(SPOILERS for the Midseason Premiere of Fear the Walking Dead will be found below.)
This week’s midseason premiere of Fear the Walking Dead was originally meant to be the midseason finale before it was so rudely interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and wow! What a midseason finale it would have been. It works as effectively, however, as a midseason premiere, and it’s that kind of episode that would have been infuriating had it not been so beautifully executed. Instead, the episode, “The Door,” will go down as one of the most devastating episodes in the history of The Walking Dead universe, and one of the best in years.
It’s been a long time since a beloved character has died on Fear the Walking Dead (Madison in the fourth midseason finale). In fact, in the first half of the episode, I was ruminating about how much Fear had improved without sacrificing any characters, which proved to be an unfortunately ominous thought. By the end of the episode, the series had killed off its (arguably) best character.
The episode begins with John Dorie (Garrett Dillahunt) back in his old cabin, having separated from June. Unable to cope with the weight of his past, John had decided to return to the cabin where he met June to take his own life, but each time he brings his gun up to his mouth to pull the trigger, he’s interrupted by another walker ambling onto his property.
John eventually decides to put aside his suicide for a moment and head back to the general store. There, he finds Morgan and Dakota hiding from the rangers that Virginia had sent to track down her sister. One of those rangers makes his way into the store, but John can’t bring himself to kill him. He’s killed too many, he reasons. They hide long enough for the ranger to wander away. Morgan and Dakota, meanwhile, try to convince John to join in Morgan’s new outpost and help them fight off Virginia. John, however, has lost his will to live, and when the ranger John refused to kill returns and nearly kills Morgan, John feels even more convinced that he’s snakebitten. Morgan won’t hear of it, and tries to convince John of his value, but he still feels guilty about Janis’s death, and the fact that he could never figure out who murdered Cameron. The only clue he has is a broken piece of a knife handle, although he was never able to track down the owner of the knife.
After some convincing, John agrees to at least help Dakota and Morgan cross a zombie-infested bridge, which proves to be one of the more harrowing and intense sequences in the show’s history. The car stalls out in the middle of a zombie horde, and John — who doesn’t seem to care if he lives or dies — fights off the zombies as he gets the car restarted. There are so many close calls, it feels almost impossible that he escaped without being bitten.
After they clear the zombies, Dakota and Morgan make one more plea for John to join them, but he again begs off. However, after Morgan leaves the scene for a moment, a zombie stirs and Dakota has to quickly stab it in the head. That’s when John notices her knife. It’s the one with the broken handle. Dorie realized that Dakota killed Cameron, and when he confronts her about it, Dakota admits it, saying that she had no choice because Cameron had prevented her from running away from her sister Virginia.
John tries to calm Dakota down and reason with her, but Dakota doesn’t want to be reasoned with. Afraid that John will rat her out, Dakota eventually shoots him in the chest. John, bleeding, falls into the water below. That’s when it becomes clear that John actually doesn’t want to die. He doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes of his father. He wants to live. He wants to return to his wife, June. John manages to swim back to the surface and grab a door, where he floats downstream. It appears as though John will live.
In the meantime, Morgan returns and sees what’s happened. He confronts Dakota about it, and she admits to shooting John, and then makes another confession. It was Dakota who saved Morgan’s life and patched him back up after Virginia left him for dead at the end of Season Six. Dakota wants badly to escape from her sister and live in Morgan’s community, and despite shooting John, she reasons that Morgan owes her that much after he saved her life.
Morgan goes along, but also calls on his walkie into Virginia — who is in John’s cabin, where she’s supposed to meet with him — to let her know that John is floating downstream on a door and to keep an eye out. June is with Virginia and frantically waits for John to float downstream. When John finally floats to shore, it appears that there will be another one of those sweet, heartfelt reunions Fear often does so well. When John looks up at June, however, she sees that he’s no longer alive. He’s a zombie. It appears momentarily that she’s going to let him bite her, but June reluctantly puts a knife through the head of the love of her life. Viewers, meanwhile, are left crestfallen.
It’s a loss that is almost as surprising as it is devastating. Garret Dillahunt is probably the biggest star on the show, which I assumed gave him a certain amount of plot armor. My guess, however, is that Dillahunt could’ve stayed on Fear as long as he’d have liked, but I know he had a hard pandemic during which he lost his father. Dillahunt is also never at a loss for roles — he’s in Zack Snyder’s upcoming zombie film Army of the Dead, James Franco’s The Long Home, Andrew Dominik’s adaptation of a Joyce Carol Oates’ fictionalized account of Marilyn Monroe, Blonde, and Michael Bay’s Ambulance with Jake Gyllenhaal. To be honest, Dillahunt lasted longer than I expected he would, but it was nice to see him go out on such a wonderfully, brilliantly heartbreaking episode of television.
In the meantime, there will obviously be ramifications. June is going to be inconsolable, as will Morgan, who called John his “best friend” in the episode. He is going to have to figure out what to do with Dakota. She’s the only leverage they’ve got to get Grace and the others back from Virginia. On the other hand, it turns out that Dakota is just as bad as her sister, and Zoe Colleti — who plays Dakota — did an outstanding job in the episode (in fact, this entire season). I never considered for a moment that she was behind Cal’s death or that she was the mystery character who saved Morgan. Bravo!
RIP John Dorie. He may have been the least flawed, most well-liked character in the entire The Walking Dead universe since Glenn. The series, which has never been as good as it is now, will nevertheless never be the same again without him. AMC, however, has smartly centered next week’s episode around Colman Domingo’s Strand to remind us that Garret Dillahunt is not the only celebrated actor on the series.
AMC’s ‘Fear The Walking Dead’ airs on Sundays at 9:00pm EST.