‘Fear the Walking Dead’: La Santa Muerte

Fear the Walking Dead
“Sicut Cervus”
May 15, 2016

Oh how sweet: we’re in a small church somewhere in Mexico where a parish is still celebrating Mass. It’s nice to see some people stick with tradition and faith and find hope in face of horror and death. Yes, yes, the priest had been worried that God had abandoned from them, but now he knows that they are being tested, that the evil that has befallen them wants them to turn away from Him. It feeds on doubt, and they must not feed it. Instead, they must fight. The parishioners take their communion, and then promptly march outside and grab a weapon from an alarmingly large pile.

However, before they can go wherever it is they are going and shoot whomever it is they are hoping to shoot, Strand’s boyfriend Thomas pulls up in his truck and, panicked, pleads with the Padre to stop. But Padre replies that he knows Thomas is a good person and tells him not to protect “her.” Thomas explains that he’s actually protecting Padre and his people from those who work for them: they are much better armed. Padre and the church-goers will be dead by the time they reach the gates.

And that’s when the congregation, one by one, begin collapsing, bleeding from the ojos. ¡Ay! ¡Dio mio! As he himself begins bleeding from the ojos and collapses in Thomas’ arms, Padre accuses her, Celia, of doing this. This is the evil Thomas is protecting. ¡Ay, no, Thomas, you probably shouldn’t be protecting that kind of evil, mijo!

On the Abigail, Travis and Awful Chris have a heart-to-heart about the whole Awful Chris shooting Former Teen Pop Sensation Jesse McCartney in the face thing. Travis reveals that Madison told him that Former Teen Pop Sensation Jesse McCartney wasn’t actually sick when Awful Chris decided to take matters into his own hands. Awful Chris is SHOCKED! to learn this: Madison told him that she believed him… Did she though, Awful Chris? But did she really tell you that?

the girl you really wish you hand't started a conversation with at a party snl

 

Meanwhile, on the bridge, Strand, Luis and Madison go over what the next step is: Luis is going to take the zodiac and meet some Mexican soldiers on their boat where he will bribe them for Abigail’s safe passage into Mexican waters.

Except none of that happens. Instead, Mexican soldiers board the boat, and because Strand and Luis only have enough gold bricks for two people to get into Mexico, everyone else has to go hide in the engine room and wait. Señor Barber helpfully translates the transaction, which does not go well. There is shouting and then shooting and then the engines power up.

Our stowaways return to the deck of the boat where they find that the two Mexican soldiers are dead and Luis has been shot. Not only that, but Strand is furiously driving them towards Mexico while they are being fired upon by the Mexican military. Señor Barber grabs a knife and makes quick work of the dead soldiers, but when he goes to finish off Luis, Señorita Barber urges him to stop. Luis takes out a strange coin, asking them to give it to his madre, por favor, but Señor Barber takes one look at it, and throws it into the ocean. NO ES CHIDO, SEÑOR.

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As the Abigail approaches land, the Mexican boats stop firing on them, because, as Strand explains, they think whatever is on land will kill them. And they’re probably not wrong! That is probably verdad!

So our castaways make it to land and trudge into town where they find piles and piles of dead and Thomas’ truck. Strand FREAKS OUT and begins searching for Thomas inside the church, just as our now-zombie parishioners round the corner. Fight fight kill fight. At one point, a zombie pins Madison down, and has very much the better of her, all the while Awful Chris just stands there watching. Awful Teenage Daughter sees this, and after yelling at Awful Chris to DO SOMETHING, she saves her mother herself. WAY TO BE, AWFUL CHRIS.

Meanwhile, while fighting off an altar boy, Señor Barber has a brief moment where he freezes, and has some sort of flashback involving a small boy, and Senñorita has to come and save him.

And Nick ends up axing a little zombie girl in the head, feels bad about it. But the person who should feel bad is whoever did the makeup on these particular zombies. Some black smudged around their eyes? That’s the best y’all could do?

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Everyone loads up into Thomas’ truck and drive to the compound that Strand told them about: and it’s pretty much everything he promised. Vineyards and a lovely hacienda and people working the grounds and Luis’ madre, Celia is there to welcome them along with her massive staff. Strand has to inform Celia that Luis died in a firefight with the military, that he’s “one of them now,” but she takes this news in stride, calmly noting that “he’ll find his way back.” ¿AND YOU THINK THAT’S A BUENO THING?

The staff offers to take everyone on a tour of the grounds just as soon as they surrender their weapons, and everyone is happy to comply but for Señor Barber who — reasonably — questions the rule. But Señorita Barber could really use a shower and a margarita, so HAND THEM OVER ALREADY, PAPA.

Inside the hacienda, Strand goes to Thomas who is not looking so great, actually. He has something of a cough and a bandage covering an obvious bite wound on his arm and a chip on his shoulder that Strand TOOK TOO LONG to get back. Strand offers to help him into bed which Thomas accepts and it turns into a long embrace and Strand is crying and now I’m crying so great, thanks, Fear. Thanks a lot.

