had. Gregory butters up Maggie about her election win before dropping a chilling bit of information on her: apparently someone has defaced Glenn’s grave. This sends Maggie into a saddened fit of panic and she rushes over to the Hilltop cemetery with Hershel only to be attacked by a hooded figure. The two fight one another as Hershel is knocked from his stroller onto the ground. Enid rushes to the scene to assist Maggie, but she is pushed away and hits her head on a bench, knocking her unconscious. Alden and Cyndie arrive and hold the hooded figure back, and Maggie finally gets a clear look at him: it’s Earl. Maggie is PISSED and rightfully so, but she knows who is responsible. She barges into Gregory’s trailer and yells at him for being a weak leader and an even weaker murderer. There’s some more excellent dialogue as Gregory accuses Maggie of being “Rick’s lackey” and of being too scared to face Negan that she can’t even visit Alexandria. He pulls a knife on her for one final assassination attempt, but this is Maggie we are talking about. She can take care of herself and she does. There is no way that Gregory of all people would be the one to take Maggie down.

Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee and Xander Berkeley as Gregory. (Photo credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

A significant chunk of the episodes takes place at the Sanctuary following the arrival of Rick, Michonne, Daryl and the others. To say that Rick has become somewhat of a legend here is an understatement. The workers who suffered under Negan’s tyrannical rule adore Rick…and they let him know it. Eugene and Laura update Daryl on the supplies and encourage him to give a speech to the Saviors…but he isn’t Negan. Michonne is concerned when she spots writing on the wall stating “Saviors Save Us! We are still Negan!” Not everyone is happy with this new way of life after Negan and one of those might just be Justin, whom Daryl orders to clean up the note on the wall. There’s yet another one of those fantastic character interactions as Rick and Daryl have a meaningful conversation about the future of the Sanctuary. Daryl doesn’t want to lead the Saviors anymore, and he doesn’t see why they should care if the Sanctuary fails. Rick is trying to build a better life for everyone in honor of Carl, but Daryl doesn’t know if its realistic to include their former foes. Daryl expresses his disdain for the group being so split, and he misses the tighter knit team of the earlier days. This seems to a spilling over of the conflict that was teased at the end of last season, but Daryl’s ends up accepting Rick’s viewpoint. They’re brothers through and through, even if they aren’t always on the exact same page.

One of the most important dynamics of the story is that of Carol and Daryl. The two meet up outside and have an amazing heart-to-heart that once again allows both characters to demonstrate the tremendously improved dialogue. Carol expresses the fact that neither of them are able to sleep anymore, but that Ezekiel can…and he snores. Daryl calls him corny, bringing back some of that genuine humor his character has been missing. Carol states that after what she went through with Ed, having a corny lover is welcomed. Daryl is happy for his long-time friend. He misses her though, but she proposes a solution to his problem and decides to stay as the leader of the Sanctuary in his absence. This conversation features some rewarding callbacks to their relationship, including Carol calling Daryl “Pookie,” and Carol’s disdain for smoking. As if seeing these two together wasn’t enough, we also get some Richonne loving as they prepare for bed and discuss the day they had. Michonne teases her boyfriend for being “the famous Rick Grimes” and also questions whether they made the right decision in sparing Negan’s life. Rick still believes they made the right decision, likely because it’s what Carl would have wanted. Michonne is so determined for building this future that she explains her plans for drafting a charter that establishes laws among the communities and also consequences for breaking the rules. Richonne is just what the new world needs, and they both acknowledge how lucky they are to have found one another. We’re pretty glad they did too.

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier. (Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

When morning rolls around, it is time for the characters to get back to their somewhat normal life. Carol and Ezekiel embrace in a final kiss as the King prepares to head back home to the Kingdom along with Jerry. Rick, Michonne and Daryl arrive at the Hilltop and are stunned to find Maggie battered and bruised. In a scene that feels totally like Season 2 on the Farm, Rick and Maggie sit on Barrington House’s patio and discuss how perfect Hershel is. Rick states that he would love for Maggie to visit Alexandria, citing the fact that Judith is always talking about “Aunt Maggie at Hilltop.” Rick also wants Maggie and the Hilltop to assist with repairing the destroyed bridge, including offering more resources to the Sanctuary. Maggie comes up with a deal that has the Saviors trade their labor and fuel for food. This is where Rick and Maggie differ as Maggie doesn’t feel any obligation to solving all of the Savior’s problems when there are clearly problems at her own community. There’s a callback to the Season 8 Premiere when Maggie notes that Rick fell through on his promise to follow her, because “she wasn’t someone to follow…but that changes now.” Maggie has really come into her role as leader during the time skip. She still respects Rick and they are still family, be she isn’t in total agreement with him.

“It’s time to put the children to bed,” Maggie eerily declares as night begins to fall. This has a double meaning to it as the children are literally put to bed and the community gathers at the gallows. Everyone is present, including Enid, who is now bound to a wheelchair after being injured by Earl. Speaking of him, Earl is now a prisoner and a witness of what’s about to happen. “At Hilltop, the punishment fits the crime,” Maggie announces before turning to Gregory, who is sitting on a horse with a noose around his neck. He gives his final words, calling Maggie ashamed…but he’s wrong. She gives Daryl the order to carry out the execution and Gregory cowardly pleads for his life as the horse rushes forward. Two children have come out to see the proceedings, prompting Michonne to attempt to stop the execution…but it’s done. Gregory hangs and slowly chokes to death as the residents of the Hilltop look on. His body swings across the screen as the faces of several characters, including Jesus, Alden and Enid, are highlighted. Justice has been served. Maggie doesn’t want this to become the new norm at the Hilltop and she uses this as a stern warning for everyone to honor the rule of law. The episode cuts to black as Maggie orders for Gregory to be cut down and his body drops to the ground. After two and a half seasons of causing problems at the Hilltop, Gregory’s reign has ended. His iconic comic end has been adapted to the screen…and it is perfect.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee. (Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)

“A New Beginning” is exactly the episode that “The Walking Dead” needed to get things back on track. Obviously, there is the looming shadow of both Rick and Maggie’s forthcoming exits this season, but it seems as though incoming showrunner Angela Kang really understands this story and its characters. She has crafted an excellent premiere that pays homage to the past while charting the course for the future. There are vast improvements to the writing, dialogue and tone, adding more realism, humanity and hope that gives the show its classic feel back. The performances across the board are stellar with Andrew Lincoln, Danai Gurira, Norman Reedus, Melissa McBride and Khary Payton really doing wonderful work that highlights their character’s ticks and personalities. The standouts of this episode are Lauren Cohan, Xander Berkeley in his final performance on the show, and newcommer Brett Butler, all of which deliver a brilliant remix of the Hilltop arc. Things are changing with this series…and it’s about damn time. The slum of Season 7 and 8 is finally over, and a new beginning is here. There’s still a lot to be seen this season, particularly Negan and those mysterious Whisperers, but this is a great jumping point for everything to come. Cheers to Season 9!

Be sure to tune into “The Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.

TV REVIEW: ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ – ‘…I Lose Myself’

Spoiler Warning for the Season 4 Finale (Season 4, Episode 16) of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series. Spoilers from “The Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

Lennie James as Morgan Jones. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

The Season 4 Finale of “Fear the Walking Dead” is weak. Sorry to be blunt, but it just is not good. As a whole, Season 4 is really disappointing. One year ago, the series was at it’s prime…but now we’re here. There’s very little coherent direction and the story doesn’t have much focus at all. The season comes to an end in quite possibly the most lackluster way possible. What happened to this show?

That introduction may suggest that there’s nothing good here, but there are some positive takeaways. The character of Althea is left to her own devices in downtown Austin as the walkers close in on her. There’s major “The Walking Dead” Season 1 vibes as Al is nearly trapped in alleyways whilst trying to find an escape, later finding a car and breaking it’s window in a shot that mirrors one of Glenn doing the same. She makes her way into a parking garage where she radios her crew and explains where she is. In the first of many convenient moments, Althea is stunned to find a news van that immediately excites her, especially considering the fact that there is also a working video camera. She equips herself with her shotgun and puts on a bullet proof vest to head back out into the city only to stumble upon the spot where Jim landed after leaping from the roof last episode. She is horrified when she turns around and is caught by Martha with walker Jim. Martha admires Al for being a hardened survivor and for being hesitant to directly help others. Rather than taking out the threat like so many should before her should have done, Al lets down her guard for a second and is knocked out by Martha. The way this severely injured woman is able to get around these characters is baffling. She is such a small threat that could easily be taken out…but her plot armor is THICK.

Maggie Grace as Althea. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

As previously mentioned, this episode is full of plot conveniences that really weigh this finale down. Al being trapped in downtown Austin seemed as though it would be a major aspect of the finale, but after being knocked out by Martha, she is immediately found by the rest of the survivors. It is explained that Althea was left by Martha as a means of delivering a message via one of the tapes to the rest of the group; the tape is basically Martha rambling about how disappointed she is in Morgan and whatnot. Quite possibly the best moment of the episode comes as the group gathers around a fire at their makeshift campsite for the night to hear Morgan’s explanation of where they are going. He tells them that they are headed to Alexandria and that there are several communities in the surrounding area that he is also part of. Althea once again mentions the King and the tiger, clearly fascinated by them and wanting to get their story; Morgan doesn’t flat out say it, but a look on his face suggests that he knows Al will be upset when she realizes that she won’t get to meet Shiva. Strand calls Alexandria by name, making a fascinating shift in the world of the shows as they have become even more linked than ever before. Morgan states that their best course of action is to stop by the Flip Flop Truck Stop in Mississippi to stock up on supplies before heading to Virginia so they can leave help boxes all the way on their journey. For fans of this Universe, hearing these plans is truly exciting as it makes it feel as though the shows are that much closer to merging. However, as the episode progresses, it becomes more clear that this is all just a bait and switch.

Late at night, John comes across Morgan watching the tape and immediately knows what he is up to. Morgan still wants to help Martha. Since they first met in the Season Premiere, John and Morgan have developed a beautiful friendship and have become exceptionally well at reading each other. Morgan is planning on heading out to find Martha and to try and bring her back from the place in which she is “stuck.” The reasoning for this absolutely makes sense, specifically because Morgan has been exactly where she is now. That being said, there is too much at risk and Morgan doesn’t seem to have learned from his past mistakes of helping people that cannot be helped. Morgan hands John a map to Alexandria and urges him and the rest of the group to make the journey without him, stating that he will meet them there eventually…with Martha. John recites one of his poignant fish metaphors to Morgan about Martha being a fish that wants and needs to be left alone, but he also ties it to Morgan; John knows that this is just something that Morgan has to take care of, and he can’t get in the way of that. In a series of shots that parallel those from the Season Premiere, Morgan heads out in search of Martha, radioing to her and eventually getting through to her. She weakly reveals to him that she is at mile mark 54, the site of her crash with her husband, when everything started to go down hill for her.

Lennie James as Morgan Jones and Tonya Pinkins as Martha. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Mile marker 54 is an important place in the story of Martha. It’s where her life changed forever, so it makes perfect sense that she would return to it to make her final transition to her “stronger” version. When Morgan arrives, he finds walker Jim in a police car and puts a merciful end to his undead life. Morgan spots Martha nearby laying on her husband Hank’s grave, weaker that ever before. Morgan puts her in the back of the police car, much to her objection, and offers her painkillers before beginning the drive to Mississippi where the others have planned to wait a few days before making their trip to Virginia. Much like Eastman did for him in “Here’s Not Here,” Morgan forces Martha to face her past and questions how she ended up the way she is now. She tells the story of what happened to her and the viewer must listen to it even though her story was told during the opening scene of “MM 54.” Still, it is rather interesting to hear and see the emotions of Martha as she narrates the most tragic day of her life. Tonya Pinkins really delivers here as she pours her heart out to Morgan. This story and emotions seem to make Morgan think that Martha can immediately be trusted, because he opens up the barrier between the front and back of the car, allowing her to grab his arm and cause the car to spin out and crash. So many of the moments within this episode could have easily been avoided if it weren’t for stupid mistakes such as this. Morgan is way smarter than this, yet he is being written in a way that is totally out-of-character for the sake of allowing certain plot points to come to fruition.

The portions of the episode spent with the rest of the survivors really don’t contain much meat to them. Upon arriving at the Flip Flop Truck Stop, the characters are blown away by the amount of supplies, the electricity and the running water; this is almost a cruel tease for the viewer as they will have these luxuries should they arrive at Alexandria. Sarah makes and serves fresh coffee for everyone, Althea reloads her machine guns with ammo, Charlie brushes her teeth, and Alicia plots out the options for her, Luciana and Strand; it seems as though they are somewhat hesitant to make the long journey, but they also realize that there is nothing left for them in Texas. June and John have a heart-warming moment together in the aisles as they discuss their love for one another with June expressing that she figured out who she is because of John; their scene together is highly reminiscent to “Laura,” with their time shopping at the general store even being referenced. There’s a haunting bit of foreshadowing as Althea refills the SWAT van with antifreeze as two walkers stumble up to the gas station. Al claims that she can take down the walkers, but she collapses to the ground, showing signs of a mysterious sickness. Thankfully, Alicia steps in and is able to save Althea by killing the two walkers; this is really one of the few scenes in the entire finale where Alicia is given significant material to work with, a sad sign that her character is being disregarded.

Garret Dillahunt as John Dorie and Jenna Elfman as June. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

As Morgan and Martha head toward Mississippi, June radios him to alert him to the fact that everyone at the truck stop has fallen ill. Everyone is experiencing serious symptoms, but no one can quite figure out what is happening and why they suddenly became sick. June starts to pass out water bottles to everyone, but realizes that the seals have been broken and that someone put something in the water; why no one noticed this when they first drank the water is one of many instances of just bad writing for the sake of plot convenience. The characters are left to accept their fate as they all lay around, slowly succumbing to whatever has poisoned them. Althea watches back her tapes and sees previous interviews, overcome with emotion as she sees all of the faces of people she has crossed paths with. Morgan and Martha are badly banged up after crashing the car, but Martha somehow manages to pull him from the wreckage and write his famous “I lose people…I lose myself” quote on his forehead. Morgan is placed in a difficult position when Martha reveals a bite wound on her shoulder, with her stating that she wanted to make sure he couldn’t stop her from becoming the strongest version of herself. They’re at a standstill as either Morgan will have to kill her or she will kill him. When June tells Morgan that the situation at the truck stop is getting worse, Morgan snaps and begins to choke Martha while demanding that she say what she did to the water. She ultimately tells him that the poison is antifreeze. Things aren’t as easy as Morgan simply radioing the rest of the group to let them know about this development, so instead he must hobble his way to Mississippi on a severely injured leg. He handcuffs Martha to the car, a final blow to her that will prevent her from attacking people as a walker, her one true wish.

The season began with Morgan running away from his family in Virginia. Rick told Morgan that he would end up with people again, because he is part of the world. This season ends with Morgan running to get back to a new family he is part of. He reaches a certain point and is finally able to contact Althea over the radio, relaying the fact that they have been poisoned by antifreeze. This is where June snaps into nurse mode and shares with the group that ethanol can be used as a cure for antifreeze poisoning. Sarah flat out calls this an unbelievable stroke of luck that there is an ethanol truck parked just outside. The only problem is that dozens of infected are now pounding on the windows and doors, preventing the weakened group from getting outside. They decide to make a stand and take out as many as they can seeing as how they have no real other option. The burst out of the front doors and take out several walkers while June and Charlie try to distract them from the inside. Strand and Luciana make a run for the ethanol truck while Althea positions herself in the SWAT truck and fires multiple rounds at the walkers. Unfortunately, several of the bullets pierce the ethanol truck, causing it to leak. For an unexplained reason, the characters return to the inside and mope about the fact that the ethanol is now gone even though they had plenty of time to soak some up or capture some in buckets or bottles. If they weren’t even going to use the ethanol from the truck, then what was the point of this entire action sequence? It’s dumb moments such as this that weight the episode down even more and prevent the finale from have any real quality to it.

Colman Domingo as Victor Strand and Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia Clark. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Due to the power of fast travel and plot convenience, Morgan manages to make it all the way from Texas to Mississippi just in the knick of time as the group seems to have lost all hope. He even made a stop along the way to collect a truck full of Augie’s Ale, also known as Jimbo’s Beerbos, since ethanol and alcohol are the same thing. Problem solved! How easy was that? The group chugs down bottles of beer to flush the antifreeze out of their system and there are a few excellent character moments sprinkled throughout. Luciana has a moment to herself where she cheers to Clayton. Strand and Alicia have a heart-to-heart about Madison with Alicia stepping into the role of Strand’s drinking buddy in the Clark matriarch’s absence; this is a moment that was first teased in the San Diego Comic Con trailer and it is totally rewarding to see it finally come to life. There’s a hilarious moment as Charlie drinks a bottle of beer and John tells not her to be poisoned again until she’s 21. Jim has saved the group once again; it’s crazy that a relatively minor character has gone on to have such a huge impact on the story. Morgan decides to head ALL THE WAY BACK to Texas to the spot where he left Martha behind. He finds that she has detached herself from her arm and is now wandering around as a walker. He very honorably puts her down and buries her, bringing an end to the madness that is Martha. She’s finally at peace, and hopefully that gives Morgan some semblance of peace also. Even though he couldn’t bring her back from the place that she was stuck, he did prevent her from slipping down to an even darker place. He also saved countless others from being caught in her sick games. For that, maybe his efforts were worth all of this.

The second half of Season 4 has been heavily focused on Morgan making his return to Virginia, possibly with the characters of “Fear the Walking Dead” beside him. Those plans are thrown right out the window as Morgan establishes a new idea for the group. Similarly to what Madison did upon finding the Stadium in the flashbacks featured in “No One’s Gone,” Morgan shows the group an abandoned denim factory that was used by Polar Bear to distribute supplies in the help boxes. He explains that Martha became so far gone and went on a killing spree because she needed help and wasn’t given it. The new plan for the group is that they will help people. The world may be in rough shape and there may not be many people left, but they are going to help whomever they can. Alicia really seems to like this idea, because it is something her mother would have done. Al proposes that they try to find some of the people on her tapes to help also. The season wraps up with Morgan and the others continuing what Polar Bear started and creating a network to distribute supplies. There’s hope in the air. That being said, this is a pretty weak ending especially considering how heavily the trip to Virginia was teased. It appears that Morgan’s return to “The Walking Dead” will not be happening, as least not for a LONG time as the original series is about to undergo a massive time jump, effectively closing the window for any more crossovers. Sure, this might be the right call to preserve “Fear the Walking Dead” as it’s own show and to keep the characters in a positive place headed into Season 5, but where is the tease for the future? What will entice viewers to keep watching? It’s easy to see the intent of this ending, but it doesn’t really hit its emotional point like it should have.

