The dam is under attack — from both outside and within
Credit: Richard Foreman, Jr/AMC

The problem with two-part finales is that I’m torn on how to consider them. For critics viewing screeners, they are very much two contained episodes. But at the end of the day, I suppose it’s best to approach them as they are originally presented to viewers: as one continuous installment. The first hour of Fear the Walking Dead‘s season 3 finale was a bit cluttered in trying to get all the disparate story lines to converge to a point, while the second hour was more focused and better played up the tension of its world-altering event.

The most compelling, however, was our new villain: Proctor John.

“Things Bad Begun”

Until now, he’s been just a name, someone Victor fears above anyone else (except for maybe Daniel) and someone who chained the master wordsmith to his gate at the trading post. But now, he’s far more present. Nick is finding his own place at the trading post — chopping off the heads of walkers so El Matadero can harvest its signature drug cocktail — when Troy discovers John’s plot. He asks about the Proctors, John’s biker gang, and learns they’re about to launch an assault on the dam.

While Nick and Troy are rushing back to the dam to warn everyone, Alicia is getting herself thrown into John’s path. While on the road with her new companion on their way to sell more zombie teeth at the trading post, an armed car crashes into their side. Men rush out and try to rob them, but Alicia is able to grab her gun and fire off warning shots. Her friend, however, is injured so badly that they have to seek medical attention at the trading post.

“Things Bad Begun,” the title of the episode, is a phrase from the third act of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The full line is spoken by the tragic protagonist to Lady Macbeth about his plans to kill Banquo and Fleance: “Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill.” In other words, evil begets more evil. Victor, the one pulling the strings with John since his secret meeting last episode, delivers a similar speech to Madison when they’re getting day drunk on top of the dam. In a veiled discussion, he acknowledges (if only to himself) that he has to kill someone, an act he’s somehow managed to avoid this whole time.

They’re interrupted by the arrival of Nick and Troy, who brief everyone of the situation. Lola and Efrain know of the Proctors already. The gang was in business with the drug dealers before the outbreak, has no regard for human life, and probably plans to seize control of the water supply and demand tribute in return. The conversation erupts as Victor tries to get Madison and her family to leave, Daniel spars with Troy, and a Plan B — to rig the dam with explosives — is set into motion.

Madison quarrels with her son as she goes to see Walker. Nick wants her to leave the dam, but she’s preoccupied with the fact that he’s doing drugs again. Adding to her stress are Walker, Crazy Dog, and Victor. The first two are preparing to leave and head up north before the fight comes, while the third confesses to Nick that he made a deal with Proctor John to “open the back door” and let his men into the dam. He claims he did it because John was already coming for the dam anyway and he wanted to set himself up as a warden for the Proctors, but you’d still have a hard time convincing me that this was a better option than either scavenging for more artillery and defending the stronghold, or abandoning it entirely.
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Alicia has taken her friend to the trading post, where she’s been bandaged up and treated. (By the way, what the heck is her name?!) She gets into a conversation with Eddie, who, hearing of her basic medical experience, asks her to assist him on another patient, who turns out to be Proctor John. Some fans might compare him to Negan, but John is, in some ways, more nuanced. We know very little about him at this point, but we want to offer him our sympathy in the face of all we have heard from Victor.

He’s in a wheelchair, paralyzed from a cancerous lump pressing against his spine. All the tried treatments have failed, so they’re left with one option, which is to operate. Alicia realizes she’s been tricked into serving John; he’s given his men strict orders to kill everyone in the room if he dies from the surgery.

Accepting her fate, she stays by his side, holding his hand through the pain and asking him to tell stories from his past. She quickly forgets that she’s speaking to a man who will have her killed if he doesn’t come out of this kicking, and instead sees a man with lost loved ones who’s trying to make a future for himself out of this mess of an apocalypse. It’s a smart way to introduce a villain — highlight the humanity first before peeling back the layers of sadistic tyranny.

For the sake of Alicia and Eddie, John does come out of this alive, and before he’s even well enough to walk on his own he commands his men to prepare the boats and arms for the invasion of the dam. Of course, he wants Alicia, his new guardian angel, to come with him — and of course, she doesn’t have a choice in the matter.

Already John is emerging as a potential far-reaching villain for the following season, regardless of what happens in the finale. He muses to Alicia about his dream of connecting a series of outposts and establishing himself as the ringleader of it all. It’s not completely different from what Negan has been doing, but it’s on a much larger scale.

The other lingering story threads getting wrapped up while all this is going on are Tradison (what I’m now referring to Troy and Madison as) and Danick (Daniel and Nick).

