The action heats up and starts to boil up on “Not Fade Away”, despite the calm on the surface and a decided dearth of Walkers.

Fear The Walking Dead has been a slow burn, thus far, taking the time to develop characters and establish the tension that ultimately makes it so successful. While many have criticized Fear The Walking Dead for being a “family drama with zombies”, that’s exactly what the creators were going for. It provides a necessary emotional subtext to really feel the onset of Armageddon.

“Not Fade Away” finds our ensemble safely sequestered in a military safehouse. The “good guys” showed up at the end of “The Dog”, and it was a mixed blessing. While the survivors of The Walking Dead would likely welcome a team of military rescuers, in FTWD’s universe it merely raises the question: Who are the good guys?

What follows will discuss “Not Fade Away” in depth, and may contain spoilers.

“Not Fade Away” finds the ensemble quietly passing the time in their new safehaven, after being rescued by military forces at the end of “The Dog”. Information is scarce, being filtered through the officious Lt. Moyers (Jamie McShane). He’s sticking to the story that there’s nothing out there, that all survivors have been corralled and they are “the lucky ones”.

There is a certain lurking menace, an ineffable dread, underpinning every interaction of “Not Fade Away”. It’s like working in a landmine factory, or living next to a nuclear reactor. Things could detonate at any moment.

Things take a turn for the ominous with the arrival of Dr. Bethany Exner (The Returned’s Sandrine Holt). Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez), relieved for the help, updates Exner on people’s status. Exner begins making housecalls to catch up with the sick and wounded.

We feel a twinge, however, when we notice she is only visiting the aged, the infirm, and the mentally unwell.

Travis’ son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie), being a typically unproductive teenager, watches the horizon, spying a signal in the distance, which goes against the party line that they are the only survivor. He tells Travis (Cliff Curtis), who appears not to believe him, but Madsion (Kim Dickens) takes him to heart. She breaks the perimeter by cutting the chainlink and investigating what is left of L.A. What she finds is greatly disturbing.

Bodies. Lots of bodies. Seemingly uninfected bodies.

kim dicken Fear The Walking Dead reviewThis is in line with the warnings from Daniel Salazar (Ruben Blades), who has direct and firsthand experience of what governments are capable of, which he relates in “Not Fade Away”’s most gripping scene.

Daniel tells Madison of his life as a little boy in Central America. His Father told him not to worry when they were being taken by the military, that they’d all be home soon. And they were.

“I was standing in the river fishing, just a boy, and I found them, All of them. All at once. All around me. In the water. My father told me not to have hatred in my heart. He said that men do these things not because of evil, they do evil because of fear. And at that moment I realized my father is a fool for believing there’s a difference.”

And his parting words, “Be prepared. When it happens, it will happen quickly.”

Turns out to be sickeningly prescient.

In an instant, in the middle of the night, the government swoops in, removing the elderly, the sick, and infirm. Daniel had been told that he would accompany his wife Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spindola), only to be met with rifle butts when the time comes.

Madison’s son Nick (Frank Dillane) was also taken, as Liza told Dr. Exeter that he was a junkie. Earlier in the episode, Lt. Moyers disappeared a neighbor who was cracking up, potentially endangering the rest of the survivors.

A pattern is emerging. It’s beginning to be clear what’s going on.

At the final moment, Liza is also snatched up by Dr. Exeter, who claims to need her help in the hospital. It creates one of “Not Fade Away”’s morally conflicting moments, as she decides to leave her son to go care for a bunch of strangers. But what choice does she have, really? At the moment, Chris is safe, and getting outside of the perimeter is their only chance to find out what’s happening. Also Griselda and Nick have been taken, and how else are you going to keep an eye on them? It’s a tough choice and a slippery slope.

As with all of The Walking Dead universe, most of the fear comes from the living, not the dead.

The ensemble of Fear The Walking Dead is beginning to wise up to what is happening. Alycia is beginning to grieve and move on from the death of her boyfriend, which is poignantly illustrated by her tattoeing his final doodle on her forearm.

Travis appears to be buying the official story, but we wonder if he’s just trying to keep the peace. He appears not to believe Chris when he tells them there are survivors, and yet we find him sitting on the roof of the house at the end of the episode, where he is greeted with a chilling sight.

A flash of light in the distance. Not a signal this time, however, but gunfire.

It seems that the government is separating the weak from the strong.

This cuts deep into the intersection that makes Fear The Walking Dead compelling viewing – watching this world become that of The Walking Dead. It’s easy to feel moral and high and mighty, but would we do, really? After the apocalypse, what sense is there in keeping a terminal patient alive on morphine. The merciful thing would be a bullet in the brainpan, and grieve the dead.

It seems horrific, grisly, and inhumane, and yet this will be the first of millions of many such choices these characters will have to make, as the world crumbles into dust and rot.

As the show continues, Ruben Blades continues to be the dramatic heavyweight of the series, possibly saving it from being melodramatic drivel. He brings a weight and a gravitas that prevents this from being teen melodrama in the zombie apocalypse.

The parents – Madison, Travis, and Liza – are all coming to grips with the new regime in their own ways. They may be putting on brave faces for their kids and neighbors, but they are beginning to admit to themselves what is going on.

The teenagers, for the most part, continue to be useless and slightly annoying. Please please please do something with these characters other than having them whine!!! At least Nick has been whisked away for the moment, which may spare us an episode or two of the “how are we going to score opiates after the end of the world,” sub-plot. It’s obnoxious and tedious in real life – a million times more so at the End Of The World.

Watching these characters learn, grow, and evolve is what’s keeping this series spinning. It’s worth tuning in, even if the characters and their choices are often vaguely stupid and annoying. No one is perfect at the best of times, let alone during the End Times.

Fear The walking Dead airs on AMC on Sundays at 9 EST/6 PST

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