People don’t believe me when I say this, but Fear the Walking Dead has surpassed its more-viewed counterpart recently, producing a consistently interesting and exciting show while The Walking Dead has stalled in many ways.
That was on full display last night, as I can confidentially say that “This Land is Your Land,” the 13th episode of season 3, was the best Fear the Walking Dead has been to this point.
Why? Because Fear the Walking Dead remembers that fundamentally, it’s a show about zombie horror. This is opposed to The Walking Dead which has instead morphed into a post-apocalyptic blockbuster where factions of humans go to war against each other. Zombies are mostly just an arena hazard there. Literal set decoration, in many instances, as they line the wall of Negan’s fortress on pikes. (Spoilers follow).
Not so with Fear the Walking Dead where the zombies are still front and center as the main threat. Last week, idiot psychopath Troy guided an enormous herd of zombies to overrun the ranch. Putting aside their recent differences, the white and Native American residents hacked their way through what zombies they could and found shelter in an impenetrable doomsday bunker where most of the camp’s supplies are kept.
It was the best case scenario for escape, except for one thing. There was no air circulating in the bunker. Something was blocking the vents.
What followed was a brilliantly scripted but absolutely horrifying series of events that we see mostly through the eyes of Alicia, a teenage girl who has been through her fair share of mayhem, but nothing like this.
First, to save air for those who might survive, Alicia calls on anyone who has been bitten to reveal themselves. They’re dead anyway, infected by the incurable virus, so the thought is that if they stop breathing, everyone else can hold out a little longer.
After some hesitation, a number of volunteers come forward and it’s Alicia who is tasked with injecting each with morphine to put them under, then knifing them in the base of their skull to kill them and ensure they don’t return as the living dead, the brutality necessary because there’s no ammo to spare for a “cleaner” execution by gunshot.
While Rick Grimes may have been able to pull off this task no problem, Alicia is understandably shaken, nearly passing out from a panic attack after she kills the first person, but then later the camera pans back to show she’s had to kill at least a dozen more.
If this wasn’t harrowing enough, just when she thinks she’s done, the air starts to run out anyway. She jolts awake to fight off one dead bunker resident who has already turned, but passes out again. As she does so, we see other newly dead slowly rise up to start roaming.
Ophelia eventually gets the air to kick back on, but not before nearly the entire population of the bunker has died and become zombified. Alicia shoots, hacks and slashes through the people she was just trying to save moments earlier, and though she’s eventually rescued by a returning Madison, is horribly scarred by the experience, even more so when she emerges from the bunker to find out that Jake, her new boyfriend, is also dead, killed last episode after being bitten.
The entire sequence with Alicia in the bunker is one of the best pieces of zombie fiction I’ve seen in years. The entire thing reads like a chapter in World War Z (my favorite zombie novel), a totally insane, but mostly believable scenario given the situation at hand. To me, this is what separates Fear the Walking Dead from The Walking Dead at this point. Fear the Walking Dead is about regular people barely scraping through a horrifying zombie apocalypse. The Walking Dead is now about teams of superheroes going to war with one another.
Was the episode flawless? No. I can’t think of a reasonable explanation why only Alicia, Ophelia and Crazy Dog were the only people to survive in the bunker while everyone else died. Ophelia and Crazy Dog were closes to the air rushing back maybe, but Alicia? Especially given how much she had been exerting herself, I’m not understanding why she was magically spared as everyone else succumbed to death by carbon dioxide.
And the episode ends with another round of “maybe it’s better if we all split up.” Fear the Walking Dead (and The Walking Dead) are always finding excuses to split its cast up, which is almost never a good idea, and certainly isn’t in this case when it’s being done voluntarily. But Alicia wants to go all lone wolf after the bunker, Troy and Nick will follow her while Madison and Strand go back to Daniel with Ophelia. And lord only knows how long all of them will be split up this time. I can maybe buy Alicia not wanting to go back to another group immediately after being forced to murder her entire last group almost singlehandedly, but that doesn’t make it less of an annoying plot point going forward.
Still, this was a truly incredibly episode, and I’m serious when I say you should not be sleeping on Fear the Walking Dead, even if you’re tired of The Walking Dead proper. They may share a universe, but they’re two totally different worlds at this point.
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Featured Image: AMC
Inset Image: Forbes