MAJOR Spoiler Warning for the two-episode Season Premiere of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous seasons.
The first two seasons of “Fear the Walking Dead” have been incredibly polarizing to fans, but with the third season kicking off, the show may be on the path to rebuilding the fanbase. I’ve always found myself looking past the many problems of the series for the sake of enjoying another zombie drama. The two-part premiere does have a handful of issues, but manages to the series on a whole new level as a different era begins. With a shocking and heartbreaking death, a new community and frightening threats, the characters are about to step into a whole other world.
“Eye of the Beholder”
Season 2 left off with a major shootout at the border where Luciana was shot in the shoulder and captured alongside Nick by a militia group; Madison, Alicia and Travis learned from Alejandro at La Colonia that Nick was headed toward the border and left to go search for him. This episode picks up with the trio being dragged into a military base by a group of soldiers; dozens of bodies lay outside of the entrance, but it isn’t exactly clear if they are humans or infected. Once they are on the base, the soldiers separate Travis from Madison and Alicia, taking him into an underground area where he is measured and weighed before being put into a room with other prisoners; inside the room, Travis spots Nick sitting with a still injured Luciana. At the same time, Madison and Alicia are taken to an office where they meet a soldier named Troy Otto (Daniel Sharman), who questions them and asks where they came from. Madison states that she and her family were in the area searching for her son and also asks where Travis was taken. Troy tells her that new arrivals must be processed first, but this answer clearly doesn’t satisfy Madison. It’s clear right from the beginning that this place is not safe and the soldiers cannot be trusted.
There is a clear divide at this military base where Madison and Alicia are given far better treatment than Travis, Nick and Luciana, who are forced to listen to a series of sick science experiments that the soldiers are conducting to see how long it takes for a dead person to turn; the soldier line people up and shoot them before recording the time it takes for them to return as an infected. This is an interesting concept, one that hasn’t really been explored in the franchise since Season 1 of “The Walking Dead” when the group visited the CDC. This situation is far more sinister, however, as the soldiers joke and make bets while they slaughter innocent people. Travis asks Troy for information about Madison and demands that Luciana be given medical treatment, but his requests are ignored; it is clear that these three are not meant to leave this laboratory area. Travis teams up with a fellow captive to formulate an escape plan, but the soldiers arrive and bring them to the slaughter area, where they are lined up; this is eerily reminiscent to Terminus in the original series, although these soldiers don’t seem to be cannibals. This is one of many parallels that I noticed across the two premiere episodes, but it isn’t quite clear if these are homages or if the writers are struggling to come up with fresh ideas; I’ll give the writers the benefit of the doubt and say that they are simply paying tribute to the sister show.
Back in the office, Madison frantically searches for a weapon, nearly destroying the room in the process. Once again, Alicia comes in clutch and reveals that she hid her butterfly knife in her shoes. Night falls and Alicia and Madison get some much needed rest, but Troy creepily watches over them and writes down a few observations in his notebook. Madison wakes up and questions about the status of Travis, but Troy only responds by asking if she loves him more than herself; she states that she does, allowing for a touching moment of reflection where Madison allows herself to be more vulnerable than she usually is. Over in the lab area, Travis is forced to explain that he is of Maori heritage and there is a minor bit of dialogue where he is asked if he had any contact with family back in New Zealand; this is a small reference to the fact that aside from a few locations, the status of the outside world is relatively unknown to viewers and the characters. The fellow prisoner whispers to Travis that a series of underground tunnels is their best bet for an escape, but the soldiers are wasting no time and prepare to shoot Nick and Luciana. Travis steps in and volunteers himself to be the next test subject, showcasing the fact that even after everything he has been through, Travis is a good man and views Nick as his son. That being said, Travis sees a moment of opportunity and fights back against the soldiers, allowing Nick to step in and use a newly turned infected as a weapon; Travis, Nick, Luciana and the other prisoner flee the room as Troy rushes out of his meeting with Madison after hearing the sounds of gunfire. This sets off an insane sequence that perfectly blends the threats of other humans and the infected.
