As everyone recalls, the mid-season finale left virtually all of our beloved characters in some pretty dire straits. Daniel (Ruben Blades) is presumed dead after he torches Celia’s House of Horrors. Poor Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) can only look on in horror, but ultimately decides to leave with Strand (Colman Domingo), Madison (Kim Dickens) and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey). And, with Chris (Lorenzo Henrie) completely unhinged and posing a potential threat to the group, Travis (Cliff Curtis) makes the difficult decision to leave his new family behind in order to protect the only person left in his old family, which is Chris. But, the real wild card is Nick (Frank Dillane) who decides to foresake the entire group and walk among the dead.
With our group of survivors now scattered, the writers now had a difficult decision to make. Have each episode “check-in” with each individual group, or have each episode focus on just one. In the end, the writing team settled on the latter (which, in my opinion, is a much better choice, since character check-in’s can make an episode feel very disjointed). So, with 3 groups to choose from, which do you think is highlighted in our mid-season premiere?
As it turns out, our group of 1, Nick, is whom ultimately receives that honor. Literally, the entire hour is centered around Nick, with virtually no mention of the other survivors. But, as we quickly realize, this ends up being a good thing as Frank Dillane hits it out of the park with his performance. The episode begins just a couple of days after the horrific events at the Abigail Ranch, where we learn that Nick has been staying with a Hispanic woman and her young son. The woman is moving on in search of the boy’s father, but she does leave Nick with some food and water as well as info on where Nick wants to go. Nick is in search of a place where the dead aren’t viewed as “monsters,” and the woman recommends for him to go to Tijuana. It’s well over a 100 miles away, but with the provisions she left Nick, he should be able to make it.
Of course, as you may have guessed, with scavengers and marauders everywhere, it doesn’t turn out to be that easy. Nick eventually sets up camp in what he thinks is an abandoned house, but in these desperate times, just because a house appears vacant, doesn’t mean it hasn’t already been claimed by someone else. A shadowy figure sporting a baseball bat (oh, yes, the Negan references never seem to end!) finally shows up while Nick is sleeping, and to avoid being bludgeoned to death by a hysterical Spanish-speaking woman, he has to leave his backpack, food and water behind. So, let’s summarize. Nick’s on a 100-mile road-trip (uh, on foot, BTW!), in the middle of the desert, and has no food and no water. Needless to say, things get pretty desperate, pretty fast. A man can survive a fairly long time without much food, but after only 3 days without water, your body starts to shutdown. Just what will a man do when he’s about to die of thirst? Well, Nick shows us, and I must warn you, it is **disgusting**.
First, there’s the cactus plants. Cacti are desert plants but hold a great deal of water, and so, it makes sense that Nick would try to make a meal out of one of them. But, apparently they aren’t very tasty because one bite sends Nick hurling. Ironically, Nick does manage to down a full handful of his own piss in the next scene without as much as flinching. Piss vs. cacti. Piss vs. cacti. No matter how bad it is, I definitely think I would have found the gumption to keep the cactus down because drinking your own pee? That’s just ewwwwww.
As if it couldn’t possibly get worse, Nick also has marauders to contend with — the lowest of the lowest who are ready to take advantage of the bad situation for their own gain. Nick fortunately is able to evade those guys only to run into a pack of wild dogs, which leaves him with a nasty bite on his leg. No food, no water, and trapped on top of a car surrounded by ravenous dogs. FUBAR times 10. But, then, in the distance, Nick sees a small herd of walkers approaching. Most people would have freaked at the sight, but our Nick is “special,” and the dead are his friends. And, they do literally save his life. They kill the dogs, which provide Nick with much-needed food, and they serve as camouflage as he makes his way further down the highway toward Tijuana.
