Fear the Walking Dead Crawls Back to AMC
by R.C. Murphy
Over the course of the fourth season for Fear the Walking Dead, the production team flipped the show on its head. And the season isn’t even halfway finished. Gone is the linear timeline—with no promises from the showrunners to return to the storytelling style from before. Fans were treated to a whole new set of characters and their ever-evolving problems. A strong love story came in, highlighting the need for happiness in the show to keep it feeling fresh. Happiness that wasn’t yet another temporary, overly dramatic, possibly ill-considered relationship for Alicia. Then came the biggest turn in the show’s history: The family is no more. In order to move in a new direction, they cut most of the ties to the past via Madison doing what she did best, right to the very end. Not only was it a shock to the fans, but the cast, as well. Coleman Domingo spoke in an interview about the dual departures, going into how hard it was to lose coworkers who’d been there since day one. What did it take to translate that emotion to the screen? “It required intense amounts of grace, and patience, and frustration, and being honest about your feelings,” Domingo said.
I’ll be honest, I lost track of this show again, despite the appeal of Morgan’s crossover—the character is amazing and I kinda wanted to keep in touch with his story. When the Madison/Nick news dropped, I regretted lagging behind and seriously considered a quick season four catch-up. Other things the cast and production team said during their 2018 San Diego Comic-Con panel made it even more apparent that the deeply problematic show I left behind is not the show that’s on air now.
Not only that, much like the cast from the sister show, those who were onstage for the FtWD SDCC panel appeared happier. More relaxed. The jokes and banter were actually funny. At one point, everyone in the hall wished Alycia Debnam-Carey a happy birthday. More than the renewed joy, even the concepts they spoke about morphed from discussions which highlighted the cringe-worthy, racist nature of the previous seasons’ plots, to pointing out how the incoming storm teased in the trailer is, essentially, a visual representation of Alicia’s grief. It’s a massive difference and makes the show more inviting to new audiences.
And let’s not forget the drastic uptick in poo jokes thanks to Lennie James and the showrunners, Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg. Believe it or not, it’s completely relevant to the show. Let’s just say they’re bringing in a whole new level of realism to Morgan’s story line and leave it at that.
The second half of season four will find Morgan struggling to figure out if he belongs with these people, or where he belongs if not with them. Alicia’s forced to mourn her family while enduring a storm chalk full of airborne undead. She’ll even have her own character-centric episode at last. Strand grasps for comforts from the days before hell came to Earth and seeks shelter in a mansion, complete with wine cellar. Everyone else from the stadium will use the remaining episodes to find their purpose and place in a world suddenly devoid of their leader. Chambliss told Syfy Wire, “The back half of this season has all of our characters asking themselves . . . ‘What do we do to move forward? Who are we to each other? How can we come back from all these really dark things we did?’ We really view this as an ensemble show, and we’re going to be telling stories throughout the back half of the season that will focus on different characters grappling with those existential questions in different ways.”
On top of the already introduced new characters for season four like Jenna Elfman’s multiple-named character, Maggie Grace’s Althea, and Garret Dillahunt’s John Dorie, there are even more new faces coming onboard to flesh out the ensemble. Aaron Stanford, who just wrapped the astounding Syfy series 12 Monkeys, makes his way over to FtWD for even more genre weirdness. Parks and Recreation‘s Mo Collins has the potential to bring a whole new vibe to the cast with her vast comedic career. Tonya Pinkins, who played Ethel Peabody on Gotham, is also slated to make her appearance soon. Daryl Mitchell, better known for his comedic roles in Galaxy Quest and 10 Things I Hate About You, will bring something different to the franchise—a disabled character played by a disabled actor. It’s about dang time the genre got better about disabled representation, and Mitchell’s on-screen energy makes the casting choice just that much better. Stephen Henderson (Fences) rounds out the new FtWD cast that’s been announced so far. It’s an insanely talented group coming onto the show at a time when everything is in flux.
Oh. Oh, man. So this is what it’s like to be actually excited about the show again. Never thought that sensation would ever return.
Speaking of returns, Fear the Walking Dead returned to AMC on August 12th, so there’s no need to wait any longer. Jump into season four. Go ahead. I think it might actually be worth the time.
Honestly, if Morgan hadn’t been loonier than a cartoon wabbit, the Crazy Nest would have been an ideal place to set up camp for a while and rest. But his lunacy drove everyone away. Then it destroyed his secured safe haven. One night, probably agitated by the surprise visit from his past—Rick— Morgan flies into a rage, yelling and pacing. He knocks over an oil lamp, setting the apartment ablaze.
Heads up! There are spoilers in the following review.
Losing his home doesn’t slow Morgan’s murderous roll one bit. He’s equally dangerous camping in a meadow. Methodically, Morgan clears the walkers from the surrounding forest and burns them in a pyre. The fire attracts more walkers, which he knocks out and adds to the fire. Walkers aren’t his only focus. To Morgan, everyone is a threat. He kills human and walker with the same passion. When the area around his camp is clear, he ventures further out. There’s a gorgeous meadow with purple wildflowers . . . the shot somewhat ruined by a weird visual effect they used to make it clear, Morgan is cray-cray. Yeah, we didn’t need you guys to do wobbly camera tricks. The acting alone shows the truth just fine.
You ready for this? Morgan hears a goat. For once, he’s not hallucinating. There’s actually a goat leashed in front of a cozy stone house. The goat isn’t alone.