Before he rushed away, Troy presented a plan to Madison; she, Alicia and Travis would all be evacuated to his home, which is apparently safe. Obviously this plan falls apart with the prisoner escape. Travis attempts to divert the soldiers’ attention away from Nick and Luciana as they head down into the underground tunnels; the other prisoner is shot by the soldiers in all of the chaos, but Nick is able to get Luciana down and away from the gunfire. Luciana is in unbearable pain and demands that Nick leave her behind, but this is something he absolutely refuses to do and proclaims this with a kiss before proceeding forward. Above ground, Troy makes his way into the office to collect the Clarks, but Madison is waiting for him and attacks, leading to a tense fight that ends with her plunging a spoon into his eye socket. She uses this as a threat against him, holding him as a hostage with the spoon still in his eye as she exits the building; Madison tells Alicia to search the compound for a vehicle they can use to escape. At the same time, Travis is being thrown into a pit of infected where the soldiers urge him to fight. Back underground, Nick and Luciana find an exit, only to be horrified at the sight of a massive herd that now has full access to the tunnel; they retreat back in, but Nick is attacked by an infected. Alicia hears the screams of her brother from a metal grate and decides to throw her knife down, allowing Luciana to kill the infected and save Nick. Are you exhausted? Because I sure am and the episode only gets crazier from here.
Action has only been present in small amounts thus far in the series, but this premiere goes full-throttle and delivers a full episode of action and chaos. At the pit area, Travis is forced to fight off several infected as the soldiers laugh and cheer. This is where he really proves how hardened of a survivor he has become, as he uses the few resources in the pit to his advantage and kills the infected with a variety of makeshift weapons. Elsewhere on the base, Madison leads Troy around, desperately searching for her family, but several soldiers surround her. In walks Jake Otto (Sam Underwood), the brother of Troy, who tries to subdue the situation and calmly asks Madison to stand down. Madison realizes she is out of options and frees Troy before being taken to the pit area. She sees Travis standing by himself surrounded by dozens of infected bodies, almost unrecognizable from his English teacher persona at the start of the series. Travis lunges for Troy, but Madison and Jake explain the situation as Alicia, Luciana and Nick are brought to the area. The moment we have been waiting for has finally arrived; after being separated nearly eight episodes ago in “Shiva,” Nick reunites with Madison and Alicia in an emotional hug that signifies a united Clark family. Off to the side, Travis watches on, clearly upset that he was unable to have this beautiful moment with his own son Chris. Everything seems to be calm for a moment, but this is still the apocalypse and that there is no escaping the infected.
Madison sternly rejects Jake’s offer to bring her family to his home, even with the promise of safety from the outside world and from the erratic Troy. In the lab area, a soldier collects a few things before rolling out, but is startled after hearing a loud noise in the wall; he looks into a vent and a ton of rats pour out of the wall and onto the floor before the soldier is attacked by several infected and pulled into the wall as he is devoured in what will go down in one of the craziest kills in either series. Some conflict arises between the Otto brothers and they mention their father back home. Meanwhile, Luciana receives minor treatment and Madison reconnects with Travis in a somber moment that has even more meaning by the end of the second episode. The mayhem returns as the herd of infected overwhelm the base, causing the survivors to speed up their evacuation. Alicia struggles to carry Luciana over to a helicopter that is about to take off, but Travis rushes over and helps. Helicopter pilot Charlene (Lindsay Pulsipher) gets off the ground with Alicia, Travis, Luciana and Jake onboard, although several infected dangle from the helicopter until they are shot down by soldiers. On the ground, Nick and Madison fight off the infected, but Troy and several of his fellow soldiers step in and save the day; Nick and Madison are allowed in Troy’s truck as he leads a convoy off the base. A powerful music score plays as the helicopter flies off into the distance, ending “Fear the Walking Dead’s” greatest action sequence to date.
