Whenever there’s a conflict in a television series, most of the time it’s pretty clear who the good guys and who the bad guys are. Case in point, Negan from The Walking Dead. While the backstory of the brutal leader of the Saviors hasn’t been revealed (yet), we know Rick Grimes is a good man because we’ve followed his story since the very first episode. So, even if you don’t necessarily agree with Rick’s slaughtering dozens of Negan’s men with only limited information, I think most of us agree that Negan and the Saviors are the villains going into the next season with “All Out War.” However, with the pending war between the folks at Broke Jaw Ranch and the Qaletaqa Walker nation, it’s not as cut and dry. We know Madison (Kim Dickens) and the Clark’s are good people, but from what we’ve seen of the Otto’s, we can’t be sure. On the other hand, Walker (Michael Greyeyes) made a terrible first impression on Madison (and on the viewers!) by causing Travis’ death and with that horrific crow brain-munching scene in “Burning In Water, Drowning In Flame.” The writers certainly set up Walker and the Indians at Black Hat Reservation as the potential villains, but the fact is up until tonight’s mid-season ender, we really didn’t have enough information to make that determination. Who is Qaletaqa Walker? How does he treat other people besides the Otto’s? And, why does he hate the Otto’s, particularly Jeremiah (Dayton Callie), as well as the other founding fathers, Russ Brown, Vernon Trimbol, and Phil McCarthy, so much?
All of these questions are answered in tonight’s mid-season finale. In a way, the episodes are very much like a character study of Jeremiah Otto in comparison to Qaletaqa Walker. Now, some of you when you read “character study” may immediately think “boring,” but that couldn’t be further from the truth here. The onion is slowly peeled back from each of these 2 men but it’s done in such a brilliant way with a perfect balance of action sequences, battles and yes, plenty of walkers that you won’t even notice it’s very much a character development finale. The episode begins with Jake (Sam Underwood) making his way to the Black Hat Reservation and then, Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) finally catching up with him. We are then led immediately into the scene from the promo at the gas station on the reservation. You can hear a bunch of yelling, and then, Walker emerges wearing a bloody apron and holding a sword. He then drops his apron and a bloody head of a pig falls to the ground (how many of you actually thought he was torturing and killing a human?). They go into the diner, and Jake immediately puts on his lawyer hat and tries to negotiate with Walker, but that only seems to piss Walker off.
My father will never abandon the ranch — Jake
Then, we’ll feed him to the crows like Phil McCarthy. Then, Russell Brown, then Vernon Trimbol — Walker
The camera pans to Alicia, and the look on her face is priceless. If Walker killed the Trimbols, why would he say something like that? After all, it’s not like Walker would deny it if his group were responsible for the murders. This is the first sign of Alicia starting to have doubts. Alicia is then stunned once again when she looks up at the cook/waitress at the Black Hat Diner, and it’s none other than Ofelia (Mercedes Mason). Oh snap! While Jake and Walker are working on a potential parley to prevent further bloodshed, the girls have a chance to “catch up,” and it’s definitely not a pleasant reunion. Alicia, of course, is pissed that Ofelia ran off and almost got her eaten. In fact, Ofelia’s actions nearly got everyone killed when the hotel was overrun. However, one good thing does come out of the conversation — Alicia is given yet even more doubt that Walker is the monster everyone at the ranch is claiming him to be. Alicia tells Ofelia that the man she’s following killed an entire family a couple of nights ago, and Ofelia quickly shoots that down by informing Alicia that Walker didn’t go on a “mission” that day and that he was with her (so, does that mean Ofelia and Walker are a couple now? Maybe, maybe not. More on that later).
