“Good people are the first to die.”
Welcome back Fear-mongers (we should make that a thing)! After skipping a week for Labor Day, Fear the Walking Dead returns with a brand new episode, “The Dog”, that seems to have polarized the online fan base. On on hand, fans of the parent show The Walking Dead are frustrated at our new cast’s apparent lack of “survival skills” and the on the other fans want to get to the fallout. For yours truly, this week’s episode fell somewhere in the middle with a leaning towards excited. As always
In hindsight, skipping Labor Day may not have been the best choice for AMC‘s new show about life at the beginning of the zombie apocalypse. While it certainly made sense from a ratings point of view, the momentum (and well earned praise in kicking things up a notch) was burned off just as quickly as it arrived. Fans of the early episodes with The Walking Dead may be reminded of the Frank Darabont days of the production where interesting character choices were made but everything seemed to be hamstrung by a lingering plot device (aka Sophia). In this case the drag up to this point seems to be “get out of town”. Which, when you think about it is a no brainer. Bad things are happening, get away from the bad things.
On the other side of the coin, we have poor choices being made across the board when it comes to survival. For instance early on in the episode, part of our main cast has to make a run for it in a downtown Los Angeles that has broken out in a riot. Instead of grabbing some of the various scissors, blades or even blunt objects in the barber shop the cast just bolts. While this may not be a sin in and of itself, lets think about it for a moment. This is Los Angeles. While it’s not the most dangerous city in America, it’s become a place where most people have a certain level of “street smarts”. In this case, arming up in case of a riot doesn’t seem to be that much of a stretch and yet our protagonists skip this option. Not a deal breaker, but ok. That seems to this episode in a nutshell actually: a lot of weird choices that aren’t deal breakers, but ok we’ll go with them for the moment.
I think this is where the survival instincts criticism comes into play. As viewers, we’re armchair coaches, criticizing a show because we have more facts than the characters in that moment. It’s hard to remove our foreknowledge and suspend our belief when we know how this is all going to work out. We’ve seen the world after the apocalypse. We know we don’t win. So every second the protagonists drag their feet getting from point A to point B can drive the viewer a little bit wonky. This is why it hasn’t gotten on my nerves yet.
- The characters do not know they are in a horror setting. While the cast of Fear the Walking Dead know things are bad outside, they have no concept that they are in the middle of the end of the world. Let’s face it, natural disasters and civil upset are fairly common in vast metropolises. From their perspective, this is just a really bad one. Therefore they try to keep moving on in their day to day lives to maintain a sense of normalcy. This was punctuated beautifully for me the day after Madison and Travis’ neighborhood is ransacked by a Zombie Peter. While cleaning up the mess, Travis puts everything in the garbage and brings the cans to the curb expecting them to get picked up. Like Any. Other. Day. To make it even more powerful he looks up and sees a neighbor doing the exact same thing four doors down. This is not unique to Travis, this is not unique to the neighbor. At this point, people are just trying to hold onto “normal” even though “normal” is gone and dead. They just don’t know it yet. It’s powerful, its subtle and its pitch perfect with humanities nature to stick their heads in the ground and ignore the obvious warnings around them.
- There are no zombies movies in this world. This is a big one for any setting that involves zombies. In general, the assumption is that this is a completely new problem that has never even been contemplated before. Therefore they don’t have dozens of movies to influence their behavior unlike the viewers who are watching a show about zombies. So many people cry foul on this but it’s true. Robert Kirkman has gone on record numerous times that the world of The Walking Dead has never even heard the term zombie much less any movies. That matters, big time. Let’s put that to the side though because while they may not have zombie movies surely they have self preservation instincts. Which leads us to three.
- People are dumb. Now this is my main sticking point. Emotions are messy, people are messy and people wrestling with emotions are even moreso. While the world is coming down around their ears these characters are simply trying to stick together, which in this case is kind of the worst choice ever. That said, if I was separated from my wife and had to choose survival or finding her, I would go to find her without a second of hesitation. Is it smart? No way. Is it what a lot of people would do? More than likely. To that point, add on humanities desire to hold onto “normal” and you have kids who are panicking one minute and going back to crappy attitudes and giving their parents grief because its what they know. Which takes us back to point #1. These people have no idea of just how bad the world has gotten.
Let’s put all of that to the side though. While all of the above points are interesting from a critical point of view there are a few things that everyone has to start to agree on. The big thing is that despite a character’s desire to ignore the abundance of evidence presented to them, the world is indeed falling apart around them. In this episode we saw society dip below chaos and turn into that creepy calm where the darkest things in our nightmares start to come to life. It’s a scary time and even the most dense of protagonists should start to wise up, or face a quick and certain death…or will they?