“The New Frontier”
The craziness and intensity certainly doesn’t die as the second episode begins by showing the helicopter flying through the night sky as Alicia comforts Luciana. Suddenly, a hail of bullets strike the helicopter, breaking the windows and causing Charlene to prepare for an emergency landing. One of the bullets also manages to strike Travis right in the neck, leaving him in a state of shock as blood spews out. Alicia realizes what has happened and tries to comfort Travis, but he removes his seat-belt and opens the side door; a horrified Alicia grabs Travis, but spots an injury on his abdomen (it isn’t completely clear if this is a gunshot wound or a bite) and releases her grasp of him, allowing him to fall from the helicopter to the ground below. Yes…they went there. “Fear the Walking Dead” just killed their co-lead character in the opening scene of the third season’s second episode. Jake rushes to Alicia’s side and secures her in a seat as she looks down at her hands, now covered in Travis’ blood. Cue the opening credits. Remember when I said the show was entering a new era? This is the proof. I guess you could say that this is “The New Frontier.”
This episode takes viewers back to the Rosarito Beach Hotel for the first time since the Season 2 Finale when Travis, Alicia and Madison left after a forced conflict. Strand stayed behind after realizing that he wasn’t willing to risk his life for his new family. Madison created a problem in last season’s “Pillar of Salt,” when she turned on the hotel lights at night, leading to dozens of survivors in the area to arrive seeking refuge. Elena and Hector are threatened by a group of new arrivals that are demanding medical attention; they heard that the hotel has a doctor, but are unaware that he was killed by Alicia. Strand steps forward and lets everyone know that he is a doctor and will provide treatment to anyone in need; Strand treats a few people with minor injuries, but he is faced with a huge challenge when a pregnant woman’s water breaks. With his usual humor, Strand plays this off and states that he can’t deliver the baby, but the woman’s husband pulls out a knife and demands that he help. He successfully delivers the baby, but his job isn’t over yet; Hector leads him to the room of a woman who refuses to eat anything. He enters the room and finds gift boxes, rotting food and a bloody wedding dress; he’s surprised by Ilene Stowe, the mother of the bride and the sole survivor of the wedding massacre. These two haven’t been on the best of terms as Ilene stabbed Strand last season, but he seems to have forgiven her and shares his new sense of hope after delivering the baby. Ilene apologizes for stabbing him before giving him a hug and flinging herself off the balcony; can you really blame her at this point? Before she jumped, Ilene gave Strand a key to a luxurious car in the parking garage, which he hops in and drives off. As if I couldn’t love Strand anymore, we get to see him in a new light; helping people, rather than simply using them as a means to an end.
The convoy drives down a highway before arriving at the Broke Jaw Ranch, the home of the Otto family. Upon entering the community, Troy is alerted to the fact that the helicopter never arrived; this worries Troy and he orders Nick and Madison to wait outside of the gates until he finds out what has happened. Nick immediately feels uncomfortable here and tells Madison that they should head out and search for their family, but Madison shoots this down, stating that the helicopter could still arrive. In a rather strange hug, Madison shows Nick that she has a gun and that they will use it if things turn bad at the ranch. The ranch itself is really impressive, with sprawling fields of crops and livestock; it is somewhat reminiscent of the Greene Farm from Season 2 of “The Walking Dead,” albeit far more populated. Nick continues to express his distrust of this new group, citing what Troy and the soldiers did to the injured survivors. The leader of the community arrives and introduces himself as Jeremiah Otto, but viewers have seen him before; if he looks familiar to you, that’s because he is the mysterious man who captured Ofelia after she crossed the border in last season’s “Wrath.” This begs the question of where exactly is Ofelia? She isn’t featured in either episode, but is it possible that she is being held somewhere on the ranch?
Jeremiah invites Nick and Madison into the community while slyly asking questions about Travis and whether or not he would hijack the helicopter. Jeremiah leads the Clarks around the ranch and explains that he was a doomsday prepper prior to the fall of society; he then takes them to a single room and leaves them alone, but Nick still isn’t okay with trusting these people. With no real plan for handling the situation, Madison proposes that they just play along until they have more information about the survivors and the whereabouts of their people. It’s no secret that Nick has been my favorite character since the pilot episode, but attitude this episode is rather irritating; for once, I actually side with Madison, although I do understand where Nick is coming from as these people CANNOT be trusted. Regardless, it is great to have Nick and Madison back together again and I really hope they don’t separate again as I would like to see their relationship grow.
