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Fear the Walking Dead Recap: “Not Fade Away”

OK, FTWD, you've got our attention...

Kim Dickens as Madison - Fear The Walking Dead _ Season 1, Episode 4 - Photo Credit: Justina Mintz/AMC

Catch up on previous episodes of Fear the Walking Dead!

Disclaimer: If you haven’t watched through episode 4, “Not Fade Away”, read on at your own risk. Spoilers ahead!

If you’ve read any of my other recaps for Fear the Walking Dead, you’ll know that I have not been particularly impressed with the show so far. However, despite my lack of enthusiasm for the show, I held out with a blind, naive hope that surely next week’s episode would get better. Well, I’m happy to say that, after a few weeks of cringing and holding out feeble hope, the show has finally snagged my attention. And, interestingly enough, they managed to do it in an episode with zero walkers.

Go figure, right?

This week’s episode jumped forward a few days, after the soldiers we met at the end of last week’s episode fully enclosed the neighborhood and cleared the immediate surrounding area of walkers. As we got the hint in last week’s episode, Travis is completely oblivious to the situation around him. He doesn’t want his kid to learn how to use a gun, he’s taking the trash to the curb like a good citizen, he’s getting his morning jog in, and he’s being super friendly and compliant with the super-sketchy soldiers—even calling them sir and acting as the community liason between the soldiers and the civilians. Travis is certain that now that the military has rolled in, things will only get better.

Oh, Travis. You sweet summer child.

Really though, Travis’ optimistic outlook on the future isn’t anything new. In every episode, he’s been blissfully naive and completely unwilling to journey into survival mode, despite all he’s seen. So the fact that he’s smiling and falling in line with his new, martial law-style life is not a huge surprise to me. Mercifully, it seems like we’ve seen the end of Optimistic Travis.

The unraveling begins when one of Travis’ neighbors, Doug, is pinged by the soldiers for his unwillingness to comply with the health check-ins. At the urging of the soldiers, Travis gives Doug a pep talk and encourages him to get the health check up and be strong for his family until life returns to normal. Though Doug does get checked out, the pep talk doesn’t exactly take, and Doug eventually takes his sports car and bugs out of the neighborhood, leaving his family behind. When Travis brings up Doug’s disappearance with the soldiers and asks them to send a party looking for him, the head soldier shrugs it off as one less mouth to feed and one less potential threat to worry about.

Understandably, this doesn’t sit well with Travis, but in true Travis fashion, he trusts the soldiers and moves on.

Elsewhere, Travis’ son, Chris, has spotted a light out beyond the neighborhood fence. It looks like someone trying to signal for help to anyone willing to listen. Of course, when Chris brings it up with Travis, he shrugs it off. Chris eventually shows it to Madison, who urges Travis to bring it up with the soldiers. She’s starting to doubt that the soldiers are good, she’s doubting that they’re telling everyone the whole story, and she doubts that they are even trying to find survivors outside. Naturally, Travis immediately tries to squash Madison’s “paranoid” talk about the soldiers.

Not finding any help from Travis (who ultimately mentions it to the soldiers, but immediately lets it go when asked by his new soldier bestie), Madison tries sending out light signals to the house, and gets a response. So Madison decides to take matters into her own hands. She grabs a pair of bolt cutters, cuts a hole in the fence—you know, the only thing protecting them from the hellish nightmare outside the confines of that fence—and runs out into the DZ armed with … absolutely nothing.

Stupid weapons choices aside, Madison sees a huge amount of carnage out in the streets. There are bodies everywhere, all bearing gunshot wounds to the head. As she’s out, she sees the military patrolling the streets in a manner that doesn’t suggest they’re looking for survivors—it appears that they’re looking to kill.

Understandably, this bothers Madison. I’m not sure if she’s more upset by the large swaths of death around her, if she’s worried that the military is killing people who simply didn’t make the cut to live in the fenced-in neighborhood, or if she’s worried that whatever is infecting people is crazy serious—or a little bit of all of it. Regardless, she’s a mess when she returns home. She starts drinking, and when she learns that Nick has only been pretending to be clean while he actually siphons morphine from his sick neighbor, she goes a little nuts on him and hits him several times.

I’ll be honest: I’ve not really felt a huge amount of attachment to Madison before this. Her motives don’t make sense to me, and she’s really not had a chance to show us who she is as a character, only that she’s confused and frightened by the events around her. I didn’t have strong feelings about her one way or the other, but watching her go bananas and smack her son around really made me not like her.

I feel like we were supposed to feel empathetic towards Madison in that moment. After all, Nick’s addiction is a crazy liability—not to mention the normal-times health risks he’s under from his drug use—and his inability to get clean as the world literally ends has been frustrating to watch. However, I really have a hard time empathizing with a character who smacks their kids around, addicts or otherwise. Nick was very clearly and understandably freaked out and broken by the encounter, so we’ll have to see how that situation plays out between the two of them. Still, it really made me not like a character that I feel like I’m supposed to like, which was a peculiar choice for the show runners.

