Rick put it simply in the second episode of The Walking Dead: As he told handcuffed racist Merle, “Things are different now…[There’s] only dark meat and white meat. There’s us and the dead. We survive this by pulling together, not apart.”
The situation was squashed then and there, but Madison’s predicament in Fear the Walking Dead is on a larger scale. The spin-off series is back for the back end of its politically charged season 3, and the people at Broke Jaw Ranch aren’t the redneck Merles of the world. They’re blue-collar Americans — and they’re angry. Sound familiar?
We’re now in the aftermath of the peace accord Madison struck with Walker in delivering the head of Jeremiah Otto and welcoming the people of Black Hat Reservation onto the land, but the wounds are still fresh. As Jake tries to keep his brother Troy from acting out against Walker, the thick scar caked with blood across his forehead is still visible from when he was almost scalped. The emotional wounds are likewise still present, and the people aren’t ready to squash this grudge.
Jake is all about maintaining peace, giving Walker a key that, when combined with the one around Jake’s neck, offers access to the ranch’s arsenal. “We can survive together,” he says, a line reminiscent of Rick’s declaration. But Madison continues to invisibly guide the situation — she has Alicia close to Jake, who’s still ill from his exposure to the anthrax attack, and she has Nick working in the militia to keep an eye on Troy. Alicia fears her mother’s back-channel talks with Walker threaten to unravel this fragile peace.
Walker and Jake attempt to lead their people together, but everyone who wasn’t involved with the closed-door dealings of this merger is spewing racist jokes instead of directing their rage where it really needs to go: toward the dead of the world.
But the first hour of the midseason premiere, titled “Minotaur” — perhaps a nod to the invisible forces at play in restructuring the political hierarchy of the ranch — seems more interested in setting up events to come than diving too deeply into this lingering animosity. We see Terrence, torn up by Gretchen’s death, still unaware that it was Troy who actually killed her; the old woman who refuses to be patted down by a Native American; and the soldiers who make lewd remarks to Walker’s man, Crazy Dog. Walker, too, is hiding a secret from his people: Alicia finds him reburying his grandfather’s remains and learns his people wouldn’t think kindly of this desecration.
What all this growing tension brings about is a violent repercussion and events that could have been avoided.
Troy manipulates Terrence into taking a gun and shooting at Walker’s men in public view. He hits one of them, though Terrence is easily subdued and dies later from injuries sustained. This prompts Walker to demand Jake give up the second key and give him full control over all the weapons, even sweeping the encampment for any stray guns. (In this episode, “the government will take your guns” isn’t just a conspiracy theory.)
Yes, Madison slightly pushes Jake to comply, but he gives up control too easily; he barely offers a rebuttal. So by the time Madison, Nick, and Walker’s men come to Troy’s doorstep to retrieve his firearms, the Ranch is ready to explode, and Troy is the one to light the fuse. Madison should have known someone as unstable as Troy, who slaughtered his own friends for choosing to look out for their own instead of siding with him, wouldn’t sit idly by. Though a small part of me thinks this was all part of a grander plan to remove Troy from the equation — because that’s what happens.
Troy fights back and Nick sticks with him to try to quell the situation, leading to a shootout when Walker’s men deem it better to shoot first and negotiate later. Nick has been dealing with the repercussions of being the one to kill Jeremiah, as shown through a brief interaction with Ofelia, and he decides to tell Troy the truth in order to save his life. Troy wanted to go out in a blaze of glory to fight for what he thought his father wanted for the ranch, but he shuts down upon realizing his father was willing to let everyone die over his own pride and that someone he considered an ally was the one to take his father’s life.
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Walker and Madison come to the conclusion that Troy will be exiled and Nick will be imprisoned in a hot box, since Walker convinces himself for some reason that Nick was taking Troy’s side — something that still doesn’t fully make sense to me, since he was all about talking Troy down.
Madison helps escort Troy off the ranch per his request, giving them some alone time to hash things out. In a cringeworthy move reflective of his sadistic tendencies, he steals the knife off Walker’s representative, Claw, by plunging his injured hand on top of the blade and then stabbing him with it. Troy calls Madison the “white witch” and “a goddamn Pandora” for what she’s done. He attacks her, but she’s able to force herself free and reclaim her gun. Though he ultimately walks quietly away with nothing by a pack of limited supplies and a gun with a single bullet, he reminds Madison that he doesn’t surrender. And now we have another deranged lunatic loose on the world. I don’t think this is the last we’ve seen of him.
While all this is going on, Daniel Salazar is helping Lola become a leader at the dam. With Dante dead, she can now freely deliver water to the people, and Daniel accompanies her in the hopes of finding Ofelia among the gathering crowds. Despite their good intentions, this too unleashes the anger of the people, some of whom see Lola as selfishly hoarding the water supply. On their second drop-off, a group throws stones at Lola, forcing them to flee as the crowd turns into a mob and attacks the truck.
We know the ranch and the dam are bound to collide when Madison discovers maps in Jeremiah’s locked desk drawer. By his estimates, they have just six weeks or so before their community runs out of water — and who has the largest supply?
Suffering from dehydration in the hot box, Nick hallucinates Troy, who makes his own Willy Wonka-style entrance to taunt his old buddy for killing his father. As he tries convincing himself he did it to save the ranch, Madison is informing Walker of the water shortage. They form a plan to travel to a trading post two days away, leaving guns with only a few deputies to maintain order and keeping the seriousness of their situation under wraps at the risk of unraveling their peace. Madison does inform Alicia, however. She gives her daughter a walkie talkie and tells her to escape with her brother should things go south while she’s away.