Danay Garcia as Luciana, Lennie James as Morgan Jones, Garret Dillahunt as John Dorie, Jenna Elfman as June, Daryl “Chill” Mitchell as Wendelll, Mo Collins as Sarah. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Season 4 of “Fear the Walking Dead” had a lot going for it. The crossover of Morgan had the opportunity to breathe new life into the series and connect the worlds forever. That did happen, but the potential was ultimately squashed in the second half when the wheels of the story began spinning and very little ended up happening. The season killed off two major players and altered what the series started off as. This is basically now Morgan’s show, and while that is not inherently a bad thing, it is definitely unfair to the foundation of this series, including Alicia Clark, who is swept under the rug. This episode is the amalgamation of how choppy and flat this season has been. Sure, there are plenty of great episodes sprinkled throughout and the new characters have done wonders for the story, but the heart is really missing. This episode is one of the weakest of Season 4 and of the entire run, and quite frankly, the fans and the characters deserve better. If “Fear the Walking Dead” wants to retain it’s audience, it will have to do better with Season 5. The previous two episode, plus the fantastic “Close Your Eyes,” show that there is still so much talent and potential with this series, but it may not be in the best hands. Still, the performances across the board and the great character moments of this episode are worthy of praise. “Fear the Walking Dead” has had a bumpy road, but there is still hope that things can improve. Season 5 can be yet another blank slate and hopefully the showrunners will take the time to come up with a story that these characters deserve. The focus needs to be on balance. Without balance, we end up with Season 4B…and that just isn’t something that needs to be repeated.

“Fear the Walking Dead” will return for Season 5 in 2019. Until then, be sure to stay tuned to Niner Times for continuing coverage of the “TWD” franchise, including the return of “The Walking Dead” on Sunday, Oct. 7 at 9 p.m. on AMC. Weekly reviews of the main series will continue all throughout Season 9. 

TV REVIEW: ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ – ‘I Lose People…’

Spoiler Warning for Season 4, Episode 15 of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series. Spoilers from “The Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

Jenna Elfman as June, Danay Garcia as Luciana, Daryl “Chill” Mitchell as Wendell, Mo Collins as Sarah, Lennie James as Morgan Jones. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

He loses people…and then he loses himself. Morgan’s first season on “Fear the Walking Dead” is about to wrap up, and he has just lost another person in his life, adding further evidence to his apparent curse. The element of horror is amped up as the characters try to escape an overrun hospital in downtown Austin. Teamwork really makes the dream work…but not everyone makes it out alive.

While it may have been extremely unlikely and unrealistic for Alicia and Charlie to find the exact spot in all of Texas where Strand and John are marooned, it does allow for an excellent reunion. The musings of John seem to have had an effect on Strand, who is now far more hopeful upon seeing one of his OG friends coming to his rescue. Due to another stroke of unbelievable luck, June manages to radio Alicia, setting up another series of reunions. Alicia is able to bring June the relief that John is in fact alive. Morgan is also relieved to hear Alicia’s voice and takes a moment to explain the precarious situation that his group is currently in without revealing their location due to the fact that Martha may be listening. Alicia declares that she is going to rescue Strand and John, and then come to save Morgan’s crew. Realizing that they still need a way to get through across the floodwaters, Alicia and Charlie head out in search of a boat. Meanwhile, John expresses to Strand his pessimism toward the situation, worried that they won’t be able to find a way to get off the damn island. The two characters have essentially swapped places with John even touching base on his story prior to the events of “Laura” when he stranded himself on a metaphorical island. Strand points out that anything is possible, especially considering Alicia and Charlie are now working together even after their tumultuous past. “If that doesn’t make you think that anything is possible, I don’t know what else will,” hopeful Strand is a welcome surprise; he’s living just how Madison would have wanted him to.

Garret Dillahunt as John Dorie, Colman Domingo as Victor Strand. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Alicia is one of the smartest and most resourceful characters on the show, and her hunt for an object or boat that can float over the floodwaters shows this. Charlie points out a bathtub that they could potentially use, but Alicia knows that if they are going to cross the alligator-infested waters, they need something sturdy. They ultimately come across a canoe tied to the roof of a car, but before they can retrieve it, a gunshot sends them into battle mode. Martha enters the scene and fires off several shots at Charlie and Alicia, angry at them for trying to help John and Strand. Charlie crawls under a car in a shot that is reminiscent to “The Walking Dead’s” Season 2 Premiere “What Lies Ahead,” (which is also unintentionally name-dropped by Strand) when the characters hide under the cars from the walker herd. Alicia offers to help the crazed woman, but this only angers Martha further as she doesn’t want people to help one another. Fortunately, Martha’s exhaustion and the symptoms of her gunshot wound cause her to faint, allowing Alicia and Charlie to assist her. Back on the island, John inspects his wound and Strand pours alcohol on it. They are stunned to hear the sound of a vehicle approaching; the SWAT truck bursts onto the scene with Alicia in the driver’s seat steering through the floodwaters and onto the island. It’s a cheerful reunion as Charlie returns John’s hat to him; he’s thrilled to hear that she is speaking once again after being a mute the last time he saw her, in the Mid-Season Premiere. There’s an excellent bond between Alicia and Strand with them both acknowledging that they are okay. Alicia and Strand have been through so much together and it is unfortunate that their moments together now are far and few between, but this reunion is truly rewarding and touching.

The other prominent storyline of this episode follows the characters trapped on the rooftop of the hospital in Austin. June tries desperately to radio Althea, who went missing after switching on the generators. Jim is annoyingly pessimistic about the whole situation and believes Al to be dead, something that angers everyone. Sarah and Wendell are having none of Jim’s blame game against Morgan and even joke about his bite. June tries her absolute hardest to keep Morgan positive, urging him to help find a way off the roof and out of the building. With his time running out, Jim decides to give the source of his downfall a big “fuck you” by standing on the ledge and pissing on the walkers. Morgan finds Jim and worries that he is about to jump, but Jim claims that he doesn’t want to spend his undead life as one of the walkers that can barely move due to broken bones. It’s rare that you hear characters describe their fears of being a walker in such specific detail as this. Sarah tries her hand at getting Jim to tell her the recipe for his beer, but he isn’t ready to give it up. It’s already been established that Sarah has no patience for Jim’s bullshit and this continues here with her most perfect and accurate description of him: “a class-A asshole, an unpleasant jagoff who fills every room he steps into with a philosophical fart.” The above sentence, as well as all of her previous quotes, is proof that Sarah just may be the second-coming of Abraham Ford. We need characters like Sarah and Abraham to take some of the seriousness out of the apocalypse and to just make us laugh.

Aaron Stanford as Jim. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

With the generators still running, the elevators prove to be the best bet for the characters to flee the roof. Morgan, Luciana, Wendell, Sarah and June head down to a lower level, armed and ready to fight their way through the undead. They find the hallways eerily devoid of the walkers that were previously chasing them, but their guard remains up as they slowly make their way around the corners looking for Al. There is some especially creepy camerawork here as the emptiness of the hallways is emphasized by the camera steadily rolling away from the characters. A collapsed roof answers the question of what happened to some of the jerkymen (a new term for the walkers coined by Sarah), but the group does stumble upon some dispatched dead that Althea presumably took down. They arrive at the generator room and discover a note left behind by Al, which Sarah reads and hilariously censors a bit due to Al going “for the full quesadilla” when referring to Martha as the “c-word.” In the message, Al explains that she evacuated via the freight elevator; if she is found to be dead, she asks that the group protect, copy and spread her tapes to keep them living on in the world. Upon finding the freight elevator, Morgan tells his companions that the building is still surrounded by walkers and that someone will need to distract them. Everyone knows exactly what this means, and they are having none of it. Morgan has become a trusted member of the group and they refuse to allow him to die so that they can escape. Morgan has to do this though…because that’s just what Mo-Mo does. From Lennie James’ performance, it is so clear that Morgan cares about these people and he feels responsible for them. He’s ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for them all.

While making their way in the SWAT truck, John and Strand stare at Martha as she comes to. She angrily declares that she didn’t want to be saved by them, but they really aren’t listening to her. John radios the crew trapped in Austin, and the moment we have all been waiting for finally happens. June is on the other end of the line and the two have a heartfelt moment of relief as the two lovers realize that they are both alive. Since Martha is no longer a threat, June reveals their location and sets a reunion in motion. From atop the roof, Morgan concocts a plot to distract the walkers on the street to allow his friends to escape. He flings a walker corpse down onto a car, setting of its alarm and drawing the walkers away from the ground level exit. Luciana, Sarah, Wendell and June manage to commandeer an ambulance while the walkers are distracted. June stands looking up at Morgan and pleading for him to join them…but Morgan has some things to make up for. It’s here that Morgan and Jim have a bit of a heart-to-heart in which it becomes clear that there is some forgiveness for the fact that Morgan was able to save the other survivors. A slight nitpick that needs to be addressed is the inconsistent walker actions, specifically in their reactions to noise. Obviously, the sound of the car alarm would draw the walkers directly to the source, but the battery dying shouldn’t have caused them to turn around in tandem and continue their hunt for the survivors. Walker inconsistencies are nothing new to this franchise , but they are especially noticeable here. Still, it is great that this episode reminds viewers that walkers are easily manipulated and can be controlled with certain tactics; however, they’re still a threat…and that will never change.

Mo Collins as Sarah, and Daryl Mitchell as Wendell. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Teamwork is a powerful and beautiful thing. When the characters come together, it is truly magical. Morgan is stunned and a bit taken aback when June radios him to alert him to the fact that they are mounting a rescue mission to get him off the roof. It isn’t just June on the radio; John, Strand, Alicia, Luciana, Sarah and Wendell have all come back for him. The characters have found and positioned a firetruck with a ladder that they plan on using to bring Morgan down. Sarah operates the ladder while Alicia, Luciana and June stand guard and take down any walkers that threaten their operation. Before making his descent, Morgan sincerely apologizes to Jim for putting him in this situation, and while Jim may not forgive him completely, he does urge him to escape. Unfortunately, the ladder doesn’t reach the roof and Morgan is forced to rappel down to a lower level where he is attacked by a walker in an incredibly tense standoff. Thankfully, John’s expert gunslinger skills come in handy and Morgan is saved by the bullet. He then must jump to the ladder in a frightening moment that almost sees the end of the peaceful warrior. This particular scene really uses silence to its advantage to build up tension and have a moment of genuine uncertainty as Morgan makes his leap. In a world filled with evil people, these good people that we are following are punished..for being good. They find themselves surrounded on and inside the firetruck by dozens of walkers. Morgan was willing to die on that rooftop for these people, but they weren’t ready to lose him. Thankfully, the predictable actions of a downtrodden member of the group change the course of events in their favor.

Death is inevitable for Jim. The infection is overtaking his body and he will die. Morgan tells him earlier in the episode that he does have a say in how he will die, even if it may not seem like it. Morgan offers to make a run and create an opening to allow the characters to access the SWAT truck, but Jim has different plans. He speaks directly to Sarah and tells her his beer recipe, step by step, even whispering a secret ingredient that the audience isn’t even privy to. The poetry of Jim will live on via Sarah and the group. In an utterly haunting beat, Jim closes his eyes and steps off of the ledge, plummeting to his death below. His body slams onto a car, setting off another alarm and drawing the walkers right toward him. Somber music plays as the characters realize that Jim just made the ultimate sacrifice for their survival. They make their way back to the SWAT, but find that Martha has escaped…shocker, right? There’s nothing they can do about it though. They flee the city together and have an excellent moment together where they spitball name ideas for Jim’s beer, finally settling on “Jimbo’s Beerbos.” These lighthearted conversations that sound like actual humans speaking to one another are few and far between, so this is a welcome scene within the episode. The mood takes a hopeful shift as everyone begins discussing their next course of action. They realize that this part of Texas is not habitable, and Morgan proposes that they finally begin the journey to Virginia. For the first time, everyone is actually down to make the trip, especially June who gives Morgan a hearty smile. “So let’s find Al, and then I say we make our way there.” It’s not going to be that easy, is it? Nope. The episode wraps up with a still injured Martha finding the corpse of Jim, writing his beer recipe on his face just seconds before he reanimates and becomes her newest weapon. What is her end game here? Is she about to derail the group’s new path forward?

Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia Clark, Jenna Elfman as June, and Danay García as Luciana Galvez. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Season 4, particularly this second half, has been the clunkiest and most unbalanced of “Fear the Walking Dead’s” entire run. That being said, these last few episodes have gotten the story back on track in many ways. It isn’t perfect and there are plenty of issues with the general direction, writing and inconsistencies. Still, this is another worthwhile episode that does an excellent job at displaying the walker horror and using the characters’ strengths to its advantage. Having the story take place in downtown Austin adds an enhanced feeling of danger and fear that really serves to ramp up the intensity. It genuinely feels as though any character, even Morgan, can meet their end here. Having the characters reunite and work together is precisely what this season needed; its just a shame that this is coming in the final episodes, but better late than never. The stuntwork, walker work, cinematography and directing all deserve praise here. The performances across the board are noteworthy, but Aaron Stanford, Lennie James, Jenna Elfman, Garret Dillahunt, Mo Collins and Colman Domingo are really the standouts here. With just one episode remaining, there is a lot to be resolved. Will Martha claim any more victims? Will Althea escape Austin and reunite with her friends? Will Morgan lead the characters to Virginia in time for the Season 9 Premiere of “The Walking Dead” or are we looking at a roadtrip Season 5 for “Fear”? Knowing this universe, not all is what it seems and the Finale may just shake things up forever.

Be sure to tune into the Season 4 Finale of “Fear the Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.

TV REVIEW: ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ – ‘MM 54’

Spoiler Warning for Season 4, Episode 14 of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series. Spoilers from “The Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

Tonya Pinkins as Martha. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

As Season 4 of “Fear the Walking Dead” chugs toward the finale, the season really starts to pick up with yet another strong episode that ramps up the fear and intensity. Paying homage to the original series, the episode flings the characters into a terrifying game of tag with walkers. There’s also some excellent development with the current villain, showing the consequences of helping people in this post-apocalyptic world. In possibly the most action-packed episode this season, the characters are pushed to their limits in the name of surviving and keeping each other alive.

Every once in a while, the “TWD” shows will reveal crucial backstory for one of their characters. This episode dives into what made Filthy Woman the ruthless killer that we know now. For starters, this episode reveals that the character’s actual name is Martha, a rather comforting name that is juxtaposed by her bloody ways. Flashing back to what appears to be the onset of the zombie apocalypse, Martha and her husband are involved in a car crash that leaves the husband trapped with a large piece of metal debris jammed into his abdomen, similar to Clayton’s fatal injury in the previous episode. Martha pleads for several of the passing cars to stop and help her, but everyone drives right past her, possibly fleeing for their own safety in the panic of the initial outbreak. Martha sees someone wander from a nearby treeline and she begs for their help…but its an infected, and without hesitation, she bashes its head in with a rake. Even though it looks hopeless, Martha tries to provide comfort to her husband, but he dies and reanimates, leaving her alone in this world. Using her bare hands, Martha drags her husband’s body and buries him nearby; this flips a switch in her and she begins ranting and mumbling to herself.

The next time we see her is when she sneaks up behind a semi truck driver, a member of Polar Bear’s group that is distributing the help boxes. It’s revealed that Martha was an English teacher (just like Travis) as she corrects the trucker’s grammar before stabbing her through the throat and turning her into a walker weapon. This sends her on a path of hunting down each member of Polar Bear’s group and killing them in similar fashion. It has to be said that these people have extremely poor survival skills for allowing a walker to sneak up on them like that; you would think that those that had survived this long would be more aware of their surroundings. It’s also irritating that “Fear” is using the extremely cheap tactic of having “silent walkers” attack. From what we have seen, walkers growl and moan constantly, especially when there is prey right in front of them. “The Walking Dead” does this from time to time, and it really takes away from the pre-established rules that the franchise has set. Still, this opening scene shows that Martha was put on a revenge path against all of those who choose to help others in this world, because she wasn’t helped at the very start of it all. She claims that helping people only makes them weak…and she believes that she is living proof that not helping people makes them strong. The timelines sync up as Martha uses a semi radio to try and speak to Polar Bear, but she actually gets in touch with Morgan at the truck stop in Mississippi that was featured in “The Code.” Say what you will about this franchise, but they know how to do backstory.

Daryl Mitchell as Wendell. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Following the cold open, the episode picks back up after Martha’s shocking shooting on the semi that ended the previous episode. In the back of the semi, Morgan and June wake up and see that the oil barrels have been hit and are now leaking. In the front of the truck, Sarah, Wendell and Jim panic when they see that the SWAT truck is turning around and coming back for them. Morgan orders everyone in the back to hit the ground and stay down, but the SWAT truck stops and doesn’t fire at them. Al realizes that Martha blew all of the ammo and can no longer attack. This is where Wendell springs into action and tries to exit the truck to end the threat. Unfortunately, his wheelchair was destroyed in the shooting…but that doesn’t stop him. The group in the back manage to pry the door open and exit, leaving Al to head straight for the truck to take down Martha. The back of the SWAT truck opens up, launching walker Quinn at June as Martha holds the group at gunpoint. Just as it looks as though June is about to become another victim of the world, Wendell fires a shot at Martha’s chest. There’s more chaos as the semi truck explodes, destroying all of the help boxes and supplies in the back, while walkers come from out of the woods after hearing all of the noise. Martha manages to escape…because her plot armor is THICK and she drives off with the SWAT van. This entire sequence is insanely intense and really shows how things can go from good to bad in a matter of minutes. Never get comfortable with a shelter or a mode of transportation in this world because it can be destroyed in seconds.

This episode has major vibes from the original series sprinkled throughout. After losing their semi truck, the group is left to traverse the Texas landscape on the roads with a herd of walkers behind them. This is reminiscent to Rick’s group struggling to get to Northern Virginia in Season 5’s “Them.” Wendell is being pulled by a makeshift rig and June helps an injured Luciana. The group is in rough shape, and Jim starts bitching about how its all Morgan’s fault and that they shouldn’t be following him anymore. Morgan notices a sign for a hospital and suggests that they head toward it so that June can check everyone’s injuries, but Jim isn’t having any of it. Sarah really stands up for her Momo and demands that Jim shut up and appreciate what Morgan has done for the group. Jim decides to go at it alone, stating that the group should be running away from “the things that are trying to eat them,” as if these people haven’t been doing that for the past two and a half years. Morgan and the others let him make the decision for himself, but he cowards out and rejoins them as the group heads for a city skyline in the distance. It’s important to note that while this season has been filmed around the Austin area, this episode is the first time the characters have ventured into the downtown area…and it goes much like how you would expect.

