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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
— The Walking Dead World (@TWalkingDWorld) June 11, 2018
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.