I have a haunting suspicion that Jake, the moral compass of Broke Jaw Ranch and the only likable Otto, is going to become the next major casualty.
It seemed to be the direction Fear was heading toward even before he made the decision this week to try to broker a deal with Walker at his reservation: He’s one of the only things standing in the way of his father and brother teetering off the deep end into complete madness. Take that away, and the already fracturing community will follow suit. Take that away, and Alicia loses the glimmer of hope that things can still be all right in this messed up world.
As Jeremiah said in “Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame,” we retreat to our own in times of crisis — and now there’s a pretty big one. Tensions are high as Alicia and Nick fear for their mother’s safety when Madison and Troy make it back to the ranch with their men, their bloody, calloused feet plainly visible. The community wants answers, and one of the men, Mike (the same one who witnessed Troy nearly killing Madison in her sleep), gives his version of it: Walker and his men want their land back and will kill them all if they don’t comply.
The fear prickles as people want to leave the ranch, but Jeremiah, his sons, and Madison regroup in private to try to solve this dilemma. Troy faces the brunt of the blame from his father, who makes the remark that Jake needs to be more of a presence in the community. Troy is visibly affected, his face surging with memories of his childhood, when his brother shielded him from the drunken wrath of Jeremiah and the callous disregard of his mother. Yet, Madison — perhaps strategically; most of her actions seem to be strategic — comes to his defense.
Jeremiah declares they will not attack Walker, who, it turns out, tried to reclaim the ranch land through legal means before the outbreak. Jeremiah’s sense of security is now gone. This is someone who is terrified of losing everything he’s built and blinded by a false image he’s conjured of the unknown. Walker isn’t a threat to him, as Madison suggests he is. Walker is one of the “drunken, diabetic, welfare cheats” Jeremiah deems all those at Black Hat Reservation to be. Blame it on the alcohol.
Jeremiah’s world is changing. The “founding fathers,” the men and women who first came to the ranch with him, are dying out: Russell and his wife died in the fire, Phil was fed by Walker to the crows, and now Vernon, the last of the co-founders, wants to leave. With the end of the founders comes the death of Jeremiah’s ideals, but there’s the question of whether the accepting Jake or the demented Troy will lead his legacy. Again, I don’t think it’ll be Jake and would argue it’d be more interesting to watch if it’s not, but we’ll see.
Heightening all of this fear are a series of pyres ignited around the colony under cover of night. Nick finds Troy in the storage basement, where the Otto boy’s neighbors are trying to cut and run. Soon after, at the picnic tables, as Madison is trying to warn a hungover Jeremiah about Vernon telling the community the flee, Troy overhears Vernon announcing his family’s departure from the ranch. This is a man who’s felt abandoned by everyone, with the exception of Jake, his whole life. Brushing off these traitors isn’t in his nature — a fact made clear when he furiously confronts Mike, who doesn’t get out of the R.V. or look Troy in the eye before leaving.
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This leads Troy to turn on Jake, who’s attempting to mediate. When Troy punches his brother in the haze of rage, Jeremiah throws a fist at his son — and, again, Jake is there to protect his sibling. Madison finds an emotionally wounded Troy in the aftermath securing the gun supply. The ranch is Troy’s entire world, and anyone who leaves — including Mike, a lifelong friend — is considered dead to him. (Quite literally, as we come to learn.) At Madison’s urging, he then commands his militia to attention and informs them of the new world order, one that honors a chain of command and upholds a “defend the ranch with our lives” mentality.
Meanwhile, Nick finds Jeremiah, drunk and disorderly, waiting in his home. The Otto patriarch’s darker side, which the liquor has brought out in him, is the same darkness within Troy. Troy represents the worst of Jeremiah, who also feels abandoned by a friend. It’s a relationship that mirrors that of Madison and her kids, though not to such extremes. Alicia is the golden child and more cunning; she admits to her mother that she likes Jake but recognizes him as a playable piece in this game they’re playing. Nick, in some ways, reminds Madison of a failure, or maybe something darker. (Showrunner Dave Erickson told EW to expect some flashes to Madison’s backstory in future episodes.)
The next morning, Jeremiah spots one of Vernon’s horses standing at the edge of the ranch. He suspects they’ve been killed and goes in search of them with Nick and Madison. His suspicions are on the mark. They find the R.V. riddled with bullets and are forced to kill the zombified remains. Elsewhere, Alicia finds Jake, who’s taking her advice to step up by preparing a trip to the reservation to reason with Walker. She’s unable to stop him, but after seeing Madison hauling the dead bodies of Vernon’s family back to the ranch, she grabs a pack and heads off in his direction.
Using the Vernons as props, Madison rallies the ranch with a rousing speech about the dangers that await them beyond their borders and the power and protection of their own “militia.” The unexpected move, which Nick confronts her about later on, works, and the ranchers are reinvigorated to stay and fight.
The truth, however, is more complicated. Nick pointed out to his mother at the R.V. that Walker’s people didn’t take any of the food supplies from the Vernons, and they killed their horses, both of which are out of character. In truth, it was Troy who killed them when he tried to confront Mike, and Madison’s speech was meant to cover for him. It’s an interesting situation Madison finds herself in; she was so quick to banish Travis’ son, Chris, for his devilish ways, but now she’s willing to overlook Troy’s nature to serve her own ends.
This is a well-honed, interesting, and psychologically complex story arc that’s playing out: one that we’re not used to seeing in the grander scheme of Fear and, especially, The Walking Dead. As Nick ominously warns, Madison must now “never forget what he is.”