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.

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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.

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