So, in last week’s episode, the curtain was pulled back, and the man responsible for shooting down the helicopter and killing Travis was revealed. The man’s name is Qaletaqa Walker (Michael Greyeyes), and at first blush, especially with the horrific way in which he tortured and killed Broke Jaw Ranch co-founder Phil McCarthy, seems like the series’ next villain. But, is he? If you believe what he said to Troy (Daniel Sharman) about “justice being served” and “the land you’re living on is to be returned,” it really makes you wonder what really went down between Walker’s people and the Otto’s and if perhaps Walker may be justified in his actions.
This is explored in the first half of tonight’s episode after the search party finally make their way back to the ranch and everyone learns who is responsible for the helicopter attack and the slaughtering of their friends. The episode opens with Jeremiah (Dayton Callie) teaching his new “surrogate” son, Nick (Frank Dillane) how to shoot a gun. Given that Jeremiah’s two sons are still alive, I find it interesting — perhaps even mind-boggling — how close Nick and old man Otto have become. I get Nick being drawn to a father figure given he never really got to know his own father before his suicide, but you would think Jeremiah might want to work on the relationships with his biological sons, especially Troy. Regardless, as they are doing some target-practice, the search party can be seen in the distance, and everyone runs toward the gate. Even though Troy can be very immature at times, ironically he’s the only one in the group who keeps a cool head and asks to speak with his father in private. He doesn’t want to throw the entire ranch into a panic by revealing everyone at the outpost is dead, but his efforts end up being futile. That idiot Mike Trimbol (Justin Deeley) — the same pussy who hurled at the sight of Phil’s brains last week and who literally had to be carried back — can’t keep his big mouth shut and spills the beans in front of everyone.
They’re Indians. They slaughtered them all. They’re dead. They’re all dead. And, we’re all doing to die too if we don’t leave — Mike
Needless to say, this doesn’t go over very well with the folks at the ranch. Of course, everyone is scared, but it’s Jeremiah Otto’s reaction that really will make you pause. As you may recall from last week’s episode, Jake (Sam Underwood) was an attorney prior to the apocalypse, and as Jake explains, Walker was a tribal lawyer and tried to sue them multiple times for “stealing their land.” Jeremiah then goes on a rant and attacks Walker saying, “He’s weak. That chicken-shit atrocity he pulled with Phil!” Madison (Kim Dickens) is also present for this meltdown, and that’s when things start to get, well, interesting. They say that a man’s true colors don’t really come out until he’s faced with adversity. While Jeremiah may have been a rock thus far, how he handles the current situation speaks volumes of his character.
Stole? Is this his land? — Madison
Every acre you tread is owned and was owned before. Bought, leased, or stolen in between — Jeremiah
And, what about the ranch? — Madison
It was sold to my fore bearers. And, what in the hell does it matter now? — Jeremiah
It matters if he doesn’t stop. It matters if your people think they’re on the wrong side — Madison
This is my business to manage. Don’t mistake yourself or your place — Jeremiah
Damn, Jeremiah. As Jake points out, Madison is just trying to help, and to do that, she needs to understand the situation. Well, it doesn’t matter because Jeremiah continues on with his little rampage.
You haven’t seen the Black Hat reservation? It’s a truck-stop. A motel, markets, rock and asphalt. Liquor and oxy. Drunken, diabetic, welfare cheats. I feel your liberal judgement. It’s palpable. But, that’s not racism — Jeremiah
Is it? — Madison
No, it’s truth — Jeremiah
Say what you want, but the man I saw yesterday was a threat. He had command — Madison
You got a little crush? — Jeremiah
Later, we learn from Jake that while he didn’t know McCarthy personally, he could say that “he wasn’t a good man.” Hmmmm….It’s becoming increasingly clear that at the very least, Troy and his father are racists, and we all saw how Troy and his men were popping off Mexicans in the season premiere just for kicks. Could it be that similar horrors were done to Walker’s men, and Walker’s simply trying to protect his land and his people? I have a feeling we’ll be finding out soon, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
One thing is for sure, Jeremiah Otto is definitely not equipped to handle the unrest brewing at the ranch as a result of the attacks by Walker and the Indians. People are obviously scared and are wanting to leave, and instead of leading and coming up with a plan, Jeremiah drowns himself at the bottom of a bottle. So, the burden comes down on Troy and Madison’s shoulders instead. Executive Producer Gale Ann Hurd said in a recent interview that after Travis’ death, it is now clear that Madison would ultimately evolve into the Rick Grimes of the show. She made that statement a couple of weeks ago, and at the time, I actually laughed out loud. I saw very few leadership qualities in Madison, she felt weak to me, and with all due respect, Daniel Salazar seemed like a better fit. However, after tonight’s episode, I am very glad to report that I’m now warming up to the idea.
