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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Symbolism runs as rampant as the undead on Fear The Walking Dead

Illustration for article titled Symbolism runs as rampant as the undead on Fear The Walking Dead

Last week on Emerson Pond—I mean, Fear The Walking Dead—the Angelenos went ashore for the first time since setting out on Strand’s yacht. Maddie led her family to the home of the Gearys, a family of self-described self-reliant folks who, despite their background, were not long for this world. Ain’t it always the way? Your best-laid plans to poison your family are laid to waste by some strangers your wife hailed to rescue your youngest children, and you end up on the walker buffet.

There’s no doubt that the ranger station offered an appealing new base for Madison et. al., but it was never intended to be a permanent (whatever that means in the post-zombie apocalypse world) new home. Although we’ll certainly see the Abigail’s passengers/crew drop anchor again, it was just too early in (and at odds with) this shipbound season for our survivors to end up (figuratively) at Hershel’s farm. Besides, “We All Fall Down” served as a solid, standalone adventure, suggesting how well episodic storytelling could work in the series—I for one wouldn’t be opposed to a “Love Boat meets The Walking Dead” concept.

That’s not the crossover we get in “Ouroboros,” although I do think Nick is developing a thing for Ofelia, and he does don a captain’s uniform shirt at one point. No, it’s finally time to learn what happened to the passengers of Flight 462, the web-and-companion-series to the companion series that is FTWD. It turned out to be a surprisingly effective supplement to FTWD, and even acted as a condensed version of it: There’s the cagey person who knows more than they let on (Alex); patient zero (Marcus); and a bunch of clueless people who are just going to end up walker chow (everybody else, including Jake).

The imperiled flight was spotted in the sky by Nick last season, not long after the neighborhood went to quarantine hell in a military hand basket. It ultimately crashed somewhere off the California coast, leaving a severely-wounded Jake in Alex’s care on a life boat that has three…two…one…zero other people on it. Alex’s keeping her promise to keep Jake safe until she can reunite him with his parents, as much of a fool’s errand as that might be. She’s already shown that she’ll dispatch anyone she considers a threat, which raises questions of how well she’ll gel with the Abigail crew. She’s reminiscent of a latter-day (though not present-day) Rick Grimes, who was capable of hanging on to some humanity while also making the tough decisions. Think “Three Questions” Rick.

Indeed, it’s hard not to look for these analogs among the three properties, even though the inconsistent or weak characterization can render that search futile. Alicia and Chris take turns being the Carl, while Maddie and Travis alternate being the leader who seems reluctant or resentful in that position. (No one on this show is ever going to be the Michonne, but that’s true of most characters on most TV shows.) Strand remains a dapper cipher, so I suppose he could turn into a tyrant—and no, I don’t consider him one at the moment, as callous as it might seem of him to ignore the pleas of the other survivors they’ve encountered. He’s being practical.

That quality is rubbing off on both Travis and Madison more than they care to admit early in “Ouroboros,” which sees another trip to land, as well as another temporary setback. The boat has stalled because zombie bits are clogging up the intakes, and Travis gets to work on repairing/clearing out the system. He isn’t working fast enough for Strand, who makes another mysterious call about his impending arrival. To pass the time and stock up on supplies, Daniel takes the teens to the shore to pick through the suitcases Alicia spied and find more antibiotics for Ofelia.


Free of their parents’ watchful eyes, the teens make every boneheaded move you’d expect of them—even Daniel doesn’t seem to be thinking straight. I suppose it’s only fitting that an untested crew’s first supply run would be disastrous, but it’s still disappointing/irritating to see Chris sulk off to reach an epiphany via bludgeoning a guy to death (mercy killings are becoming a family tradition). The scene between Nick and Alicia, in which he describes his addiction as a “hunger,” similarly clubs the audience over its head with symbolism, which only gets more heavy-handed as the episode progresses. Nick hits rock bottom, i.e., quick sand, and has to fight off multiple walkers with the pocket knife he so fortuitously just found in one of the suitcases.

Daniel has no luck finding the medicine or a missing Chris, but he does find Alex, who comes running over the horizon with dozens of walkers in her wake. He starts firing at the walkers, taking care to go for the head shot. Now, he might have been waiting on the kids to return, but they had all strayed from the area where the suitcases were, so standing his ground away from their meeting spot just seems like a dumb move. They’re somehow miraculously reunited long enough for Nick to save Alicia while covered in walker blood, which has conveniently allowed him to walk among them, and also driven the show’s questionable simile or whatever like a stake through so much rotting flesh.


Other, more nimble storytellers have used the zombie narrative to criticize capitalism and consumerism. But it remains unclear what FTWD hopes to achieve with this walker/addict comparison. Yes, Strand previously suggested that Nick’s time on the streets prepared him for this world, because he had already forsaken many of the creature comforts in his quest to get high. There isn’t any luxury that he’s missing, other than drugs, and even that is questionable at this moment because he hasn’t been seen getting into Madison or Ofelia’s painkiller stash. But if he’s not looking to score, what is motivating Nick? Because he seems indifferent to everything else.

We can make a tenuous connection between Nick’s connection to the walkers, and Strand’s theory that other humans are their biggest threat, even in this soon-to-be walker-ridden world. As their trouble with the ship demonstrates, the intake system might have been clogged with walker parts, but that proves to be a much easier fix than rounding up the gang and heading back out to sea. It’s everyone else’s bad judgment that endangered lives on shore, while Nick’s “disguise” allows him to save his sister’s life. Once again, hell is other people, so maybe Nick’s refusal to reinsert himself into the land of the living is actually just self-preservation.


Considering what comes next, it might not be such a bad strategy, because that detachment prevents him from the decision to bar Alex and Jake, who’s hanging on in a life boat, from boarding the Abigail. Strand has finally made some headway with Madison, who finally seems to be on the same wavelength as Travis, and the three adults present a united front, much to Alicia’s dismay. They offer Alex and Jake supplies like water and towels, and a tow to another port. Alex is distraught and baffled, but tries to comfort Jake by telling him this is the worst of it, that each day will only get better from here on out. Of course, this is before Strand severs the rope that’s hitched their raft to the Abigail, setting them adrift once again. In this case, you could argue that the walkers would have finished them off in a more humane way.

Stray observations

  • Despite his moment with the flight survivor, I don’t think Chris is ready to sympathize with his father just yet.
  • I didn’t recognize the other guys in Alex and Jake’s raft at the episode’s opening, did you? At least, I know they didn’t have speaking parts on the webseries.
  • “We’re just going to each other alive.” Madison, obliquely reminding us of the episode’s title and premise.
  • Alicia redeems herself every so slightly when she says what everyone’s thinking by wondering why Strand’s plan B hadn’t come up before.
  • “I am not the help.” “Clearly.” Heh, score another one for Strand.
  • That rosary isn’t going to be anywhere near as helpful as that amoxicillin would have been.