Jake and Walker finally come to a potential peace agreement, which he is to deliver to his father back at the ranch. Also, as is Indian custom, each side is to keep a “hostage” until the parley is finalized, and so, Alicia volunteers to stay at Black Hat, while Ofelia returns to the ranch with Jake. How Walker treats Alicia compared to Jeremiah’s treatment of Ofelia is quite telling, and it provides the first example of the sharp differences in the character of these 2 men. Jeremiah locks up Ofelia and then, threatens her so that she won’t tell anyone about what happened in the desert. Now, Jeremiah, if you didn’t do anything to be ashamed of, what try to hide it? In contrast, Walker tries to befriend Alicia, even though technically, she is the enemy. He doesn’t lock her up like a prisoner, gives her a tour of the reservation, and when he shows her their new “air force,” which includes the Otto helicopter they shot down, he appears truly apologetic to hear that Alicia lost a family member because of what he did.
We call ourselves Pony Warriors, even though we drive jeeps, trucks. Soon we’ll have our own air force. Jose and Marta are 2 of the best mechanics out of the Iraq War — Walker
Walker also shows Alicia his collection of relics that he has stored in a separate trailer. Some of the items are fake and were used only as a sideshow for tourists before the apocalypse. But, some of them are real Indian artifacts that Walker managed to retrieve off of sacred lands before they were overrun by the white men. One of them is a box of his great-grandfather’s bones from the cave he was buried in, to save them “from the Otto’s and their fortune-hunters.” These are some of my favorite scenes of the episode, as they show Walker treating Alicia with kindness and respect, and what’s more, he seems legitimately interested in what she has to say and what she thinks.
Back at the ranch, Jake has returned to the ranch with Ofelia, and things aren’t going well at all. Madison and Nick (Frank Dillane) are just as pissed at Ofelia. The key condition of the parley is for the ranch to give Walker’s people their entire reserves of bottled water, and Jeremiah says that’s not going to happen, under any circumstances. And, to top it off, Madison is furious that Alicia was left behind, even though Jake makes clear that Alicia volunteered to do so. After last week’s episode, I have come to respect Madison and have accepted her as the show’s Rick Grimes. However, what she decides to do next turns out to be incredibly stupid and ends up costing dozens of people their lives.
Even though Jake stressed that Alicia stayed behind of her own free will and she would be fine, Madison can’t let it go. Jeremiah won’t do anything either, and so, she uses her secret about Troy murdering the Trimbols to manipulate him into forming a rescue team. This also includes Nick since by now, he decides to step and “do his part” by joining the militia. They ambush the reservation in the middle of the night, and while they’re successful in extracting Alicia, everything else about the mission is a complete disaster. One big epic fail. Several more of Walker’s men are killed, and any hope of peace with the parley goes out the window. Also, and perhaps more importantly, you can bet there’s going to be retaliation for the attack, and that is where Ofelia comes in.
Towards the end of the first hour of the finale, a bike drives up to the ranch and dumps someone at the main gate. It’s Ofelia, and she’s badly beaten. She is taken to Jeremiah and claims that Walker beat her because he thought she gave the Otto’s information about the reservation. Um, okay. If that sounds a little fishy to you, you would be right, but Jeremiah believes he now has a tactical advantage by having Ofelia at the ranch and so, decides to allow her to stay. That will turn out to be a critical mistake.
OFELIA SALAZAR’S LOYALTIES MADE CLEAR
In order to understand what Ofelia decides to do next and why, you have to realize she is the only character that has really seen the true colors of both Jeremiah and Walker. Think about that. Madison knows Walker only for the barbarism he showed in the murder of Phil McCarthy, and while Alicia may be coming around to the idea that the Otto’s aren’t who they seem to be, both are still far from agreeing with Ofelia that Walker and the Indians at Black Hat are “good people.” So, to help the audience better understand Ofelia’s point of view, we are treated to a wonderful series of flashbacks that depict what happened to Ofelia in the desert at the end of season 2. We know that Ofelia encountered Jeremiah, but what we don’t know is how horribly Jeremiah treated her. Ofelia begs him to give her a ride because she’s out of water, but he says he can’t because he has to get back to the ranch and “her kind” wouldn’t fit in very well there. In other words, “the brown kind.” Ofelia spits on Jeremiah, but he only laughs while driving off, leaving her to die. We don’t know how much time passed, but Ofelia finally collapses and is about to die of thirst when an Indian shows up on horseback. That Indian is Walker. He takes her back to Black Hat, bathes her, and gives her food and a bed to sleep in. Walker basically saves her life after Jeremiah pretty much throws her out with the trash. Needless to say, Ofelia will stand by Walker and the Nation, even if it means being at odds with Madison, Alicia and Nick.