I will give the writers of Fear The Walking Dead some serious credit here. When I was watching this episode, I began to fear that we’d be stuck on some stupid plot point, or worse yet not have a chance to see humanity push back (helpless though it may be) against the hordes of the undead. In a great twist, in the last ten minutes the National Guard shows up in force to begin quarantine procedures against the zombie apocalypse with headshots and military precision. It’s a great moment that pushes us past the “will they figure it out” moment and instead sets up a stage for “how did it all go wrong” scenario. To me, that’s kind of perfect. After the episode concluded I began to chat with my wife about the possibilities of a military incursion into Los Angeles, with the military armed with the knowledge of how to dispose of the undead when it hit us how this may all go wrong. If you don’t want to know, skip down to The Learning Curve. Everyone else, you have been warned.
So far in the first three episodes of Fear the Walking Dead it has been made abundantly clear that the zombie outbreak has been slowly ramping up for weeks now. It’s obvious that as the plague has spread or worse, gained notice on a global stage, the powers that be have been trying to understand it. Now, with civilization on the brink as societal pressures erupt causing riots, hate crimes, and basically the worst face of humanity, our civilization goes on the offensive. That’s where it all goes wrong. To be a bit more clear, it all went wrong a month or two ago when this all began. Go with me here for a moment.
Let’s hypothesize that the outbreak began..six weeks ago. There was an odd reanimation somewhere in the world, odd, but containable. As the next few weeks went on medical institutions like the CDC and other emergency response teams researched the organism trying to come up with some sort of protocol to save the infected if at all possible or immunize the uninfected if need be. Despite their best intentions they can’t get this under control and the spread seems to be more random than any one biological contaminant can be accounted for. At this point, the governments of the world panic. Instead of issuing a blanket statement warning the general populace about this growing danger, they instituted some archaic protocols to isolate the reanimated. Think back to the pilot of Fear the Walking Dead.At this point we know the general public is aware of some “sickness” spreading across the country for a few weeks. When Nick’s elderly roommate starts to die in the hospital the doctor and nurses move him “downstairs”. What if “downstairs” was code for moving this potentially reanimated corpse into a safe area (such as an abandoned cafeteria) for quarantine? What if the doctors and first responders all knew what was going on and were trying to save us from the spread, realizing too late that secrecy was the worst solution. What if, by the time the National Guard has mobilized with a plan of attack, society has eaten too much of itself metaphorically and literally to make a difference?
That’s what I love about this show. It’s putting a mirror up to us, right now and showing our hatreds and our desires to keep secrets and reminding us that we’re only hurting ourselves. As with almost every moment in The Walking Dead, the real enemy isn’t the zombies, it’s us. We’re the thing that’s dragging humanity to an early grave. Just look at our protagonists. Everyday problems and worries that truly do not matter are causing rifts and poor choices. Characters with a high sense of self survival are looking out for themselves despite the fact that in general moving in large numbers keeps away predators. Our own worst instincts are making us zombie food.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to institute The Learning Curve. Every episode, I will evaluate the characters and motivations. I will grade each one on a scale of 1 – 10. The scale will indicate how well the survivor is doing as far as choices, motivations and learning to live in a world with zombies. Obviously higher is better and the lowest scores indicate that the character will probably not make it. These are just estimates of course and can be overturned with the stroke of a writer’s pen. So here we go!
The Learning Curve
Madison Clark: 9 of 10. Who knew being a guidance councilor in Los Angeles could make somebody so prepared for a crisis situation? Actually, now that I’ve typed that out, it makes a lot of sense. With Nick’s past drug abuse problem and being widowed at an early age, it’s clear that Madison has a great general survival instinct even though she still makes some pretty rookie mistakes. With a “cut through the BS” attitude Madison has clearly sussed out that you do not want to be undead and has even gone so far as to recruit her boyfriend’s ex-wife to ensure that she’ll never be a shambling corpse. While that last statement is dripping with irony you have to respect a woman with such a crystal clear plan of what to do in the worst case scenario.
Nick Clark: 7 of 10. Ok, so the kid is going to suffer from the worst comedown of all time, but he’s kept his head straight. This clearly has a lot to do with the fact that he’s been keenly aware of the world’s decay since the first scene of the show, but I think we also need to give his experiences as a vagrant some real weight here. While the rest of the world has gone on with their lives, Nick has become proficient living on the refuse of society. Considering that the entire planet is about to become refuse, I think that Nick will become an even more critical link to the survival of this group, so long as he can stay clean. If he succumbs to his vices again (giving 50/50 odds) then we can see his curve plummet in the weeks ahead.
Alicia Clark: 6 of 10. This score might seem a little high but let’s get something straight. While she almost did something insanely stupid by going back to the boyfriend’s house after he was bitten, we have to keep in mind that Alicia is not working with a full set of instructions. This is one of those moments I talked about before where keeping critical information is going to get your loved ones killed. Despite her lack of knowledge, Alicia has kept a cool head. When the Clark’s ran back home to save Travis and realized that they had forgotten the shotgun shells, Alicia went back into Zombie Susan’s home to get the needed ammunition. When Zombie Susan detected her, Alicia didn’t panic but instead moved quickly and quietly towards home. Alright, she got caught in the maze, but what is she? A minotaur? Nope. Even when she was getting over the fence and panicked because a stranger held her down Alicia didn’t give up. She threw an elbow and kept fighting. Sure, it was Chris, but the point is Alicia isn’t going to go down quietly. If she can just get her emotions under control she may beat this apocalypse thing.
