Lennie James spins off to join 'Fear the Walking Dead.'
It was October of 2017 and Walking Dead fans had gathered at Madison Square Garden for the season 8 New York Comic Con panel with some of the cast — not on the larger basketball arena that they were used to, but in a smaller, cramped theater in the back of the venue. The attendees overtook the conversation many times.
Melissa McBride smiled and waited for the cheers to finally die down in this cramped space so she could talk about Carol’s journey ahead, but even she was interrupted by one or two stray fans who cosplayed Negan and screamed, “We love you!” Andrew Lincoln made a point to promise now was finally the time to bring the old Rick back, and Lennie James then tried to explain his character’s conflict over harming one of the Saviors. “Just do it!” another fan shouted, a symptom of the labored narrative we had watch play out on screen the previous season.
In some ways, The Walking Dead doesn’t feel like it belongs to the creators anymore. It belongs to the fans, and the producers of the series don’t want to disappoint them — often times to a fault. Lincoln made proclamations about how the season 8 finale will be “phenomenal” and executive producer Scott Gimple told TV Line, “I pray to God [the fans] are satisfied.”
This is where we find Fear the Walking Dead in an interesting position. It’s a spin-off that has become better and better with each season, while the quality and ratings of The Walking Dead continues to falter. It doesn’t have to worry as much about fan expectations because it’s traversing new territory previously unseen in this world. It still belongs to the creators. Lead characters can actually be killed off if the story calls for it — the actors are great, but they don’t have the rabid legions backing, say, Norman Reedus that would blow up the internet. In a lot of ways, it’s a spin-off that has surpassed the series that spawned it.
So when Morgan walks away from The Walking Dead and enters the world of Fear the Walking Dead, the major bummer is the reminder that there are still some loose ends to tie up in the series proper.
We first meet John Dorie, a cowboy played by Garret Dillahunt. He’s been living in silence for the past year because he hasn’t had anyone to talk too and he actually started enjoying the idea of talking to himself. But as he’s sitting by a campfire eating the only food he has, baked beans, he breaks his silence when he hears a branch snap in the woods. Maybe it’s someone hiding from him, maybe it’s a walker, maybe it’s a traveler passing through. He feels compelled to speak out to the darkness, to someone who might not even be there. He did have a lover at one point, a woman who came across his path and lived with him for some time — until they got separated. He mentions later how they both carry identical white-handled pistols.
A walker finally shuffled out from the woods. John, an apt gunslinger, spins his weapon around and shoots it down. As the corpse falls, Morgan is standing behind it with his stick about to pierce the walker’s skull. The two men freeze. Morgan’s not sure if he can trust John, but John is excited about the prospect of company. “What’s your story?” he asks.
Here’s that story…
The forces of Alexandria, Hilltop, and the Kingdom defeated the Saviors, but Morgan still decided to live by himself at the junkyard, what used to be the home of Jadis and the Scavengers. He’s visited by Jesus, Carol, and Rick, who are all trying to save him, to bring him back home. “You can hide, but you can’t run,” Rick says. Challenge accepted! Morgan does run, but mostly walks from it all. He sets out across the country, actively avoiding any other people he spots along the way. The color quality becomes muted, closer to black and white, so it’s unclear if they’re trying to play with time here. It doesn’t seem so.
Morgan approaches a man found shivering to death in a car. Morgan leaves him some bandages and medicine, but the man screams for him to take his supplies back and leave. “We’re always alone,” he says — a mantra Morgan will adopt for himself. Time goes by and he makes his way to Texas. In the woods at night, he spies a walker hobbling towards a man rambling about his lost love, so he does the right thing and tries to kill it. When John takes care of it himself, the cowboy extends an invitation to join his campsite. Morgan insists he’s just passing through, but John convinces him to at least rest under the safe roof of his car for the night. He does, but leaves in the middle of the night.
Morgan stumbles upon a vacant tent with a light on. It doesn’t seem like anyone’s around, but someone sneaks up behind him and knocks him out. Morgan wakes on the ground as a group of men with guns are rifling through his backpack. The tent was one of their little “mousetraps” to snare unsuspecting travelers. Morgan assures them he doesn’t know anyone and doesn’t want to know anyone. He’s just passing through. A shot pierces through the night and knocks the gun out of the leader Leeland’s hand. John walks up from behind with a rifle and says he’s just looking out for his friend. Unknown to him is the other member of the group who comes up behind John, and now both the “karate man” and the “gunslinger” are trapped.
They find an unexpected savior when a massive armored SWAT truck pulls up. Al (Maggie Grace), short for Althea, had parked nearby and wanted to know what the gunshot was all about. Noticing the “new people,” she tries to bargain for their freedom by offering Leeland food and smokes. When he declines, she pulls a lever that opens a hatch to reveal two automatic guns ready to fire.