Meanwhile, in some other part of the hacienda, Awful Teenage Daughter is watching something, anything on TV when Awful Chris walks in wondering if he can hang out. Awful Teenage Daughter gives him the cold shoulder, and he has the gall to wonder if she’s mad at him for something. “OH, I DON’T KNOW, WHAT I COULD POSSIBLE BE MAD ABOUT. OTHER THAN YOU STANDING AROUND WATCHING MY MOTHER NEARLY GET EATEN AND DOING NOTHING.” Awful Chris denies that he did any such thing, he just froze, she can’t tell anyone! But Awful Teenage Daughter knows better, and wonders what will happen if does say something, at which point Awful Chris gets a little rough and threat-whispers that he doesn’t want to “have to hurt anyone.”

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Elsewhere, a hungry Nick heads to the kitchen where Celia is working on some dinner, but she sneaks him some pozole, anyway. Mmmm… pozole. Nick tells her that Luis was thinking about her when he died, that he wanted Nick to let her know that, and then Nick begins crying, explaining that he’s just so sick of all the killing. Celia understands, and explains that none of this is new: our dead have always walked among us, now we can see them. And that’s when Madison walks in, tells Nick to go take a shower already, because seriously, go take a shower already, Nick, we’d all feel better. Once he leaves the room, Madison is all, “BACK OFF,” at Celia. “And gracias for your hospitality. BUT BACK OFF.”

Outside, Señor Barber checks out a shrine that is guarded by an odd carved owl. Celia joins him and adds a photograph of Luis to a collection of pictures. When Señor Barber offers condolences for her loss, Celia shrugs his sympathy off: was Luis shot in the cabeza? ¿No? Then there’s nothing to be sorry for.

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Madison brings up a tray of food to Strand and Thomas, who asks Strand if “we like her.” Strand replies that she’s “fierce,” so Thomas asks her to look after Strand for him when he’s gone. Madison notes that Strand won’t make it easy, which is probably the understatement of the episode.

Señorita Barber informs her padre that it’s time for dinner, but he’s too busy talking to people who aren’t there to join everyone, so no gracias, just tell everyone he’s tired.

After dinner, Madison finds Awful Teenage Daughter in front of the TV again, and Madison notes that even as a little girl, Awful Teenage Daughter loved her some TV. When Madison and Former Mr. Madison would leave her at home with a sitter, they’d always come home to find Awful Teenage Daughter still awake, watching TV. Awful Teenage Daughter explains that she was always afraid they wouldn’t come back, and Madison asks what Awful Teenage Daughter is afraid of now. I mean, you know, aside from the end of the world and zombies and having to leave the only home and life she’s ever known and the fact that she’s in a foreign country living in some stranger’s house with strange santeria shrines and a guy upstairs who is five minutes from turning, aside from that, what could she possibly be afraid of?

(Also, Awful Teenage Daughter, you seem to love television. If you ever want a “job” blogging TV, give me a holler.)

Madison storms into her room and tells Travis that they have to talk about his psycho son NOW. She explains what happened: Awful Chris just stood there and watched while she nearly had her face eaten off and then threatened Awful Teenage Daughter if she told anyone. But Travis is all, “He needs help! You have to help Awful Chris! Remember how I helped your junkie son when he was a junkie?” But Madison is like 1. how, exactly, am I supposed to “help” your little serial killer but 2. Ehhhh… no. I don’t think so. And with that, Madison leaves to go sleep with her Awful Teenage Daughter who needs her more than Travis right now.

Over in Thomas’ room, things are bleak for our host. Thomas moans that he doesn’t want to leave Strand, so Strand suggests that he come along with him. Why not, right? What’s here that’s so great? And anyway, Celia will watch over both them. So Thomas agrees that this “Shakespearean” plan sounds like a good one. Does it though? But does it really?

 

the girl you really wish you hand't started a conversation with at a party snl

Outside, Señorita Barber brings Nick to the owl shrine where she prays to her madre, and Nick stares at the owl and has flashbacks to the pilot episode.

Señor Barber takes a walk around the grounds where he spies a young boy put a very alive, whimpering dog into a chute of some sort. ¿Que demonios? Señor follows the boy and through a door watches as the boy busily tells someone about his day. When Señor Barber asks the boy to introduce him to his conversation mate, the boy opens the door for him and Señor finds the wine cellar is filled with zombies. So really, it’s a zombie cellar. Which would seem like it would make it difficult to get to the wine. And if there was ever a time when you might need a good cabernet more than during the zombie apocalypse, than I can’t think of one.

Señor Barber marches back into the kitchen where he confronts Celia about her zombie collection, and she explains that they are their family and friends, and she’ll never refuse them shelter. Señor Barber then notices that Celia is preparing a tray with two communion wafers on it, and accuses her of killing the parishioners (although how he knew they had 1. been poisoned 2. by communion wafers is a mystery). “No,” she replies, “You killed them.” She then wonders why he’s so afraid of death, and orders him to make peace with his dead before marching out of the kitchen with her poison wafers.

Celia brings the communion wafers up to Thomas and Strand, and tells Strand that she never thought he was good enough for Thomas until just now.

