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.
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.
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.
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.
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.