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 been pretty strong in Season Three’s back half up to this point, but with so much hope and optimism coming out of Madison, Walker and Strand securing a bountiful supply of water for Broke Jaw Ranch, it was inevitable that the show would have to find another problem to fill the rest of this season. “Brother’s Keeper” devoted itself to setting up this problem, which has to reach a bit to put the ranch into another new predicament, one that’s worthy of worrying even Madison, Strand and Walker when they eventually return.
As predicted, those aforementioned three characters are fully absent in this episode, which revolves entirely around events with Nick, Alicia and co. back at Broke Jaw Ranch. As usual, there’s some standout character drama in many spots, though honestly, “Brother’s Keeper” did end up being a small sour note for the series’ strong third season this week, since its ultimate conclusion feels a bit forced, especially when it seems to sweep several lingering issues at the ranch rather cleanly under the rug.
So, what exactly goes so wrong for Broke Jaw in this episode? Well, Troy, naturally. Troy has apparently been very busy stumbling around the Northern lands, leading a massive herd of Walkers to the ranch, then going to the ranch to tell Nick about it, presumably giving the people a chance to evacuate. While a huge Walker attack sounds fitting for a climactic Fear the Walking Dead storyline, it’s also true that so many elements of this just don’t feel like they add up. This incident may be logical to create a big disaster, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of also creating several rather noticeable plot holes.
First among said plot holes, if Troy doesn’t know the Northern lands, then how did he find his way back to the ranch, much less lead a massive Walker herd there with superhuman efficiency? Second, how did Troy lead a herd of literally hundreds of Walkers with a limited supply of scavenged munitions over such a massive distance, especially without either getting eaten or failing to keep them together? Third, if a starving, dehydrated, half-delirious nut case can lead Walker herds around that easily and with virtually no supplies, why the hell are they ever an issue in this universe, if they’re that simple to manipulate? Fourth, if the point was Troy destroying the ranch, why did he bother to warn anyone, even just Nick and Jake, since they would obviously not keep a Walker herd to themselves? Fifth, if the point was Troy wanting to die, why didn’t he just go back to the ranch and provoke one of the Nation people into shooting him, or just shoot himself if he clearly had spare bullets? Finally, sixth, given how much time has passed since Troy’s exile, he definitely should have died of thirst and exhaustion long before being able to lead even a few Walkers to the ranch, let alone an entire herd, assuming that he magically knew his way back somehow!
It’s pretty clear that the show wrote itself into a corner with Broke Jaw’s events, and had to contrive an excuse for another issue in order to fulfill this season’s 16-episode order, since everything should be fine and stable at the ranch now. That’s definitely apparent when Nick and Jake keep commenting on Troy not being in his right mind (which would be understandable with heat exhaustion, though that further begs the question of how he could manipulate a Walker herd so well), which feels like a lame excuse to try and cover up the fact that Troy’s plan, and the resulting sequence of events, blatantly don’t make any sense. Again, the desired effect of putting Broke Jaw on its back foot for the season’s climax, namely as Nick ends up stuck with Troy outside while Alicia has to manage the people after they’re trapped in a cellar, is achieved well, but it would have been a lot better if the show didn’t need to bring Troy into the herd conflict. It might have been best if the series didn’t operate with the notion that Troy wanted revenge, and just had him find his way back to warn about the herd that was already coming. That would have been enough for drama and tension, since no one would trust him!
Fortunately, there were still good character moments to enjoy in this episode, as usual for the series’ standout current season. Jake’s question to Alicia about whether she and her family aren’t truly team players and are just looking out for themselves could have been an interesting bit of drama, even though this is quickly overtaken by Nick and Jake having to venture out to check out Troy’s warning. This has Nick and Jake formulating a plan to put Troy down, and for a while, it seems like this is where the episode is going to go. In a truly superb twist though, Nick clubs Jake over the head right as he’s about to shoot his brother, claiming that it’s to protect him from having to become a killer. Of course, there’s also the obvious speculation that Nick is secretly more loyal to Troy than Jake, and seeing that suggestion pay off in a big way was definitely worth it, and helped to make up for the forced herd issue.
I’m not kidding about the big payoff either! As Alicia and the rest of the ranch try to block the horde with a line of RV’s (and fail), Nick clubbing Jake forces Jake to roll down a hill and get bitten by a Walker! Nick chops off Jake’s arm as soon as he can, urging Troy to drive them back to the ranch to get help, but it’s pretty obvious that they won’t be able to save Jake. Sure enough, Jake dies from his injuries and eventually turns, with Troy having to put him down for good soon afterward. This has a lot of promise in terms of straining the relationship between Nick and Alicia, since it’s completely Nick’s fault that Jake is dead, though Jake’s abrupt death does also stop any potential relationship drama that he was building with Alicia completely cold, and that’s disappointing. I guess Alicia has bigger things to worry about now though, since the entire ranch is looking to her for guidance.
“Brother’s Keeper” had to suddenly kick Fear the Walking Dead up a couple of notches so that the season can move towards its big climax over the next few weeks, but it unfortunately had to do so by stretching the show’s dramatic credibility to breaking point. Still, there were enough highlight moments to prevent the episode from feeling like a complete misfire, whether it was Nick’s fateful choice, Jake’s shocking death, or Alicia suddenly being in charge of a trapped and panicked Broke Jaw populace. It looks like next week’s episode is once again unfolding exclusively at Broke Jaw too, so Madison and Walker aren’t going to be bailing anyone at the ranch out. Hopefully that leads to tighter and more satisfying drama, because, even if it doesn’t feel very believable, that herd is going to give both Nick and Alicia plenty to worry about before their water even arrives!