Spoiler Warning for Season 5, Episode 12 of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series. Spoilers from “The Walking Dead” will also be discussed.
“Tradition is very important. More now than ever.”
Religion plays a huge role in “The Walking Dead” franchise as seen in the numerous struggles, characters and arcs revolving around faith. The latest episode of “Fear the Walking Dead” dives into this with an episode that does wonders for Charlie and several other characters. That being said, recurring issues with the series are still present.
An excellent character introduction begins the episode as we officially meet Rabbi Jacob Kessner (Peter Jacobson), who is holding a service in his empty synagogue. The sound of walkers banging on the front doors keeps distracting him, so he heads out to deal with the noise, armed with weapons. He’s a Rabbi ready to kill. He notices that the perimeter fence of his camp has a breach, and when he goes to fix it, he notices two walkers banging on a car. When a hidden walkers lunges for him, the car door slings open, effectively saving him. Inside the car is none other than Charlie, who is covered in dirt and seems disheveled. He officially welcomes her to Temple B’Nai Israel. Charlie explains that she was drawn to this place by a light, which is explained by Rabbi Jacob to be the Ner Tamid; “the flame of truth” or “the presence of God.” While talking about it, Rabbi Jacob notices that the Ner Tamid’s is flickering and is in need of a battery change.
The other side of the episode focuses on part of the caravan as they set up camp. When morning comes around, John tells June how much the constant moving around is taking a toll on the members of the caravan. Sarah notes that their fuel is starting to run low and that they will need to retrieve more from the oil fields soon. Logan is still looking for the caravan and the oils field, so they’ll need to be extra careful. Dwight updates June and the others that Charlie has gone missing during the time they were relocating to this temporary camp. At the Temple, Charlie awakens after a night of rest to find Rabbi Jacob outside killing walkers on the perimeter. Charlie tells Rabbi Jacob that she was out looking for something at night and was separated from her group only to be followed by walkers when she stumbled upon the Temple. Charlie questions why Rabbi Jacob believes that God led her here and he explains that there may be something at the Temple that she is looking for. We learn that even though the Rabbi’s congregation has fallen victim to the new world, he still goes about his job and continues preaching and following traditions. With the Ner Tamid’s last battery running dry, Charlie proposes that she reach out to her group via radio to let them know where she is and ask them to bring batteries.
While speaking to June and John over the radio, Charlie explains that she wasn’t left behind, but rather left herself to try and find a permanent home for the group. Now, she thinks she may have found a place. Outside, Rabbi Jacob goes to investigate why walkers keep making their way inside the compound. He makes his way to a building where walkers have been locked inside, but are slowly making their way through a small hole. Repairing the breach, he comes face to face with a large number of walkers against a glass window. He knows them. You can see it on his face. Putting his hands against theirs, he emotionally says a prayer. There’s a difficult history here. June and John arrive at the Temple and replace the light battery much to the appreciation of Rabbi Jacob. We learn from June that the caravan’s size has grown to 36 people. This is quite coincidental as Rabbi Jacob explains that ancient Jewish mystics believed that 36 righteous people existed in the world at any given time. Charlie insists on repairing the fence for the Rabbi, and June assists her while Rabbi Jacob is given one of John’s signature candies. John still just is one of the most good-natured people alive.
This is a really important episode for Charlie in many ways. We see her refer to her past, which includes June, as the two talk while repairing the fence. Charlie wants this Temple to be the group’s permanent home, but June explains that it simply isn’t big enough, doesn’t have a water source, and has a weak fence. June is able to figure out pretty quickly that Charlie is worried about slipping back into her old ways of how things were with the Vultures. When June and Charlie were with Mel and the others, they drifted from place to place, stealing from others and causing harm. June explains that how they are now is completely different from that. Charlie is still concerned that things can go bad, just as they did with the Vultures. Meanwhile, we see an unlikely pairing in Dwight and Sarah as they stand lookout over the caravan while tasting the latest brew of Jimbo’s Beerbos. We hear from Sarah that she and Wendell were trucking around on the roads long before the world ended. She asks Dwight how long he was on his own for, but he can’t fully remember. He explains that it was Sherry…and the walkers that kept him going all the time that he was alone; the walkers wander aimlessly for countless miles with no set destination. Sarah believes they have to be more than that. Suddenly, the arrival of members of Logan’s crew spring everyone into action. Friendships come out of the most unlikely of places in this franchise.
While checking in on Rabbi Jacob, Charlie learns that he has his own vineyard on the property to grow grapes to make wine. She tells Rabbi Jacob that she would like to stay at the Temple. Sarah interrupts the conversation to alert June and the others that Logan’s crew has found the caravan. This springs those at the Temple into realizing they must leave now, but the walkers inside the side building have broken through the glass and are now free on the property. Everyone becomes trapped inside the synagogue and Rabbi Jacob reveals that the walkers are his congregation. From the roof, the four examine the situation and Rabbi Jacob explains what happened to his people. Him and the congregation gathered inside the Temple for the weeks after things during the early stages of the outbreak. When supplies were running low, he left to collect more only to return to find his congregation dead. John comes up with a solution to lead the walkers away so they can escape. He and June climb down to a car on the ground and use a ladder to crawl above the walkers to other vehicles in the parking lot. It’s a smart play, even if it is rather reckless on their behalf when there is almost certainly a back exit from the Temple that could be used to escape.
