I have watched every single episode in The Walking Dead universe. In ten years, we have seen an episode that ended with multiple heads found on spikes. We have seen a man beat two beloved characters to death with a baseball bat, and then we saw that same man have sex with a woman while the two wore nothing but faces sliced off of corpses. We have seen a son kill his mother after she gave birth to his sister. We have seen some super messed up things over the last decade, and while this week’s episode of Fear the Walking Dead may not have been as brutal as some of those episodes, it was definitely one of the darkest. It may have also been the most gut-punchiest — it was one of those episodes where it looked like they were going to slug you in the face, but as soon as you dodged the blow, Fear kicked you in the stomach and then kneed you in the nose when you fell to the ground.
Much of “In Dreams” is a dream sequence that unfolds in the mind of Grace. Like most people, I rolled my eyes when I realized the episode was a long dream, which is basically the moment the episode begins and Grace is saved by Athena, who we quickly learn is the teenage version of the baby to whom Grace is about to give birth. In the real world, Grace has been hurt — a car bomb orchestrated by the Mole People blew up near her — and she’s unconscious but in labor.
In her dream vision of the future, however, Grace not only meets her daughter (who saves her life several times) but also sees a white-haired Morgan and sees that his community has not only survived but thrived. Sherry and Dwight reunited and have two kids. June is the local doctor. Daniel and Strand are close friends. Grace also learns in this vision of the future that she dies in childbirth — she sees her own gravestone — but that everyone rallies around her daughter, Athena, and that solidarity is what allows the community to flourish.
Over the course of this vision, Grace understands that her death in childbirth, though tragic, will ultimately serve the greater good. Her daughter Athena (played spectacularly by Sahana Srinivasan) will be an inspirational figure for the community. By the end of the episode, we (the audience) have come to terms with Grace’s death knowing that — at least in her vision of the future — everything turns out well. Losing actress Karen David, however, will be a hard pill to swallow for fans of the series, but before the end of the episode, we make peace with it.
That’s when Fear pulls the rug out from under us. While Grace is unconscious and in labor, Morgan in the present reality is trying to revive her while also fending off Riley and the Mole people, who want the key to the submarine that Morgan has around his neck. Morgan is trapped inside of a barn with Grace, whose subconscious finally convinces her near the end of the episode to wake up and deliver the baby because that baby is going to grow up to be Athena and save Morgan’s community.
Morgan, meanwhile, is able to kill most of The Mole people, except for Riley (who Morgan shoots in the shoulder but for some reason allows to live), who returns and holds a gun to Grace’s head and demands the key. Because of the vision that Grace had of her daughter wearing the key and telling her, “It was the price of peace,” Grace tells Morgan to give up the key. She believes, based on her dream, that everything is going to be OK.
Everything will not be OK.
After Riley leaves, Grace gives birth to Athena, and we steel ourselves for Grace’s death, as predicted in her vision. But she doesn’t die. Are we going to get a miracle ending where Grace and the baby both survive? No. Instead, Grace gives birth to a stillborn baby, which Morgan delivers but cannot revive. Grace is inconsolably sad. Morgan is traumatized. Grace will survive because her baby, Athena, apparently absorbed all of the radiation in her body, which killed the baby before its first breath.
“I don’t understand,” Morgan mumbles while Grace sobs. “I don’t understand.”
“What I saw,” Grace says, “they weren’t my last moments. They were hers.
“I thought it was going to be different,” she continues. “But it was just a dream.”
In creative writing classes, they always say to never end a story with a character waking up and realizing it was all a nightmare. But this is different. This is a character waking up from a dream only to realize that reality is her worst nightmare. It’s a brutal ending.
The episode leaves us a lot to process, but Karen David (and Sahana Srinivasan) should be commended for their remarkable performances, and Andrew Chambliss, Ian Goldberg, and Nazrin Choudhury should be both commended and cursed for writing one of the best but most devastating episodes in the history of The Walking Dead universe. It’s also one more reason why the sixth season of Fear the Walking Dead may be one of the best if not the best season in all of The Walking Dead.
‘Fear The Walking Dead’ airs on Sunday nights at 9:00pm EST.