While they’re lining the dam with bombs, Troy wants assurance from Madison that she’s moved past everything that went down at the ranch, because he’s ready to let bygones be bygones. She says she is but, of course, she doesn’t know the biggest secret that he’s keeping from her — he was the one who led the horde to wipe out the ranch and, with it, her dreams of normalcy. And for a moment (just a moment) their hands touched, their eyes locked, and it seemed like they were gonna lock lips or something. Someone please tell me I was hallucinating that.

As for Daniel, that brief spat with Troy was the tip-off: He already believes the deranged Otto boy was the one who directed the horde that killed Ofelia, and he wants revenge. So he goes to Nick for proof, even if that means he has to lock them both in a room together (which he does) and beat the information out of him (which he doesn’t, though he threatens as much). They go on and on, with Daniel shouting for Nick to reveal the truth about Troy, but Nick gets the idea to blame it all on Jake. Daniel was able to tell when Nick was lying before, and it seems like he doesn’t fully trust Nick now. However, he lets him go.

Nick promptly goes to Madison to warn her of Victor’s secret plot, but he mentions Troy needs to hide or else Daniel will probably kill him. Madison starts wondering, Huh, why does Daniel want to kill Troy if he didn’t do anything? She pieces it together, and Troy confesses everything, including his still-very-much-present racism. As she mutters obscenities about the life they could all be living right now and Nick watches his mother lose her cool, Madison takes her hammer and drives it into the side of Troy’s head until he tumbles, dead, down to the dirt. (Guess that’s the end of Tradison.)
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As the Proctors converge on the dam, Victor is trying to take his first life. He pulls a gun on Daniel and Lola when they find the water flow in the pipes has been diverted to let John’s men through. Daniel doesn’t believe Victor is cruel enough to actually kill someone, but in their scuffle to claim the pistol, Victor fires into Daniel’s head. In a more surprising turn, it doesn’t kill him. Instead, Daniel is forced to fight through the pain of having the side of his face blown off.

Victor, horrified by his own actions, lets both Lola and Daniel go as he rushes off to hide Nick and Madison before they’re spotted by the Proctors, who have stormed the tunnels and the dock. He locks them away in a room, taking their gun and the detonator with only the promise that he’ll get them out of this mess. They don’t have many options.

“Sleigh Ride”

These characters are being forced to face their fears, and Madison’s fear is losing her family. Whether she’s hallucinating this or whether it’s meant as a symbolic interlude, she finds herself the star of a Christmas-y dream sequence, living in a lone cabin in the middle of nowhere. No trees, no rocks, just flat land and the graves of the Ottos in her front lawn. She leaves her table setting and cooked feast to go and greet Nick and Luciana, who’s holding a swaddled baby. Both rebuff her welcome as their gaze returns to the third grave, which bears Alicia’s name. Madison watches her fear become a reality. Her son and daughter-in-law silently turn to leave Madison alone at this cabin, and when she reaches for Luciana, she’s startled when a walker’s snarl erupts from the baby.

When we break back to reality, we find Alicia riding on the back of a speedboat with John as he leads a convoy to dock behind the dam. Victor is there waiting, and he’s forced to answer for why there are so many dead bodies floating in the same water they’re supposed to distribute and consume. He notices Alicia when John motions for her to prepare his replacement bandages. Later, John demands a full account of what transpired before walking into the dam with his men, leaving Alicia and Victor to whisper about a plan to get them all out of this situation alive.

With few weapons and nothing but time on their hands, Nick faces his mother over killing Troy. Madison is disgusted when he asks if she’d ever kill her own son if she deemed it necessary. Troy was more of a threat than an ally to her, and she claims this world requires her to make such life-or-death decisions. But Nick, ever the rebellious child (annoyingly so at times), is rejecting this outlook. Nick keeps trying to push her to admit that she might kill him one day, but their climactic sparring is interrupted by the Proctors’ gunfire.

Meanwhile, Lola, after tending to Daniel’s wounds, leaves him in their hiding place to find Efrain (too bad he was killed when the invasion first began), and Alicia is treating John’s surgical wound. The leader of the Proctors can tell she knows Victor from somewhere and gets her to reveal that Victor helped her family escape Los Angeles and that she hoped her mother was at the dam. When he hears her mother’s name is Madison, he reveals she is here and there was a deal in place to spare her life. He doesn’t know if she’s still alive, and even though she is, that deal is no longer in place. Alicia promises to keep serving John if he spares Madison and agrees to go to Houston with him.

Victor returns to Madison and Nick, who aren’t exactly thrilled that their replacement sanctuary is now under siege. He plans to smuggle them out disguised in workers’ uniforms from the dam, but he’s having difficulty convincing them to go along. Madison gleans from his stress that, as he put it earlier, his time has come. Victor reveals he shot Daniel, but that he was still alive when he left him with Lola, and it’s something he now has to live with on top of the distrust brewing within his own ranks.