As it turns out, that includes Ofelia serving as a human trojan horse to deliver a crippling attack on the ranch’s militiamen. In the final moment’s of the first episode, the militia starts dropping like flies while being out on night watch, and it appears they had been poisoned. Nick sees Ofelia sneaking out of the camp and begins running towards her but doesn’t get very far after collapsing from the effects of the poison as well. As I had mentioned before, I thought Madison ambushing the reservation to “rescue” Alicia (even though she didn’t want to be rescued in the first place!) was incredibly stupid and equally impulsive. However, what she does in response to the attack on the militia is very smart, likely saves no telling how many lives, and thoroughly impresses Qaletaqa Walker.
After beating Ofelia senseless when she tries to leave the ranch, Madison knows it’s critical she finds out what poison Walker used because Nick is dying, and Ofelia claims she doesn’t know. Madison believes her. So, using Ofelia as leverage, Madison hauls ass back to Black Hat and demands that Walker tell her what’s killing her son, otherwise Ofelia is going to die.
I don’t give a shit. I don’t care what you think about Otto or his son. I don’t give a damn about the feud or what you think about me — Madison
Do you care whether you live? — Walker
Ah, I’m happy to die. And, take you with me. Unless you tell me what’s killing my son — Madison
Anthrax. Cultivated from animal hides. There’s no cure. This woman is more of a man than Jake Otto or any of his relatives. She’s free to leave — Walker
In the episode “Burning In Water, Drowning In Flame,” Jeremiah taunted Madison and asked “You got a crush?” when Madison spoke highly of Walker and said he had command. Well, now I think the reverse may be true, and Walker has a little crush himself (and, yes, if you must know, I officially ship Madison and Walker!). He definitely respects her, and he also appears sympathetic, as he tells Madison if Nick is strong, he’ll live. That gives her the hope she had been looking for.
THE SEASON’S VILLAIN FINALLY REVEALED
The real turning point of the episode comes when Nick finally makes a recovery and leaves the make-shift hospital. “The blood is in the earth. It’s in the earth.” This is what Jeremiah said to Nick in the adobe house during his drunken rampage and right after he fired off 3 shots into the floor in last week’s episode. At the time, I found what Jeremiah said to be odd, and as it turns out, Nick did too. So, acting on a hunch, Nick is able to unearth the truth (literally), and that’s when the curtain is pulled back and the show’s true villain is finally revealed (which I never really doubted since day one). Buried underneath the adobe house Nick finds a skull with a bullet hole, and so, he goes to Jeremiah and confronts him with it.
As it turns out, after the Indians supposedly sold the land to the Otto’s, there was talk that the Native Americans had been swindled, which resulted in fights and attacks on Jeremiah’s livestock. So, one day Jeremiah, Phil, Vernon and Russ decided to end it and killed Walker’s uncle and some other Native Americans.
So, is this Walker’s uncle? — Nick
No, that son of a bitch is Walker’s father, who came back to see what happened to his brother. A single shot did the trick — Jeremiah
When we were fixing up the adobe and I was listening to your bullshit, I just thought you were some wizened AA cowboy — Nick
Did I hurt your feelings, son? I’m truly sorry — Jeremiah
You just making sure those bodies stay buried, huh? — Nick
They better stay buried. You’re a guest here, son. Get right with the past, or get off my land — Jeremiah
It’s their land — Nick
The land belongs to whoever can hold it. The Indians couldn’t. Gave it up for beer money. I held it, I hold it, so it’s mine — Jeremiah
Well, the Indians are coming. And, Walker is coming for you. So, I guess we’ll see who can hold the land then — Nick
Wow, you tell him, Nick! Bottom line — Jeremiah Otto, and the other founding fathers of the ranch, have been the villains all along, and all Walker has been trying to do is protect his people and get justice for the murders of the members of his family. If these white supremacist assholes had done all of that to your family, would you have reacted any differently? Even if you wouldn’t and even if you don’t agree with what Walker has done, I think all of us can certainly understand it.