Lennie James as Morgan Jones, Jenna Elfman as Naomi. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

In the world of “The Walking Dead,” cities are best to be avoided at all costs. Atlanta was an absolute mess, Los Angeles was fire-bombed and Austin isn’t in any better shape. When the characters arrive at the hospital in downtown Austin, they quickly realize that they won’t be able to stay for long. Morgan stands guard at a barricade that has been set up and he’s clearly anxious about the group’s precarious situation when June comes to tend to his hand injury. This episode is a huge turning point for Morgan as he is thrust into a leadership role, something that he wasn’t prepared for, and to be perfectly honest, isn’t fitting of his character; this isn’t to say that this is bad writing or that Morgan doesn’t have leadership qualities, but rather that he has always been more of a lone-wolf and the show is exploring what happens when he is put into a position he doesn’t feel comfortable being in. June is confident in his abilities though, even if no one else is. In an episode filled with backstory, there is a great bit provided for Sarah and Wendell, both of which tried to serve their country in the Marines but had very different paths. Wendell tells Althea that he became handicapped as a kid after trying to save a friend by jumping in front of a car. He later tried to join the Marines, but was rejected due to his disability. Sarah on the other hand was able to join and serve, but ultimately quit after their treatment of Wendell. Even in a dire situation, Al is still doing her job and collecting stories of the final human beings left on earth. Without these backstories, the characters would be lifeless and dull caricatures. That’s not what the “TWD” Universe is. The characters are vibrant, layered and have evolved lives.

Much like Morgan predicted, the walkers break through the barricade, forcing the group to make their way up stairs to another floor. While climbing up the flights of stairs, the group is repeatedly forced to duck and dodge from the infected as they enter the stairwell and engage in a tense pursuit; it would have been a lot more efficient and helpful had the group killed the dead in front of them rather than leaving them to cluster with the others. Upon finding a clear floor, the survivors build up another barricade of random hospital equipment against the stairwell door. Everyone breaks off into teams to find another stairwell as Luciana, Wendell and June hold the barricade steady. When it becomes clear that this barricade also won’t hold for long, and no one is able to find another passable stairwell, Morgan suggests that they head to the roof. Fortunately for everyone, there are elevators that can take them to the roof, but the hospital generators need to be switched on to bring power back to the building. While Al and Sarah volunteer to find and turn on the generators, Morgan and Jim are attacked by a handful of walkers. Jim is forced to fight off a walker by himself while Morgan is preoccupied with two others. Jim has zero experience in dispatching the undead, but he does manage to kill the one attacking him after they slam through a glass door and struggle for a minute. Upon finding the generators, Al forces Sarah to go back and rejoin Wendell and the others due to the enhanced risk their current mission poses. For the first time since we’ve met her, Althea’s main priority isn’t getting a story or protecting her tapes. She is going on a suicide mission to keep her friends safe. That in itself is a story to be told.

Danay Garcia as Luciana, Jenna Elfman as June, Lennie James as Morgan Jones, Mo Collins as Sarah. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

There’s a real element of horror at play in this episode, similar to the tone in the first two episodes of “The Walking Dead’s” first season when Rick and the crew were trapped in the apartment store in downtown Atlanta. There’s an intentional shot of walker hands reaching through a door, a clear tribute to the iconic “Don’t Open, Dead Inside” sign from the “TWD” pilot. Lou Diamond Phillips directed this episode and made sure to use his fan knowledge and appreciation to include moments like these to link the two shows. As the stairwell barricade is overrun, Luciana, June and Wendell rush to the elevator bank and meet up with Morgan, Jim and Sarah. Things look EXTREMELY bleak as walkers rush to the location of the group from each hallway, leading the characters to prepare for their final standoff and death. Thankfully, Al manages to get the generators working in the nick of time and everyone hordes into the elevator as the walkers near. After reaching the roof, the group tries to radio Althea, but they hear no response and begin to fear the worst before Luciana expresses her belief that she made it to safety. Much like the group found themselves trapped on the roof in Atlanta, this group is now stranded on a rooftop in Austin. The mood dramatically shifts from despair to pure sadness as June checks out an injury on Jim’s side and discovers a bite from his fight with the walker. He’s heartbroken…because he still has beer to make. What even is this character? Morgan is clearly gutted, because he believes he is responsible for Jim’s coming death. June tries to comfort him, but he seems to be slipping…possibly to his darker side? How the hell will they get out of this pickle?

There is a decent amount of time spent with Alicia and Charlie following their brief conversation with Morgan and Martha on the radio. Sometime after the semi vs. SWAT showdown, Alicia and Charlie discover the aftermath. Alicia is deeply disturbed and almost numb when she finds dozens of walker bodies on the ground and the exploded truck in the road. Alicia calls out for Morgan, but when she realizes that he and the others are no where to be found, she charts a new path. Rather than spending what time they might have left wandering aimlessly, Alicia tells Charlie that she is taking her to Galveston to visit the beach. Charlie has mixed emotions when she hears this because she really does want to meet back up with the rest of the group. Alicia is a broken woman in more ways than one. She’s basically lost all hope that her people are alive — and you can’t really blame her. Charlie, on the other hand, is far more optimistic and still believes that they can and will find the rest of the group. This isn’t to say that Alicia believes them to be dead, she just doesn’t think they will find them. Charlie becomes adamant that they keep up the search, and Alicia explains that she wants to go to the beach because they need something good in their lives after all the shit they’ve been through. They stumble upon floodwaters and Charlie jokes that it is a beach. These floodwaters just so happen to be the same that have marooned Strand and John on the island, and Charlie finds John’s hat floating in the water. The episode wraps up with Alicia being stunned and relieved to see two of her missing friends on the island. Of course, Colman Domingo and Garret Dillahunt aren’t shown on screen because AMC clearly didn’t want to pay them for this episode.

Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia Clark, Alexa Nisenson as Charlie. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

“MM 54” is the second strong episode of “Fear” in a row. Hopefully this is a sign that the final two episodes of the season will be solid, also seeing as how the set up hints that things will be wild and deadly as it all wraps up. There are a ton of highlights in this episode, specifically the Austin setting, the “TWD” homages, Morgan and June’s friendship, Morgan’s leadership struggle, Sarah and Wendell’s development, Martha’s backstory and Alicia’s good nature. There are a few minor nitpicks in regards to some of the ridiculous silent walkers and Jim’s irritating presence along with his random role in the story. That being said, the cinematography and directing of Lou Diamond Phillips really serves to make this one of the most stunning episodes this season, specifically in the use of light and shadows to highlight the characters and the walkers. The performances also deserve praise, specifically Tonya Pinkins, Mo Collins, Daryl Mitchell, Lennie James, Maggie Grace, Jenna Elfman and Alycia Debnam-Carey all managing to convey the perfect emotions in their scenes with some truly wonderful and believable charisma. Hopefully, “Fear” can sustain this level of quality and energy in the final two episodes as the characters continue to reunite and come together. How will everyone get off that damn roof? How long does Jim have before he succumbs to the infection? Will Morgan be able to bounce back from this slump? Will Alicia and Strand finally have their anticipated drinking session? Stay tuned!

Be sure to tune into “Fear the Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.

TV REVIEW: ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ – ‘Blackjack’

Spoiler Warning for Season 4, Episode 13 of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series. Spoilers from “The Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

Danay Garcia as Luciana. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

The second half of Season 4 of “Fear the Walking Dead” has been far weaker than what came before it. Alicia and Charlie’s “Close Your Eyes” standalone and this episode prove that there is still worthwhile story to be told, however. By featuring the entire cast and blending tension and mystery with humor and hope, this is a strong chapter that pushes the story forward and sets up the final act of the season. Luciana, Strand and John take center stage after being absent for several episodes, helping themselves and each other.

A bulk of the episode follows Strand and John who have been marooned on an island that is surrounded by floodwaters from the hurricane. They were last seen heading out into the storm in search of Charlie, but unfortunately, the show basically skips over their entire struggle during the actual hurricane to once again only show the aftermath. It’s unclear exactly how long the two have been on this island, but it is clear that they have very separate priorities: Strand just wants to spend his time reading in a cabin while John is working hard to build a raft to get back to the mainland. The two aren’t alone on the island as an annoying chirping bird is also present and appears to be drawing walkers to their location with its shrieking noise. John points out that he has never seen this type of bird alone and that it is another sign that the world has gone mad. The makeshift raft that John has built is apparently seaworthy for the both of them, but Strand states that he no longer wants to go out on the water, likely a reference to his days aboard the Abigail in Season 2. John is totally determined to reach the other side of the floods and pleads with Strand to come along, noting that it will take a long time before the floodwaters lower, especially if the levees broke. This episode really shows the differences between John and Strand and provides a clear explanation for why both are they way they are. Where John is hopeful and optimistic, Strand is depressed and broken.

Garret Dillahunt as John Dorie and Colman Domingo as Victor Strand. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

The moment John’s raft hits the water, it becomes clear that he isn’t going to make it across the water…not even close. Strand bursts out laughing, but his mood shifts dramatically as a frightening figure is seen lurking just under the surface while moving quickly in the direction of the raft. It’s an ALLIGATOR. Nature has thrown another curveball at the characters, and they are now trapped in an even worse position. Strand snaps back into his laughing mode as he thinks about the ridiculousness of the whole situation. A walker steps into the water and is pulled under and ripped apart by the alligator. John notes that because the walkers don’t have any sense of fear and wander into whatever is in front of them, the alligator is able to feast on the dead without any worry of being attacked by humans. Still, John is persistent on finding a way to cross, and Strand questions the odds of ever finding June again. John responds by defending his optimistic point of view that the world keeps trying to defeat, “You gotta fight for everyday. I found someone I want to fight alongside.” He also shows off a piece of blackjack candy that he managed to hold onto during the storm and that happens to be June’s favorite; “Little things like this, make you want to keep fighting.” It’s goes without saying that both the world of “The Walking Dead” and our real world need more people like John Dorie.

It would’t be a “TWD” show without someone unnecessarily risking their life to complete a task. The two discover a trapped camper van that is precariously dangling at the top of a hill. The cover of the van would be the perfect raft for them to sail across the water, according to John, who is unable to climb up and retrieve it due to his still recovering gunshot wound. He hilariously manages to guilt Strand into climbing up the van, but a bottle of scotch ultimately distracts the conman. He falls into the van with a grabby walker and the two tumble down the ravine, splashing into the water. Due to luck and plot armor, Strand is miraculously uninjured and unbitten, but John is PISSED that Strand would be so ridiculously careless about the situation. This is where the two men separate again as John uses his skills to create a raft. John is an extremely convincing man and does his best to provide comfort and persuade Strand to join him to sail across the flood. It’s clear that Strand is hurting from the loss of Madison, stating that he lost his drinking buddy and is now drinking to forget. John agrees to drink with him, but only once they’ve reached the mainland. Since Season 1, Strand has always been brutally pessimistic, but there’s a shift in his character as he agrees to tag along with John and set sail in the alligator ridden waters.

Mo Collins as Sarah, Daryl Mitchell as Wendell, Jenna Elfman as June and Lennie James as Morgan Jones. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

John is one of the most resourceful characters on the show currently and he provides further proof of this by rigging the van battery to a horn that he then places away from where they plan to launch the raft. The idea is that this horn will draw walkers into the water, therefore distracting the alligator. They begin rowing out into the floodwaters, but because nothing ever goes as planned, the horn quickly dies out and the walkers turn away from the water, effectively sending the alligator straight to their raft. This all sounds ridiculous — and it is. However, it does make for an especially tense scene as the alligator rams into the raft and breaks a hole in the bottom, causing it to flood. John wants to try and swim for the mainland, but Strand warns that they aren’t close and makes it clear that he only came along to humor John’s idea. They only really have one option: to distract the alligator by making noise and drawing the walkers back into the water, allowing them to swim back to the island. When they return, there is a vastly different tone present. Strand returns to the peace of his cabin, while John sits on the shore, staring at the mainland. He takes out the piece of blackjack candy…and eats it. Quite possibly the most hopeful character on the show is taking a darker turn as he sees that he may not make it off of this damn island. It’s a disturbing sight, mostly because John has been a beacon of light since he was introduced at the start of this season. With his hope ripped away, will John begin to lose himself like so many before him have done? Will he actually ever reunite with June? Things aren’t looking great for these love birds.

Much of this episode also follows Morgan’s crew after the eye-opening events of the previous episode. June, Althea and Morgan leave the semi and head over to the mile marker where Quinn last radioed in, but he is nowhere to be found…because Filthy Woman killed him with Pervis the walker and is now using him as her pet. Speaking of Pervis, he ends up stumbling upon Sarah, Wendell and Jim while they are waiting for the others to return. In one of the coolest kills of the season, Wendell uses spears attached to the back of his wheelchair to kill the walker much to Jim’s annoying worry; if there was any wonder as to how Wendell has survived this long, here is the answer: he can take care of himself with no problem. There’s more great banter involving Sarah and Wendell, specifically in regards to Morgan’s hilarious nickname “Momo” and their point system for killing the undead. When the others arrive, there is plenty of confusion at the deceased walker with writing on it’s face, but Filthy Woman radios in and hauntingly warns them that by placing the help boxes, they are effectively making survivors weak. She also tells Morgan that she knows exactly who he is and what he is capable of, hinting that she watched his interview tape and is aware of some of what he has been through. This causes concern among members of the group that Morgan isn’t being totally truthful about his past, but he states that he has a lot of things to make up for…much like another character who is focused on this episode. We know what Morgan has done, but the “Fear” characters don’t.

Lennie James as Morgan Jones, Jenna Elfman as Naomi, Maggie Grace as Althea. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

While the intent of Morgan’s crossover to “Fear” is still unknown, and some elements of it are rather iffy, it is downright incredible that elements of his character are being honored here. One of the most important points of Morgan’s story is “Here’s Not Here,” when he meets Eastman and is taught the art of aikido, putting him on a path of peace which would save his life. Years later, and on a different show, the impact of Eastman is still being felt. In this episode, Morgan buries Pervis, a clear nod to what Eastman used to do in burying the walkers as a heavy reminder that the dead were once people. This small and simple scene is likely not a major point for many viewers, but it is crucial in understanding Morgan’s character and his history. Eastman is impacting characters that he never met, or was even aware of, hundreds of miles away on a different show via Morgan. If there’s anything to take away from this crossover, it’s that human beings are united in more ways than we think and that there is some real power to the simple act of being kind and helping people.

Sarah drives the crew to the location of where she and Wendell stole the semi from it’s original owner, a man nicknamed “Polar Bear,” who also kept detailed journals. Al reads through the journals that were kept on the truck and states that she really wants to hear more of his story. Sarah and Wendell are questioned as to why they would steal a truck from someone, an act that they vehemently defend due to the fact that he left the keys in the semi. There’s a small and important moment for June and Morgan as they place a new help box at a mile marker, looking at one another as affirmation that, even with the threat of Filthy Woman in the air, they are still doing the right thing. Morgan writes a message on the box, urging anyone in need of help to contact him through the radio channel. This allows for the characters to slowly begin to come back together as a radio signal from a familiar voice comes over the walkie. It’s Charlie, who has found one of the boxes while traveling with Alicia. Alicia is initially concerned due to the fact that she doesn’t know who left the box, but her face shifts to complete relief when she hears Morgan’s voice. Unfortunately, Filthy Woman interrupts the happy reunion to voice even more eerie thoughts about helping people. She basically threatens the characters, but Morgan stands up to her and makes it clear that the members of the group will find one another and that they will continue to help people. Helping others doesn’t make people weak, it makes everyone stronger. Morgan even offers to help Filthy Woman, noting that he was once where she was, going around killing people with no regard for life…until someone helped him. Again, Eastman’s legacy is still being felt.

Danay Garcia as Luciana, Stephen McKinley Henderson as Clayton – (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

It’s extremely annoying and not at all beneficial to go several episodes without showing central characters such as Luciana. This episode shows that she is definitely a character that deserves more screentime and should be featured more heavily as she is truly the standout here. After chasing Charlie into the storm during the Mid-Season Premiere, Luciana decides to search for her and uses the copy of “The Little Prince” to try and track her down. This book leads Luciana to a local library, where Charlie is nowhere to be found. She exits the library and finds an infected pounding on the window of a crashed car nearby; thinking that Charlie might be trapped inside, she kills the walker and opens the door only to find an elderly man named Clayton (Stephen McKinley Henderson) with his leg jammed. The man explains that he has been trapped since the storm hit, and Luciana vows to get him out, claiming that she “has some things to make up for.” That’s really the common theme of this episode, specifically for the characters of Luciana and Morgan, establishing a truly beautiful parallel between the two. Unfortunately, as Luciana tries to free Clayton’s leg from the jam, it becomes clear that he isn’t getting out of this situation. Clayton seems to have accepted his fate. He does have one final request, however, and Luciana promises to honor it. He just wants to enjoy a beer before he slips away from this harsh world. How could you not at least try and get this man what he wants?

While the storm was mostly glossed over, there are some excellent shots of the ravaged landscape. There is debris everywhere, making it even harder to find supplies. Luciana scavenges the area in search of Clayton’s final request. She finds a beer truck, but it was looted long ago. She also finds an case of root beer, but that’s obviously not what she’s looking for. This particular quest has shades of Beth Greene’s story in the “TWD” episode, “Still.” Feeling hopeless, Luciana radios into Clayton and lets him know that she’s sorry she couldn’t help him. In a powerful statement, he lets her know that she will go on to help many people in her life. By the stroke of luck, and the desire of Morgan to help people, Luciana finds one of the help boxes with Jim’s beer and Morgan’s message. She returns to Clayton and surprises him with the beer, explaining that she couldn’t help comfort someone (Nick) in his final moments and that she’s letting history repeat itself in this case. It is revealed that Clayton is actually Polar Bear and is the one responsible for the help boxes; this kind man just wanted to help people, proving that good people CAN survive in this world…until they can’t. Clayton dies offscreen, and Luciana buries him before radioing on the channel and thanking whomever left the box for giving a dying man peace and joy. Morgan responds and there is another gracious moment of reunion as the semi picks up Luciana. Unfortunately, this positivity doesn’t last too long as the SWAT truck comes barreling up behind the semi with the Filthy Woman driving. She echoes Morgan’s line about him “losing people and then losing himself” before unleashing a hellfire of machine gunfire on the semi. Has this maniac just killed more of our crew? Why do happy moments never last long in this franchise?

“Blackjack” is a strong episode, especially following up the previous two episodes, which are notably weaker than the series’ normally high standard. This chapter touches base with each of the characters and serves to show that helping others is a crucial element to one’s own survival in this world. That being said, there is always consequences to doing the right thing as seen in the shocking cliffhanger. There are plenty of tense moments this episode, including the shooting and the game of chicken with the crocodile. There are also plenty of excellent character moments that provide development for characters such as John and Luciana. The standout performances of this episode are definitely Danay García, Garret Dillahunt, Colman Domingo, Stephen McKinley Henderson and Lennie James, each managing to fully showcase a ranger of somber and upbeat emotions during the hour. Special praise should also be given to the cinematography of this episode, particularly during the scenes with John and Strand on the island, creating a feeling of hopelessness and isolation. The next episode looks to provide some answers in the form of Filthy Woman’s backstory, while also dealing with the aftermath of the shooting. Will we finally learn this mysterious killer’s name? Do we even want to know?