As an added bonus, the walker herd also helps Nick get revenge on those asshole scavengers he encountered earlier on the highway. The same guys show up again, but this time, Nick is hidden inside the herd, and so, they don’t see him — at least not initially. They begin shooting at the herd, picking off the walkers one by one (how Nick manages to remain calm and “in character” as a walker with bullets flying everywhere I’ll never know!). But, then, one of the marauders makes eye contact with Nick and has the shocking realization that there’s a man walking along with the dead. This causes the guy to completely lose his composure, drop his bullets, and he’s swarmed by the herd before he has the chance to reload his gun. Karma’s a bitch, now is it, asshole!
On the upside and in the midst of Nick’s delirium, we do manage to get a fantastic series of flashbacks of before Nick and his girlfriend, Gloria (guest-star Lexi Johnson), hit rock bottom at that church in the Pilot. We’ve never been told much about Gloria, but in this episode, we learn who she is and how she met Nick. What we learn is that Gloria crossed paths with Nick while in court-mandated rehab, and from what we can see, she appears to be a good influence on him. Compared to Nick, she seems to be on the road to getting her life back together, and offers some very wise words about not alienating yourself from family (which is exactly what Nick wants to do).
Speaking of family, we also learn more about Nick’s home-life, specifically his father. While we can’t be sure, we are led to believe that perhaps Nick’s relationship (or lack thereof) with his father may be one of the reasons he started using drugs.
You used to be there, but then, you stopped. But, I don’t know why you did that. Fathers are supposed to show sons how to be a man in the world, but I guess the world is too much for you — Nick on his father
To make matters worse, while Nick is locked up, his father is killed in a car crash, and so, he never got to say good-bye. You can’t help but feel sorry for the guy when Madison comes to break the news, and it certainly explains some of the animosity we’ve seen between Nick and his mother since the beginning of the series.
The good news is while it may seem that all is lost, Nick does have a stroke of luck towards the end of the episode. This is when new cast member, Danay Garcia, is finally introduced. Her character’s name is Luciana, and she is running with 2 other survivors who appear to be part of a larger community. They observe Nick walking among the herd on the highway, but at the same time, they see that he’s very weak and close to death. Luciana’s comrades want to help Nick, but she says it’s too risky. They don’t help either, leave Nick for dead, and had it not been for a sudden rainstorm, Nick would have died of thirst.
However, that’s not the last we see of these survivors. With new-found strength, Nick finally makes his way to Tijuana, and it is there that their paths cross again. Like so many times before, it seems that Nick has a guardian angel watching over him because they find him just in time. That dog bite had gotten really infected, and fortunately, their group has a doctor who is able to treat his wounds — and welcomes Nick to their community. We don’t know the good Doctor’s (guest-star Paul Calderson) name yet, but as he swings the main gate open for Nick, I can’t help but think back to the Governor’s words to Andrea and Michonne in season 3 of The Walking Dead — “You’re not prisoners, you’re guests. Welcome to Woodbury.” On the surface, the gated community appears peaceful and offers a glimpse of what the world once was. Is this group the real deal, or is it just another Woodbury with the Doctor yet another version of the Governor? Only time will tell.
All in all, a decent kick-off to the back half of season 2, with the focus on the character that has quickly become a fan-favorite — our walker-loving Nick. While I like the idea of putting the spotlight on only one of our splintered group of survivors, I think it was just a tad bit slow for a mid-season premiere. Thanks to the bar that has been set by The Walking Dead, for both premieres and finales, fans have come to expect big things to happen that will be discussed for weeks on end. Quite frankly, that just didn’t happen in this episode, and in some ways, it fell flat, as if the air had been let out of a big balloon.
On the upside, I am intrigued by the episode’s ending and am very curious about this new gated community of survivors. Because Nick traveled there because he was told the dead weren’t viewed as “monsters,” we can already expect a group with beliefs similar to those of Celia back at the Abigail estate. But, because the Doc told Nick that “death is something that shouldn’t be pursued,” (I.E. — suicide isn’t the answer, unlike what Celia preached) my hope is they won’t be as extreme, and this will turn out to be a place that Nick (and hopefully some of the others later on) can settle in… well, at least for a while.
Fear The Walking Dead airs on Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.
Critic Grade — B
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
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