TV

A Lousy Episode Of ‘Fear The Walking Dead’ Is Great For ‘The Walking Dead’ Universe

AMC

Building a cinematic or television universe is hard. It requires writing storylines for a number of different properties, scores of characters, and ensuring they are entertaining as stand-alone entities but that they also feed into the overall universe’s arc. The Marvel Cinematic Universe hit a number of snags on its way to Avengers: Endgame (remember Thor’s cave bath?), and it was so problematic in the DC Cinematic Universe that eventually they basically scrapped it.

The Walking Dead has also had a number of challenges as it has sought to expand and connect its universe, chief among them Rick Grimes’ exit from The Walking Dead itself. Season 9, episode 5, “What Comes After,” was one of the best episodes ever of The Walking Dead — an emotionally powerful send-off for Rick Grimes — that was severely undermined by the fact that … Rick didn’t actually die. The series wrote the perfect death for him, but there was only one problem: He survived. It ultimately cheapened the rest of the episode, but it also essentially gave birth to the expanded, interconnected The Walking Dead universe, and now both the series (and potentially the new spin-off) all seem to be working toward toward a common point: The Rick Grimes movies.

In some ways, working toward a common goal makes all the properties more interesting — it increases the stakes — but occasionally, we end up with a janky episode like this week’s Fear the Walking Dead, “The End of Everything,” which is a great episode for The Walking Dead universe, but a lousy one for Fear the Walking Dead itself. The problem is compounded even more here, because Fear the Walking Dead only gets a fraction of the viewers that The Walking Dead does, so the architect of the universe, Scott Gimple, has to work with the Fear showrunners Ian Goldberg and Andrew Chambliss to offer viewers something tying it to the universe, but not so much that viewers who do not watch Fear will go into The Walking Dead movies without crucial information.

That’s how an episode like “The End of Everything” is born: It hints at things, but it doesn’t give anything away. Basically, what this entire episode was designed to show us is that the helicopter people are working on something bigger than any one person, that they’re building something for the future. There were enough hints to clue comic readers in on it likely being The Commonwealth — and we break that down in detail here — but the helicopter person in the episode, Isabel, actually offers no specifics. She doesn’t say what they’re doing, where they’re doing it, or even what the name of their organization is. All we know is that they are very important.

However, as far as pushing the Fear the Walking Dead storyline forward, the episode didn’t do much. Althea was abducted back in the first episode of the season, and she reunited with Morgan and Alicia in this episode, which means that we’re not only back to where we were at the beginning of the season, but that the last three episodes didn’t amount to much, either (although, they did introduce Dwight onto Fear, as well as the child militia). In fact, while Althea learned more about the helicopter people herself, she was also sworn to secrecy, which means that whatever valuable information she has will be withheld from the rest of the group.

Beyond that, what did we learn about Althea that we can take into future episodes of Fear itself? We learned she videotaped her brother’s death, which clumsily explains why she’s more interested than “the story” than the people, and that Althea is gay, which is hardly revelatory in The Walking Dead universe in 2019. Oh, and we also learned Althea’s last name, which not even Alicia and Morgan seemed that much interested in (it’s a hyphenated Polish name that I couldn’t make out, and that I won’t even endeavor to try and spell it).

That’s about all we learned from this episode, which saw Althea escape from restraints placed upon her by Isabel, get tied up again, escape again, rock-climb the side of a cliff to retrieve fuel for Isabel’s helicopter, and bond over a beer before Isabel decides to kiss Althea instead of kill her. We may never see Isabel again, or we may see her again in the Rick Grimes movies. Who knows? But the whole episode felt like Thor’s cave bath in the second Avengers movie: Tacked on to serve the universe. It did very little to advance the story on Fear the Walking Dead.

However, with the helicopter people out of the way (for now) and the mystery of the zombie roadblocks solved, Fear can finally return to the major obstacle in this half of season 5: Logan, the guy that took over their home base. But the first thing they have to do is figure out how to escape the area they are currently in. With the zombie roadblock mystery solved, however, I’m not sure why they even need a plane anymore: Just jump in Anne’s van and drive back to Strand and Company.

After several episodes that fed into a story larger than Fear the Walking Dead itself, however, the stakes may not feel as high when Fear is contained within its own world. That may or may not be a problem for the series moving ahead.

Additional Notes

— Sarah Wayne Callies, who played Lori Grimes on The Walking Dead, directed this episode. She joins other The Walking Dead universe actors, past and present, to have directed an episode, including Michael Cudlitz and Colman Domingo. Andrew Grimes is also scheduled to direct an episode in season 10 of The Walking Dead.

— Next week’s episode will indeed endeavor to try and get Morgan and the kids out of the hazardous zone. Grace (Karen David) will also return next week. It also looks like a rare episode of the series that will feature almost its entire ensemble.

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