Be sure to tune into “Fear the Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.

TV REVIEW: ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ – ‘Weak’

Spoiler Warning for Season 4, Episode 12 of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series. Spoilers from “The Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

Maggie Grace as Althea, Jenna Elfman as Naomi. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Season 4 of “Fear the Walking Dead” has been a complete mixed bag. The first half was mostly about transitioning from the old era to the new, but this half is focused on developing each of the characters. Focusing heavily on June and Althea allows for this to be a step up from the previous episode, although there is a multitude of glaring issues that make for a frustrating hour. That being said, the character interactions, action, direction and performances do make for a worthwhile episode.

This half of the season was initially billed as being focused on a major hurricane striking, yet it has been essentially glossed over aside from Alicia and Charlie’s standalone. This is incredibly disappointing, as is the complete separation of the characters, both of which can likely be attributed to budgetary issues. Moving forward, the season looks to explore the aftermath of the hurricane with this chapter opening on June obsessively watching back Althea’s interview with John, which was recorded back during the season premiere. The SWAT truck has become a shelter of sorts for June and Althea from the hellish and devastated landscape; debris is flung all over the place from the heavy winds. A recurring element of this episode is the use of walkie talkies with June using one to attempt to contact John. She speaks to him over the radio and references his interview as her motivation for pushing forward; in the recording, John speaks about his overwhelming hope that he would find “Laura” again one day. The opening scene has an excellent montage with a series of shots from the back of the SWAT truck showing Al and June going about their daily business while being marooned. A broken transition over the walkie perks June and Al’s ears, linking their story with the other prominent arc of the episode: Morgan and Company. Throughout the episode, these walkies become a device to bring the two groups together with them both attempting to connect, but constantly being cut off.

Lennie James as Morgan Jones, Daryl “Chill” Mitchell as Wendell. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Following his trip to Mississippi in the last episode, Morgan makes his return back to Texas, along with Sarah, Wendell and Jim. There’s one of many creative walker kills right off the bat as Sarah stops driving and exits the semi truck to dispatch a walker that was struck and became attached to the hood. This spurs some much-needed humor in the form of banter between Sarah and Wendell as they discuss whether or not she deserves a point in their ongoing count for this kill. Morgan exits the truck and takes a moment to attempt to raise his friends on the walkie, but he has no luck. Sarah questions whether or not what Morgan is doing will be successful, but he has to try; “somebody did the same for me once…for as long as he could,” Morgan states, a clear reference to the pact Rick made to radio Morgan and Duane every day at dawn back in the very first episode of “The Walking Dead.” All these years later, and on a whole other show, Morgan is carrying on the legacy of Rick, showing that their bond will stand the test of time. Morgan decides to take a walk and see if he can boost the signal, prompting Sarah and the others to get comfortable at the mile marker and “tailgate.” Morgan’s hilarious new nickname “Momo” comes back into play as Sarah tells him that she will continue to call him that even against his wishes. Mo Collins is really being given some great comedic work to play with here as Sarah, allowing her to mix her background in comedy with the usually bleak and dramatic world of “TWD.”

While wandering and looking for a clear signal, Morgan finds the mysterious and filthy woman with dreadlocks from the previous episode. She is sitting in a ditch going through the supplies in a help box as Morgan notes that she should take anything that she needs. The still unnamed woman states that she doesn’t need help, because she isn’t “weak,” a reference to the episode title. Morgan also warns her that she should be careful due to the fact that things are “tough,” a sentiment that she repeats back to him almost verbatim. This woman is creepy. She’s unsettling. However, what she does when Morgan walks away is downright evil. She takes water that is clearly dirty and possibly even contaminated with walker gunk, and pours it into clean water bottles that have been left in the help boxes for survivors. Morgan doesn’t stick around to get to know this woman like he normally would. He leaves and gets far away, clearly aware that she isn’t mentally stable and could potentially be dangerous. He ultimately makes it to a water tower and climbs to the top, using it’s high position to boost his radio signal and send out a final message to his friends about his location. From Morgan’s point of view, things aren’t looking good for his Texas family. They haven’t been seen by him since the hurricane hit, and he has no real way of locating them. There’s also the fact that he is basically asking Sarah, Wendell and Jim to hold off on reaching a place of safety and shelter simply so he can find people they have no connection to. Thankfully, all hope is not lost and the characters begin to come back together.

Tonya Pinkins as an unnamed character. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

A huge focus of this episode is placed on the tricky relationship between June and Al as they struggle to survive together. This is really the first time that they have spent a significant amount of time together, especially just the two of them. There’s some clear tension between the two immediately as June flat out tells Al that they need to abandon the SWAT truck and find another vehicle. Al isn’t doing so hot, seemingly suffering from some sort of bug which she explains away as low blood sugar due to not having food. If they choose to stay at the van, they will die, and June knows this. They venture off down the road and eventually come across a pickup truck with a single walker trapped inside, which June quickly dispatches. It’s worth noting that June has become rather skilled at taking down the infected using her just knife in one clean hit, something that has proven to be quite difficult for many of the survivors in the world. Al ends up driving the truck, which is an odd decision considering she is becoming sicker by the minute. While traveling, the two end up having an excellent discussion that taps into Al’s past; she explains that she has spent so much time telling other people’s stories, before and after the apocalypse, that she ended up not having a story of her own. Althea is a journalist and she has always made that her singular priority, even putting herself and others at risk to get a story; this is a trait that she continues this episode, adding layers to her character and showing a different side to her than we’ve ever seen.

The hurricane (that was barely shown) clearly wrecked havoc and the characters are now living in the aftermath of it. As such, it would make sense that at least one character would come down with some sort of illness that spreads easily after a hurricane or major storm. June points out that Al could be sick with malaria, cholera, or any other number of diseases. In a normal world, illnesses can be treated with proper care and medication, but the characters don’t have that and the most tame sickness could result in death. June realizes that her own medical skills won’t save Al if they don’t get her some antibiotics. In a shocking twist, the SWAT truck races past and Al switches into “Fast and the Furious” mode to hunt down whoever stole it and to get it back. A tire on the pickup truck blows out during the high speed chase, causing the truck to spin out as the SWAT van races away. Al is pumped full of adrenaline and ready to continue the chase, but June pulls her back to reality. The only issue is that there are antibiotics stashed in the van, according to Al. While attempting to repair the blown tire, June tries to keep Al talking and awake. This proves to not be much of a problem as Al gets a sudden burst of energy and begins pleading with June to head out and hunt down the SWAT truck after they hear the rapid machine gun fire, letting them know that the thief seems to have run into trouble nearby. Althea understands why June is hesitant to leave Al behind, given the fact that the same scenario occurred back at the FEMA shelter when June left her daughter behind to find medicine, only to return and find her daughter had died, turned and attacked. History always repeats itself in this world, but the characters usually learn and find new ways forward.

Jenna Elfman as Naomi – Fear the Walking Dead. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

There is always a sense of danger when one heads out on their own. June makes her way down the road to the sound of the gunshots and eventually comes across a bus crash site. The SWAT truck is parked behind it and several dead walkers lay in a pile nearby. In a scene almost perfectly mirroring that of June’s introduction in “Another Day in the Diamond,” a stranger steps into frame and holds a gun to the back of June’s head; in the aforementioned episode, June steps into frame and holds Madison at gunpoint…how the tables have been…rearranged. June begs the man, who is named Quinn (Charles Harrelson), to lower the gun and come back with her. She cites the fact that Madison saved her and gave her a second chance as proof that people can return from their low points. Quinn notes that if he did what she said, he would be the first to die when things go bad and that he could never truly be a member of her group. In a truly badass move, June manages to strike and pull Quinn to the ground, prompting a struggle that almost results in her brain being blow out; she ultimately gets the gun out of his hands by elbowing him in the groin. June nearly reaches that low point for herself again when she screams at Quinn to tell her where the antibiotics are even though he clearly doesn’t have any knowledge of where they are. She’s emotional and stressed, but decides to let him go, proving that Madison had a profound effect on her and is now helping to guide her decisions. While the death of Madison will likely always be the show’s biggest mistake, and her absence is totally being felt, it is comforting to know that she is still playing a role in the story.

Being sick during the zombie apocalypse is probably one of the worst things that could happen. The horror that went down during the first half of “The Walking Dead” Season 4 with the flu outbreak at the Prison is proof of this. Althea is now experiencing something similar, but she is all alone and is forced to fight off a walker while trying to fix the blown tire, all the while June is frantically searching the SWAT truck for the antibiotics. The gnarly burned walker dislodges itself from its own kneecap, proving once again that the crew have no issue coming up with epic and creative walker gags. Taking down the walker proves to be extremely difficult given Al’s weaken state, but she totally deserves the award for Walker Kill of the Week for kicking the pickup truck repeatedly and causing it to drop and crush the undead head. She manages to grab the walkie and radio June, only to reveal that there are no antibiotics and that she was just trying to get the truck back. After almost a whole season of Althea emphasizing just how important the truth is…she tells a huge lie. This shows that her character is not static and has learned that in this world, one must be manipulative and untruthful at times to get what is desired. We as viewers believed Al, because we were conditioned to. This just goes to show that literally NO ONE can be trusted, not even the main characters that we are following.

Maggie Grace as Althea and Lennie James as Morgan Jones. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

When June returns, the two have a bit of a falling out as Al takes her magical medication, which seems to cure her instantly. June is angry because she almost slipped back to the person that she once was over a lie, but Al has her reasons. The SWAT truck and the tapes inside are everything to her. All of the interviews aren’t just the stories of strangers, but rather of people she knew. They are the story of herself and of the world. If they are lost, part of herself and the world dies. She notes that the tape of Madison gave Alicia such a sense of closure. For nearly the entire season, Althea has been a stoic and hardened figure, but her exterior is being cracked and her emotions are coming out. She cares about people. Morgan’s transmission from atop the water tower comes in and June and Al are relieved to hear his voice, their first sign that a member of the group is alive. He tells them the mile marker that he’s at and June uses a map to figure out that they’re 50 miles away. She’s ready to head out and meet up with him, but Al isn’t and wants to return to the SWAT van. They decide to split up, and June begins to drive off, but Al fires several shots from her rifle to show that she has had a change of heart. The truck is obviously important to Al, but could she not just take the tapes and any other belongings with her? It’s small writing blunders such as this that keep this episode (and others like it) from reaching its full potential.

At the mile marker, Morgan realizes that time has run out. None of his friends appear to be coming. As Sarah starts the engine and prepares to drive away, Jim offers Morgan a beer in a moment that feels like a cheesy commercial that would air during a football game. Suddenly, there’s a positive shift in the air as Al and June roll up and reunite with Morgan. There’s relief on everyone’s faces, but also sadness as June realizes that John and the others aren’t there. Sarah offers June and Al food and water from one of the help boxes; Al chugs her water, which is a bit concerning after dreadlock lady was shown tainting water bottles. Morgan and Al have a touching heart-to-heart about his plans to return to Alexandria, but it seems as though Al no longer wants to tag along; still, it’s downright cool to hear Althea mention Morgan’s home by name. Meanwhile, June radios in to Quinn, who has commandeered the SWAT truck after finding fuel, to tell him that he should join up with them at mile marker 27, to which he agrees. There’s a dark shift that occurs as Quinn arrives at what appears to be the aforementioned meet spot, only to discover that someone has put tape over mile marker “21” to make it look like “27.” Seconds later, Quinn’s is brutally attacked by a stupidly silent Pervis, who is being guided by the filthy woman. June is confused by the radio silence, and tries to reconnect with him as the woman listens in. She enters the SWAT truck and frees Pervis before writing on Quinn’s head just moments before he reanimates. She has a new pet. She has a new weapon. She’s coming for our characters.

Daryl Mitchell as Wendell, Aaron Stanford as Jim, Mo Collins as Sarah and Jenna Elfman as June. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

“Weak” is a definite step up from the previous episode, but it does contain some glaring issues. First there’s the fact that several of the character decisions are downright idiotic and not reflective of everything they have been through. There’s also the issue that the season as a whole is lacking any real forward direction, specifically due to the fact that the characters are scattered and there’s only a small amount of time being spent with specific characters. Why are we going weeks without seeing Strand, Luciana and Alicia, the core three characters that the show has been following for years? As for the positives, this episode itself should be praised for its performances, specifically from Jenna Elfman and Maggie Grace, both of whom manage to show a wide range of emotions during an especially exhausting and trying period of their lives. Praise should also be given to Colman Domingo, who makes his television directorial debut here, delivering an episode that feels like an old western film down to the atmosphere and camera shots used. Hopefully, the season can find some direction and begin building toward something that unites the characters. Next week looks to focus on Morgan’s combined group while also touching base with Strand, John and Luciana. Will more of the characters reunite? Who will be the filthy woman’s next victim? With just four episodes left this season, those questions should surely be answered.

Be sure to tune into “Fear the Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.

TV REVIEW: ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ – ‘The Code’

Spoiler Warning for Season 4, Episode 11 of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series. Spoilers from “The Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

Lennie James as Morgan Jones. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Morgan Jones has broken “TWD” history during his time in the franchise. He became the first character to cross over from one show to the other and continues to break new ground in the latest episode of “Fear the Walking Dead.” Separated from the rest of the main characters, Morgan is forced to ponder what direction his journey will take him. Should he return to his new friends in Texas or head back to Virginia and reunite with Rick and company? As a plethora of characters are introduced and a mystifying villain enters the scene, the apocalypse just got a little more complicated.

This episode picks up where the Mid-Season Premiere ended with Morgan searching for Alicia in the approaching hurricane. As Alicia ended up stuck in the house with Charlie, Morgan finds himself seeking shelter in the back of a semi truck that contains a massive amount of supplies. There is an excellent callback to a small piece of lore of the franchise as Morgan finds a peanut butter protein bar, a favorite of his that has been a recurring joke since Season 3 when Michonne stole some bars from his stash. Morgan ultimately falls asleep and somehow manages to sleep through the storm, and the truck starting and driving hundreds of miles to MISSISSIPPI. Yes…”Fear” just made several huge steps east and added yet another location to its story. The semi has been parked at the seemingly abandoned Flip Flop Truck Stop that he explores, both confused and bewildered as he is now a whole state away from Texas. Inside the truck stop, there is a huge collection of supplies and even electricity. A voice on a radio urges Morgan to “take what you need and leave what you don’t,” which is the second instance of this phrase that has been seen; the first time this was shown was when June and Althea found a box of supplies with the message on it in the Mid-Season Premiere. Morgan asks who this voice on the radio is, but he gets no response or explanation.

Mo Collins as Sarah, Daryl Mitchell as Wendell. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Aside from making history by crossing over, and being the first main character to visit Mississippi, Morgan becomes the first character in the franchise to…use the toilet. This is a ultra realistic moment of peace that Morgan has as he uses the bathroom and reads a dog magazine, only to be interrupted by the sound of a gun cocking. He opens the stall door to find a man in a wheelchair with a shotgun pointed at him. Meet Wendell (Daryl Mitchell), who decides to question why Morgan would use the handicap stall when there are people like him who need to use those stalls. There’s a bit of hilarious confusion on Wendell’s part as to why Morgan “stole” a bunch of supplies from the truck stop. Morgan explains that the woman on the radio told him to do so, but Wendell thinks he’s crazy. A woman named Sarah (Mo Collins) enters and tells Morgan that she and Wendell are “twins,” something that causes even more hilarious confusion. The three characters open up to one another and explain who they are and where they’re going. Sarah and Wendell state that they are transporting supplies from stop to stop across the south, and Morgan states that he is headed back to Virginia. Wendell points out that they just so happened to help him with his journey by a few hundred miles. The Twins also tell Morgan that they saved him from the hurricane, which was massive and devastated the Texas landscape by breaking levees and causing insane flooding. And just like that, Morgan finds himself caught in the middle of a difficult choice.

Even though Morgan hasn’t been with the characters of “Fear” for as long as he has been with his Virginia family, they still mean a lot to him. That being said, he desperately wants to get home and see the OG crew again. Sarah and Wendell allow him to head back to Texas with a car and some supplies, but they warn that he’s probably not going to find what he’s looking for. Morgan travels until he comes across a bridge that serves as a symbolic crossroads for him; he can either keep moving forward or go back now. Voices of Strand and Alicia haunt him and cause him to break down and cry, clearly conflicted on what to do next. He ultimately decides to radio Sarah and Wendell, telling them that the bridge is out and that he is heading back to them and wishes for them to drive him to Virginia. He makes it back to the truck stop, but the Twins are no where to be found, so he decides to head out by himself. Just like Rick predicted, Morgan ends up not being alone once again and he meets another survivor. This new character is named Jim (Aaron Stanford)…and he is in deep trouble. His hands are bound and he has a bag over his head as he frantically runs from walkers. Morgan being Morgan decides to help and manage to save Jim from being a walker snack, but Jim isn’t pleased by how slowly he managed to dispatch the dead. There’s an interesting element of Jim’s character that is teased right away as Morgan comments that he smells of beer. Once again, “Fear” throws another interesting character into mix by having an beer brewer enter the fold, bringing trouble along with him.

Aaron Stanford as Jim. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

If you thought Wendell and Sarah were a lovable pair of truckers who were just trying to help people, you would be wrong. When Morgan and Jim arrive at the parked semi truck to link up with the aforementioned two, Jim panic when he realizes that he has been brought back to the people who kidnapped him. There’s a dramatic shift as Wendell and Sarah capture Morgan and Jim, and hold them hostage in the back of the semi as it is revealed that the Twins aren’t the kind-hearted souls that were leaving the help boxes around the south; instead, they stole the truck and kidnapped Jim to guarantee themselves a steady supply of beer. The dilemma that arises is that Wendell and Sarah are demanding that Morgan give them the location of his community in Alexandria seeing as how he had been talking to everyone about it all episode, including Jim who seems to really want to move there and open a brewery. Morgan knows that he may have just put his people back in Virginia in grave danger by revealing their existence, so he decides to keep quiet and not say any more. There’s a fascinating bit of commentary from Wendell about the fact that his disability is being interpreted as a sign that he doesn’t need to help people. This is the first wheel-chair bound character in the entire “TWD” Universe, and his inclusion allows for an excellent look at how someone with Wendell’s condition is able to survive in the world.

It becomes apparent rather quickly that Jim isn’t all that skilled in surviving on his own, even mentioning at one point that he had been holed up in his brewery since the start of the apocalypse. Because of this, his mindset is rather skewed and it seems as though he hasn’t lived through the trauma that the other characters have. His focus seems to be solely on preserving the beer business that he created before the outbreak, a business that was just about to blow up and make him rich before the dead rose. He goes on a winding rant to Morgan about how important beer is to society throughout history. This causes him to decide to take up Wendell and Sarah’s offer and make beer for them in exchange for his freedom. When the truck is forced to stop due to it being overloaded, Sarah starts to unload the back of the lightest possible items; this is where the episode hits a rather clunky few minutes. Jim trips and accidentally causes Morgan to tumble down a ravine into a riverbed, where he encounters several walkers all the while still bound. He climbs onto the top of an abandoned car as he is swarmed by the undead, pleading with his new “friends” to help him escape. Sarah takes a moment to point out that they are aware that he lied about the bridge Morgan planned on taking back to Texas being impassable. He is a liar just like they are and everyone is simply doing what they think is best for themselves. This conversation causes Morgan to have a night of self-reflection after the Twins and Jim leave him behind and begin their own journey to Virginia. It’s getting harder and harder to trust people in this world.

