One of the knocks against The Walking Dead under Frank Darabont was that it often moved too slow, that it was characterized by long conversations between characters while walking through a forest to find a character that it would ultimately take several episodes to locate (and who was already dead). At the time, of course, a television zombie show was new and novel, and most fans just wanted Darabont to cut straight to the zombie killing.
The novelty of zombies being decapitated on our television sets, however, has long past run its course, and where it concerns The Walking Dead, the show has too often been about moving to the next item on the agenda. The Walking Dead is like that big vacation to Florida you can’t stop talking about, only when you get to Disney World, a member of your family dies. The point is, however, that it rarely stops to consider where it’s at because it’s always so preoccupied with where it’s going, which villain is about to be introduced, or which character is about to die. It is a very plot-driven show, often looking for the next “cool” item on the checklist instead of taking a beat to develop its characters, the exact kind of writing that Better Call Saul writer Vince Gilligan warns against.
One of the advantages of Fear the Walking Dead is that it does not work from any source material, so it has no place it needs to be anytime soon. There’s not even a villain on the horizon at this point. It’s just a show about nine people trying to survive out in Texas during a zombie apocalypse. There’s no hurry to get to a future point because, as Alicia warns Charlie this week, the future doesn’t get better. Only worse, and “worse” is a high bar for Charlie, who watched her parents turn into zombies and, later, saw everyone in her community die.
At any rate, aside from having a storm blow around some zombies, Shintaro Shimosawa — who wrote this week’s episode — posed only one question in this episode: What would happen if Alicia was stuck in a house with the 12-year-old girl who killed her brother? Given everything that we know about Alicia, how would that unfold?
“Close Your Eyes” answers that question in an organic way. Alicia would want to kill Charlie, but she wouldn’t, of course. Because Alicia is drawn to the same qualities in Charlie that both her mother and brother were, an allure that ultimately got them both killed. Alicia is given several opportunities to kill Charlie in this episode, but she can’t pull the trigger, either literally or figuratively. Why? Because Charlie is just a kid. Because she has a little-sister quality about her. Because even if she did kill Nick, she still seems like the kind of person who needs protecting, not just from zombies, but from the trauma of living through a zombie apocalypse, and Alicia inherited that protector instinct from her mother.
“Close Your Eyes,” like “Laura” earlier this season, is essentially a bottle episode, featuring only two characters who spend the bulk of the episode trapped in a house while they’re waiting out a storm. Alica has gone to the house to get out of the rain, while Charlie has gone there to end her life in part because of the guilt she feels for killing Nick and in part because she doesn’t want to end up like her parents: Zombies whose original faces no one can remember.
It’s a conversation-heavy episode, although most of the conversations are one sided: Alicia talks — and sometimes yells — while Charlie absorbs the blows. But after Charlie tries to take her life, then saves Alicia, then tries to give herself over to a zombie, Charlie eventually warms up, speaks a few words, and Charlie and Alicia eventually bond. Like sisters, in a way. Who among us hasn’t bonded like a sister with the young girl who killed our brother?
The episode doesn’t advance the plot much, but in a way, that’s refreshing. There’s no real plot to advance because the back half of season four is not about vanquishing a villain, waiting for the next character to die, or finding a new place to call home. It all goes back to The Little Prince: It’s about creating a home that these characters can see with their hearts, not with their eyes. In the case of Alicia and Charlie, who not only survive a storm but each other’s company, a foundation for that home has been laid. Now, it’s about finding the rest of the materials/characters they need to build a home on top of it.
— There’s no one in that turned-over bus that Alicia and Charlie return to, of course. Luci, Strand, and John are all out trying to find Charlie, while Al and June are holed up in Al’s armored vehicle.
— Big props to frequent director Michael E. Satrazemis for that shot of the four zombies lying out in the muddy yard juxtaposed with a picture of those same people lying in the same place out in the sun before the apocalypse. That was heart-wrenching.
— There’s a part of me that believes that Charlie will fill the hole in The Walking Dead universe left by the death of Carl. The series, however, may need to do a time jump every season to keep up with how quickly she ages.