It all begins with Troy who continues to struggle with how to continue leading the militia, when people are freaking out and now wanting to leave. While Madison can offer guidance and her words of wisdom from having been on the outside since the beginning, the militiamen need a leader, and this is something Madison can’t do. Neither can Jake. And, well, Jeremiah just isn’t going to do it. Madison knows this, and so, she realizes how important it is for the ranch’s survival that Troy pulls himself together and be that authority figure these men need. So, she encourages him, supports him, and offers to help him whenever he needs it. While some may say Troy is unhinged and label him as a lost cause, others may point out that perhaps all he needs is a little attention and encouragement — things that he never really had while growing up. It works because Troy ends up giving one of the most memorable speeches in the episode, and it becomes clear that these men respect him and are ready to follow his command.
From now on, we set an an example. We become a model of what this place needs. Order, discipline, chain of command. We have to make those people out there feel safe. Or they’ll leave — all of them. We have to defend this ranch with our lives, or they will be slaughtered. All of them. This place, this place is all we have. And, right now, it is teetering. And, the only thing that can save it is us. Now, I’m not going to draw a line on the floor. I’m not asking if you’re with me. You ARE with me, all of you. Do you understand? — Troy
However, the defining event that would ultimately thrust Madison into a true leadership position ironically is another series of events committed by the very impulsive and very angry Troy. As would be expected, Troy isn’t handling the adversity at the ranch very well. Even though Jeremiah had given them permission, Troy causes a big scene when Vernon Trimbol and his family tries to leave the ranch. The big issue he has (or so it seems) is that the Trimbol’s have their RV loaded up with food and supplies from the ranch, including a full tank of gas. He picks a fight with Jake, who has very different ideas on how to handle the volatile situation. It actually takes Jeremiah stepping in and punching Troy to get the fight to stop.
As it turns out, Troy’s issue with the Trimbol’s really has very little to do with food, supplies or gasoline. We finally learn tonight that Troy and Mike Trimbol go way back, all the way back when they both were young boys. Mike remained in school even after Troy was pulled out, but Mike never gave up on him and remained his friend. So, when Mike decides to abandon the ranch and leave with his family, Troy views it as a betrayal by one of his closest friends. To make matters worse, as the Trimbol’s are pulling out of the gate in the RV and Troy is desperately trying to get Mike’s attention, Mike won’t as much as look at Troy. It’s not even a day later until one of the horses the Trimbol’s took with them somehow makes its way back to the ranch. Jeremiah immediately knows something is wrong.
Go get your mother — Jeremiah
Why, what’s wrong? — Nick
Just go get your mother! — Jeremiah
It seems Jeremiah has pretty good instincts, because it doesn’t take him, Nick and Madison long to find the Trimbol’s RV. It’s clear they had been ambushed, with multiple bullet holes visible in the windshield. You can hear walkers inside the RV, and Jeremiah goes inside to find Vernon and his wife, Kathy, and puts them down offscreen. When he comes back outside, the group heads to the back of the RV and discovers a horrific scene. Mike had been shot in the head, and another one of the Trimbol horses is being munched on by several walkers. One by one, the walkers are taken out by Jeremiah, Madison and Nick — until they see the last one remaining. The lone walker in the back is none other than sweet Gretchen Trimbol (Rae Gray). Madison raises her gun, but it becomes clear that she can’t do it. So, Nick ends up putting zombified Gretchen down, as Madison watches, still stunned at what has just happened.
Now, for the big question — who massacred the Trimbol’s? Of course, it’s easy to point the finger at Walker, but as Nick quickly points out, this isn’t Walker’s style. Walker took the helicopter. When the search party encountered Walker at the outpost, he took their supplies, vehicles, and even their boots. Yet, at this scene, all of the food and supplies in the RV were left behind, and even the 2 horses weren’t taken. No, this definitely wasn’t Walker. It’s Troy all the way, and Jeremiah, Nick, and Madison know it.