Lennie James as Morgan Jones. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Seeing as how much effort was taken to get Morgan from “The Walking Dead” to “Fear the Walking Dead,” it wouldn’t make much sense for him to be randomly killed off eleven episodes into the season. This thought-process prevents the scenes of him surrounded from being as intense as they probably should be. There’s also the fact that these walkers move painfully slow when reaching and making their move to attack due to Morgan’s THICK plot armor. Still, his time atop the car allows for Morgan to be super introspective, something we have seen from him in the past, specifically in the iconic “TWD” episode “Clear.” Taking what Sarah said to heart, Morgan flat out calls himself a coward and quickly comes to regret his lie and decision to turn his back on his friends in Texas. He has to go back and reconnect with them. He just has to. He makes a leap off of the car and is able to free himself from the bounds by using a knife and other resources from one of the supply boxes that fell into the ravine. Sarah previously said that these boxes were just rotting on the sides of the road and were a waste of time and resources, but it is here that Morgan proves her wrong as those supplies saved his life. He also uses a mile marker sign to take down a few walkers in a badass move that is reminiscent to when both Maggie and Carol also used traffic signs to take down the dead on the sister series. You have to be resourceful in this world. You use what you can use.

There is some real teamwork that comes in as the episode wraps up. Morgan manages to catch up with the truck squad after they stop upon realizing that the directions to Alexandria that they were given are incorrect. Morgan takes control of the situation and stops playing by their rules. He agrees to take them to Virginia, but they will go back to Texas first to find his friends and recruit them to come with. He also states that they will be making several stops along the way from Mississippi to Texas in order to drop off supply boxes at mile markers. Things start to end on a rather positive note as Morgan radios to the mysterious voice that he spoke with at the truck stop to let her know that they are returning to Texas and are assisting in the distribution of the supply boxes. However, there is a chilling shift as the woman on the other end of the line is revealed to be an unnamed new character (Tonya Pinkins), who is filthy and seems to be mentally unstable. She’s at the truck stop, but she’s not alone. She has Pervis with her. Who is Pervis, you ask? He is a walker that she has impaled onto a metal rod and is writing the “take what you need, leave what you don’t” message on his face. She tells Pervis that they are headed to Texas. Is she on a collision course with Morgan and the rest of the characters. Who exactly is Pervis? Could he be the one who started this resource exchange program? It was previously announced that famed Broadway star and Tony winner Tonya Pinkins would be playing a villain this season. Just what is she up to?

Tonya Pinkins as an unnamed character. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

“The Code” is a decent episode. It introduces a plethora of interesting new characters that will hopefully be expanded upon and developed as the season progresses. There are a handful of issues, most notably some moments of weaker-than-average writing and deflated action sequences. Certain aspects of the plot of this episode as confusing, although it does seem that there is a major mystery element at play, so this is quite possibly the intent. There’s also the fact that this episode is so detached from the rest of the plot with Morgan being the only main character to appear. The other characters are deeply missed, especially those such as Strand and Luciana, who haven’t been seen since the Mid-Season Premiere. Still, Lennie James knocks it out of the park here and really shows Morgan’s internal struggle between helping his friends that are spread across the country, a major highlight of the crossover. There’s also the additions of Daryl Mitchell, Mo Collins, Aaron Standford and Tonya Pinkins, each of which bring their own flavor to the series and help to expand the world. This episode does an excellent job at world-building and showing that the apocalypse is literally taking place everywhere. Nowhere, not even the state of Mississippi, has been spared. The directing and cinematography also deserve praise, showing a stark contrast between the miserable stormy weather in Texas to the more calm and quaint tone one state over. What will Morgan’s squad find when they get to Texas? Will they ever make the trek to Virginia? A lot can happen in the next five episodes.

Be sure to tune into “Fear the Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.

TV REVIEW: ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ – ‘Close Your Eyes’

Spoiler Warning for Season 4, Episode 10 of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series. Spoilers from “The Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia Clark. Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC

Alicia Clark has been to hell and back multiple times in just four seasons of “Fear the Walking Dead.” She lost two boyfriends, multiple friends, countless homes, her father, her step-father, her mother and her brother. In the latest chapter of her story, Alicia is forced to come face-to-face and survive with the child solder who gunned down her brother. In one of “Fear’s” most emotional hours and quite possibly the season’s best episode to date, Alicia and Charlie are forced to take a close look at each other and themselves as the flood waters rise.

When the storm first struck, it was clear that the characters would be separated yet again; this is something that both shows like to do more often than fans would prefer. After the airing of this episode, it is clear that the separation may allow for some of the best character development all season as the survivors are paired off and must work together to survive. Enter Alicia into a seemingly abandoned house, seeking shelter after running away from Morgan as the storm began to hit. She explores this dark and dreary home, only to find four infected that she puts down using a variety of sharp and pointy objects at her disposal. She dumps the bodies outside in the mud and rain in an excellent shot that precedes a shot of a family photo, revealing the identities of the walkers she killed. She also takes down all of the remaining family photos in the house and throws them outside next to the corpses. In many respects, Alicia looks dead and lifeless, and doesn’t really seem to have any plan for moving forward. She has left Strand, Luciana and Morgan alone…but she isn’t alone herself. In fact, she is paired with exactly who she needed to be with.

The meet up of Alicia and Charlie has been a long time coming. When Alicia opens a closet on the second floor of the house, Charlie tries to make a quick escape, but the last surviving Clark isn’t letting her off that easy. Alicia pins Charlie to the ground with her signature weapon, but the young girl manages to slip away and lock herself in a bedroom. Alicia is left confused and angry that they are together in the same house and tries to flee from Charlie by making her way to a nearby car, but is ultimately knocked unconscious when the wind flings open the car door and knocks her to the ground. In a surprising turn of events, Charlie actually rescues Alicia from the storm and drags her back into the house. When Alicia wakes up and finds herself in the house again, she’s somewhat confused as to why Charlie would save her. She makes her way up to the room upstairs and demands that Charlie speak and answer her questions, but there’s nothing coming from the other side of the door. She lets Charlie know that she doesn’t want to simply kill her, because she wants her to have to grow old and live with the pain she feels and to know that no matter what, she will always be trash…harsh. There is a fantastic duality between the characters as they are divided by so, which is represented by a simple wooden door that literally separates them.

Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia Clark, Alexa Nisenson as Charlie. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Alicia has many savage moments this episode as she tears into Charlie, even stating that she is more of a monster than the walkers; just to unpack that a bit, Alicia tells Charlie that she hates her more than the very things that are literally in the process of ending the world. There is a real internal conflict at play here as Alicia must decide what she is going to do with Charlie: does she kill her and get revenge…or does she honor Madison and work towards becoming a better person? Aside from the fact that Charlie indirectly caused the downfall of the Stadium and the death of Madison by leading Mel and Ennis straight to it, she is directly responsible for Nick’s death. Alicia painfully describes the final moments of Nick’s life as he bled out in her arms, a look of fear and betrayal in his eyes as his soul slipped away forever. Nick was aware that he was dying and he knew that someone he tried to help was the cause; Alicia states that his final thoughts may have been that his life had no meaning because of this. In an episode with only two characters, there is so much packed into the conversations and dialogue that serves to show the emotional trauma that Alicia and Charlie have experienced.

As the hurricane intensifies outside, Alicia is tasked with securing the house to assure that none of those flying walkers or any other debris come through any of the windows. She struggles to take care of the chore herself and decides to demand that Charlie assist her. This is where she begins to learn more about Charlie as she finds her cleaning the family photos that Alicia threw out into the storm. They both head out onto the porch and manage to board up the windows as best they can, but the pounding of the hammer draws several infected to their location and they are forced to retreat inside. While trying to start a fire in the fireplace, Alicia asks for Charlie’s jacket and offers to dry it when she’s done using it. Charlie tries to leave the room, prompting Alicia to grab her and discover a gun that Charlie is carrying; Alicia quickly realizes that this is THE gun that was used to kill Nick…and the whole mood changes. “Did you come here to kill me?!” Alicia questions Charlie while holding her at gunpoint. She screams at Charlie to leave and go upstairs in utterly terrifying fashion before sitting in front of the fireplace, where she discovers a grim sight; there is a burned bird that got clogged in the fireplace (which in turn caused the family inside to asphyxiate, according to co-showrunner Andrew Chambliss), something that flips a switch in Alicia as she remembers her and Nick saving Amina, the bird in the story Madison told to Althea in “No One’s Gone.” This serves as a reminder to Alicia that she can still be the kind soul she was as a child…the one that Madison wanted her to be.

Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia Clark. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

This episode is dark for many reasons, but there’s the underlying bleakness that comes from such a young child experiencing the regret she does. This plays into Charlie’s decision to attempt suicide, something that was seen in the previous episode when she didn’t try to run away from a walker. Charlie sees another opportunity to leave this cold and cruel world by stepping out onto the second floor patio and feeding herself to an infected that has been impaled on a tree branch. She comes quite close to getting bit on the shoulder, but Alicia intervenes and pulls her back inside before she’s able to make an irreversible decision. The two sit down and have a conversation with the gun in between them on the dining room table, which is eerily reminiscent to “The Walking Dead’s” famed episode “The Grove,” which also shares director Michael Satrazemis. Alicia quickly realizes that Charlie didn’t bring the gun to kill her, nor did she follow her to the house, but rather she is searching for a way to kill herself. Charlie speaks up for the first time this episode and wonders why Alicia saved her, but she doesn’t exactly get a straight answer. Alicia is still questioning this herself and basically tells Charlie that she HAS to live with what she has done even if everything comes to an end soon and she ends up as just another walker. This is really where the parallels between Charlie and Alicia start to standout; Alicia has killed people in this world…who hasn’t at this point?

While sharing an awkward dinner, Charlie tries to make light conversation with Alicia about the storm and where she comes from. There’s a fun callback to the series start as Alicia notes that she has no clue how long the storm will last due to the fact that she’s from California. From this, Charlie asks what the beach is like and it is revealed that she has never been before. The viewer is finally given some definite backstory and insight into Charlie as she tells Alicia that her parents planned a trip to Galveston, but the world fell apart before they had the chance to go. She explains that she tries to visualize the beach while reading her books, but she hasn’t been able to see a clear image of it. This also allows for another callback as Alicia bluntly states that the last time she was at the beach, the dead were everywhere, referring to her time spent at the Rosarito Beach Hotel in Season 2. Later, Alicia finds Charlie in her room organizing the family photos; the two have an argument about the possibility that someone who cared about the family wanting to know what happened to them some day. Charlie seems hard pressed on protecting the photos for a reason that is explained later, but Alicia doesn’t give a shit and claims that anyone who cared about them is dead. Alicia quotes Madison’s final words, “no one’s gone until they’re gone,” but pokes a hole in it’s sentiment by stating that some people are just gone…and there’s no point wasting time on them.

Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia Clark. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Once again, the hurricane intensifies and the two realize that they are no longer safe inside the house, so Alicia leads them down into the partially flooded basement. In a frightening turn of events, the storm shakes the house and causes a cascade of debris to block the stairs and prevent them from exiting the basement. Alicia frantically searches for another escape from the basement, but the only viable option for them is a cellar entrance…which is padlocked shut from the outside. The water rises higher and higher, and Charlie lets out a somber sentence, “I don’t want to die.” Her greatest fear of all is becoming a walker, the reason being is that she witnessed her parents die and reanimate; in the time that has passed, she is no longer able to remember what they looked like before. In a dark and disturbing turn of events, Charlie asks Alicia to use the gun she killed Nick with to shoot her in the head to prevent her from turning. She breaks down and cries as Alicia wonder whether this is something she can actually go through with, holding the gun at this child’s head. Alicia closes her eyes and sees flashes of Nick and Madison’s final moments. This isn’t who they would have wanted her to be in this world. She can’t gun down a child. She just can’t and she tells Charlie this in a heartbreaking, yet touching moment of solidarity as they join hands. Two young people turned enemies by this world have finally been able to find common ground. It’s hard not to feel bad for both in this moment. They just want an end to the suffering, loss and trauma…and seconds later, they get it.

“Nature always wins,” a quote from Travis in the first episode of the entire series sums up what this show is about. The characters are facing the wrath of nature on a constant basis and it is mostly causing them harm. For once, they are given something good though in the form of the impaled walker on the porch falling and breaking open the cellar door. Logistically this makes no sense considering the door was PADLOCKED shut. That being said, this was clearly done for the symbolism of a “monster” actually saving the lives of Alicia and Charlie. The next morning, the two decide to bury the family and leave the photos next to their graves for anyone that may come looking for them in the future. Charlie tells Alicia that she can see Madison in her, something that viewers likely also see from Alicia’s actions this episode. From this, Alicia shares that she left Morgan behind in the storm, a regret she has, which Charlie promises to help resolve considering “she is good at finding things.” There’s an absolutely beautiful moment that takes place as Alicia tells Charlie to close her eyes while they are driving, stating that she is “taking her to the beach.” Alicia then describes the sights, sounds and feelings of a beach to Charlie, who is finally able to visualize it in her head; she sees herself with her parents, finally being able to visit Galveston with them. Coming from that positive note, the episode ends rather bleakly as two visit the home bases of their friends; the mansion, Morgan’s truck and the bridge have all been ravaged by the storm and abandoned. “Things don’t get better, and they’re not going to. They’re only going to get worse,” Alicia drops this difficult yet true fact about their shitty post-apocalyptic life. People die, shelters are destroyed, but you keep moving forward.

Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia Clark, Alexa Nisenson as Charlie. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

“Close Your Eyes” is probably the best episode of Season 4 yet. Not only does it do an excellent job at developing both Alicia and Charlie for their future story arcs, but it also serves as a reflection piece on their journeys thus far. The threat of the storm proves to be just what these two characters needed to find their inner peace and to build a bridge and connect with one another. While many of the storm’s visual effects from the previous episode did not look great, the intensity of a hurricane could truly be felt here. Satrazemis deserves absolute praise for his work as director, managing to deliver some truly stunning cinematography. There’s also the performances from Alycia Debnam-Carey and Alexa Nisenson, which just might be the best of the entire series. The work done from both of these actresses is Emmy-worthy and prove that they are not only two of the most talented performers on “Fear,” but also in the franchise and television as a whole. Those are bold statements, but they managed to bring such depth, emotion and pure heart to their roles that the viewer’s outlook on Charlie hopefully did a full 180. Madison and Nick would be proud of the person Alicia chose to be. The viewer should be proud of who she chose to be. Alicia has been quickly rising in the ranks to become one of the most fascinating and badass characters in the world of “The Walking Dead.” What is next for her and Charlie? What happened to all of the other survivors? Next episode looks for focus in on Morgan as he meets new characters out in the world. Is he still charting a course to return home?

Be sure to tune into “Fear the Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.

TV REVIEW: ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ – ‘People Like Us’

Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia Clark and Lennie James as Morgan Jones. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Spoiler Warning for the Mid-Season Premiere (Season 4, Episode 9) of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series. Spoilers from “The Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

Season 4 of “Fear the Walking Dead” has drastically changed the series forever. With the crossover of Morgan, the introductions of tons of new characters and the deaths of Nick and Madison. The series has essentially undergone a soft reboot and while that does allow for some incredible moments and refreshing arcs, there is an empty feeling in the story that may be present until the show wraps up for good. That being said, this is an excellent Mid-Season Premiere, which really allows for each character to have their moment to shine and be developed further. Plus…the storm that is brewing could go on to be one of the most thrilling things “Fear” has done yet. Seek shelter immediately; the hurricane is making landfall.

The cold open of the episode teases the aforementioned storm with a brief camera pan showing a small collection of Infected feasting on a horse corpse (damn this franchise and it’s love of killing horses) all the while being blown around by 100 mph winds. The narrative rewinds to before the storm and picks up with Morgan as he goes around killing walkers before packing up his bag; he takes a moment to look at his copy of “The Art of Peace,” which has had a massive affect on Morgan and the characters of both shows since Eastman gave it to him in “Here’s Not Here.” Co-showrunner Ian Goldberg has confirmed that roughly a month has passed since the events of the Mid-Season Finale, and the characters have separated in the weeks since. Morgan radios to Althea and updates her on John’s recovery before letting her know that he will be heading back to Virginia the next day; he asks her to drive him, teasing that she will be able to learn more about him that way. There’s a great link between the two shows as Althea mentions “the king and the tiger” that Morgan told her about; it’s clear that she really wants to learn more about this strange world Morgan comes from…and now she may be closer to actually seeing it.

Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia Clark. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Much of this episode revolves around Morgan trying to convince the various characters to join him on his journey back home. He pays a visit to June, John and Charlie, who have rigged a camp on a bridge. There’s a sentimental scene between Morgan and John as the two men reflect on their time together as Morgan asks if the three would like to come with him back to Virginia. John states that his gunshot wound still hasn’t recovered enough for him to make such a long journey, and flat out states that he has everything he needs right here in Texas; he explains that he plans on bringing June and Charlie back to his cabin once he has healed fully. Later, Morgan visits a nearby mansion that Strand, Alicia and Luciana have taken up residence in. Strand is flat out drunk and Luciana spends her days listening to old records and staring off into the distance. Morgan tries to enlist the two of them to come with him to Alexandria, but they aren’t budging. Strand has been on too many roadtrips, and Luciana simply doesn’t want to go back out into the world after all that she has been through. Based on the dialogue, it’s clear that the characters of “Fear” feel as though that even if they make it to Virginia, there is simply no point anymore. Still, it is utterly fascinating and incredibly rewarding to hear Morgan discuss the locations and characters of “TWD” with those in “Fear.”

A heavy focus of the episode is on Alicia and Morgan as they grow a bond that more or less began to take shape in the Mid-Season Finale. Luciana and Strand tell Morgan that Alicia has been living in the mansion’s greenhouse and that they haven’t talked to her in weeks. Morgan goes out to investigate and finds a small bed and a collection of notes with the words “help me” on them scattered around the greenhouse. He ultimately finds her at a fence, where she is killing Infected that stumble onto the property. Morgan questions where the notes are coming from and Alicia explains that they are tacked onto the walkers, presumably as a call for help from someone. Morgan tells Alicia that she shouldn’t be out by herself and even flat out tells her that her best course of action is to return to Virginia with him, stating that she would be of great help to the communities there. Still, she’s not budging, but she does ask for Morgan’s help later when she notices that the help notes are pinned to the Infected with tacks from a nearby logging plant. The two decide to head out to see if they can help the person sending the messages and a genuinely remarkable friendship forms as the two realize they have a lot in common. On this trek to the logging plant, Morgan tells Alicia that he purposefully ran away from his problems and left behind his family (without even saying goodbye); he explains that Rick told him that he would end up with people again one day…and now he realizes that Rick was right. Hearing Morgan talk about Rick to Alicia (even if he doesn’t say his name) helps to shorten the distance between the two shows and once again emphasizes the fact that they share a universe.