Morgan is given ample opportunity to put down his gun and walk into the house like a civil human being. He’s too far gone to realize this strange man is offering food and shelter, at least temporarily. Sensing the threat, the stranger knocks Morgan unconscious. But he apologizes first. Morgan wakes inside a prison cell. Well, a makeshift one, at least. Eastman, his accommodating host, left food for him. It’s not what Morgan wants. He screams at Eastman to kill him. In response, Eastman drops a worn copy of The Art of Peace in the cell, then resumes building an indoor pen for Tabitha, the goat, to keep her safe from walkers. Before Eastman says goodnight, he asks Morgan not to hurt the goat.
Days pass. Morgan observes Eastman; watching him easily kill walkers approaching the house and practicing with his staff. When Morgan seems calmer, Eastman opens up about his background pre-apocalypse. Eastman worked for the state as a forensic psychiatrist. He lived in Atlanta. The men talk. Eastman digs into Morgan’s relentless need to “clear,” as he calls it. “Because that’s why I’m still here,” Morgan explains. He’s called on his BS.
There’s a lot of conversation in this episode delving into PTSD, how humans react not only to losing loved ones, but also being forced to kill—humans aren’t built to handle murder mentally. Eastman wants to help Morgan. In his career, he only met one man beyond saving. Then comes the shocker; Morgan isn’t locked in the cage. Matter of fact, there’s no key to lock the cell; Eastman threw it in the river a while ago. It says so much about Morgan’s state of mind. He never once tries the door, yet uses a zipper pull to pry away the board holding the window bars in place. It’s almost like he made the minor escape attempt to keep himself occupied, but he doesn’t really want to be alone anymore. The subconscious is a tricky beast.
What does Morgan do with this news? He certainly doesn’t leave peacefully or take the offer to crash on the couch. Nope. He attacks Eastman, who knocks Morgan on his ass. In the struggle, a piece of drywall with a child’s drawing on it is broken. For one instant, Eastman forgets himself and his deep respect for life. He stops short of driving his staff into Morgan’s forehead. Yet again he makes the offer: Door or couch. Morgan, petulant to his core, chooses the cell and closes the door. Eastman opens it, only for Morgan to close it again.
They’re at an emotional standoff. Eastman goes about his daily life, preparing to go on a trip to anywhere. While he’s on a supply run. Morgan is charged with Tabitha’s safety. Yeah, you guessed it. Walkers try to eat the goat. For a heat-stopping moment, I thought he’d let them get Tabitha. There was yelling. Saving the goat is the turning point. The respect Eastman shows the deceased walkers is the cincher. Morgan becomes Eastman’s aikido student. Cue many, many training scenes. Too many, really. The episode is pretty solid, but drags with just two men and a goat. Hey, I smell a new sitcom.
But it’s not all training and cheese-making. One night during dinner Morgan finally asks why the heck there’s a prison cell in the living room. It tracks back to the one truly evil man Eastman interviewed for his job. Crighton Dallas Wilton fooled everyone except Eastman with his sociopath mind games. After Eastman was nearly killed by Wilton, he recommended the man never see freedom again. Of course Wilton was livid. He broke out of prison, tracked down Eastman, and killed his family. Moments after, Wilton turned himself in, saying he just wanted to destroy Eastman’s life. Driven mad by the loss, Eastman built the cell intending to abduct Wilton and starve him to death. When he tells the original story, he hedges around confirming or denying if he went through with the plan.
At the episode’s end, we learn he did murder Wilton. It took forty-seven days to starve him to death. There was no magical peace in Eastman’s life after. “I found my peace when I decided to never kill again,” Eastman tells Morgan.
If they’re going to actually make this trip to anywhere, they need a few more things. Just so happens, Morgan left those very things at his camp. While there, Eastman finally asks about Morgan’s family and makes him say their names. It’s a huge healing moment . . . ruined when the man Morgan strangled shambles toward the camp. He freezes, unable to put the walker down. Eastman steps in, but not soon enough. Eastman is bitten.
It’s the last straw. Morgan snaps again. All the guilt he felt from failing to save his family quadruples watching blood blossom across Eastman’s back. He screams for death.
Eastman is ruthless and calm, collecting the walker to bury and leaving Morgan. On the hunt to clear again, Morgan ventures into the forest. It’s easy to find another walker. Two frightened survivors stumble into his path. The woman carefully sets chicken noodle soup and a bullet on the ground before thanking him and walking away.
Morgan snaps out of his mental fog and rushes back to Eastman’s. Tabitha is dead in the front yard. He takes her body to the graveyard behind the house. Despite his injury, Eastman is burying the walker who signed his death certificate. He gives Morgan the house and supplies, but with a warning that security alone isn’t enough. The isolation from living alone isn’t healthy. Before he dies, Eastman calmly walks to the shed to get his gun. It’s unclear who does the job.
So why did we have yet another flashback episode? Morgan has a hair-brained idea to use Eastman’s technique with the Wolf resting in Alexandria’s jail cell. Yeah, that’s not going to work. This guy is hellbent on killing the townsfolk. He found the scouting photos, found the town to be safe, possibly full of supplies he needs to fix the cut on his side, and decided Alexandria should be his. He vows to kill them all, even the children. His cell door is locked.
Yet again, we’ve made little plot progress. A show can only tread water in the same spot for so long before it sinks.