Spoiler Warning for Season 3, Episode 12 of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series.
“Fear the Walking Dead” just keeps raising the stakes and the latest episode ts one of the best in the entire series. With such a high level of intensity, fantastic character development, powerful dialogue and mesmerizing acting, this episode really knocks it out of the park and proves that “Fear” is moving in the right direction. There are a few minor issues, but the scale and overall sense of urgency help to make up for them. Leaders rise and fall, good people die, bad people survive and alliances are forged; what happens in the course of this hour changes everything and reestablishes the fact that the apocalypse is absolutely ruthless.
The banishment of Troy in the Mid-Season Finale opened up several interesting avenues for his character as he is literally forced away from his home and into the wasteland by “invaders,” as well as his own brother. This plays a massive role in what goes down in this episode and that is apparent from the beautifully shot opening scene that finds Troy being a survivor; he kills a rattlesnake (much like Daryl Dixon; this seems to be one of many homages to “The Walking Dead”) and makes notes in his journal before making his way to the McCarthy Outpost that was featured in “Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame.” The body of McCarthy still rests in the same chair that overlooks the valley and Troy takes the time to bury him before sitting himself in the chair, symbolizing the fact that he views himself as one of the Ranch’s “Founding Fathers.” The familiar moans of the Infected can be heard nearby and Troy fires his gun into the air as an eerie smile lights up his face; there’s one sick plan brewing inside Troy’s twisted mind.
On the Ranch, a few Infected make their way onto the land and Nick speaks with Crazy Dog about the fact that the large number of cattle are drawing them in. They decide to slaughter the cattle to help deal with the Infected, but also to preserve water; Jake isn’t too happy with this decision and he speaks with Alicia about it, but she basically tells him to live with it. The Ranch that Jake knew is long gone and he expresses a desire to leave with Alicia and live out their days in a nearby cabin that the Ottos built; she shuts this down immediately, proving once again that Alicia is a far better leader than Jake as she refuses to leave behind the Ranchers. Ofelia and Crazy Dog discuss the relative peace taking place on the Ranch and they both make it clear that they are coming to trust Nick and his leadership; he stopped a massacre from happening and while he isn’t completely keen on leading, they both acknowledge that he’s built for it. There’s a really touching scene between Nick and Alicia where they discuss the killing of Jeremiah, something that is weighing heavily on Nick, but that Alicia vehemently defends; I really love the sibling bond between these two and I wish we would get more scenes with them.
Nick’s role in the banishment of Troy comes back into play this episode in a pretty terrifying way; being waken in the middle of the night by a noise is scary, but to have that happen in the zombie apocalypse only to find a psychopath waiting for you is downright nightmarish. Nick and Troy come face-to-face and it’s clear that there is an enhanced sense of urgency as Troy describes a “beast” from the desert coming to annihilate the Ranch; it isn’t clear what this “beast” is right off the bat and Nick starts to wonder if this is just the talk of a madman. In the morning, Alicia and Jake butt heads as they discuss their relationship and both are unsure of exactly what it is. Nick arrives and makes them both aware of what Troy told him; Alicia warns Nick and Jake from listening to Troy, but they go anyway, but not before Alicia hands over a radio. Obviously none of the characters know what is going to happen in the future, but Jake leaves when he and Alicia aren’t on the best of terms and this only adds to the emotions of what comes next.
An additional element of darkness is added to the episode as Nick and Jake leave the Ranch in search of Troy, but they both have different ideas of how he should be handled. Jake tells a story of when he was younger, out hunting in the desert and coming across a rabbit that had been skinned alive, apparently by Troy; he put the rabbit out of its misery and uses this to tell Nick that he plans on doing the same to Troy. A massive cloud of dust can be seen on the horizon and Nick lets out a single “fuck” to make the urgency abundantly clear. Kudos to AMC for finally allowing an uncensored F-bomb to be dropped in the “TWD” franchise; hopefully this means that more freedom will also be given to the original series when it comes to the language used. Upon closer inspection, Nick and Jake discover a MASSIVE herd of Infected moving through the valley and they are stunned to find out that Troy is using explosives to lead them right to the Ranch. If you weren’t already convinced that Troy is too far gone, this is the final nail in the coffin.
