‘Fear the Walking Dead’: He walks amongst us

¡Hola, amigos! So, here’s the thing. The thing is, I never got around to blogging the finale episode of Fear the Walking Dead on Tubular thanks to the all-consuming nature of blogging Game the Thrones. “Oh, I’ll have time before it premieres,” I said. “I’ll post something the week before it return,” I said. “It’ll be fine,” I said.

But then I decided to go and start my own site two weeks before the return of Fear, and right in the thick of the Olympics. As a result, both the mid-season finale and the premiere of Fear were neglected, and for that I say, lo siento.

As for where we stand now, if I’m going to ever catch up, some sacrifices must be made in the form of a brief recap of the literally explosive mid-season finale,”Shiva,” which is a shame because it was a humdinger. But, like Señor Barber, sometimes you do what you gotta do.

Fear the Walking Dead
May 22, 2016

fwtd 2x7 daniel lighter
OK, how about we be super careful with that lighter around all that flammable alcohol, Señor. (Richard Foreman, Jr/AMC)

It was a busy night at la hacienda: Strand was reunited with his rich Mexican novio, Thomas, only to learn that Thomas had been bitten; with Santa Muerte’s assistance, Thomas and Strand decided to suicide pact it, but then Strand backed out of it and shot Thomas in the cabeza; Señor Barber discovered a wine cellar full of walkers; Awful Chris snuck into Madison and Awful Teenage Daughter’s room while they were sleeping, and menaced them with a knife before running out into the Mexican noche after he was discovered.

Upon learning that Strand shot Thomas in the head, thus preventing Thomas from turning into a walker, at first Santa Muerte is like, “THAT’S IT, STRAND, YOU AND YOUR AMIGOS GOTS TO GO.” But then Nick does that thing where he covers himself in gore and somehow (???) finds Santa Muerte’s walker hijo and brings him back to her. So she’s like, “Alright, Amigos can stay, but YOU GOTS TO GO, STRAND.”

However, she allows Strand to stick around long enough to bury Strand, as it was his mess to begin with. Meanwhile, Santa Muerte has Señor Barber tied up in the wine cellar on account of him losing his damn mind and attacking people.

While all this otro chaos is happening at la hacienda, Travis is all,”OH NO, MY TERRIBLE SON HAS RUN OFF INTO THE MEXICAN NOCHE, I MUST GO FIND HIM.” And so he goes wandering out into the Mexican noche himself. He eventually finds Awful Chris terrorizing some poor man and his son with a gun, holding the kid hostage, BECAUSE AWFUL CHRIS IS AWFUL. Travis is able to take the gun from Awful Chris before he hurts anyone with it, but not before his awful son tries to attack him with a knife.

Meanwhile, Madison, who has no intention of staying at la hacienda despite Santa Muerte’s reluctant invitation, sends Nick out to collect Travis and Awful Chris since Nick has these amazing and inexplicable tracking skills. And sure enough, in no time at all, Nick finds the father and son, only to have Travis explain that he and Awful Chris aren’t going back, kthnxbai.

While Nick is otherwise occupied, Madison asks his amiga Santa Muerte to take her to the wine cellar and show her la hacienda’s collection of walkers. Santa Muerte is all, “¡Why, that sounds like a magnifico idea!” For reasons unclear, she opens the cellar up and wanders inside, at which point Madison locks her in with los walkers.

Meanwhile, in another part of the wine cellar, Señor Barber sets the whole damn thing on fire with a lighter he stole from one of his captors. R.I.P. Señor Barber.

As it burns, Strand arrives with a truck and loads up Madison, Awful Teenage Daughter, and Señorita Barber, but Nick refuses to come with them when he realizes that his familia is responsible for el caos a la hacienda.

Fear the Walking Dead
August 21, 2016

fwtd nick grotesque 2x8
Worst game of hide and seek ever. (Richard Foreman Jr/AMC)

Last we saw of Nick, he was refusing to leave la hacienda with his mother, his sister, Strand and his would-be novia, Señorita Barber, in favor of hanging out with his new walker amigos, because YOU JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND ME, MOM, GAH.

As it turns out, he eventually did leave la hacienda with one of the maids and Soccer Chico, whom Maid is trying to return to his padre who lives somewhere in the south of the country. After spending the night in an abandoned house together, Maid encourages Nick to head north, and gives him a stash of supplies. “Adios, gringo. Bueno suerte, gringo, you’re going to need it.”

So, Nick heads norte via the highway, towards Tijuana which is only 100 miles away.

what could go wrong

Smeared in blood from … something or someone, Nick comes across the remains of a head-on collision which leads to that rarest of Walking Dead narrative devices: a flashback.

Nick and his pre-zombie girlfriend, Gloria, are in rehab, where Gloria encourages Nick to say whatever it is he needs to say to get the hell out of there already. Nick then talks a little about his never-spoken-of father, who he claims is “always tired” and just “not there.” And in summary: Nick has daddy issues and that’s why he’s a junkie and can’t be bothered to wash his hair.

