Fear the Walking Dead 1×04 ‘Not Fade Away’: The corrosion of safety

Fear the Walking Dead 1x04 Cover

“They do evil because of fear.” –Daniel Salazar

Good storytelling comes from creating stakes that matter. At the beginning of the series, there were relatively few zombies, and considering how we know zombies to be relatively slow and easy to kill, the tension surrounding them wasn’t very strong. Tension comes from the powerlessness inherent in a situation, from people being in danger either physically, mentally, or emotionally, to the point where the outcome appears realistically dire. So when, in “Not Fade Away”, we see the military taking over the neighborhood, the potential for injecting tension into the story skyrockets. And that potential is absolutely realized.

Mercedes Mason as Ofelia and Ruben Blades as Daniel Salazar - Fear The Walking Dead _ Season 1, Episode 4 - Photo Credit: Justina Mintz/AMC

Source: AMC

“Not Fade Away” is, by leaps and bounds, the best episode of the series to date. The tension in this episode is above and beyond anything the series has done so far, using the character development from the previous episode to put the main bulk of the plot into motion. The story jumps forward a couple days, to the point where the National Guard has put up a quarantine zone around Madison’s neighborhood, are screening people for infection, and is bringing in a doctor to “assess” those inside with injuries or medical issues. The tension here comes from the government’s stated intentions, our understanding of exactly how vicious we know the government is actually being, and the main characters slowly realizing what is actually happening. Little scenes that don’t inherently carry much tension, such as Ofelia making out with a soldier, carry loads of tension because we understand exactly the monsters these soldiers will become. Every scene carries a little of this tension, and it makes the episode, as a whole, unbelievably tense.

Fear the Walking Dead 1x04-2

Source: AMC

It also helps that the characters are operating in ways that make a little more sense. “The Dog” did a great job taking the characters and giving them enough characterization to understand the motivation behind their actions; “Not Fade Away” takes that understanding and uses it to inform their actions here. As the optimist on the show, Travis desperately tries to hold the neighborhood together. He talks one of his neighbors down from a panicked state, but sees his actions becoming hollow after his neighbor runs away from home and is picked up by the military. That optimism ultimately affects his judgment. He blows off Chris after looking at the footage on his camera, but checks out the house at the end of the episode after the military take Griselda and Nick away, only to see machine gun fire clear it out. The tension in Travis’s character comes from our knowledge that he needs to toughen up if he is going to save his family. He distances himself from them, going on jogs and helping out the community, all to keep himself from having to face the responsibility of taking care of them. And we know that the tension in his character will inevitably come to a breaking point.

Fear the Walking Dead 1x04-3

Source: AMC

Madison, on the other hand, is the one that we know will be the inevitable leader. She holds the best in the people around her, such as the empathy of Travis, which we see when she beats her son Nick for taking drugs again. She also holds the coldness of Daniel, which we see when she internalizes the brutal truths that he distills upon her. She even goes outside the walls of the quarantine zone in an attempt to learn more about the infection, and even though it almost results in her being gunned down by the military, it shows how she’s willing to take risks to find out vital information that will keep her and her family alive. She finds out that the military are gunning down those that aren’t sick, and that trusting them is a mistake that they’ll likely pay for with their lives. That lesson is even horrifically illustrated to her when Nick is torn away from her and taken with Griselda to the “clinic”, all because Liza told the doctor about his addiction. Madison is the one that understands the most right now, as she is the one that is willing to adapt to the world outside. She’ll be loving when she needs to be and brutal when she needs to be, and even though she’s still fairly powerless against the military, her ability to bend the rules and conform to new standards will help her survive the inevitable conflict between the neighborhood, the military, and the zombies.

I was fairly lukewarm towards Fear the Walking Dead, as the first half of the season never really emerged from the shadows of The Walking Dead, but if “Not Fade Away” is any indication, the show is becoming substantially better. The characters are becoming more interesting. The plot is becoming more complex. And the tension is jumping through the roof as characters are put through increasingly dangerous situations. If the last two episodes can capitalize on the stakes raised in this one, then we’re in for a real treat.

So what did you think of “Not Fade Away”? Do you think Nick and Griselda are going to make it? Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.