Travis Manawa: 3 of 10. This is the guy that our featured quote is talking about. Travis is the human we all hope survives the apocalypse but most likely wont. He believes in the goodness of people and wants to make sure that everyone has a chance to make it. Even the zombies. Despite every piece of evidence that he sees, the man refuses to give up on humanity. That’s a wonderful feature, but it also means it makes him zombie food. The Walking Dead has a habit of killing off our moral centers. As soon as you start making sense and reminding us why survival isn’t enough, you’re on the chopping block. I hope Travis toughens up soon so we can keep him around. I would love to see people talk about him like Darryl (who balances both) in future seasons but he’s gotta survive first. Also, learn how to use a gun Travis. I bet you that Liza knows how to use a gun.
Liza Ortiz: 5 of 10. I’ll admit, Liza is a bit of a wild card. She’s clearly got a good head on her shoulders and is learned enough to make the teams medic (always have a healer people), but she just hasn’t had enough screen time to establish an identity. With the limited information we do have I can already see that while she may have been quick to anger in the past she’s come into a quiet calm. She thinks about her plans and usually tries to only step in when she has something to say. I can easily see her become a leader of the group if Travis or one of the Clark’s don’t make it. Also, I bet you guys solid money this mother has some serious abilities we haven’t seen. I’m not predicting the next Carol or anything, but I bet if we put a gun in her hands, we’re gonna see some serious $#!+.
Chris Manawa: 4 of 10. Just break this kids nose already. He has a good heart, but like his father he has no idea how bad the world has gotten. While there is a glimmer of hope such as his willingness to use a gun and learn from others, his antagonistic nature with his father is going to be a problem. While Madison is clearly the leader she still takes a deferring hand when it comes to Travis, and that makes sense. They’re partners and that means they want to be fair but when you factor in a kid who resents his dad it means things are going to get messy a lot faster than they should. While we don’t have the entire backstory between Travis and Liza, it’s clear that Chris is fully on Team Momma and is going to hate taking direction from Dad and his new Girlfriend. Quite honestly, we need some redeeming factors here soon. Otherwise he’s just dead weight that’s going to get him, and possibly someone else, killed.
Daniel Salazar: 8 of 10. Another wildcard, Daniel represents everything we wish the Clarks and Manawas would strive for. Daniel has been a no nonsense player since he appeared in episode two. The man can tell the world is falling apart around him and wants to make sure his family survives. It’s interesting to note that while he claims to not keep score of live saving actions, that he is intent on making sure that he is not indebted to Travis or the Clarks. Also, he gets a huge survival bump for being proficient with guns and killing of Zombie Peter without blinking. He even had enough survivalist knowledge to think ahead and burn the bodies to try and limit the potential for infection. Clearly Daniel has had a checkered past and while his desire to separate from the group smacks of a damaged backstory it also means he’s willing to do what it takes to survive. It also indicates that he could easily turn into another Governor if prompted. We’re always curious what makes a man become the bad guy, this could be a great study.
Ofelia Salazar: 6 of 10: While Ofelia hasn’t really received a lot of screen time to establish her character, it’s clear that the woman is not as passive as her parents may have wanted. Ofelia is constantly asking questions, trying to find answers and is not content with sticking to past grudges or preconceptions. While her father clearly has a good survival sense on him, he does seem to be stuck in the past and may let these things influence his future actions. While that may not be a death for him, its a good chance others around him may perish because of it. Ofelia on the other hand seems to be willful enough to dodge this curse. While her mother is alive, her number is going to stay low because she clearly will not abandon her family. But once mama has kicked off to the great beyond, expect a woman who will not passively let decisions be made around her. If anyone has a chance to become the breakout “badass” of this series, I’d put my money on Ofelia.
Griselda Salazar: 1 of 10. Griselda we hardly know you. This lady has had a bad wrap since leaving the barber shop. As soon as they get out of the door, Griselda is nearly accosted by hooligans. A few blocks later some construction rigging falls over and crushes her foot and hobbles this poor lady so she can’t stay mobile. Add to that the almost 100% chance of losing the foot to infection and gangrene and there’s a very strong chance that poor Griselda will be the first of the main cast to shuffle the mortal coil. While it’s true that the National Guard is on the scene and may have medical staff that can help her, I have a sneaky suspicion that Griselda will be accused of exposure and summarily shot. It’s not looking good for a lady who convinced her husband to help some strangers and quite frankly she deserves a better end. Then again, this is Fear The Walking Dead, they all do.