Realizing that Troy was telling the truth about an impending threat to the Ranch, Nick radios Alicia and tries to warn her, but only part of the message is received. Jake is beyond angry at Troy for the mess he has caused, but Nick asks for a chance to talk him down; Troy provides no real justification for what he has done and this prompts Jake to raise his gun and throw his brother to the ground. There is some sensational acting from Underwood and Sharman here as the two brothers seem to be saying their final words to each other; both seem to be suicidal, but Jake makes it clear that only Troy needs to die. The truth about Jeremiah’s murder comes out, but Jake mostly brushes this off as he is solely focused on his brother. Just before Jake pulls the trigger, Nick slams the butt of his rifle into him, sending Jake rolling down a hill and into the clutches of an Infected; a struggle erupts and the Infected takes a bite out of Jake’s arm as Nick and Troy rush to the rescue. Jake screams in agony as he passes his machete to Nick, fully aware of what needs to be done; Nick steps up to the plate and amputates Jake’s arm in one clean hit. This entire sequence is a major highlight of the episode, mostly due to the high stakes and epic emotional pull.
At the Ranch, everyone is preparing for the arrival of the herd by lining up the RVs and building a makeshift wall to redirect the Infected; this tactic was previously utilized in “The Walking Dead” episode “First Time Again” where the survivors try to prevent a herd from reaching Alexandria. Unfortunately for those at the Ranch, the RVs are simply not strong enough to keep the Infected at bay and the “wall” collapses; the ridiculous strength of the Infected and some of the inconsistencies of how they act is problematic and certain shots of this sequence are not filmed all that well. Alicia orders the survivors to flee to the supply pantry and Ofelia quickly tells her that if she leads the people, they will follow her. An insane Infected-slaying sequence takes place as members of both groups kill as many as they can; Alicia, Ofelia and Crazy Dog embrace their inner badasses and kill dozens of Infected to get to the bunker. Alicia is really tested here as she is forced to put Coop down after he is overwhelmed and bitten by Infected. The trio make it to the pantry and are left unsure what to do as the unified group look to them for answers. The claustrophobia sets in and the look on Alicia’s face says it all…they are screwed.
— The Walking Dead World (@TWalkingDWorld) September 25, 2017
The time has come to discuss the major death of the episode and while I certainly think it will shake things up for everyone moving forward, I have mixed feelings on how it was handled. Jake dies from blood loss and turns moments later before being put down by Troy, who expresses his regret for the fact that his brother was an accidental casualty of his plan. Jake’s death is rather unceremonious and there is no real feeling of a ticking clock that is usually present when a character is bitten; instead, he just quietly slips away and more focus is placed on Troy. I have a lot of problems with how main character deaths are handled on this show and this is reinforces my issue; Liza and Jeremiah are examples of well-handled deaths, while Chris, Travis and Jake are cases where the deaths are clumsy and rushed, rather than well-crafted. That being said, I am very much interested to see how the characters change now that Jake is gone, specifically Troy, Nick and Alicia. Jake simply wasn’t cut out to handle the new world and his good-nature proves the point that moral compasses don’t last long in this universe. The series loses Sam Underwood, who delivered strong performances throughout and provided brilliant insight into the story and characters behind-the-scenes.
“Brother’s Keeper” is an absolutely fascinating episode that really dives deep into the characters and their relationships with one another. The focus on the Ranch and the threat of the Infected help to make this episode stand out from the others as it really allows characters such as Nick, Alicia, Troy and Ofelia to shine. While the handling Jake’s death and some of the Infected shots are negatives in my eyes, this episode is exceptionally strong and is definitely one of the best in the entire series. I am really impressed with the acting here with Alycia Debnam-Carey, Frank Dillane and Daniel Sharman all giving some of their best performances to date. The use of symbolism and the pitting of brother against brother, along with Alrick Riley’s (director of “TWD’s” “Twice as Far,” “The Cell” and the masterpiece “Bury Me Here“) direction are other highlights. What does the future of the Ranch look like? How will Alicia handle her new leadership role? What will happen when Madison, Walker and Strand return?
Be sure to tune into “Fear the Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.