Lennie James as Morgan Jones. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Upon arriving at the lumberyard, Morgan cautions Alicia from going straight in without doing some reconnaissance beforehand. Based on what we’ve seen from her the past four seasons, viewers should know that Alicia doesn’t particularly like to listen when given instructions or when told to stay put. That is part of her independence, but also, in this scenario, she simply has nothing to lose and is willing to risk everything to save someone. The two make their way through the yard and find more notes before entering a main building in which they find several Infected in the corner, clearly trapping someone in an office. Once again, Alicia wants to charge forward and kill the walkers, but Morgan comes up with a plan of leading them outside. The two make an excellent team as they herd the Infected to an area under a crane that has raised a bundle of lumber. Alicia uses an ax to cause the lumber to drop down on the walkers, therefore becoming one of the most creative and epic walker-kills seen this season. Alicia rushes back into the office, only to find that the man who was sending the help notes has died and turned. After working so hard to try and help this man, Alicia is saddened and confused, and breaks down in tears. She tells Morgan that her mother would have been able to save him, showing that she really is trying to follow in the footsteps of Madison. Morgan tells Alicia that she can still help people that need her, referring to Strand and Luciana, and bringing back up the point he made about himself leaving Virginia. Alicia turns this back onto him and questions why he is leaving Texas when he can also be of help to this new group he’s part of. She makes a solid point…and Morgan immediately seems to question his own decision.

This episode also follows the adventures of John, June, Charlie and Althea as they find themselves intertwined once again. On the bridge, June cleans John’s wound and questions if he really wants to move back to the cabin, wondering if it will actually still be there. He states that they don’t have to go back if she doesn’t want to, and it is clear that there is a difference of opinion forming between the two. The splash of a walker from down by the river alerts them to the fact that Charlie is sitting by the water reading and is now face-to-face with the walker. She doesn’t scream for help or try to run away, but Althea arrives and kills the walker before the killer child becomes lunch. June tries to get Charlie to open up, but she isn’t budging. Meanwhile, John explains to Althea that something upstream is causing the walkers to end up in the river, citing that they previously dealt with a situation similar to this; this is a nod to John and June’s incredible standalone episode, “Laura.” Althea and June decide to investigate and end up becoming an interesting pairing that may just be explored more as the season progresses. The two find a box of supplies for travelers to take what they need, something that hasn’t really been seen in the show before, but could hint at a larger arc later. June opens up to Althea off the record and explains that she doesn’t want to return to the cabin out of fear that John will see that “Laura” and “June” are two different people. At the bridge, John also tries to get Charlie to open up, creating a homemade Scrabble board for them to play; he even tells her the story of him shooting and accidentally killing the gas station robber prior to the apocalypse. The purpose of this story is to show Charlie that people can be forgiven for things that they have done. This seems to strike a nerve with Charlie as she rushes off, leaving John behind.

Alexa Nisenson as Charlie, Garret Dillahunt as John Dorie. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

Alicia isn’t the only one struggling to come to terms with life after Nick and Madison. Both Strand and Luciana are shells of their former selves and also really don’t seem to care if they live or die. That being said, when an Infected sneaks into the mansion and nearly take a bite out of Luciana, who is ridiculously distracted by the music and doesn’t hear a single thing, Strand steps up to the plate and manages to end the threat. Afterwards, the two decide they need to patch the opening in the fence that is allowing the walkers onto the property. They ultimately find it, and Luciana uses it as the time to tell Strand that she doesn’t know what she is even living for anymore. Strand responds by stating that he doesn’t either, but that he is going to enjoy himself while he figures it out, referring to the massive wine cellar he found. A knock at the front door from John surprises Strand when he is asked to help search for Charlie; Strand wonders why John would come to him considering Charlie shot and killed Nick, but John explains that Strand owes him for Alicia shooting him. Strand decides to tag along with John and they begin searching nearby towns based on where Charlie’s books are from. Charlie isn’t at any of the locations they are searching, but rather she makes a surprising arrival at the mansion; although she is chased away by Luciana into the arriving storm. After she is gone, Luciana finds that Charlie left her the copy of “The Last Prince” that was exchanged between the two at the Diamond. This seems to be some sort of peace offering from Charlie to begin mending the wounds that she caused by killing Nick. This appears to have an effect on Luciana as she races out into the storm to track down Charlie. Will she manage to catch up to her? Will Luciana be able to forgive Charlie?

Based on the trailers and promos that had been previously released for this half-season, it was clear that a major aspect of the story would involve the characters dealing with a hurricane. Mother nature as a threat has only been explored slightly in the television series, with the tornado that struck in “The Walking Dead’s” 5th season being the most prominent example. It looks as though “Fear” will really hammer in just how dangerous weather can be as the storm begins to strike at the end of this episode, trapping many of the characters together and keeping them separate from the others. Alicia leaves Morgan behind in the storm on the way back from the lumberyard, but the next episode looks to focus on Alicia and Charlie surviving together, which will undoubtedly be a tense and emotional pairing. There’s also John and Strand who are trapped together in a regular car, although hopefully they are able to make it back to the mansion. Finally, June and Althea find themselves using the SWAT truck as their shelter with Al explaining that the machine gun modifications she made have hindered its driving abilities at such extreme speeds. The episode wraps up showing the two aforementioned characters in the truck as they begin to realize that their lives will be threatened by FLYING WALKERS. This is something that is totally new and is downright terrifying. The storm was teased throughout the episode and praise should be given to director Magnus Martens and writer Anna Fishko for throwing in subtle hints that the characters are about to be under attack from a threat they cannot control.

Danay Garcia as Luciana, Colman Domingo as Victor Strand. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

“People Like Us” is a crossroads of sorts for the series. It is entering into a whole new era, which is essentially the second “reset” of the story just this season. The deaths of Nick and Madison have sent the story spiraling into a bizarre direction and the long term effects remain to be seen. Alicia, Strand, Luciana and Charlie are hurting the most, but everyone is dealing with this new normal. While there are a few minor drawbacks to this episode, it does do an stellar job at setting up the remainder of the season while simultaneously setting some major changes to the Universe into motion. This is quite possibly the best episode of Morgan’s crossover simply for the fact that it is the first time that he really interacts with each of the characters and uses his past experience to help them all. The beginning of the storm storyline really allows for some thrilling new material to be covered, although the special effects could be better; there were multiple points during the scenes with high winds where the trees in the background remained perfectly still. Regardless, the performances from Alycia Debnam-Carey, Danay García, Garret Dillahunt and Alexa Nisenson deserve complete praise. The doom and gloom, but also shades of hope could be totally felt and the new tone that has been established is totally intriguing. Will Morgan actually return to Virginia? And will he bring his new friends? Will Charlie be forgiven for killing Nick? Will the storm claim the lives of any of our characters?

Be sure to tune into “Fear the Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.

Logic, NF and KYLE Bring the Heat to PNC

Logic performs at PNC Pavilion. (Photo by Pooja Pasupula)

“Peace, love and positivity”

The seventh stop on the Bobby Tarantino vs. Everybody Tour found musicians Logic, NF and KYLE at PNC Pavilion for a diverse and exciting night of music. The aforementioned quote was the central theme of the night as it was clear from the jump that the three musicians wanted the focus to be on bringing people together via the power of music. Logic himself made it a point to discuss how magical it is to have thousands of people, spanning countless races, religions and backgrounds, all in one location, as a family, to celebrate and have a good time together. As the night rolled on, this message is something that could clearly been seen and heard as the audience reveled in the sweltering heat and booming beats.

The concert kicked off right at 7 p.m. with a lively performance from KYLE. This was the best possible way to get things rolling as KYLE is full of life, energy and enthusiasm. He managed to bring the crowd to their feet, bouncing around the stage as he performed several of his songs. KYLE is perhaps best know for his breakout hit song “iSpy” that features rapper Lil Yachty. The entire setlist of this opening act, matched by KYLE’s vibrancy, made for a wholly enjoyable start to the concert. This particular act is absolutely perfect for the summertime, urging people to have fun, let loose and enjoy the company of friends.

NF performs at PNC Pavilion. (Photo by Pooja Pasupula)

There was quite a dramatic shift as the crew members took to the stage to set up for the next act. An electronic screen lit up and a cage was unveiled, revealing rapper NF who performed a medley of his work. Where KYLE brought a light-hearted mix of summertime bops, NF’s songs were far more heavy. Perhaps the highlight of his setlist was the performance of his hit song “Let You Down,” which immediately brought the entire crowd to their feet, prompting every audience member to sing along at the top of their lungs; this was just one of many magical moments of the night. What NF really excels at is his ability to carry the stage in a way where the focus is not on himself, but rather on his music. Donning darkened clothing and a hood at some points, the rapper really put all of his energy into sending his lyrics across the pavilion. The use of the cage as a prop also made for an exciting show as NF climbed atop it multiple times, adding an element of thrill and danger.

With sun set, the air cooling down a bit and the crowd hyped up from KYLE and NF, it was finally time for Logic to take the stage. The audience went wild when he stepped out, with chants of “Logic” and “Bobby” welcoming him to Charlotte. For the next few hours, Logic performed several of his hits, as well as a selection of his work from his earlier days. There was a point half-way through the set where the crowd died down a bit and Logic threatened to leave, but his DJ amped the audience back up and got them far more energetic for the rest of the show. Logic’s overall message was to celebrate and keep the focus on “peace, love and positivity,” something that is especially important in our day and age. Logic’s diverse collection of music was on full display as he rapped through smash hits such as the anthemic “1-800-273-8255,” which had the entire crowd singing along. Other hits brought an electric feeling to the venue, such as “Take it Back” and “Killing Spree.” Logic made the show personal, speaking one-on-one to several audience members in the pit, while also reiterating that everyone at the concert was one massive family.

All in all, the concert was a thrilling night that celebrated the connecting power of music, while also welcoming in summer. Each artist had their own style and brought something different to the show, essentially giving the audience three different concerts for the price of one. The heat may have been a bit of a deterrent to the audience early on, but things definitely livened up as the night went on. If there is one thing to take away from this concert, it is that KYLE, NF and Logic all have huge and passionate fanbases that came out in droves to see their favorites perform. In hearing some of the excited comments after the show wrapped, the crowd was certainly not disappointed.


Photos by Pooja Pasupula.

TV REVIEW: ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ – ‘No One’s Gone’

MAJOR Spoiler Warning for the Mid-Season Finale (Season 4, Episode 8) of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series. Spoilers from “The Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

Kim Dickens as Madison Clark. (Photo credit: Richard Foreman Jr./AMC)

Being a fan of “Fear the Walking Dead” and “The Walking Dead” is incredibly painful. Every couple of weeks, an episode rolls around that punches viewers in the gut, makes them cry and then urges them to keep watching to see what happens next. In the stunning Mid-Season Finale, “Fear” sees its largest and most devastating death in the entire series run. What happens in this hour will sit with fans and the surviving characters forever. There’s no going back from here.

This episode jumps between three timelines, but for the purposes of recapping, events will be discussed in chronological order.

The narrative of this episode and the season as a whole has been somewhat misleading for the purposes of surprising the audience and allowing the reveals to be especially shocking. “No One’s Gone” begins with Madison in the forest alone, slowly sneaking up to a figure standing beside a campfire. Madison pulls her gun and demands that the stranger hand over the keys to her vehicle, but she falls over a trip wire and ends up firing a shot at a bowl of ramen noodles the stranger is holding. In a dramatic twist, the stranger is revealed to be Althea. Madison holds Althea hostage in the SWAT truck, angry that she isn’t cooperating and also curious when she discovers the collections of interview tapes. Althea notes that she has been zip-tied many times before and manages to free herself, but is knocked unconscious by Madison, who escapes with the tapes. Later, Madison parks her car near a bridge as a storm seems to be brewing in the distance (symbolism and foreshadowing to both the events of later in the episode and also to what seems to be coming later in the season). Madison watches several of the tapes, hearing a few of the stories from survivors that Althea has collected, but she breaks down when she doesn’t find any from Nick and Alicia. Althea eventually catches up to Madison and holds her at gunpoint, shifting the power dynamic and setting the episode’s events into motion. Althea’s interviews are a fascinating storytelling tactic that allows for cohesion and connections between the multiple timelines.

Kim Dickens as Madison Clark and Maggie Grace as Althea. (Photo credit: Richard Foreman Jr./AMC)

There is an excellent scene between Madison and Althea that really allows for both characters to open up and share some backstory that connects to the main story. While being recorded by Althea, Madison explains that she wanted to build a place where her children could survive and still be themselves. She notes that they had been at plenty of strong communities in Los Angeles, Mexico and other places along the way, but that she wanted something permanent. It’s here that she really lets down her hardass persona to express her desire for Nick and Alicia to be able to live in a world where they don’t have to do things like she just did herself in attempting to rob Althea. Madison tells a story about Nick and Alicia finding an injured bird (which they named Amina) and nursing it back to health when they were kids, highlighting the fact that both were such sensitive and caring children. Madison desperately wants her children to maintain that part of themselves and to continue helping others, something that is becoming increasingly more rare and difficult in the apocalypse. Althea also opens up and shares that she works so hard to document the end of the world due to the power of truth; she tells the story of a warlord and those under him that she reported on and explains that the truth has the power to change things in a positive way. Later, Althea gifts Madison a collection of ramen and allows her to leave, hoping that they eventually meet up later so that she can hear more of her story. Madison drives around Texas looking for her family, eventually finding them at a motel. After reuniting with Nick, Alicia, Strand and Luciana, Madison brings them to the Stadium and explains that it will be their new home and that they will build it up into a huge community. The hope and optimism of this scene is a stark contrast to what goes down in the final few moments.

Much of this episode is set immediately following the end of the previous episode when Althea drove the SWAT truck into the center of the abandoned Diamond, only to be surrounded by thousands of scorched Infected. It’s a chaotic situation as Naomi realizes that they won’t be able to get John to the infirmary. Althea does her best to drive the truck forward and closer to the infirmary, but there are too many dead. Charlie steps into Althea’s role as she is put in charge of documenting the events, something that seems pointless in such a dangerous situation; still, Althea makes it clear that people are going to want to know what happened at the Stadium. Morgan and Naomi both volunteer to go to the infirmary to collect medical supplies for John, who pleads for them to stay safe. Althea uses her badass machine gun rig to clear a path for Morgan and Naomi to escape, but the sudden explosion of a grenade complicates matters as Alicia, Strand and Luciana have arrived to finish what they started. From atop the stands, Alicia and the others shoot down at the SWAT truck as Althea returns fire at them. Inside, John’s injury causes him to pass out, worrying Charlie and Althea and prompting Naomi to spew medical tips over the walkie talkie. At the same time, Morgan and Naomi make a fantastic Infected-killing team as they journey through the darkened tunnels to the infirmary. John asks Charlie to turn the camera on him so that he can say a final goodbye to Naomi; this scene is heartbreaking and really showcases once again just how much John loves his runaway girlfriend. There is a TON happening at once, but things only get crazier from here…because that’s just how Mid-Season Finales are.

Lennie James as Morgan Jones, Jenna Elfman as Naomi – (Photo Credit: Richard Foreman, Jr/AMC)

There’s a lot to be said about the chaos taking place at the Diamond, but nothing is more badass than what Alicia does. Following a move reminiscent to that of Rosita Espinosa, Luciana launches a grenade at the SWAT truck, causing the driver’s side door to fall off, much to Althea’s surpise. Alicia steps out onto the field, in close proximity to the herd, pulling a gun on Althea and entering the SWAT truck. After gaining the upperhand, Alicia holds her signature weapon at Charlie’s throat while pointing her gun at Althea and ordering her to call Morgan and Naomi back to the truck. Strand and Luciana stand from their sniper positions, ready to take Naomi out right when she steps out onto the field, but John sneakily turns on the radio in the truck, allowing Morgan and Naomi to hear what Alicia is saying. Alicia isn’t stupid and realizes that she has just been played, prompting Althea to even state that she is on the side of Naomi and John. Charlie manages to get away from Alicia, leading to a physical fight with Althea. There is a shot that may be an homage to “The Walking Dead’s” fourth season episode “Dead Weight” in which The Governor held (and killed) his right-hand man Martinez over a pit of walkers. Althea and Alicia wrestle in the truck, knocking over a crate of ramen noodles, connecting this timeline with the one prior to the arrival at the Diamond. Althea tells Alicia that she found the noodles in Oklahoma, but eventually traded them to someone for an interview later down the line; Alicia finds a tape labeled “Amina,” which she watches and becomes overwhelmed by seeing her mother once again.

There are many scenes in “Fear the Walking Dead” that demonstrate incredible acting, but this episode has one of the absolute best. As Morgan and Naomi work to get back to the SWAT truck, Alicia manages to find and confront them. Morgan stands in front of Naomi, protecting her from Alicia’s gun and gaze. Looking dead on the inside, Alicia orders Morgan to get out of the way and states that Naomi’s action led to Madison dying. There is a brilliant back and forth as Morgan tells Alicia that there is a way back for her and that she can move past the dark place she is in right now, referring to the darkness that has overtaken him many times. Morgan mentions that he had a conversation with a close friend (Rick Grimes as seen in “What’s Your Story?“) who predicted that he would end up being with people again one day; this prompted Morgan to run halfway across the country to get away and prove Rick wrong. It is clear that Morgan feels immense guilt for not helping Nick more, and he states that he isn’t going to let Alicia go down the same route. Alicia ultimately stands down and allows Naomi to leave and treat John, embracing in Morgan’s comfort as they return to the truck together. Aside from his interactions with Nick, this is the first time that there feels like a genuine bond between Morgan and the original characters of “Fear.” It has been seen time and time again that Alycia Debnam-Carey is insanely talented, but this scene really shows off her depth and range as a performer. Having two of the strongest actors in the “TWD” franchise in Debnam-Carey and Lennie James face-to-face is a dream come true in every sense.

Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia Clark, Alexa Nisenson as Charlie and Maggie Grace as Althea. (Photo credit: Richard Foreman Jr./AMC)

The final act of the Mid-Season Finale is some of the heaviest material ever covered in the series. The two groups merge and flee the Stadium together as one in the SWAT truck, still clearly shaken up over what went down. There’s a touching moment between Naomi and John as they rekindle after nearly losing each other once again. Another shocking reveal comes as Naomi shares that her actual name is June and that she gave the group an alias when she first met them; how many names does this woman have?! Althea is still curious about what actually happened to Madison and asks to hear the rest of her story. The squad pulls over and sets up a campfire…and shit gets real. Slow-motion flashbacks to the night of the Diamond’s fall light up the screen as Alicia, Strand and Luciana narrate. Alicia, Nick and Mel were rescued from the surrounded car by Madison, Luciana and Strand, however they were unable to return to the Stadium. Mel escaped with Charlie, while Cole and the other residents tried to flee, only to be eaten/burned alive by the Infected. With things looking dire, Madison lit a flare and led the thousands of Infected into the Diamond as Alicia ferociously tried to stop her, being blocked by Strand, who was burned in the process. Madison managed to trap all of the Infected on the field, but she became trapped herself and decided that her only option was to burn the Diamond down, sacrificing her own life in the process. In a fitting set of final words, Madison tells her children “no one’s gone until they’re gone.” The Stadium ignites in flames as the camera focuses on Madison’s face for the final time. Nick and Alicia scream out in horror and fear as their heroic mother goes out in a blaze of glory. Madison Clark died as she lived: protecting her children.

It has to be noted that the final scene of the episode is especially poignant. Madison’s dying wish was that Nick and Alicia would be able to retain their humanity and stay true to themselves even in the death and destruction-laden world. After all the fighting and bickering of this first half of Season 4, the episode wraps up with Alicia, Strand, Luciana, Morgan, Althea, June, Charlie and John together as one. They still have a lot to work through, but they seem to be on a path toward peace with one another. Strand passes around ramen noodles to everyone, including Charlie, a young child who literally murdered his friend in cold blood just days before. Unfortunately, Nick nor Madison are here to see the newfound peace, but their legacy will live on in those they leave behind, specifically Alicia. The opening scene of Season 4 showed John Dorie alone by a campfire in the middle of the night and now that shot is mirrored, only there are now eight survivors standing together to face whatever the apocalypse throws at them next. The song “Love Love Love” by The Mountain Goats plays, paralleling a scene from “The Walking Dead’s” fourth season episode “Still” in which the song “Up the Wolves” by the same band was played in an iconic scene featuring Daryl and Beth burning down a cabin to symbolize rebirth. This is the rebirth of the characters of “Fear” and we will surely see the series head in a new direction once it returns. “Some things you do for money…and some you do for love,” lyrics that represent the ultimate sacrifice Madison made so that her child could wind up right where she is now.

Lennie James as Morgan Jones, Danay García as Luciana Galvez, Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia Clark, Colman Domingo as Victor Strand, Alexa Nisenson as Charlie and Maggie Grace as Althea. (Photo credit: Richard Foreman Jr./AMC)

The time has come to pay tribute to Madison Clark, the fallen hero of “Fear the Walking Dead.” In all of television, there isn’t any other character quite like Madison. What always stood out about her was the fact that the apocalypse didn’t shape her into a badass warrior. She was already a hardened and strong woman long before the world ended. She came to us as a high school guidance counselor and it was immediately clear that her primary focus would be to keep her family safe as things began to fall apart. Madison had a troubled life, growing up in an abusive household, losing her husband to suicide and later having to worry about Nick as addiction overtook his life. She never seemed to be able to catch a break, but the apocalypse may have come at just the right time as she became linked with her family in a way that made their bond stronger than ever. She was able to see just how strong Alicia and Nick are as individuals and even though they had their troubles throughout the series, they remained a family until the bitter end. Madison isn’t the traditional action hero that one would expect from a series such as this. She is unique in the sense that she is a middle-aged woman who is both a mother and a strong and independent individual. She’s flawed and doesn’t have all of the answers. She makes mistakes and has to deal with the consequences that come from them. She’s the type of character that a show and television as a whole needs. It’s a shame that the showrunners made the decision to do away with her, because she is truly an example of a multi-faceted character with so much potential. While the execution may be have been spot on, this may be a death that the series regrets moving forward. How do we proceed without our lead?

After eight episode of twists, turns and timeline confusion, “Fear the Walking Dead” Season 4A has officially wrapped up. This has been the most starkly different set of episodes, mostly due to the new locations, characters and storytelling structure. The deaths of Madison and Nick absolutely open up a plethora of interesting story arcs to dive into, but they also may be nails in the coffin of the show. As of this episode, Alicia is only surviving character that appeared in the Pilot episode, and her and Strand (plus Daniel, wherever he is) are the only Season 1 characters left standing. That is quite unfortunate, but hopefully these two characters are given the primary focus for the remainder of the series; otherwise, the losses up to this point will feel rather pointless. The directing and cinematography of this episode, particularly in the final act, deserve absolute praise; this chapter serves as proof that Michael Satrazemis is one of the most talented directors in the “TWD” franchise. The performances across the board are absolutely spectacular with Frank Dillane, Colman Domingo, Danay García, Jenna Elfman, Lennie James and Alexa Nisenson delivering some of their best work in the series to date. However, this episode belongs to Kim Dickens and Alycia Debnam-Carey, both of whom should receive Emmy nominations for their work here (they won’t, but I can dream). There is so much genuine raw emotion that comes to life and both Dickens and Debnam-Carey’s performances here are simply too brilliant to fully put into words. Where does the series go from here without Madison at the helm? Will it be able to stay afloat without two of its most important figures? Will this newfound peace last?

“Fear the Walking Dead” will return for the Mid-Season Premiere, kicking off Season 4B on Sunday, August 12 at 9 p.m. on AMC. 

TV REVIEW: ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ – ‘The Wrong Side of Where You Are Now’

Spoiler Warning for the Season 4, Episode 7 of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series. Spoilers from “The Walking Dead” will also be discussed. 

Kevin Zegers as Mel and Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia Clark. (Photo credit: Richard Foreman Jr./AMC)

The timelines are converging as “Fear the Walking Dead” builds up to what should be an explosive Mid-Season Finale. This season has played with time quite a lot, and while it does help to make the plot twists and reveals especially shocking, it is starting to take away from the story a bit. That being said, the developments made in this episode are huge and serve to push the characters to some truly dark places. So what really went down in those hours before the collapse of the Diamond?

This episode jumps between the timelines, but for the purposes of recapping, events will be discussed in chronological order.

In the “BEFORE” timeline, Madison and the residents of the Stadium work hard to plant crops and organize the garden. There’s a genuine sense of hope in the air as everyone works together without the immediate threat of the Vultures hanging in the air. There’s a great moment that highlights how important this community is to the characters as Nick asks Madison why she worked so hard to build what they have now; she states that her desire to be away from the horrors of the world motivates her to keep the Diamond going. This is crucial for her arc this episode, providing an explanation for her actions. Things become rather complicated when Charlie shows up at the gate asking for help. She brings Madison, Naomi, Nick and Alicia to a point in the road nearby where an accident involving an Infected has occurred. Mel and Charlie split from the rest of the Vultures after an argument arose with Ennis; Mel was severely injured in the accident and Naomi explains that he needs to be treated or else he won’t make it. Madison declares that he will be brought back to the Stadium, even as Nick and the others question whether this is the right move. Nick points out that Charlie and the Vultures have lied before and they may be playing them again, but Madison is determined to help Mel. Seeing Charlie with Nick is unsettling after seeing what happens later down the line, but it serves to humanize her a bit more, complicating the situation in the “NOW” timeline.

Frank Dillane as Nick Clark, Colman Domingo as Victor Strand, Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia Clark, Jenna Elfman as Naomi and Rhoda Griffis as Vivian. (Photo credit: Richard Foreman Jr./AMC)

Back at the Stadium, Naomi treats Mel who regains consciousness and panics after realizing where he is. Speaking with Madison and Naomi, Mel reveals that his brother Ennis is on a warpath and plans to attack the Diamond with a herd of Infected that the Vultures have been collecting. This is essentially confirmed to Madison when she meets up with Strand and Cole who have been out visiting the locations with the numbered flags; each of these location are now devoid of the Infected and according to the flags that Strand brought back, there are thousands, possibly more, of the Dead that are in the possession of the Vultures. Madison makes it clear that they are not fleeing the community, but rather they will fortify and defend their home. Back at the infirmary, Mel makes an escape attempt by breaking free from his restraints and pulling a knife on Naomi. This doesn’t do much as Naomi takes advantage of Mel’s injury by placing pressure on his cracked ribs to regain control of the situation, quite the badass move. The desperation on Mel’s face, as well as his desire to get Charlie away from the Stadium conveys the gravity of what Ennis is planning. If anyone knows Ennis, it is Mel and Naomi takes note of this, clearly knowing to watch for the signs of collapse after witnessing the downfall of her old community.

A major plot point of this episode is Madison’s decision to remain at the Stadium even as a massive attack is imminent. There is a powerful bit of symbolism as Madison tears down the dugout room she built for Charlie (now occupied by Naomi) to use the wood to reinforce the walls; the life Madison built for her people is slowly crumbling before her eyes. Naomi confronts Madison about the decision to stay and urges her to evacuate to save everyone’s lives. Madison refuses, stating that her kids are finally safe and that she worked way too hard to build the community just for it all to be thrown away. Without directly mentioning it, Naomi refers to the destruction of the FEMA shelter as proof that a strong community can fall and those that stay behind will die. This conversation sparks something in Madison and she collects Mel and forces him out of the Stadium, much to the dismay of Strand, Alicia and Nick; Strand specifically mentions the fact that Madison gave him another chance and uses this as reason to let Mel stay. Part of this decision on Madison’s part seems to come from her desire to protect Charlie, but also to do away with the negative energy Mel has brought to the Diamond, especially in regards to him sparking a panic with the plans of Ennis. Later, Nick checks in with Madison and expresses his disappointment in her decision, citing the group’s need to be better. In an emotional beat, Nick also states that he feels safe with Madison and points out that they also find each other when separated; unfortunately, there are no more reunions to be had between these two.

Danay García as Luciana Galvez, Colman Domingo as Victor Strand, Kim Dickens as Madison Clark and Sebastian Sozzi as Cole. (Photo credit: Richard Foreman Jr./AMC)

Charlie has been brought back into the community, not to be lambasted and yelled at, but in an attempt to get her as far away as possible from the Vultures. Nick and the others let her know that Mel has been forced to leave, causing her to worry that he won’t make it on his own. They contact him via radio and Charlie is able to speak to him, but he sounds weak and hoarse. Charlie pleads for them to help him and Nick and Alicia both realize that he needs to be retrieved before he dies. They ask Strand to open the gate and he complies, noting that they are making the right call. While driving away from the Stadium, Alicia wonders if they should be doing this, but Nick explains that everything will work out in the end. They eventually locate Mel’s vehicle pulled over on the side of the road (how exactly they managed to find him isn’t explained) and find him unconscious at the wheel. The sound of trucks nearby prompts Nick to turn off the car’s headlights as a caravan, led by Ennis, drives by. Alicia warns Strand that the Vultures are headed straight for the Diamond, deciding to drive a different way back to return quicker. From a lookout point, Strand and Cole bring Madison up to speed as the army arrives. Things are extremely eerie as a single truck drives parallel to the main gate, spilling oil onto the pavement in the process. Nick and Alicia arrive in the parking lot and watch as the scene unfolds, frozen in place as the rest of the caravan arrives and lines up. This is it. The mysterious event that caused the downfall of the Diamond is about to play out…and it is chilling to watch it all come together.

The entire sequence of events is eerily reminiscent to what happens in “The Walking Dead’s” Season 5 Finale when Daryl and Aaron stumble into a trap set by the Wolves and find themselves surrounded by walkers, only to be saved by Morgan. A similar situation occurs here as the car contained Nick, Alicia and Mel is surrounded by the Infected that are released from the Vulture trucks. Hundreds upon hundreds of Infected overtake the parking lot as the oil line is set ablaze, drawing the herd to the main gate of the Diamond. Madison arms herself and locates a vehicle, desperate to go out and save her children; both Strand and Luciana volunteer to assist her as Alicia radios into Madison to solemnly explain why she and Nick needed to go out and collect Mel. It is unsettling to hear Alicia speak to Madison in this scene as she knows that it wasn’t the best move strategically, yet it was something they needed to do to preserve their own humanity. Shots of the Stadium are shown as the fire ignites outside…this is the end of the community that Madison and the others worked so hard to built and protect. This is the night that it all falls apart and people are about to die.

Danay García as Luciana Galvez and Alexa Nisenson as Charlie. (Photo credit: Richard Foreman Jr./AMC)

There’s a lot going on in both timelines, but in the “NOW” arc, there is absolute carnage. Last episode ended with Alicia taking a shot at Naomi, but instead hitting John, prompting a massive gunfight between the two camps. A brief montage of the events of “Laura” are mixed in with a scene showing John lying on the ground as a stunned Naomi tries to save his life. Morgan rushes over and assists as Naomi runs off to find medical supplies. Meanwhile, Mel drives off in an ambulance that is blown up with a grenade by Alicia (this badass moment is similar to Daryl’s big RPG explosion in “No Way Out“). Alicia has Naomi in her sights, screaming at her for betraying the very people that saved her life and took her in; a struggle erupts and Naomi is able to get away from Alicia, making her way back to John’s side. Elsewhere, Strand and Luciana get a few kills in before the tone takes a drastic shift as Luciana finds Charlie and holds her at gunpoint. This franchise loves to tackle moral quandaries and what darker situation is there than the prospect of gunning down a child? Luciana is forced to shift her attention when another Vulture closes in on her, allowing Charlie to slip away. “Fear the Walking Dead” hasn’t had all that many massive battle pieces, but this one really stands out as each character is utilized and gets to play a crucial role.

In all of the chaos taking place on the battlefield, Althea takes a neutral approach, filming from a hidden vantage point. Morgan confronts her and urges her to assist in getting John away from the scene to be treated. Althea is hesitant, but ultimately complies after Morgan states that a good man will die without their help. While it may seem odd that Althea isn’t fighting, it makes perfect sense considering she is a journalist who is hellbent on documenting the end of the world; it hasn’t been stated, but it seems as though she may have been a war journalist, giving her experience in this type of scenario. Alicia once again has Naomi at gunpoint, but Althea arrives in the SWAT truck and pulls the machine gun lever, forcing Alicia to stand down. As John is loaded into the truck, Morgan stops for a moment after noticing Charlie nearby and pleads for her to come with him, stating that Alicia and the others will kill her if she stays behind. Althea drives away from the racetrack as Alicia, Strand and Luciana shoot at the SWAT truck in a last ditch effort to take down every last person that wronged them. Althea questions Naomi about that fact that she is alive and wonders what she did to make Alicia and the others so angry, but Charlie posits that it was her own fault that everything is so shitty. Naomi tells Althea to set the course for the Diamond, which Strand quickly figures out is the destination they are headed to. In a final fatal blow, a badly burned Mel crawls away from the ambulance and pleads for help, but Alicia refuses and plunges her weapon into his head. Just like that the Vultures are gone…and Alicia’s humanity might just have been taken with them.

Maggie Grace as Althea and Lennie James as Morgan Jones. (Photo credit: Richard Foreman Jr./AMC)

The episode wraps up as Althea and the others arrive at the Stadium, which looks like a shell of its former self. Aside from the “NOW” coloring that points to destruction, it is clear that there is no life left in the once vibrant community. Naomi explains that the infirmary should still be intact considering Ennis and the rest of the Vultures were to afraid to enter the community once it fell. Morgan tells Althea that he has finally figured out who she is, but she contests this and states that she is a “layered chick.” Rather than taking things slow and scouting to see if the Stadium is safe, Althea speeds through a gate right onto the field of the Stadium. Smoke begins to clear, revealing hundreds of scorched Infected stumbling around and surrounding the truck. A terrible situation has just become even worse as the likelihood of getting John to the infirmary has just decreased. It still hasn’t been fully revealed, but it seems as though the Infected breached the main gate and set parts of the Diamond ablaze. What exactly happened to the many residents is still unknown, but it is likely that all will be revealed in the Mid-Season Finale. Did Cole and Madison get torn apart in all of the chaos or are they hiding out somewhere? Is anyone left alive? Will Althea be able to get the group out of this situation?

This episode really places a heavy focus on the events leading up to the collapse of the Diamond. There is a lot of build up to what should be a wild Mid-Season Finale, assuming the full events of the fateful night are shown. The split timelines can get rather irritating at times, especially when certain characters’ fates are teased; Madison’s ultimate fate is still a complete mystery and very few clues have been dropped about her in the present timeline all season. This episode does an excellent job at establishing the stakes and showing the many sides of the Vultures, specifically in that Mel isn’t a wholly terrible person and that he was just looking out for himself and Charlie. The developments made for Madison, Nick and Alicia really serve as markers of their growth since the start of the season. Alycia Debnam-Carey delivers yet another strong performance as the fractured Alicia in the “NOW” timeline, clearly showing the mental strain that the apocalypse has placed on her. There is a lot happening in both timelines, and hopefully the Mid-Season Finale serves to wrap up certain storylines and merge the arcs to push the story into some interesting places for the second half of the season.

Be sure to tune into the Mid-Season Finale of “Fear the Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC. 

TV REVIEW: ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ – ‘Just in Case’

Spoiler Warning for the Season 4, Episode 6 of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series. Spoilers from “The Walking Dead” will also be discussed. 

Kim Dickens as Madison Clark – (Photo Credit: Richard Foreman, Jr/AMC)

Just when you think you have “Fear the Walking Dead” figured out, it throws another plot twist at you…well several, actually. The latest episode is a bit jumbled when it comes to the narrative, spending an unbalanced among of time with each story arc in both timelines. Still, there is a significant amount of backstory and character development that really props this episode up. The battle against the Vultures is just ramping up and it looks as though deadly consequences are on the horizon.

This episode makes a point to play with the timeline in the same way that “Another Day in the Diamond” did, utilizing the “BEFORE” and “NOW” cards. As the season progresses, the two stories are getting closer and closer to each other and the downfall of the Diamond nears.

BEFORE

At the Diamond, Naomi treats a wound Alicia sustained from a supply run, showcasing that the two have established a working infirmary in the community. Madison arrives and lets them know that they will need to scout for more food, noting that their current rations are being stretched thin. The wound that Alicia has shows just how far the survivors are going to assure that they have a least a small amount of food for the community. A huge aspect of this episode deals with Strand and the guilt he feels as he works on becoming a better person. Luciana questions where he found the truck filled with supplies, and Strand tells an elaborate tale to cover his ass. He checks in with Cole later and it seems as though their relationship is at a bit of a standstill as Cole states that he didn’t rat Strand out because of the possible repercussions he would face; is Cole afraid that Strand would enact physical harm on him? This episode touches base on one of the best dynamics in the series as Madison and Strand have a much-need talk over a bottle of liquor. Strand asks Madison why she saved his life even after he betrayed her and the rest of the Dam community in Season 3. Madison explains that she knows exactly who Victor is and that even though he may make bad choices, he is still a good person. This friendship has been through a lot since the two first met and it rewarding to see them discuss their shared history and love for one another.

Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia Clark, Frank Dillane as Nick Clark. (Photo Credit: Richard Foreman, Jr/AMC)

A central focus of this episode is on Naomi as even more of her backstory is revealed following the excellent standalone “Laura” that opened her character up exponentially. It’s already been established that Naomi doesn’t like to stay in one place for too long, but this episode shows that she is not only running away from something, but that she is also running to something. She tries to flee the Diamond, but is stopped by one of the residents with a gun as Madison and the others arrive to see what the fuss is all about. Naomi covers herself by stating that she was heading to a location with supplies and seeds to grow crops at the Stadium. Alicia volunteers to come along, but Madison states that she and Strand will go with Naomi while everyone else stays behind to defend against the Vultures. The trio head out together, but stop at a motel for the night so as to not travel in the dark. There are a few roaming Infected in the motel and Madison finds a few cans of food, leading her to realize that a conflict erupted over these basic supplies that ended with people dead; this highlights just how dire the state of the world is while simultaneously showing just how far people will go to keep themselves alive for an additional day or two.

Strand finds a collection of food, mostly consisting of vending machine snacks, that the trio decide to feast upon while talking about their pasts; shouldn’t they have saved the food considering the famine happening back at the Diamond? Anyway, Naomi questions where Strand and Madison came from, prompting them to share that they originated in Los Angeles and later ended up in Mexico before traversing to Texas; there’s a brief mention of their journey across the country when Madison and Strand reminisce about a bar they visited in Roswell, New Mexico. Naomi is hesitant to talk about her past, but reveals that she is taking them to a FEMA shelter that has since been overrun. Going to the shelter with Strand and Madison wasn’t Naomi’s original plan and she explains that she actually was going to leave the Stadium behind when she was caught. Strand really doesn’t want to trust Naomi, noticing her flakiness and cowardice. Madison pulls Strand back and states that Naomi is free to leave if she wishes and that no one would blame her for it. When morning comes, Madison finds that Naomi has left the motel and taken off on her own. This is her what…fourth time fleeing? This woman is a runner.

Jenna Elfman as Naomi. (Photo credit: Richard Foreman Jr./AMC)

It’s been apparent since she was first introduced that something is haunting Naomi and that unravels further as she arrives at the FEMA shelter alone. The shelter is filled with Infected, something that really seems to weigh heavily on Naomi. Meanwhile, Madison and Strand try to chart a course to the shelter, realizing they need the supplies regardless of if Naomi is going to help them or not. This is where Strand really opens up and lets Madison know the truth about his bug-out car that he brought to the Diamond. Madison seems a bit taken aback by this, but doesn’t lash out in anger like she did after his betrayal at the Dam. At the shelter, Naomi enters and locates a notebook that appears to contain instructions along with a set of keys. She sneaks around the Infected, but comes across an area of the shelter with children’s drawings on the wall, prompting her to freeze in her place and drop to the ground in a fit of tears. The Infected are drawn by noises she makes and Naomi finds herself on the run from a small horde that chases her through a maze of corridors and cots. It’s important to note that Naomi is unable to kill any of the Infected; she tries, but just can’t bring herself to do so as she tears up at the mere thought of putting any of them down. Before she is completely surrounded, she climbs up to the top of a platform and collapses in sadness, staring down at what is later revealed to be her former co-survivors. Rule number one in the zombie apocalypse: don’t get yourself trapped.

Everything seems quite hopeless for Naomi…and it even looks as though this might be where she actually dies. That simply isn’t the case as Madison and Strand arrive and rescue Naomi from the platform; Naomi initially rejects their help, tossing the keys to them and stating that she is supposed to be here. Strand really jumps into action as he uses rope to create an escape route for Naomi to pull herself across the Infected; this is incredibly similar to the tactic Spencer Monroe used in “The Walking Dead’s” Season 6 episode “Heads Up,” which is an adaptation of a similar moment in the comic series. Madison kills several Infected while Strand helps Naomi off the rope, proving once again that teamwork makes the dream work, especially in the apocalypse. After getting away from the Infected, Naomi finally opens up about what happened to her prior to joining the group and why she has such a somber connection to this location. Naomi reveals that she had a daughter named Rose and that they lived at the FEMA shelter with several other survivors, including a woman that taught classes on survival skills to prepare for the worst (similar to Carol at the Prison in “TWD”). At some point, Rose got extremely sick and Naomi left to find medicine to treat her, hiding her daughter in a closet to prevent the others from finding out and exiling her. Rose apparently died, turned and attacked the survivors, leading to the entire shelter’s downfall. Naomi places all of the blame of what happened squarely on herself and you can feel the pain as Jenna Elfman delivers a wholly emotional performance.

Colman Domingo as Victor Strand. (Photo credit: Richard Foreman Jr./AMC)

Outside of the shelter is a parked car that Naomi explains was packed by the woman who taught survival classes. She called it the “just in case” truck, which could be used to keep the survivors alive should their shelter fall. There’s a lovely moment as Strand points to a plant growing out of a bag of soil, noting to Naomi that things can always get better and that no one is beyond redemption. The trio arrive back at the Diamond as Nick, Alicia and Luciana step outside to speak with Mel. They basically rub it in the Vultures’ face that they are beating the odds and finding supplies outside of the fifty-mile radius that has been searched. The tables turn a bit as Mel sees that they are basically wasting their time with the Stadium and should just move onto another location that could have more attainable supplies. Mel does impart a chilling warning on Madison before leaving in that bad things always happen and that the community still likely won’t be safe. The mood is more upbeat that in recent weeks as Nick explains that the supplies brought back from the FEMA shelter will allow the community to start over and yield enough food for everyone. Later, Madison speaks with Alicia and hands over keys to a vehicle with the instructions to stash it with supplies “just in case” something goes wrong. Madison is using Strand’s method of putting herself and her family first…and can you blame her? She may be the leader of a community, but the apocalypse basically forces you to look out for yourself in the end.

NOW

Following their split from Althea and the others, Morgan and John have been traveling in search of clues that will lead them back to the others. They come across a Vulture named Edgar (Jason Liebrecht), who has been looting a gas station of basically everything, including light bulbs and others random objects. John demands answers from Edgar, yelling at him while holding a pistol to him. The effect of hearing about Naomi is clearly turning him dark, so much so that he even shoots one of Edgar’s fingers off when the Vulture tries to go for his gun. John finds one of the maps that the Vultures carry and questions where they will be meeting next. He also angrily orders Edgar to explain what happened to Naomi at the Stadium, but the Vulture plays coy and states that he wasn’t with the scavenging group at that point. Morgan urges John to ease up a bit before stepping in and telling Edgar to leave and warn his group against going to their meet point. John seems to be uneasy about how the altercation went, showing his discomfort toward his own darker side. On the road, Alicia questions Althea about the rigged machine guns in the SWAT truck. Althea isn’t keen on answering questions, stating that she is the one who asks the questions. She also makes it clear that she will act as a neutral party in whatever happens in the conflict with the Vultures. This is an extremely interesting role for her to play, specifically considering the role that journalists typically play in the real world. There’s also an underlying sense of secrecy still hidden behind Althea’s character. What is she keeping to herself?

Jason Liebrecht as Edgar and Kevin Zegers as Mel. (Photo credit: Richard Foreman Jr./AMC)

The final act of the episode takes place at the Vultures’ meet point as Strand, Alicia and Luciana stage an ambush. Morgan and John arrive instead, leaving the trio confused and angry as Morgan lets them know that he warned the Vultures from coming, noting that they can find another way to move forward without fighting; he even references Nick and states that he should have done more to convince him not to use violence. To the relief of Strand and the others, a caravan of Vultures rolls up the to scene…but they have come armed and ready for a fight, thanks to Morgan’s warning. Mel explains that he is sorry for the killing of Nick, but Alicia retorts by stating that she feels no sorrow over the death of Ennis. The Vultures seem to be far more violent than they were in the “BEFORE” timeline, hinting that a lot has happened between the two time periods. In a drastic turn of events, a Land Rover arrives and a woman steps out, fully outfitted in Vulture-esque garb. To the surprise of everyone, the woman is revealed to be Naomi, alive and aligned with the Vultures. John is most stunned and he walks over to her, but Alicia angrily turns her gun on Naomi and fires a shot. John steps in the way and takes a bullet to the abdomen and collapses to the ground as Naomi and Morgan rush to his aid. “Fear the Walking Dead” is noteworthy for its deadly reunions…and this might just be added to the list. Will John really be the next victim of Season 4? What did Naomi do to make Alicia so angry? WHERE IS MADISON?

“Just in Case” isn’t a perfect episode and does suffer from some issues in regards to the editing and overall scattering of storylines. That being said, there is a ton of strong material here that adds to the mystery element of the season while providing plenty of answers as the climax seems to be near. Naomi’s backstory is devastating and the parallels to other characters in the “TWD” Universe that also lost children help to make viewers sympathize with her; there’s also excellent parallels between her and Strand as both have their own redemption paths. Jenna Elfman delivers yet another incredible performance showing the full ranger of emotions that one would expect a grieving and guilt-filled mother would feel. The setting of the FEMA shelter also deserves praise, adding a layer of realism to the story by showing an example of the government’s attempts to keep things going as the apocalypse struck; FEMA shelters have been seen before in “The Walking Dead” at the high school near Hershel’s Farm and in Downtown Atlanta, both of which were overrun. The mysteries keep piling up and the list of questions continues to grow, but it definitely seems as though the Mid-Season Finale will be very revealing. Is the conflict with the Vultures nearing its end? Who will come out on top?

“Fear the Walking Dead” will take a short hiatus for Memorial Day and will return with the penultimate episode of Season 4A on Sunday, June 3 at 9 p.m. on AMC.

TV REVIEW: ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ – ‘Laura’

Spoiler Warning for the Season 4, Episode 5 of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series. Spoilers from “The Walking Dead” will also be discussed. 

Jenna Elfman as Naomi and Garret Dillahunt as John Dorie. (Photo credit: Richard Foreman Jr./AMC)

Love is in the air. Loss is in the air.

The latest episode of “Fear the Walking Dead” takes things to a new level as the focus shifts to two of the most interesting characters. In a standalone backstory, the series tells the tale of John Dorie and Naomi/Laura as they fall in love and separate. This backstory is damn near perfect, feeling almost like a singular romantic comedy film rather than an episode of “Fear.” Without any doubt, this is the strongest episode of Season 4, and is one of the most engrossing episodes in the entire “TWD” franchise.

Over the course of the season so far, small tidbits of information about John’s past have been dropped, but this episode really dives deep into his character. Think of this episode as “Fear the Walking Dead’s” version of “Here’s Not Here.” At some point in the past (an exact timeline is not given), John resides alone in a cabin next to a river. He wakes up each day to music from a wriggling fish radio and begins his day of chores and relaxation. There’s a sense of calm, but also loneliness as John kills beached Infected, collects water, scavenges for food and plays Scrabble; while going about his chores, John murmurs words that he later plays in Scrabble, something that was first hinted in the Season Premiere. It’s important to note that John’s cabin is extremely isolated and rigged to withstand the apocalypse; there is a moat out front to prevent the undead from getting close to the cabin, a smart tactic that assists in his survival. In the middle of the night, he hears what he believes to be another Infected washing up, but he is stunned to find an unconscious woman, revealed to the audience to be Naomi. Not only is this episode the story of where John was before he met up with Morgan and Althea, but it is also serves to peel back the layers of Naomi and show her character prior to arriving at the Diamond.

When John finds Naomi, she is badly banged up and has a nasty cut on her side. He treats her wound and lets her sleep through the night before trying to talk to her. Only when he checks on her in the morning, Naomi is trying to flee in his truck. It’s clear that John isn’t going to make her stay if she doesn’t want to, but the battery is dead and she isn’t able to go anywhere. This is yet another case of Naomi being skittish, mirroring the times she tried to flee from both Madison and Alicia in previous episodes. They both return inside the cabin and Naomi asks that John stitch up her wound. Later, he makes fish soup for her and they properly introduce themselves to each other; however, Naomi never states her actual name and instead goes by “Laura,” which John names her after noticing that she isn’t quite ready to open up to him. Throughout the episode, Naomi repeatedly tells John that she will be leaving after she heals up, not wanting to stay at the cabin for too long; this parallels Morgan’s insistence that he will only be traveling with John and Althea temporarily, even though he keeps getting pulled into drama and staying with them.

Garret Dillahunt as John Dorie and Jenna Elfman as Naomi. (Photo credit: Richard Foreman Jr./AMC)

A major element of this episode revolves around the pair of matching pistols that were split between John and Naomi. In the middle of the night, Naomi watches as John cleans the pistols, playing into his explanation that he rarely sleeps anymore. When morning comes, John dispatches a few Infected that wash up, something that Naomi questions; John explains that something is happening upstream that seems to be drawing them into the river. She offers to tag along as he heads upstream to check it out and also head to a local store that he frequents. The two load into a canoe and begin paddling up the river, allowing for some bonding as John reveals to Naomi that he was once a police officer. They approach an overpass where a car seems to have driven off and crashed into the water; John questions if this is how she ended up in the water, which turns into a quip about Naomi’s driving skills. An Infected falls from the opened gap on the bridge, giving an explanation to why they keep washing up outside of the cabin downstream. Later, the two pay a visit to a general store to collect supplies. Naomi reorganizes the medical supplies in the store so that any survivor will have an easier time finding what they need, especially if they’re in a hurry. John rents a movie, even signing it out as if he were living in the pre-apocalypse. There’s a sense of normalcy and peace that these scenes showcase while simultaneously bringing the characters of John and Naomi closer together, letting one another (and the viewers) see the good in the other.

John and Naomi demonstrate their strength as a team by partially repairing the gap on the bridge with some metal they find at the general store. Later, after returning to the cabin, they get even closer as they sit together on the couch and watch a movie; John had previously mentioned his love for movies, and this episode reiterates that fact. There’s an absolutely heartbreaking moment as John wakes up on the couch to find Naomi staring at him before quietly saying the words “I lost my child.” This single line reveals so much about Naomi and provides insight into why she is rather closed off in the two timelines she’s been shown in. John’s reaction to this is rather simple, but shows that he feels her pain, but doesn’t rub his pity in her face. Numerous characters in both shows have lost children and it always serves as a element that develops them and in many cases, makes them stronger, but also more broken than ever before. This episode shows that there is a path forward for those that lose a child with Naomi gaining necessary survival skills, including fishing. John teaches her the art of fishing, allowing them to feast on their fresh catches. A montage shows their growing bond over an indeterminate amount of time with them going about daily activities, such as fishing and playing Scrabble, together rather than alone. These scenes are further parallels to “Here’s Not Here,” wherein Eastman taught Morgan aikido and several other noteworthy skills.

Jenna Elfman as Naomi. (Photo credit: Richard Foreman Jr./AMC)

There’s more exploration of Naomi’s backstory as she is clearly having a difficult time letting herself feel a connection to John. After she is fully healed up, she lets John know that she will be leaving soon and his mood drastically changes, clearly saddened to realize their time together is ending. Outside, more of the Infected have washed up, leading the two to realize their repair job didn’t solve the problem fully. They return to the bridge and John discovers that Naomi has brought one of his pistols along with them to assist in taking down the Infected. This angers John, who states that he never wanted the pistols to leave his cabin, citing his disdain for guns and his belief that they only cause more problems. The duo use a handful of melee weapons to clear the bridge of Infected before driving a vehicle to close the gap of the bridge. An Infected with a machete through its body approaches the vehicle and cuts through the window as Naomi yells for John to shoot it, but he refuses and is nearly bitten before finally bloodily bashing its head in. This opens up a whole can of worms when it comes to John’s history and he is later encouraged by Naomi to share why exactly he doesn’t like to use guns. Before the apocalypse, John stopped a robbery at a gas station by firing his gun at the robber, who later bled out and died. This turned him into a hero in the eyes of the town even though he felt immense guilt and relocated to the cabin to get away from it all. There’s clearly a ton of pain and sorrow that John feels for his role in killing someone, leaving him less than willing to get his hands bloody in the apocalypse.

Things take a turn for the worse as the sound of the undead in the partially submerged crashed car draw a small herd to the gap on the bridge, allowing them to move the parked vehicle and tumble into the river. Naomi and John are stunned to find a large collection of the Infected washed up on their shore. They fight off as many as they can, but there is simply too many and Naomi falls into the moat. Just as it looks like she is going to be devoured, John steps in and takes all of the Infected out by double shooting his pistols with killer accuracy. This attack sequence is stylistically similar to old-school horror/zombie movies and is likely an homage to George Romero’s films. Later, John offers one of his pistols to Naomi and tells her that she needs to take it with her for both of their sake. After settling in for the night, Naomi tries to sit beside John to watch a movie, but he steps away, still bothered by her impending departure. He understands her need to be alone and offers to leave and allow her to live at the cabin by herself. It is here that John professes his love to Naomi, something that he notes that he didn’t want to do, but was compelled by her decision to leave and his need for her to survive. She responds to his proclamation with a kiss that seems to lead to sex. However, John wakes up in the morning to find himself alone in the cabin with Naomi nowhere to be found. On the table is a note laid out in Scrabble letters stating “I love you too. I’m sorry.” Once again, Naomi is running away (or possibly to something) and John is left alone in the world…that is until he finds his new friends later down the line.

Garret Dillahunt as John Dorie and Jenna Elfman as Naomi. (Photo credit: Richard Foreman Jr./AMC)

The final few moments of the episode catch up with John and Morgan as it is revealed that John was telling the tale of him and Naomi. The two men are at a bit of a crossroads now, having split from Alicia, Strand, Luciana and Althea, and Morgan asks John if he believes that their revenge quest against the Vultures is the right move. Morgan clearly believes that it is the wrong move having just spent a full season fighting All Out War on “The Walking Dead,” which really messed with his head. He repeats the line that Rick said to him in the Season 4 Premiere about being part of the world, showing that he has grown immensely since leaving Virginia and meeting up with John and the others. Rick told Morgan that he would end up with people one way or another…and he was totally right. Both series like to remind viewers that regardless of if a character wants to alone, people always find a way into that individual’s life. There are a lot of similarities between John and Morgan, and it will be interesting to see if they further their already strong bond. Both Lennie James and Garret Dillahunt have great chemistry with one another and have developed this dynamic that is fascinating to watch.

“Laura” is a slow burn episode that takes time to dive deep into the characters of John and Naomi. This episode is precisely what “Fear the Walking Dead” and the “TWD” franchise as a whole is all about; human beings living their lives in the apocalypse, loving and losing people in the process. Director Michael Satrazemis deserves a ton of praise, along with the cinematographer and writers. Both Garret Dillahunt and Jenna Elfman deliver spectacular performances and pack all of the emotional punches that make this episode so effective. A ton of questions still remain, but this episode is an excellent addition to the “Fear” canon and is definitely one of the strongest chapters to date. It’s always great when the focus is shifted to one or two characters, allowing for immense development and growth. Where are Morgan and John headed now? Is Naomi actually dead? WHERE IS MADISON?

Be sure to tune into “Fear the Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.