Celia then goes downstairs and pours herself a glass of zombie wine, which is where Nick finds her. He asks if she thinks the zombies are really dead, and Celia tells him that they are not, they are just “what comes next.”

Upstairs, Thomas begins to go into full death rattle, so Strand climbs into bed with him until he passes. Once it’s over, Strand gets up and walks right past the poison wafers, because, come on now, you really thought that’s how the show would do away with its best character? Pfft.

Meanwhile, Awful Chris sneaks out of the bedroom that he’s sharing with Travis and sneaks into the room where Awful Teenage Daughter and Madison are sound asleep. He whispers Awful Teenage Daughter’s name a few times, trying to get her to wake up? To test to see if she’s deeply asleep? WHO KNOWS. The point is, she doesn’t wake up and he goes around to Madison’s side of the bed where he finds a knife on the nightstand. As he picks it up, a gunshot goes off somewhere in the house waking Madison and Awful Teenage Daughter up to Awful Chris standing over their bed with a knife. THE HELL? Madison yells at him to get out, and he complies, jumping out the window and running out into the zombie-filled night.

So, great.

As for the gunshot, it was Strand shooting dead Thomas in the head, because he loved him enough to not want to see Thomas become a wine cellar zombie. Fair.

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So I LOVED this episode, and genuinely am beginning to wonder if Fear isn’t a much better show than The Walking Dead. In particular, I’m pleased to see this very dangerous, very dark direction they are going with Awful Chris. While I’m not convinced that he is going to be our next Lizzie, an unrepentant psychopath broken by this world, he does seem to be on a much less heroic and redeemable path than, say, The Walking Dead‘s Carl. Awful Teenage Daughter and Señorita Barber both seem to be taking on these much more traditionally heroic roles, while the younger men on the show, Nick and Awful Chris, both appear to be turning towards their darker selves. It’s an interesting choice for both characters, and I look forward to where it’s headed.

I also wanted to talk about some of the imagery in this episode, which I found profound and scary and powerful. First, the parishioners weeping blood calls to mind the statues of Mary that supposedly cry tears of blood, and which are often associated with miraculous healing properties:

mary weeping blood chron getty

 

In the episode, Celia poisons the parishioners to protect her dead. But the imagery of the blood-tears is also symbolic of Celia’s general attitude towards death: that she’s offering a gift to those whom she poisons. She’s healing them of their current condition, turning them into “what comes next.”

Celia is our Santa Muerte, a traditional Mexican folk figure who represents death. The Aztecs called her Mictecacihuatl, the queen of the dead, but over time her image became enmeshed with Catholic iconography:

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She is the personification of death, and to her followers, she offers safe passage to the afterlife. She is a protector of outcasts, and in fact is worshipped by some in the Mexican LGBT community. And in recent decades she has become a figure of worship for those in the drug trade: here’s a fascinating article about the evolution of her worship and the spread of her cult in the U.S.

Within the traditional Mexican culture, death is not fearsome: it’s celebrated as a natural part of life, a view that Celia herself seems to personify. As such, Santa Muerte is revered as a guardian and a guide; almost regarded by her worshippers as the shadow iteration of the Marian figure Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Catholic church, however, views her as blasphemous and associates her with devil worship — an attitude personified in this episode by Señor Barber.

Remember that owl at the shrine, and on that coin that Luis tried to send back to his mother that Señor Barber threw away? Owls are traditionally symbols of wisdom, sacred knowledge and protection. However, they are also death symbols, representing transitions, mystery, secrets and mysticism, and are associated with Mictecacihuatl’s husband, Mictlantecahtli, as well as Santa Muerte:

Objects that can appear with an image of Santa Muerte include scales, an hourglass, an owl, and an oil lamp. The scales allude to equity, justice, and impartiality, as well as divine will. An hourglass indicates the time of life on earth. It also represents the belief that death is not the end, but rather the beginning of something new, as the hourglass can be turned to start over. The hourglass denotes Santa Muerte’s relationship with time as well as with the worlds above and below. It also symbolizes patience. An owl symbolizes her ability to navigate the darkness and her wisdom. The owl is also said to act as a messenger. A lamp symbolizes intelligence and spirit, to light the way through the darkness of ignorance and doubt.

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In Celia, we have this maternal figure who who protects Strand and Thomas, to whom Nick, our former junkie, finds himself inexplicably drawn to after communing with her owl icon, and who unhesitatingly not only brings death to others — an entire Catholic church no less, if you were looking for some heavy symbolism — but who offers protection to those who have turned. And so, while “Celia keeping the zombies in the cellar” plot is basically just a rehashing of The Walking Dead‘s second season and Hershel’s barn, this retelling of that same story is so   much scarier, in large part thanks to Celia’s and her lethal edges. Hershel decision to keep the walkers in the barn was a misguided idea born out of grief and denial. Celia, in contrast, chooses to embrace death, she welcomes it, she offers the dead grace and protection. And after only one episode, our Santa Muerte has become one of the most intriguing figures in the Walking Dead universe.

Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on AMC.

This post originally appeared on chron.com, a Hearst site.

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