NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Fear the Walking Dead”, including a major character death, are present in this review
Fear the Walking Dead has had a couple of story stumbles over the past couple of weeks, despite an otherwise superb third season. Fortunately though, the show found its way back to some excellent story material this week, delivering a very strong lead-in to next week’s two-episode season finale in, “El Matadero.” The scenario of Madison having to hope that Daniel will take her party into the dam after Broke Jaw is lost is tense enough, but this episode definitely took the drama even further, hitting the ground running with a very unexpected turn right from the start!
So, it turns out that Ofelia didn’t get off scot free from her former Walker encounter in the vents after all. At the start of this episode, Ofelia drops off of the truck, and it soon becomes apparent that she’s been bitten. This puts Madison in an extremely tight spot, since time is very limited before Ofelia’s hopeful reunion with Daniel, which is now being tragically and dramatically cut short. Even if it came out of nowhere, Ofelia’s bite made sense, and the show actually executed the shock of this twist very well, especially in terms of how well it creates a renewed sense of drama, uncertainty and urgency, even before next week’s season finale episodes.
So, Madison has to try and make Ofelia as comfortable as possible at the trading post, while everyone else goes off to do their own thing. Walker doesn’t play into this episode very much, and Crazy Dog shows up even less, but it seems that Walker has firmly left the antagonist role at this point, having now lost The Nation and most everything he ever knew. Seeing him be the merciful one with Madison was a nice switch, and nicely contrasted with Strand bluntly telling Madison that resources are the only thing that matter, yet she squanders them at every turn. Madison arguing for sentiment is somewhat against her character, but it actually worked here, since the loss of the ranch and the struggle with having to break it to Daniel that his daughter is dying would reasonably have Madison trying to hang on to whatever is left of her crumbling group foundation, even at the expense of resources.
This was also explored in a subplot with Nick, who initially provides key emotional support for Madison, after trying and failing to get Alicia to come back. Nick provided another great dose of irony, switching up his strong, dependable role this season to go on a drug bender with Troy. Again, the show avoided the feeling of frustratingly regressing Nick’s character here, by justifiably having him put his emotional strength on Madison, leaving his only remaining coping mechanism as the opportunity to get high at the trading post. Compounding the irony is that Nick forces Troy to get high with him, ironically making Nick the bad influence on Troy now, rather than the other way around. This did provide a nice opportunity for Nick to show Troy his Walker blending trick, which may come into play later, but most importantly is that Nick and Troy opt to stay at the trading post at the end of the episode, rather than going to the dam. This makes more sense than Alicia splitting off, and Madison immediately detecting that Nick has relapsed provided another tense turn to lead into next week’s season finale episodes.
Madison really was the MVP of this episode in a lot of respects, having some truly awesome scenes with the dying Ofelia, whereupon she has to re-examine herself and what she’s sacrificed as a parent. Madison confessing that kids understand their parents’ sins played well off of the opposite as well, namely Madison realizing that Nick has reverted back to his old ways immediately, and seemingly leaving him to it. The scenes where Madison had to try to keep Daniel calm when he sees that Ofelia has died were especially fantastic too, with both Kim Dickens and Ruben Blades really crushing this scene with their performances, and making it truly heart-wrenching. Daniel does eventually forgive Madison after he buries his daughter, even agreeing to take Madison, Walker, Crazy Dog and Strand to the dam as promised, though Strand seems to arrange trouble for the dam during his time at the trading post. If Strand believes that Madison is letting emotion cloud her judgment, could he be trying to buy his way out by siccing a group of raiders on the dam during the season finale episodes next week?
Finally, and disappointingly, Alicia’s subplot did remain a weak link in the story this week, even if it certainly wasn’t bad. Nonetheless, Alicia splitting off on her own still doesn’t truly make sense, and it feels like an excessively transparent way to move Alicia somewhere else so that the show has an easy hook for next year’s fourth season of Fear the Walking Dead. Alicia’s subplot basically highlighted how she still has a lot to learn as a survivor, despite managing to hold her own well enough, and she happens to chance upon a woman on her travels, one who removes fingers and teeth from Walkers to sell as protective charms. The scenes with Alicia and this mystery survivor were fairly decent, highlighting two strangers who seem to be learning to trust again, and it’s possible that this mystery woman could provide an excuse for Alicia to return to the trading post to reunite with Nick and Troy, if the show doesn’t opt to completely separate her from her family for the end of the season. I still wish that the show had found a more sensible reason to have Alicia insisting on leaving though. The excuse that she’s somehow smarter and better than her family still doesn’t feel like it holds water.
Regardless, “El Matadero” returned Fear the Walking Dead to top form this week, leaving the show in a plenty strong position for the season’s final two episodes next week. It definitely looks like Strand is up to something bad, which could provide the deathblow to any semblance of group order and trust for Madison, especially while Nick is busy getting high with Troy, after seemingly giving up on the greater good. Still, there was some heartwarming, cautious optimism in the wake of Ofelia’s sudden and tragic death, with Daniel finding it in his heart to believe that Madison did everything she could for his daughter. Hope isn’t lost for Madison trying to keep her family together in some way, but it is dangling by an increasingly precarious thread at this point. Considering that the season’s final two episodes are airing next week, this show is definitely taking the perfect opportunity to line up a powder keg of explosive drama and tragedy, hopefully giving this strong season the perfect finish that it deserves!
- Ofelia's unexpected death, and Madison having to face the consequences
- Nick relapsing into drugs, and taking Troy with him
- Strand's apparent treachery threatening trouble for the dam
- Alicia's subplot still isn't effectively justifying itself