While evacuating from the makeshift caravan, Sarah radios the rest of the convoy to let them know of the plan. Suddenly, a voice comes over the radio to interrupt and it is not really a shocker at all who it is. The voice belongs to Rollie, who captured Dwight and was later freed by him in “210 Words Per Minute.” Back at the Temple, June and John continue making their way across the parking lot. Things go well with the exception of a close call when John falls, but their mission is stopped dead in it’s tracks when a fence holding up the ladder to the next car collapses. June and John find themselves trapped on a car and surrounded by walkers. Charlie believes they can just pick them off one by one, but Rabbi Jacob isn’t able to use bullets on his own people. June tells Charlie that she has to revert to the ways of the Vultures in order to get rid of the walkers. It is here that Rabbi Jacob reveals that he doesn’t believe in God. When he left the synagogue, he wasn’t on a supply run and rather stayed away for weeks only to return and find his people dead from some unknown cause. He holds onto the rituals he does because it is all he has left at this point. And just like that, we see that Rabbi Jacob has layers to him and isn’t an exact repeat of Father Gabriel’s origin story in “The Walking Dead.”
What Charlie has to do this episode isn’t easy. She decides that fixing the problem by doing what the Vultures used to do is the best play here. Her and Rabbi Jacob lure the walkers inside the synagogue the sound from a horn. When all of the walkers are inside, John and June lock the doors “don’t open, dead inside” style. Rabbi Jacob apologizes for the fact that the synagogue didn’t end up being a permanent home for Charlie. The two look on as the walkers extinguish the Ner Tamid, bringing an end to Rabbi Jacob’s home in the apocalypse. On the road, Sarah and Dwight’s tanker truck runs out of gas under an overpass. Rollie and Logan’s crew pull up to their side as Sarah and Dwight arm themselves for a fight. Sarah is prepared for it all to end here, and so is Dwight. Just before a shootout begins, Rollie is scared away by the arrival of John, June, Charlie and Rabbi Jacob in “good ole swattie.” June apologizes for pushing the group too hard to find a place, and Rabbi Jacob states that June’s belief in finding a place is faith. This is inspiring to Rabbi Jacob and he seems to have a new faith in life. The episode concludes with a major cliffhanger as Logan and his partner Doris arrive at the entrance to Tank Town AKA the oil fields AKA a quarry. Rollie and the crew locating the caravan was just a ploy. Driving head first into the quarry, Logan just found what he’s been looking for all season.
The good in “Ner Tamid”
- Rabbi Jacob has an awesome character introduction and immediately provides the audience with backstory.
- Charlie and June being forced to reflect on their shared past really allows for their development to be highlighted and for the series to callback to the villains of the first half of Season 4.
- June questioning herself is a great parallel to Rabbi Jacob’s loss of faith.
- The action sequence involving John and June with the ladders is highly entertaining and is just pure zombie fun.
- The friendship that forms between Sarah and Dwight is great to see play out, especially as they discuss their pasts.
- The cliffhanger with Logan finding the oil fields is quite terrifying and perfectly sets up the next episode.
The iffy in “Ner Tamid”
- While it isn’t an exact repeat of Father Gabriel’s backstory…it is very similar. Hopefully this is just a homage to the main series and isn’t the writers straight up copying their big sister show.
- The distraction with the horn really shouldn’t have worked in pulling walkers away from John and June, who were in plain view. That being said, there has always been walker inconsistencies on both shows.
The bad in “Ner Tamid”
- The splintering of the characters is annoying and hurts the overall story. This episode features just four out of 11 series regulars. The show just works better when the characters are together and appear more regularly.
- June and Charlie desperately wanting to find a permanent home would make more sense if Morgan hadn’t told them about Alexandria, the Hilltop and the Kingdom in Virginia. Are there not people they can help in Virginia? We know there are. This just seems like a massive oversight.
Top performances in “Ner Tamid”
- Alexa Nisenson as Charlie
- Peter Jacobson as Rabbi Jacob Kessner
- Mo Collins as Sarah Rabinowitz
- Jenna Elfman as June
Lingering thoughts and predictions
- Rabbi Jacob’s line, “the souls of the dead would rise and be reunited with their bodies at the end of this world” is quite similar to that of Hershel Greene about misinterpreting the Bible in the Season 2 Finale.
- When talking to Sarah, Dwight states that he doesn’t remember how long he’s been alone for. Could this be a small reference to the fact that Dwight doesn’t have the best memory, as revealed by Sherry’s letter to him in “Hostiles and Calamities.”
- Much like Althea’s last name was revealed in “The End of Everything,” this episode shares that Sarah’s last name is Rabinowitz. It is also revealed that she is Jewish, something that bonds her to Rabbi Jacob.
- John giving out candies to people is his way of being friendly. Remember that he did this in his very first scene when meeting Morgan in “What’s Your Story?“
“Ner Tamid” is one of the stronger episodes of this half of the season. It plays with the deeply important themes of religion and faith while introducing an excellent new character. The fracturing of the group is frustrating, but the story that is presented here is interesting nonetheless.
Be sure to tune into “Fear the Walking Dead” Sunday nights at 9 p.m. on AMC.