I never thought we’d say this about any episode in The Walking Dead universe, but this week’s episode of Fear the Walking Dead was downright beautiful. Romantic relationships are not new to the TWD universe — Maggie and Glenn, Rick and Michonne, Nick and Luci — but this week’s Fear set out to do one thing with its episode: Tell a terrific, heartfelt and heartbreaking love story.
In that regard, it succeeded. Wildly.
With an episode told almost entirely in flashback, we meet John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt). Set two or three years ago (at least), Dorie lives on his own in a small Texas house near the river. In a lot of ways, he’s got it made. He lives comfortably. He fishes, cooks, cleans his guns, watches movies, eats popcorn, does the household chores, kills the occasional zombie that floats ashore in front of his home, goes to sleep and wakes up to do it all over again. Dorie’s only problem is that he has no one with whom to share his comfortable life. He’s lonely, although — as we learn later — Dorie’s exile is not only self-imposed but seems to precede the arrival of the zombies.
One morning, Naomi washes up on shore with a giant gash in her side. John rescues her and nurses her back to health. Naomi is initially skittish around John, skeptical, perhaps, that any man can be as good as he seems to be. He makes her dinner, teaches her to fish — and, importantly — he also gives her space, lets her make her own decision about staying, and also never stops Naomi from fending for herself.
In predictable, but lovely fashion, John and Naomi let down their respective guards, form a bond, share secrets, and forge a romantic relationship. For her part, Naomi reveals to John that she lost a child (although, Naomi never does reveal her real name, letting John go on calling her Laura). Meanwhile, Naomi eventually presses John to reveal why he refuses to use his guns, and it’s a heartbreaker of a story. Back when he was working as a police officer, John tried to clip a thief during a robbery, but the man turned and got hit in the front of the leg. He eventually bled to death. John, however, could never get over the guilt of being treated as a hero for killing a man and retired his guns, although he didn’t stop cleaning them.
John, however, does return to the use of his pistols, but only after Naomi is pinned down by half a dozen walkers, which John manages to shoot in the head in quick succession and save Naomi. Soon thereafter, John reveals to Naomi that he loves her. She reciprocates his affection. They spend one night together, and the next morning, Naomi steals away quietly, leaving behind a message with Scrabble tiles: “I love you too. I’m sorry.”
We don’t know where Naomi goes back to, but we can assume it’s the community that she lost before she lost the baseball stadium. But John and Naomi never see each other again, and from what John believes — and we’re meant to believe — Naomi is dead.
In the present timeline, John — having relayed the story to Morgan — says, “It’s stupid to believe, but I thought I had a second chance.” Morgan suggests that, in a way, they still do. “We’re alive. We’re part of this world. Let’s not waste a second of our time here.”
It’s a decent analogy for the fourth season of Fear the Walking Dead: It’s still here, and Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg aren’t wasting any time with filler episodes, telling one great story after another.
— The movie that Naomi and John are watching when she tells him that she lost a child is, interestingly, Meet John Doe, a 1941 Frank Capra film, and the story that’s being relayed on the movie at that moment is one about a man who didn’t trust his neighbor until he finally got to know him and realized what a great guy he was. A very fitting movie for this episode.
— John’s affection for hard candy, it seems, precedes Naomi. He used to put hard candy into his coffee.
— Interestingly, we never do find out how Naomi beached herself in front of John’s place.
— The BigMouth Bass alarm is a nice touch.