Troy, like an apocalyptic Cain standing before God with his brother’s blood crying out from the earth, has brought about a Biblical reckoning — one that he hopes, in his delirious state, will act as a Darwinian cleansing to wipe out those unwilling or unable to fight for themselves and leave only those most physically fit for this world. As this plague ripped across the ranch, bodies fell, prophesies came to pass, and we’re reminded of this show’s potential for riveting storytelling.
It begins with Troy. Jilted, now forced to wander the wastelands, he’s consumed by delusions brought on by hunger, dehydration, sleepless nights, and maybe whatever venom was lingering in that rattlesnake he cooked up over a fireplace. (Who knows. I’m not a survivalist.) He continues his important work of scribbling in his journal, but director Alrick Riley (who helmed three episodes of The Walking Dead, including the season 7 episode “The Cell”) walks us deeper into his isolation. His only company is the body of the scalped founding father who was made into a feast for crows, and the heavy artillery he stumbles upon in a compartment behind wall-hanging needlework that reads, “God, help those who help themselves.”
As Troy sits in the chair on the rock, contemplating whether to put that single bullet into his brain, he sees something. The sounds of whirling wind and snarling dead crescendo when he fires the gun in the air, luring whatever is encroaching closer — and he smiles.
These moments of dialogue-free exposition grow more foreboding as we cut to the literal thinning of the herd at the ranch. Jake mourns the days when the ranch was actually a ranch, unlike now, when they’re forced to slaughter the cattle because there’s not enough water to go around. Without Troy, the ranch is the last of his family’s legacy, and it’s already changed so much. He proposes to Alicia that they start over by heading to his family cabin, isolated in a remote location by the border, where they can hunt for game and be together. He also mentions there are “closer places” just like the ranch, planting seeds of where these folks might trek next should their sanctuary fall. She’s not quite ready to leave, but he’s realizing he has nothing left at the ranch.
Ofelia and Crazy Dog acknowledge Jake’s weakness as they ponder who would become the new leader should Walker never return. Nick’s name comes up, as he’s already been able to meet both sides on middle ground, but he’s still disturbed by his killing of Jeremiah. Alicia meets her brother on the porch of his house, which once belonged to the Otto patriarch, and she listens to his fear that he’s just as sick as Troy.
Nick wakes later that night to find Troy — the real one, not the hallucination that visited him in his heated cell. Ofelia once warned Alicia before she infected the ranch with anthrax, and now Troy has come shambling to Nick’s doorstep to return a similar favor for saving his life. Sleep deprived, he mutters about some “mission” that he’s on involving “a reckoning at hand” and “a beast from the desert” that’s “bigger than you can imagine.” Before vanishing again into the night, he tells Nick to bring Jake to meet him so they can see.
Nick finds Jake the next morning as he’s fighting with Alicia over his suspicion of a Clark family master plan. Was it Alicia’s goal to seduce Jake, while Nick bonded with Troy and Madison warmed up to Jeremiah? He’s not wrong, but Nick’s knock at the door comes before she can answer. Before they leave, Alicia leaves Jake with the knowledge that she does care for him and she’s done all this for him — not knowing it will be their last moment together.
Riding toward where they believe Troy headed, Jake tells Nick he’s planning to put down his brother because he’s sick and never going to get better. But their attention is instantly drawn to the massive dust storm creeping between the hills, masking a horde of dead. And in the middle of it all is Troy, firing off explosions to draw the walkers closer and closer to the ranch. Nick walkies to Alicia to warn her, and she, Ofelia, and Crazy Dog put their bickering aside to prepare for the impending onslaught.
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Since the beginning of this season, Fear has been working through this foreboding Biblical allegory with the Cain-and-Abel-esque Otto brothers, and it culminates in their confrontation in the wasteland. Nick tries to talk Troy down, but he’s mumbling about a “cleansing.” Troy is closer to the dead than he realizes; since he can’t sit down or else he’ll fall asleep, he’s been walking for two days, fueled by the sights, smells, and loud noises he’s been using to lead the dead. Jake aims his gun at his brother to try to stop him, but when Troy fires off another blow from his launcher, Jake pins him to the ground and starts wailing on him.
As he warns Jake of the consequences of killing Troy, Nick is forced into another confession — this time admitting to Jake that he killed his father. But Jake doesn’t care. Jake has resolved to murder his brother, so Nick clocks him in the head, sending him tumbling down the hill and into the path of a walker. Before Nick and Troy can get to him, Jake is bitten, and with his brother in such a state of shock, Nick is forced to chop off Jake’s arm to contain the infection.
They drive back home along the edge of the horde, Troy in the trunk holding his brother. Alicia, Ofelia, and Crazy Dog are arming up everyone for a last stand and setting up a line of RVs in an attempt to push the walkers east. It’s not like the white walkers sweeping across the earth in a blizzard, but it’s one of the more impressive feats of zombie mayhem we’ve seen in a while. The horde easily breaks through the gate, each of the RVs begins wobbling one by one to signal the impact of the herd, and the dead start clawing their way underneath the vehicles to get at their prey, until, finally, they merge together and knock down the barrier like a wave of corpses.
Nick is forced to watch from a distance as he hears a woman shriek from the ranch. Alicia attempts to lead all the survivors to barricade themselves in the pantry, but I kept thinking back to Ofelia and what would happen if she didn’t live long enough to accompany Madison and Walker to the water trade. In the face of a ranch-wide extinction, I suppose this no longer matters, but the scenario conjures perfect conditions for her to die and complicate matters further. She doesn’t, thankfully, and is able to barely make it to the pantry with Alicia and Crazy Dog, where the remaining survivors, clutching farm equipment and whatever weapons they can find, are waiting in terror in the event the dead break through and slaughter them all.
Filming in Mexico has proven to be a refreshing departure for the world of The Walking Dead. Rick and his compatriots often seem like they’re in more confined spaces because of Atlanta’s heavily wooded areas. But Fear is shot in far more open landscapes, which lend themselves well to moments like a devastating horde rolling across the desert. Even though it’s a spin-off, in these moments, Fear rivals its predecessor in its ability to build tension from the opening sequence to the finish, when they realize they all might be consumed within hours.
All the while, Troy is left broken and raw by the weight of his sins. His brother’s head rests in his lap, and Jake awakens as a walker. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Troy covers his brother’s eyes and slips a blade through Jake’s skull. Jake can now rest, but Troy cannot. There’s work to be done to cleanse his sins. He can sleep when he’s dead.
For an hour, the narrative and character flaws of episodes past seemed like a distant memory. However, while Troy has the potential to be an even more interesting villain than he already is, he seems numb when we get to these final moments. There’s so much interesting material here: Troy has always been unhinged, but he lost what was left of his mind wandering the wasteland, and Nick, with his own self-destructive tendencies, fears he is susceptible to these same horrors. If Nick had gone down the same road as Troy, would he have become the same tormentor?
Fear seems interested in exploring these “sick” individuals, but it always stops short. Travis’ son Chris was one who died too early, just as he was becoming truly cruel. The same goes for Travis. Madison’s late husband physically lost himself, but the potential development of his darker nature was left on the cutting room floor when the decision was made to kill him off in the two-part season premiere. There’s still hope for Troy to take this exploration into the psyche of a madman further and reveal what a truly crazed villain can do, while drawing out these same sinister forces in Nick. How Troy will bounce back from putting down his own brother, though, remains to be seen.