So, Nick takes the skull to show to his mother and Alicia, and that’s when it all hits the fan. Alicia is just horrified that they are defending these people, and that’s when she yells “We’re on the wrong side” which we saw in the promo. To make matters worse, Nick spills the beans about Troy killing the Trimbols, and that infuriates Alicia even more. In the eyes of her own children, Madison looks like the bad guy, and that’s when we learn her backstory and what had happened with her father. Madison explains it with a story about a little girl from Montgomery, Alabama. The little girl’s mother was beautiful, and her father was a local councilmen. Everyone loved him, but he was a bad man and he was a drunk. He beat her mother constantly, and so, one day, the little girl woke up, ate her cereal, and then, took her father’s gun and shot him while he slept off the night before. Obviously, the story is about Madison, and she did it to protect her mother — and, she’d do again to protect her children. Wow. Wow. Wow!!!
What Madison doesn’t reveal to her children is that a peace agreement has already been made with Walker, and now, she has to go “talk to an old man and convince him to set aside his pride.” Madison, Troy and another group of his militia had ambushed Black Hat again, but this time stealing Walker’s trailer of relics to use as leverage for peace. However, as it turns out, the relics really don’t mean much to Walker after all, and Madison had claimed she couldn’t come to an agreement with Walker. She lied.
Madison did make an agreement with Walker, and the agreement was for her to kill Jeremiah Otto. Holy shit. However, she’s not going to kill him, and instead, tells Jeremiah that he’s going to do it himself. Uh, you care to take a guess how that goes over? Yeah, that well. Then, Nick walks in.
There he is. Still clinging to his mother’s teet. You know what your Mom came here to do tonight? The reason why I like her so much, the reason she’s tougher than you’ll ever be is because she is exactly like… — Jeremiah
Then, BOOM. Nick shoots Jeremiah in the head, and with Madison’s quick thinking, she stages it to look like a suicide. Then, in the final moments of the episode, Madison delivers a backpack to Walker, and when he opens it? Well, we don’t really see, but I think we can all guess it’s Jeremiah’s head. That had been the agreement all along, and Madison just made good on her end.
All in all, a fantastic mid-season finale, and the only real complaint I have is the insertion of the Strand (Colman Domingo) arc. Why, oh why, someone thought it would be a good idea to check in with Victor Strand is beyond me. These two episodes were about the Otto’s, Qaletaqa Walker and the Indians, and how Madison rose to the occasion as the group’s leader to prevent a bloody war. While I did like that we learned what happened to the Abigail and Strand can finally move on from that, the entire thing just interrupted the flow of the entire story and felt “forced.” Bottom line — those scenes should have been saved for the mid-season premiere.
Regardless, “The Unveiling” and “Children Of Wrath” are two superbly-written episodes and are perfect examples of why Fear The Walking Dead has now in my opinion surpassed the mothership in terms of writing, characters, storytelling — everything. Let’s summarize. A mind-blowing season opener that made a brass balls move of killing off its lead. The return of the most developed character in the series, Daniel Salazar. The telling of Daniel’s story in a brilliant bottle episode that was actually done right and wasn’t boring. And, the introduction of the politically-charged Indian storyline, an arc that has never been done on The Walking Dead (for those who claim that Fear just copies stories from the main series). And, what makes this mid-season finale even better is that is leaves the back half of the season wide open. Virtually anything could happen, which hopefully will lay the groundwork for plenty of discussion and speculation for the dreaded hiatus.
Fear The Walking Dead returns for the second half of season 3 on September 10th.
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