By now, I think most people would have given up on Troy, and if it had been Rick Grimes, he may have even killed the punk kid. But, not Madison. Somehow, she is still able to see the militiamen’s leader in him, and what’s more (and perhaps, most importantly), she sees an opportunity to use the tragedy of the Trimbol family murders to solidify herself into a leadership position and also, unify the remaining people at the ranch. So, they load up the bodies of the Trimbol family, return to the ranch, and pull back the sheets for everyone to see. People are shocked. They are horrified. And, that’s when Madison steps forward and makes her move.
I’m sorry. They were good people, and they didn’t deserve this end. My family, we weren’t prepared like you. We were strangers, but you took us in. We’ve come to love it here. I wish, I wish my husband had lived to see it. But, he was killed. Travis was killed. Same people, Walker’s people, have now killed our friends. Vernon, Kathy, Mike, Gretchen. I’ve seen firsthand how Walker treats his victims. I saw it at the outpost, and I just now saw it again. You built this place together. Because of that, you’ve been safe and sheltered. You haven’t been out in the world, we have. I’m telling you, there’s nothing out there. If you leave, you’ll die. Walker’s people aren’t strong enough to force us off this land. They want to scare us, that’s how they want us to go. A family or 2 at a time. Out there alone so nobody can see. Where a militia can’t protect us. We cannot let ourselves be fractured. We’re better-armed. If we stay together, we live — Madison
Of course, it’s a lie, but sometimes a lie is OK if it’s for the greater good. And, it takes a good leader — like Madison Clark — to be able to make that distinction. What’s more and most importantly, Madison’s little lie works. After her speech, everyone who was planning on leaving the ranch returns their supplies to the pantry, and they’re a unified group once again.
While a unified Broke Jaw Ranch is definitely a good thing, one very bad thing does come out of this episode. Jake makes the very foolish decision to leave and find Walker, to try and reason with him. Seriously, dude? This guy slaughtered your people, and so, I think we’re way past talking and negotiating. Alicia tries to stop him, of course, and calls it a suicide mission, but Jake has already made up his mind and leaves anyways. However, that’s before Madison, Nick and Jeremiah return with the bodies of the entire Trimbol family, and Madison makes the very public announcement that this is also Walker’s handywork. It may have been nice to clue in the rest of the Clark family that what Madison said in that great speech was total bullshit and that Troy was the Trimbol family butcher. But, that doesn’t happen and so, in the final moments of the episode, Alicia also leaves the ranch, no doubt to find Jake and warn him about what Walker allegedly did to the Trimbol’s.
All in all, “Red Dirt” is a well-written, perfectly-timed episode that propels Madison Clark into a leadership position that she’s been destined for since Travis’ untimely death in the season opener. She may not have a background in law enforcement and of course, she’s not a man, but she does have a few very important leadership qualities that not even Rick Grimes has. She has a sound mind, and doesn’t go off the deep end, talking on broken phones to ghosts, after Travis’ death. She’s got self-control. It would have been so easy to lash out at Walker once she learned he was the one responsible for Travis’ death, but she doesn’t. She sees the big picture and realizes there’s more at stake than some petty revenge. Many have said that Fear is now better than The Walking Dead, and if this string of superb episodes continues for the remainder of the season, I’ll be inclined to agree with that assessment. Regardless of whether that turns out to be true, I think the leader of the TWD, whom we have adored for the past 7+ years, could stand to learn a thing or two from Ms. Madison Clark. Sorry, Andy!
Oh, one final thing — what about Ofelia? That seems to be the question on everyone’s mind. Unfortunately, Ofelia is still MIA in tonight’s episode, but if you have a keen eye (or if you read my review of last week’s episode), you probably have a pretty good idea of where she is. “All Out War” may be coming to The Walking Dead in season 8, but another war is brewing on Fear The Walking Dead — and from the looks of things, not all of our heroes will be on the same side.
The 2-hour season 3 mid-season finale of Fear The Walking Dead airs next Sunday at 9/8c on AMC.
Critic Grade — A
Geeky computer and math nerd by day and TV fanatic by night. My beats are The Walking Dead, The Strain, Person of Interest, Z Nation, and anything that most people would call freaky. Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer of TVGeekTalk.com