As Operation Cobalt decimates the mainland, can a haven be found on the ocean?
Fear the Walking Dead returns with a season that promises the swimming dead are to be just as feared as those walking on solid land, with the gang from last season hopping aboard Victor Strand’s boat, the Abigail. In search of safer shores, Travis, Madison, Salazar, and the rest of their families learn over the course of “Monster” that there are just as many threats and moral quandaries waiting for them on the high seas as there were on the streets of their hometown.
“Monster” makes only a small time jump, hours later from where season 1 ended as the families arrived at Strand’s gorgeous cliffside mansion. And perhaps as a bad omen, they make a break for the Abigail in the midst of the fiery explosions resulting from Operation Cobalt and the fresh walkers already roaming the beaches.
Most of the crew has made it safely to the Abigail by using a smaller motorized boat as transport from the beach to their new floating home. (Interestingly, just as Fear the Walking Dead opens up into the oceans, Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead: Michonne explores life on the waves, including in a fully functioning boat colony.) Madison, Travis, and Chris are still on the beach, along with Liza’s corpse.
Chris can’t seem to focus on the reality of chaos around him. His own father shot his mother, and the swirl of anger, grief, love, confusion, and everything else consuming him has him glued to the spot near his dead mother’s body. He doesn’t want to leave her, even as the threat of walkers becomes not a distant idea but a nearby reality.
Whether atop the cliffs by Strand’s house or down on the beach, the dead are coming for them as Nick returns to shore with the transport boat. Despite a few close calls, having to fend off walkers (which, as was the case last season, are much less decomposed than their The Walking Dead counterparts, who are months further into the process), everyone left on shore, with Liza’s body in tow, makes their way onto the transport boat. And with the killing of one last walker via the boat’s motor, they head for the Abigail, the sky behind them ablaze with destruction.
They find themselves in a much more peaceful, though no less uncertain, condition the following day as the sun and not explosions lights up the serene blue sky. The Abigail can take them up to 3,000 miles, but that’s plenty of space for problems to arise, which they do almost immediately.
The Abigail passes by a boat of survivors begging to be saved. Madison and Alicia want to help, but Strand refuses to, and Travis isn’t particularly interested in letting all of these strangers aboard either. Strand says he’s reached his mercy quota having saved all of them, and he wants to do as little to possible to avoid endangering them as they head south. He’s only stopping the boat to drop people off, not have them board, and so they continue on their way.
The choice doesn’t sit well with Madison, who makes that perfectly clear as Travis contemplates what to do with Chris, who simply sits dejectedly in a room next to Liza’s body. Travis wants to protect the family at all costs, and doing so means not introducing the potential risk of more outsiders, and while Madison has the same goal, she’s not exactly pleased with this first test for the Abigail.
While the boat may be at its maximum occupancy for Strand’s liking, that doesn’t mean the outside world can’t somehow find its way onto the decks of the Abigail. Alicia, who has been tasked with listening to the radio for other possible signs of life, stumbles upon a channel playing David Bowie’s “Five Years,” as well as the man behind the timely (for our world, at least) musical choice, Jack. Hearing her hesitating clicking of the radio walkie-talkie, he calls out for anyone listening until Alicia eventually answers.
The two quickly strike up some facsimile of a friendship (they basically share an AIM friendship, if you replace AIM with a radio and sitting at a desk with fighting to survive the apocalypse), telling each other details about their lives. Some are vague, but some are more specific: Alicia learns that Jack, his brother, and his brother’s wife are running low on supplies at a cove they’re using for temporary respite. He hesitates on telling her where it is (the first sign, to me, that this is some sort of trap).
NEXT: Can the families trust Strand?
Whether or not the radio conversation leads to a more dangerous future, it also offers Alicia some distance from her current situation, some hope that the world at large may not be completely over insofar as human interaction goes. The others on the boat are coping with their predicament in other ways. Nick, who briefly looks to be striking up some sort of relationship with Ofelia (at least in the way TV shows tend to introduce such connections with their brief meeting in the hallway in which Nick offers her some medical advice, which feels like the start to something more), is dealing with wondering why Strand allowed him on the boat. He’s just a recovering addict, after all, but Strand sees more value in Nick’s will to survive.
Nick’s mother is taking less kindly to Strand, however, as Madison questions his directives. She heads in to find Strand talking by himself on the upper deck — talking to ghosts to keep himself awake, he insists, though whether he was talking to someone corporeal on land remains to be seen). She heard music, but he just brushes it off as strange noises on the wind. He wants to keep them as isolated, and therefore safe, as possible, though his lack of sleep while piloting certainly isn’t the best sign of a safe captain to Madison.
