Though the ratings of Fear the Walking Dead do not compare to the parent series, it’s nevertheless managed to hold on as one of the top-rated series on cable with savvy scheduling by AMC. Season 3A was sandwiched in between The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones while Season 3B will fill the five-week gap between Game of Thrones and the return of The Walking Dead. Let’s take a look to see how The Walking Dead companion series –which returned this week with back-to-back episodes — is filling the dead spots on the cable schedule.
Nick and Troy
The most compelling storyline in the two-hour premiere — technically two episodes, “Minotaur” and “The Diviner” — involves Nick, Troy, and the spirit of Otto. Though Nick shot and killed Otto in the midseason finale to save Madison from the guilt of having to do it herself, the prevailing belief among the Broken Ranchers is that Otto killed himself to save his legacy. The truce between Walker and Jake is shaky, but it holds as Walker’s community moves into the property stolen from them by Otto. Troy, however, remains loyal to his dead father, and he acts as a source of inspiration for a few of the ranch’s racist holdouts.
Things go awry, however, when a member of the ranch militia attempts — and fails — to kill Crazy Dog (actual character name). The attempt on Crazy Dog’s life prompts Walker to demand control of the ranch’s arsenal. For reasons that don’t make a lot of sense, Madison hands it over. However, Troy is unwilling to give up his guns, and when Nick tries to convince him to surrender to Walker’s men, Nick inadvertently ends up in cahoots with Troy in a shootout with Walker’s men. The standoff ends only after Nick admits to Troy that he killed Otto (the admission, again, is inexplicable and unnecessary and does nothing to dissuade Troy) and disarms Troy before he gets them both killed.
Ultimately, Walker decides — with the blessing of Madison — to punish Troy by exiling him and Nick by sticking him in a hot box for a few days. Troy wounds one of the Nation members and nearly kills Madison on his way out, but eventually he takes his leave. Troy is clearly the Merle of Fear the Walking Dead, no good racist trash allowed to survive long enough to redeem himself later on. What would The Walking Dead universe do without its exiles? I suspect that Troy will resurface later this season, but in the meantime, the show loses one of its more dynamic characters, even if Troy is awful.
Madison and Walker
The zombie apocalypse is complicated. To wit: Walker killed Madison’s husband, Travis, and nearly killed her son, Nick, by convincing Ofelia to spike his coffee with anthrax. Meanwhile, Madison killed several of Walker’s men last season. Naturally, Madison and Walker are basically best friends now. Jake is the nominal leader of the white people on Broken Ranch, but he’s merely Madison’s puppet, while Walker presides over The Nation.
After Madison discovers that the ranch has nearly run out of water, the two leaders leave to go out and find a new source of water, leaving Alicia and Nick in charge of the ranch, which is on the brink of a civil war. That’s bad decision number one. Before an unfeeling Madison leaves, however, she casually says goodbye to her son, who is imprisoned in a steel box in the middle of the desert. That’s bad decision number two.
While Madison and Walker are out in search of water, they stumble upon Victor Strand at a bazaar (small world, huh?). Victor fails to mention to Madison that he’s not only seen Daniel, but that Daniel holds the answer to all of Madison’s problems because Daniel controls the Tijuana damn. No matter, Madison pays off Victor’s debts anyway and saves him from being ravaged by zombies. She also convinces Walker that Victor can gain them access to the dam even though she has no idea that her friend — and the father of Ofelia — controls all the water in the area, a piece of information that would simplify this entire season.
Daniel and Lola
The weakest storyline in the opening two episodes involves Daniel and Lola, who have been put in what is basically a narrative holding pattern while they wait for Victor and Madison to show up. Daniel continues to pine over his missing daughter, Ofelia, while both he and Lola try to maintain control over the damn. However, the Tijuana residents are growing restless (and thirsty!), and they’re trying to wrestle control of the water back from their benevolent gatekeepers. Again, this storyline is also shaky. The damn has been controlled by a ruthless, murdering authoritarian figure since the apocalypse began, but as soon as Daniel takes control over the damn — and begins offering the water for free — the Tijuana citizenry starts chucking rocks at their new overlords.
Alicia and Nick
Meanwhile, back at Broken Jaw Ranch, the good ol’ boy militia falls under a misconception that Nick — by virtue of being in the same room as Troy while the The Nation was shooting at him — is one of the “good guys,” and by “good guys,” I mean a racist knucklehead. Instead of disabusing the militia of that belief, however, Nick seems to like the attention. Nick tells Alicia that he’s playing inside man in order to keep the militia from rising up. But after one of the members of The Nation is wrongly accused of double dipping into the water supply, Nick is all too willing to join the militia when they decide to attack the Nation in what is basically a suicide mission.
That attack is thwarted, however, by Alicia, who is in an unspoken sibling rivalry with Nick to win the affections of their mother, Madison, who of late is making a case for the worst character on the series. While Nick is willing to sacrifice his life in a misbegotten battle, Alicia starts digging holes on hills in the hopes of finding another well. It’s a futile mission, as Nick confirms, but it inspires Nick to abandon his new racist friends and join his search in search of underground water in the desert. And moved by Nick’s decision to go help his sister, everyone on both sides of the battle drops their weapons, puts a pin in the civil war, picks up a shovel, and joins in the effort. The Battle of the Red Shirts is put on hold, temporarily.
These first two episodes back were rough after a genuinely well-executed midseason finale. Writers Dave Erickson, Ryan Scott, and Mike Zunic labored to create conflict only to bend over backwards to resolve that conflict. There was no good reason for Victor not to tell Madison that their friend Daniel now controls the dam, nor should Nick have been pitted against Walker’s community over a simple misunderstanding. Moreover, there was no good reason for Nick to side with the racist militia except that it created a contrived opportunity for Nick and Alicia to heal the rifts in the community by digging for water in the desert.
The episodes simply were not well mapped. Worse still, it put the characters on a predictable path for the remaining six episodes of the season — Madison and Victor will locate Daniel, and they will use Ofelia as leverage to force Daniel will bring water back to Broken Jaw Ranch. Erickson, who is on his way out as showrunner, seems less interested in telling a good story in the back eight and more interested in perfunctorily reuniting all of his characters before he leaves the show in the hands of new showrunners.
What’s most disconcerting, however, is that — with Otto gone — the show is trying to flip the script and turn The Nation into the villains. The Native Americans — who have finally been able to reclaim their lands because of the zombie apocalypse — are now being vilified as the bullies, while the white, racist militia is being depicted as the underdogs who have been forced to share their home. It’s an uncomfortable new dynamic.
There is one intriguing outstanding question, however: Where is Lucy? Will Lucy and Troy cross paths out on their own? That’s how things seem to work on Fear the Walking Dead, where Mexico — despite thousands of survivors and hundreds of miles — has never seemed so small.