As they drive off into the night, Al seems nice, but she has an ulterior motive. She’s a journalist, and for saving their lives, she asks Morgan and John to sit down for an on-camera interview for a story she’s logging about the people surviving the outbreak. Morgan would’ve rather she rob them.
John talks about Laura, the love he’s trying to find. He doesn’t mention how they were separated exactly, just that it’s a sad story. Morgan needs a little more convincing to open up. He leaves behind some canned food, even though Al insists she doesn’t need them, and heads out again. John catches up to him before he leaves to offer a fresh pair of socks, “worth its weight in gold.” Morgan welcomes the help, but still wants to venture out alone, again mentioning the “we’re always alone” line.
He’s stopped, however, by Leeland’s crew. Al had mentioned these men have become desperate after scavenging the other nearby locations dry, so they followed their trail in the hopes of seizing Al’s truck — and also taking some revenge. Morgan and John manage to smack the guns out of their attackers’ hands, as the gunslinger fires at the man stationed on the roof. The sounds of the skirmish distract Leeland enough for Al to knock him back. She still isn’t able to get into the truck quick enough, but she does chuck the keys away so Leeland can’t get them. He desperately tries to find them, but he gets bitten by a snake. Adding to the raucous are the walkers John inadvertently let loose when he opened the door to a trailer to shield himself from bullets.
Morgan, meanwhile, leaps from rooftop to rooftop to take out another gunman. He gets hit in the leg in his pursuit, but as the gunman stops to reload, Morgan is able to get back up and knock away the firearm with his staff. Their ensuing match hits the man over the side, where he dangles above a herd of walkers reaching for his flesh. Morgan decides to pull him back up, but the guy goes for another assault that forces them to fall through the roof and into the house, where more walkers are waiting for them. As the dead chow down on this man, Morgan finds a grenade and throws it into the center of the room. He hides in the bathroom as the blast engulfs the home.
Al tries again to make it to the truck, now with the keys, but Leeland is ready for her. John, taking refuge from the dead atop a car with Morgan, fires at Leeland’s back, allowing Al to escape underneath the vehicle. The walkers round on Leeland and take him down as Al makes it to the lever and clears out all the dead.
Now bonded by this experience, the trio hit the road again. John notices a banner with the number 51 painted on it. Al explains she noticed them popping up around the area in the past few weeks, but doesn’t know what they’re about. Morgan is now willing to reveal parts of his own story. They stop on the side of the road and he reveals he came from Atlanta and Virginia. He mentions Alexandria, The Kingdom, Ezekiel, Shiva, and how they won the fight with Negan (“another big group”). He mentions he already “left” mentally before he left physically.
Before Al can ask too many questions, he flips the script and asks about why she’s going around documenting everyone and why any of this will matter in a world with no more television stations. She simply mentions that this isn’t about her, it’s about Morgan owning her. Still, the nomad is content to be a nomad and sets off with injured leg on his solo journey. Al does get one more answer out of him. “Why did you leave Virginia?” she asks. “I lose people, then I lose myself,” he says.
Willie Nelson might as well be playing in the background as Morgan “can’t wait to get on the road again.” He couldn’t have gotten far when he comes across a familiar looking car. It’s the car, now abandoned, that he found housing a shivering man. All the doors are open and the vehicle is completely vacant, but further down the road he spots a familiar-looking walker. He hobbles after it just in case it’s the man he saw, but the light smack of his staff against the cement triggers two walkers munching on a corpse to the side of the road. They come after him and, as Morgan falls to the ground, nearly overtake him. But John comes to the rescue. Al’s truck lingers in the background, waiting to welcome Morgan back, but first he must see the walker for himself. John helps him along the road and, it turns out, the walker is the same man who apparently died of being alone (but more seriously of hypothermia).
John is turning out to be better for Morgan than he realized. The two of them sitting in the back of Al’s truck as they hit the open road, and he mentions that Al is going to help find Laura, since they checked and his truck back in town won’t start. He’s hopeful that the two will reunite and he can’t even consider the contrary because it doesn’t do him “any good.” (Morgan, are you listening?)
Soon, they spot a body hobbling along in the middle of the street. They stop to investigate but, to Al’s dismay, both Morgan and John divulge they don’t kill if they don’t have to. Morgan says he doesn’t even kill anymore if he has to. On that note, they all stop the vehicle and investigate, finding a wild-haired Alicia dropping to the floor. She looks up and warns that there are bad people out there. It turns out that those bad people are Alicia and her cohorts hidden in the grass.
When she gets close enough, Alicia whips out a blade and presses it against Al’s throat. Nick, Victor, and Luciana emerge from the brush with guns pointed at their prey. “So what the hell is your story?” Al asks, which, as this pattern suggests, will be the subject of next week’s episode.