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Back in the present, Nick takes refuge in another abandoned home — or so he thinks, until una mujer comes running screaming at him, attacking him with a bat, protecting her hija and very not interested in anything this lank-haired gringo has to say. Nick flees, but is forced to leave his supplies, including his agua, behind.

Later, Nick makes his way down the highway again, coming across another car wreck, this one with a hissing walker inside. Undeterred, he reaches inside the car, grabs a nearly empty water bottle and her portable radio. But before he can find anything interesting to listen to, a jeep full of bandidos arrives and act like bandidos, searching for loot, and brutally killing one viejo hermano trapped in his car. Nick had the good sense to hide upon hearing them arrive, but then the God damned radio goes off, alerting los bandidos to his location and he’s forced to run for it. Shooting shooting shooting, and Nick manages to lose them in the wilderness — but also manages to get himself lost in the process.

While wandering, Nick comes across a cactus and has the bright idea to tear it open and eat the pulp as a way to hydrate himself. Except, haha, this is one of those vomit cacti, and he ends up puking it right back up again, making his current situation that much worse. Sometime later, he tries out some of the survivalist training he learned on Man vs. Wild and drinks his own urine, because Bear Grylls knows what’s up.

That evening, as Nick falls asleep next to an abandoned jeep, we have the second part of the flashback in which Madison comes to collect her son from rehab and is like, “Oh, by the way, your dad was in a head-on collision and is dead, sry.” Nick is sad.

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The next morning, Nick awakens to find himself being attacked by a pair of German Shepherds. Bitten, Nick manages to climb atop the jeep just as a herd of walkers are drawn towards the sound of the dogs’ hysterical yapping. The walkers eat the dogs, which is kinda sad, but those dogs were also kind of assholes, so, you know. The walkers are then drawn away from the jeep by the sound of car engines and gunfire in the distance, giving Nick a chance to slip off the jeep, eat a few bites of dog, wrap a makeshift tourniquet around his bite and blend into the herd.

Shuffling down the highway, shuffling down the highway, shuffling down the highway. And some point, Nick just starts straight-up hallucinating that the walkers are saying things like, “WE GOT YOU BRO,” and “STICK WITH US, KID” because Nick needs to drink something other than pee right about now.

But then who should the herd meet out on the highway, but los bandidos, who hop out of their jeep and begin shooting at the walkers. Nick, trapped, locks eyes with one of the bandidos who is so startled to recognize him among the herd that he freaks out, drops his gun and gets his tonto self eaten. And then his dumb amigo tries to help and gets HIS tonto self eaten. But their third amigo, the driver of the jeep, he has the good sense to drive away and not get his tonto self eaten.

All this excitement is too much for Nick, who collapses on the road as the herd shuffles away. Meanwhile, the entire time he has been observed by some OTRO survivors who debate whether or not they should rescue him. Boss Mujer is like, “NOPE.” And so they move on.

Nick slips back into a flashback, this time back at the abandoned church with Gloria. He’s busy reading Winesburg, Ohio, which his father gave him, and helping her shoot up — which maybe? somehow? turns her into Zombie Gloria and launches the whole series. How? Still don’t know and they’re still not gonna tell.

Back in the present, a deus ex thunderstorm arrives just like it did that one time on The Walking Dead right before Aaron came and saved everyone and brought them to Alexandria. It’s enough to keep Nick alive and he manages to make it all the way to Tijuana.

Looking for something to treat his infected bite, Nick raids a barbería where he is discovered by Boss Mujer and her amigos. Impressed that he survived, they take him back to their community, for their farmacéutico-now-doctor treats the bite.

There, as he treats Nick’s wound, El “Doctor” shares such philosophical nuggets like “You are foolish: death is not to be feared, but not pursued.” When El “Doctor” asks where Nick came from, and he reveals he’s made his way from Valle de Guadalupe, El “Doctor” marvels that Nick should be dead. “Coulda shoulda woulda, story of my life,” is Nick’s response, before explaining that he wants to be somewhere where the dead aren’t “monsters.” And with that, El “Doctor” opens the door to the infirmary, revealing a bustling community full of life and tortas and chickens.

Nick from the beginning of the series has always been a liminal character, straddling two worlds: the living and the dead. Even before there were zombies, as a junkie, Nick played with that thin line between life and death, which is part of the reason why he has always seemed so comfortable moving among the dead.

However, what was illuminating about this episode’s flashbacks is that we learn his drug addiction is not the only reason why Nick feels so comfortable among the dead and doesn’t view them as monsters. It goes back to that old writer’s standby: daddy issues.

