The Walking Dead embraced silence early on as a narrative tool. Instead of filling in lulls with dialogue, as many TV shows have done, it bathed in silence. The mood of a scene could make a bigger impact than any crafted conversation. That comes with its own set of issues; the lack of dialogue naturally puts a larger emphasis on the words that are uttered, and how do you maintain the rhythm of an episode with so much left unsaid?
John Dorie is a man who lives in this silence. As he mentioned in the first episode of Fear the Walking Dead‘s current season, he hadn’t spoken to anyone in a year until Morgan came along. Where we find him now in a flashback episode is his solitary cabin by a river in the woods.
It’s not clear how long he’s lived here, but he’s in a rhythm of a routine. He sits on his back porch cleaning his two white-handled revolvers that he keeps in a box. Trenches were dug in the ground out back to deter any walker who might shamble up onto the shore. When one does, he lays down wooden planks so he can walk across them and silently handle the dead with his axe. The rest of his day is pretty standard: He wakes up every morning to the sound of a singing fish alarm clock, makes eggs and coffee, does his chores around the yard, collects wild blueberries and plants, and plays Scrabble with himself and watches movies when he’s bored. The silence of his day is punctuated by the words he says aloud, trying to come up with a good one to use in Scrabble. “Platypus” is the one he settles on.
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John can’t sleep, though. He lies awake, staring at the ceiling until he hears a walker coming through the water — in which case, he’ll get up and deal with it — or day breaks. One night, he hears something by the river. Though he thinks it to be another one of the dead, he finds Naomi. Smeared with mud, she lies barely conscious in a canoe, mumbling, “I have to get back.” John brings her inside, gives her his bed, and treats the deep cut in her side as best he can. He leaves two butterscotch candies for her on the nightstand as he tucks her into bed.
Her presence breaks his life of silence, though she’s hesitant to share her story. So “Laura,” the fifth episode this season, continues to saunter through this flashback, revealing how these two people met and fell in love. It’s not all that remarkable a story, but it holds an endearing quality through the sweetness of John, a reserved man who wants to be loved and to love someone.
The next morning, John is going about his business when he finds his home has been trashed and the woman he saved is missing. He finds her outside, trying to find keys so she can take his car. John isn’t trying to stop her, though. He tells her where the keys are above the visor. Sadly, the engine won’t start. He offers up his home until she gets well enough to leave. John helps her thread a needle so she can stitch up her wound, tipping him off to the fact she was a nurse before the outbreak, but she asks him to do it. Later, as he’s pouring her a bowl of fish stew, he asks if he can call her Laura, because she looks like a Laura.
John makes her a partition around the bed and takes the couch so she can sleep. He’s unable to sleep that night, as well, and Laura finds him out on the porch cleaning his guns. By daybreak, John’s clearing out two more walkers who found their way to his home from the river. He tells Laura he wants to go upstream to see where all these walkers are coming from, but, because it’s Tuesday, he also needs to go to the store. That’s part of his routine, too: Every Tuesday he goes to a store that used to be owned by a guy named Bill, but no one came back to it after the roads were shut down.
Laura wants to go with him. John offers her boots to wade through the terrain (and the snakes that linger nearby), but she declines the offer. She wants to be able to run. Rowing along the river, she asks John about his story. He reveals he used to be a police officer, a profession he liked “for a time,” but he also performed trick shooting and lassoing part-time for Wild Wild West shows for fun.
They reach the source of the problem: A car fell over the side of a bridge and crashed into the water, leaving an opening in the railing where walkers have been falling in. They first head to the store for supplies. That’s where Laura grabs her bag John will later recognize when Alicia, Luciana, and Victor are unearthing their hidden supplies. She also rearranges some of the store shelves so that supplies to make splints are close by the medicine; she mentions people might not think to look for stuff like that in the heat of the moment. (Recap continues on the next page.)
Before they leave, John goes over to the movie rental part of the store. He’s been taking out one movie every Tuesday, even signing his name on the clipboard. Some of the ones he’s seen include Labyrinth, which he found “unsettling”; Green Mile, which he found to be “too long”; and Friday the 13th, which he found to “too violent.” This week, he picks out Meet John Doe — perhaps a play on his own name, John Dorie.
Outside, they look up and see large metal sheets above the gas pumps, which they take back to the bridge to seal up the gap. Later that night, Laura wakes up and finds John having movie night with some popcorn on the couch. She joins him as his latest rental is playing. She smiles, a sign she’s letting her guard down, as he offers to make butterscotch-caramel brittle out of his candies. Laura tells John that night as he dozes in and out of sleep that she lost her child. This seemed like an obvious assumption when she first met Madison and she said she didn’t have a daughter.
The next day, Laura asks John to teach her how to fish. Time passes and we see them maintaining a home together — helping with chores, playing Scrabble together, and watching movies. It makes it that much more difficult for John when Laura says she’ll be healed enough to move on within the next few days. This grief is stoked when they return to the bridge after the walkers had broke through again. Laura had hot wired a car, a skill she says she learned from a woman at a colony she once stayed with. He also sees she had grabbed one of his pistols without his permission. He quickly grabs it back and reminds her that he doesn’t want to use them, even as they are clearing out the dead on the bridge. They’re attacked again by a walker as they’re parking a car in front of the gap. This one has a blade protruding from its chest and is able to break through the driver’s side window to lunge at John. Despite her calls, John still refuses to fire his weapon and furiously stabs the walker with Laura’s knife.
He tells her later that while he was a policeman, he accidentally killed a robber. A man had been holding up a gas station clerk and John tried to knick his leg with a bullet. The man turned and the bullet caused him to bleed out. John then moved up to his cabin because he couldn’t deal with other people calling him a hero.
Their night is about to get a whole lot worse when we cut to see a herd of walkers piling their bodies against the car on the bridge and falling into the water. John wakes in the night to see them all coming up from the shore. He shouts for Laura and starts hacking away at them. Most fall into the ditches, but so many pile on top of each other that it allows for other walkers to walk unimpeded along their backs. Soon they become overwhelmed and Laura falls into a ditch herself. The dead are reaching for her when John whips out both his guns.
Laura thanks him later for saving her life and calls him a hero, even if he doesn’t believe he deserves it. John gives her one of his pistols, saying she’ll need it to protect herself if she decides to leave. He tries to keep his distance but ends up professing his love for her. “If you’re alive, this whole world feels alive,” he says. They share a kiss and a bed together, marking the night John is finally able to sleep through the night. But when he wakes up, she’s not there. She finally accepted the boots he gave her and left behind her old sneakers. On the kitchen table, spelled out in Scrabble letters, are the words, “I love you too. I’m sorry.”
This is the story John has been telling Morgan in the present. He clutches a small tin that carries those Scrabble pieces and Morgan reminds him that Laura/Naomi still loves him. He refuses to let John believe Laura is dead and that Alicia must have been wrong. So they set out with a reignited hope and determination to find her.