Once again, Victor’s plan is falling apart even before he has a chance to execute it. This time, Lola stumbles upon the body of Efrain and goes to take vengeance. As Victor is marching Madison and Nick across the bridge, they are exposed when Lola attacks the Proctors but is easily killed by John.

John takes them all back to the dam’s office to sort out the matter. After roughing up Victor, he allows Alicia to reunite with Madison, but he turns his attention to Nick. One of his men remembers him from when he was lurking around the trading post with Troy, tipping him off John that Nick was the one who warned the dam about the invasion. In his mind, John has to kill them all now because if he kills Nick, then he won’t be able to trust Alicia. If he kills Alicia, then Madison will likely want blood.
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John allows them to make their final goodbyes when he marches them out to the bridge. When Nick goes to hug Victor, he feels the detonator in his jacket and pockets it for himself. Victor, however, starts threatening to blow up the dam without realizing he doesn’t have the device anymore. When John sics his men on him, Nick reveals the detonator in his own hands and starts making demands.

Familiar faces return as Madison has another X-mas dream. Jeremiah, Jake, Troy, Walker, Daniel, Victor, and Cooper (one of Troy’s militiamen) are all dressed in their Sunday finest and sitting down peacefully to enjoy a meal. When Madison takes off the cover, however, it reveals the severed head of Jeremiah and the scene instantly shifts. The Otto father’s body lies over the table as Walker, now in his regular clothes, severs Jake’s arm. The tablecloth becomes soaked in the pooling blood, and Victor quietly walks out of the house. Madison goes to follow and finds she’s no longer standing on her vacant front lawn, but in a graveyard surrounded by tombstones.

Just as her vision of a family united falls apart, so too does the situation on the bridge. Nick offers his “suicide note” to John: Victor is to take Madison and Alicia to a boat and take it upstream, though John warns his men will only follow. At least, they’ll have a head start. Nick can’t go with them because, as John points out, the detonator will become inactive out of range of the explosives. Madison, less emotional than expected in the face of losing a child for good, is forced to leave her son behind. Nick says he’s not afraid to die, which John teases are the words of a “junkie Christ.” Daniel, meanwhile, is making his way toward the bridge. He makes quick work of a few Proctors by pretending to still be injured.

Nick watches as his family starts making their getaway across the water, but he can’t set off the explosives too early or else they won’t be able to outrun the current. John tries to convince Nick not to blow up everything and prevent the water from going back to the people. “Civilization’s born of violence,” he says, which is something that Jeremiah once said. As he had already argued with his mother, Nick wants to find another way besides getting killed and killing everyone. But that’s not how John sees the world.

Realizing why Nick isn’t pressing the detonator, John and his men start moving in. The motor on Madison’s boat, too, has faltered, but by this point Daniel has found Lola’s body, which has been posted with a note that reads “reina de agua,” the name given to her by the angry villagers. Madison is able to start the engine again as the Proctors go to grab the detonator. That’s when a bullet tears through one of their heads, revealing Walker and Crazy Dog camped out and sniping them off. Daniel emerges on the scene as violence erupts. Nick stares out at his mother on the water, and she can see on his face what he plans to do. He pushes the button and lays waste to the dam. Did he do it to kill his family, specifically his mother? Did he do it to give the water back to the people? Did he do it to try to kill the Proctors and himself? All these questions are left hanging in the air as the water plunges forward through the crumbling walls.

John is carted off by his men, leaving Nick to watch his family get sucked into the current and dropped down a waterfall through the hole in the dam. Walker and Crazy Dog, assured of the Clarks’ impending deaths, resolve to their original plan and head up north. As water washes over everything in the dam, including Troy’s body, Madison emerges in another dream sequence. She goes out to visit the grave of Jeremiah Otto when a walker hand reaches out of the dirt and pulls her under the ground. Actor Cliff Curtis makes a brief return as Travis, who pulls her back up before losing her into the void. Madison wakes under water and forces herself back to the surface. She crawls onto solid ground, where citizens are scrambling to fill their buckets with water. Alicia and Victor are nowhere to be found.

This leaves us in an interesting place for season 4, which, if you didn’t already know, is officially a go. The family is displaced, and they’ll have to figure out who they are without each other. Who is Madison without her kids? Who is Alicia without the domineering eye of her mother? Who is…well, we’ve already gotten a sense of the kind of man Nick becomes when left to his own devices, so I’m not too eager to revisit that, unless Daniel will be there to knock some discipline into him. I’m tired of watching him stubbornly wanting to be a leader while in the same breath succumbing to his own addictions. And, of course, they’re all now enemies of Proctor John.

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