Though the entire episode was unsettling—the military made you nervous; the doctor made you nervous; the rumors of “quarantine camps” made you unsettled; the details of life outside the fence made you curious—it was the final bit of the show that actually left me feeling excited for next week’s episode. As expected, Nick’s addiction finally comes back to bite him. After an entire episode hearing about ill people being taken to a “medical facility” for treatment (insert skeptical face here) and Daniel’s ominous speech to Madison about taking care of his daughter should he not return from the “hospital” at which his wife will be treated, a group of soldiers comes in the night to take Daniel’s wife away for treatment—and they come for Nick, too.

Understandably, everyone freaks out trying to protect Nick. Travis tries to calm the situation, Daniel tries to go with his wife, everyone tries to get the soldiers to let Nick stay, but it’s to no avail. As Nick and Daniel’s wife are being taken away, Travis’ ex, Liza, tries to convince the neighborhood’s doctor to leave Nick alone. Though she has no medical training, Liza’s been acting as the neighborhood nurse, a role she’s maintained with the blessing of the doctor.

Though Liza tries to use this new relationship to convince the doctor that Nick isn’t a threat, the doctor instead insists she accompany them to help the hospital’s patients survive. Begrudgingly, Liza leaves the stunned Daniel, Travis, Madison, Alicia, and Ofelia behind to head to the hospital. Furious, Madison tells Travis that Liza is to blame for Nick’s arrest—I mean, hospitalization—and Travis heads to the roof for some introspection.

As he’s up on the roof, he sees the house that had been sending out light signals all episode. Once again, he sees light coming from the house, only this time it’s accompanied with the sounds of gunshots, as whatever survivors had been hiding out in the house are killed—most likely by the soldiers guarding Travis’ neighborhood.

Like I said, we didn’t see a single walker this episode, but we finally got a bit of a break from the jumpy pacing and the incomprehensible character motivations. Sure, there were still stupid choices made, and Travis was insufferably still in pre-infection mode, but the action and plot picked up to a level that I could actually buy.

We didn’t have to watch the military do the slow work of setting up a base in the neighborhood, and by fencing the characters in, we didn’t have to sit through another hour of them awkwardly closing the curtains to play Monopoly as neighbors were eaten while they fumbled through ill thought-out survival plans. Plus, with the added stakes of a sketchy “medical facility,” we’re getting to see the part of the slow-burn towards the end of society that I was actually interested in. General confusion, stupidity, and odd news reports? No thanks. But how society, government, and the military react to such a fast-moving, deadly epidemic? The moral questions faced when trying to save humanity from a threat greater than anything encountered before? Yes, please! It’s what we’ve been waiting for!

Even better, it seems that watching the soldiers shrug off Doug’s disappearance, take Nick away, and (allegedly) shoot the survivors beyond the fence has shaken Travis awake. I think—I hope—that he’s finally ready to stand up and fight to survive. We’ve seen from Alexandria on The Walking Dead that it’s possible to close yourselves in successfully and ride out the infection in relative comfort for quite a long time, so it’s a possibility that they could stay in the neighborhood for a while. However, we’ve also seen with Woodbury on The Walking Dead that those cloistered cities aren’t always the best and are often times led by corrupt individuals—which seems to be the situation in FTWD. I think Travis is finally, finally ready to start truly grasping what’s happening around him as well as look critically at his military “saviors.”

Sure, I’m not particularly invested in any characters just yet, but in all fairness, it took me a while to latch on to characters in The Walking Dead. If Fear the Walking Dead can continue on the path it started walking at the end of this week’s episode, I think the show can start to really live up to some of its potential. The Walking Dead isn’t so much about zombies; it’s more about characters, the dissolution of society, and the moral questions raised in a world gone to hell.

For the first few episodes of Fear the Walking Dead, it really felt like that was severely lacking from the show, and instead, it was filled with moronic characters who made stupid choices and lacked even the most basic survival skills and instincts. Be that as it may, this week’s episode got me excited and made it seem like Fear the Walking Dead was finally starting to jump into that character-driven story, the moral questions, and the evolution of society and humanity in the face of unimaginable odds. I’m hopeful that they can continue on the path they began in this week’s episode.

I’d just like to actually see a walker or two next episode…

What did you think of this week’s episode? Were you as pleasantly surprised as I was with the ending, or are you still dubious about the show? Let me know what you’re thinking about the show in the comments! 

Kendall is an editor and a writer. She has a geek and pop culture blog, she is a seasoned Netflix binger, a hoarder of candles, still an unabashed Hanson fan, and she takes ballet twice a week to stave off some of her clumsiness. You can find her on TwitterTumblrFacebookPinterestInstagram, and Google+ (yes, she is actually on Google+).

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Kendall is a geek, gamer, bookworm, Netflix binger, and an awkward ballerina who still has a secret dream of becoming an ass-kicking superhero in the movies. If it has a zombie in it, she's probably interested.