We finally learn a little more about Nick and Awful Teenage Daughter’s father: it sounds as though he suffered from depression, and though it’s not confirmed, it’s possible that his head-on collision was deliberate. The bigger takeaway from the episode is that because of the depression, Nick had a strained relationship with his father before his death. So when his father dies unexpectedly, Nick is left with a lot of unresolved feelings and a need for meaning. He doesn’t want to view the dead as monsters, because he doesn’t want to think of his father as one. And maybe if he can slip between these two worlds, he still has a connection to his father and Gloria and everything else death has taken from him.

This episode was also Nick’s 40 days in the wilderness/rebirth episode, with the desert/rain symbolism fairly obvious, if not outright heavy-handed. However, what is interesting is when we put Nick’s journey side-by-side with the hero’s journey. We begin with Madison urging Nick to come with her in the previous episode, and he his refusal. This could be viewed as the “Woman as Temptress” stage in the monomyth, when the hero is tempted to stray from his quest — in this case by the promise of being in the relative safety of his family. Nick rejects this in favor of his own journey.

In Campbell’s ordering of the monomyth, “Atonement with the Father” is the next stage, and I would argue that this is what this entire episode is about, while happening simultaneously with the “Apotheosis” or Nick’s almost-death. As Nick is fasting his way through the wilderness, the flashbacks reveal his continuing struggle to deal with his father’s death, and perhaps his need to forgive and understand him — to become him by becoming one of the dead.

He is then symbolically baptised and reborn in the rainstorm, and quite literally brought back to life by it. He is washed clean, he is renewed and he is prepared for the next stage of his journey — perhaps to bring some new understanding to others about this new existence.

Not that I think Nick is a Christ figure, but I do think it’s interesting to look at the parallels between Jesus’ baptism and then 40 days of fasting in the wilderness in comparison to the events in this episode. After Jesus was baptised by his cousin John, he spent time alone in the desert where he was tempted by the devil. Jesus rejects each offer, and after passing that particular test, he returns to society and begins to preach and find his disciples.

Now, I’m not saying that Nick is now going to become a preacher, but I do believe that symbolically Nick was being tested and purified in the wilderness before he was allowed (by Boss Mujer explicitly) to rejoin a community. The question remains: what gift, what wisdom will this newly cleansed Nick have to offer them? (Not to be confused with Nick Offerman.)

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Finally, a few little notes: the book Nick was reading here is a collection of short stories, Winesburg, OhioA Group of Tales of Ohio Small-Town Life by Sherwood Anderson, which Wikipedia helpfully describes thusly: “Each of the stories shares a specific character’s past and present struggle to overcome the loneliness and isolation that seems to permeate the town. Stylistically, because of its emphasis on the psychological insights of characters over plot, and plain-spoken prose, Winesburg, Ohio is known as one of the earliest works of Modernist literature.” (It’s also a symbolically important book to showrunner Dave Erickson whose own father gave to him, and he noted he used it as a shout-out to his dad. “So, don’t overthink it,” she said, before overthinking it.)

The first story in the book is called “The Book of the Grotesque,” which Nick mentions in this episode, and, of course, “Grotesque” is, appropriately enough, the title of this dog-eating, pee-drikning, cactus-puking episode. It’s worth noting that the decorative art style known as the grotesque, which became popular in the 15th century, is that which is strange, ugly, unpleasant and fantastic which simultaneously invokes feelings of discomfort and pity. And according to Wikipedia again, the literature professor Rémi Astruc argues that “the three main tropes of the grotesque are doubleness, hybridity and metamorphosis.” Or, you know, Nick’s entire story.

And before I leave, one last bothersome question about our timeline. To me, this episode seemed to suggest that Nick’s father’s death was fairly recent. We don’t know how much time elapsed between Nick learning his father had died and when he is in the church with Gloria, but it doesn’t seem like years, right? More like a matter of days, yes? Possibly weeks? The only reason I ask is that in an interview with showrunner  Dave Erickson, he claimed Nick’s dad died when Nick was 13. Granted, that interview was back when the show just started and they could have changed their minds about timelines, but I’m just trying to get my hands around how long Nick’s been mourning his father in this episode, because there’s a huge difference between 2 months and 6 years.

ALRIGHT! And now I’m off to smear myself in German Shepherd blood and tackle the next episode!

Fear the Walking Dead airs on AMC on Sundays at 8/9 p.m.

2 thoughts on “‘Fear the Walking Dead’: He walks amongst us

  1. Great recap T. I too pondered the time between the rehab scenes and the church scene that launched the series. I fell happily into an estimation of 3-6 months. There seems to be a decent descent back into drugginess in the Church that wasn’t present in clean and sober rehab Nick and Gloria. So, I’m thinking we’re now at like 6-9 months from dad’s death.

    Daddy Issues – someone’s always got ’em.

    1. It’s just so weird. I have no problem with them changing the timeline to make Nick older when his dad died. But if they were going to make that choice, especially having been so specific earlier that 6 years had passed since the father’s death, then they should have been clearer about the change in the timeline in this episode. Or maybe they just didn’t expect people to overthink it …

      Thanks for your thoughts, Mike!

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