Not far from the ranch, Alicia, Luciana, Jake and Charlene recover from the helicopter crash, still unaware of what exactly happened. Alicia is in a complete state of shock and questions if Travis may have survived, but Jake shoots this down immediately before stating that they must leave the area and get back to the ranch before they come across whoever fired at the helicopter. Night falls and Alicia continues to comfort Luciana, who’s condition is worsening; Charlene volunteers to take the first shift as Jake sits down at the campfire with Alicia. Moments later, a warning whistle can be heard in the distance and Jake frantically runs to help, but falls in a ravine filled with infected. Luckily, Alicia rushes over and manages to kill all of the infected in a series of headshots (while Alicia is definitely on her way to being a tough survivor, this is a bit unbelievable, considering we have never actually seen her fire a gun). Jake is horrified when he finds that the infected were feasting on the corpse of Charlene, but he takes Alicia’s gun and puts her down. Alicia realizes Luciana needs help right away and she helps Jake carry her to the ranch where more drama arises.
As Alicia and Jake arrive at the ranch with an unconscious Luciana, Nick and Madison are relieved to see their loved ones alive. This relief soon fades as they realize someone is missing and its up to Alicia to tell her mother that Travis is dead; Madison falls to the ground in heartbreak after hearing that the love of her life is gone. This only lasts for a moment as another issue arises as the ranch doctor states that Luciana likely will not recover, leading Troy to pull out his gun and prepare to execute her. Obviously, Nick is having none of this and demands that she be treated in the infirmary; they refuse and he asks to be the one to put Luciana down. Nick turns the tables and points the gun at Troy, prompting Jeremiah to order Luciana to be taken to the infirmary for treatment. Madison takes a moment for herself to mourn the loss of Travis and Nick comforts Alicia, who breaks down in grief. Later, the Clarks meet up in their room and discuss their future plans; they will stay at the ranch and make things work, but Madison states that they will take over if they have to (this is almost exactly what Rick told Carol and Daryl after arriving at Alexandria). This line came across as a little too cheesy and over the top; how exactly are three people going to overpower an entire community of armed survivors? Still, this demonstrates what Madison is willing to do to keep her family safe; she isn’t going to lose anyone else.
— The Walking Dead World (@TWalkingDWorld) June 5, 2017
The time has come to pay tribute to our fallen hero, Travis Manawa. Since the pilot episode, Travis was established as a simple and good-natured family man, two characteristics that he maintains throughout his time in the series. I have to say, I am completely stunned that the show had the guts to make such a drastic move as this; part of me feels as though it is the right move and will send the show in whole new direction, but I also worry that this may harm the series. Travis had received some of the best character development in the series, with the deaths of Liza and Chris being major turning points for his story. With him now dead, it feels as though all the potential of the character has been wasted. Still, the death of Travis is very much fitting to his character; he knew that he would not recover from his injuries and took it upon himself to get out of the helicopter before he died, turned and attacked Alicia and the others. This death also showcases the brutal realism of the world; much like that of Chris, this death is sudden and comes out of nowhere (anyone can die at anytime; death doesn’t care if you’re a main character or a background extra). The series loses Cliff Curtis, who has delivered some of the strongest performances in the show, demonstrating a wide range of emotions. This will absolutely affect the remaining survivors, most notably Madison, who has now lost two significant others.
The double episode premiere of “Fear the Walking Dead” is truly fantastic and serves as a transition into the show’s new era, where anything can happen at anytime. The introduction of the Otto family and the Broke Jaw Ranch sets up some really interesting stories; have the Clarks found their new home or are they now trapped among those that wish to do them harm? Strand’s story provided a rather clunky end to the hotel storyline, although his conversation with Ilene was a major highlight; I still don’t fully understand why Hector and Elena rushed the group out, especially considering the hotel never would have been cleared without them. Madison really stepped up and established herself as more ruthless than I originally believed her to be; she still annoys me, but hopefully I will get over that. The standout character this week is none other than Travis, who went out like he lived; a badass hero. We’ll miss you, Travis.
Be sure to tune in to “Fear the Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.