She’s not the only one suspicious of their current master and commander. Madison opens up about her concerns to Salazar, who seems to be at peace fishing off the side of the boat (and apparently the only one Chris is willing to talk to at this point). She wants some advice from him, reconciling that Strand both saved them and also appears to have ulterior motives, having packed for the boat before the bombs were dropping. They’re heading for San Diego, but the exact reasons for that destination are unknown.
So for now they’ll watch, which Salazar has already been doing. Yet the worries of Strand’s true intentions are not the most immediate concerns for the Abigail crew — putting Liza to rest is. The families gather to say farewell to her as Travis offers a brief eulogy. He uses it not only as a chance to pay respects to a woman he loved, but also as an opportunity to reach his son, whom he says is the best thing Travis and Liza ever did together. Chris, still a storm of buried emotions, approaches the body during this makeshift service, covers up her face, and, with a sudden and unexpected fury, dumps Liza’s body overboard before heading back inside.
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Travis chases after his son in an attempt to connect with him, but Chris wants nothing to do with him. He says he could have fixed it had he been there before his father shot his mother. (As far as Salazar is concerned, however, it is an act of mercy, he later tells Travis. An act he wishes he could have given to his own wife.) And as much as Travis tries to connect with his son, a swift punch to the face from Chris proves that little headway will be made for the time being.
Travis comes back to the main level of the boat just as Alicia introduces a new problem to the group. Jack has told her their hull has been damaged and they’re taking on water. They’re going to try to make for land, and the two offer a brief approximation of where they might be in relation to one another. Alicia wants them to go and help, hoping that only taking three new people aboard will not be a major ask.
But she might as well be asking Strand to take on an entire city’s worth of people. He’s furious at not just the idea, but that she’s been in close enough communication with someone to possibly have given away details about their group, about the boat, thereby jeopardizing their safety.
Strand believes life in the water is no less dangerous than on land, and he’s got some Fight Club-style rules to ensure they remain safe. No. 1? This is Strand’s boat. No. 2? This is Strand’s boat. You can probably guess what rule No. 3 is, and Strand wants no one else making decisions that compromise the integrity of his boat without his input.
NEXT: Danger lurks just beneath (and above) the surface.
It’s a blow-up that showcases just how much of a pressure cooker the boat is and will likely be as they continue to be confined to it. At least some semblance of hope arises after Madison goes to talk with Chris, hoping to reach him when his father can’t. She opens up about hitting her own father when she was 13 and how, had Travis not shot Liza, she would have. Madison refuses to let anyone she loves become a walker.
And though her pep talk doesn’t return Chris to complete normalcy, it does enough to push him back upstairs just as the rest of the group is sitting down for a meal of fresh eel (courtesy of Salazar). Chris doesn’t sit with them but rather walks out to the back of the boat, scanning the water before jumping into the sea.
Fearing the worst, Nick and Travis both chase after him, with the former diving in immediately to reach Chris. But, as he soon finds out, Chris just wanted to take a swim, and Nick decides to join him by diving below the surface. And suddenly, the possibility of disaster strikes all at once.
The boat’s console starts beeping, worrying Strand. Alicia breaks the news to Jack that they can’t come to rescue them. And Nick is attacked by a walker in the water. Unfortunately for Alicia, Jack appears to have been playing a long con, saying that he’ll see her soon in a tone too calm and collected for a man who is supposedly in jeopardy.
And while Alicia wrestles with what her latest “friend” might mean, there are more pressing terrors to address. Bodies litter the water nearby as the walker attacking Nick comes from a nearby wreck in the water. Nick swims away from his pursuer only to find himself beneath a bit of the wreckage. He’s not alone — another walker attacks him in the closed-off area until the walker (or floater in this case) is seemingly distracted by Travis’ voice. Nick makes a break for it, fleeing and eventually being saved when Travis and Chris pick him up in the smaller transport boat and return to the Abigail.
Strand, meanwhile, is assessing the situation so they can book it out of there in a hurry. As he tells Madison, another boat doing 25 knots is joining them. It could be no one, but it could be the people who caused the nearby devastation, and he does not intend to stick around and wait.
Someone’s coming for them, but whether it’s Jack, Captain Jack Sparrow, or some other band of survivors (hopefully with someone named Jack), remains to be seen until next time.
For more on the season 2 premiere, check out EW’s interview with executive producer Dave Erickson.