Upon Nick’s release, Alicia helps her brother get updated on their latest predicament but finds Jake swarmed by members of the ranch in his room. She’s able to smooth things out, so when she’s on the walkie with her mom later that night, she tells them to search longer for water and that she’ll walkie them should a crisis arise. By this point, you should already be thinking a crisis will arise and Madison will be too far away to do anything about it, but it’s not as serious as that…yet.
Sitting around a campfire, Walker warns Madison about how she’s raising her children. He tells her a story about how he tried to save his dog from being killed by a larger dog, only to have his loyal pet bite him for the first time ever in the chaos. It’s a story about the consequences of not letting one’s offspring deal with their own problems, and although Madison brushes it off with a snide remark, maybe she needs to hear it. Whether intentional or not, she’s been moving back and forth between Nick and Alicia depending on which one of them hates her at the moment, and it has led to the situation that arose at the ranch in her absence.
Nick and Alicia are not on the same page. The militia, which was snuffed out when Walker’s people came to the ranch, is reforming, and they want Nick to be the new Troy — even giving him the only gun that hasn’t been claimed by Walker. Though he later tells Alicia that this is all about trying to keep one hand on the wheel so the group doesn’t steer toward another war, Nick is ready to fight back if necessary. His sister, meanwhile, is trying to work with the Black Hatters in a more diplomatic way.
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Madison and Walker arrive at the trading post, called The Bizarre, a “safe market in unsafe times.” It’s a former bullfighting stadium turned into a marketplace and outdoor casino of sorts, filled with armed and armored soldiers and shady sellers looking to hawk their back-alley products for a price. Men and women are chained to the surrounding fence, forced to kill walkers until they either die themselves or live long enough to pay off their gambling debts. Madison and Walker meet someone able to acquire large amounts of water, but she first has to trade her walkie talkie to gain entrance. Already this episode is on better footing, as the loss of the walkie makes this story more about pitting brother against sister, neighbor against neighbor, with each event forcing Alicia and Nick to make difficult decisions without their mother’s interference.
Alicia approaches Ofelia and Crazy Dog about rumors that their people are taking double the amount of water. It could easily be true. Judging by Crazy Dog’s response to these claims, his people are still angry with the Ottos and their people. It’s also plausible that the militia is trying to spread a false rumor to rally more bodies to its cause. Either way, Alicia seems to be the only one with a level head and reasonable solutions to these grievances. Ofelia could be, too, but she’s also heard rumors about the militia rebuilding, so she’s not as eager to compromise.
After Nick’s meeting with the militia, telling them to hold off until Walker’s people try to take something else, Alicia confronts him in their home about the gun. She’s figured out that Nick killed Jeremiah and their mom covered it up, and after she gets over her jealousy at being excluded from the plan, she’s relieved because “what a burden it is being mom’s favorite.” The conversation brings up a poignant question: Who, exactly, is Nick doing all this for? His mom or the people? At the same time, despite her resentment, Alicia sheds a tear in private as she’s failing to contact Madison. As she says, she doesn’t want to have to be the strong one anymore.
At The Bizarre, Madison and Walker meet their liaison and are ready to strike a deal, but Madison spots Victor, who’s in a brawl at a gambling table. Seeing Madison rush to Victor’s side, the trader mentions Proctor John, who seemingly runs The Bizarre, and squashes their deal out of fear that Madison and Walker are somehow involved with Victor’s debts. The reunited trio flee from the loan sharks and learn Victor is trapped in The Bizarre. He made a bad bet and now owes a lot of money to the Proctor — and the Proctor doesn’t allow anyone with debts to leave the premises.
Back at the ranch, tensions erupt when Alicia sees one of her own people taking more water than allowed. She incites a brawl when she takes it away, and in an attempt to stop it, she makes the decision to tell the people that they have six weeks of water before they run out. Instead of heeding her words about how they’ll all die if they don’t cooperate, the crowd is overcome with fear, and it becomes a free-for-all. Crazy Dog, Ofelia, and Claw fire a gun into the air, reminding the people they control the firepower and claiming the well to ensure a fair distribution. Nick stops them. Facing down Crazy Dog, he pulls out his pistol and holds his ground as a little girl and Blake, one of the militia men, come to his side. It’s become, once again, an us-versus-them mentality.
The next morning, Walker, having repaired the water deal, meets the trader to exchange goods but finds that Madison has already taken their offering and used it to pay Victor’s debts. Facing Walker’s fury, she tells him that Victor will take them to a dam, since she heard him mention it earlier. Whether or not it will offer a permanent solution, as Madison hopes, this means a longer wait until they return to the ranch.
Nick leads the militia, equipped with knives and bows, to Ofelia’s base, where her people are waiting with lots of guns. It seems to be an inevitable bloodbath until Nick spots Alicia in the middle of the crossfire. She’s helping a group of Black Hatters dig a hole in search of more water, perhaps the water table Blake mentions. Seeing how she’s trying to save everyone instead of killing them, Nick relinquishes his gun and joins her. The camera cuts to an aerial shot as both sides put down their weapons and join the dig.
Head here for Alycia Debnam-Carey’s thoughts on the midseason premiere.