NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Fear the Walking Dead” are present in this review
There’s been a lot of buildup surrounding whatever mysterious threat is ready to succeed Virginia and her Pioneers on Fear the Walking Dead. Finally, that buildup is going to lead to concrete information regarding what Morgan and his fellow survivors are up against in the near future. “The Holding” properly introduces us to the mysterious faction that Virginia was so terrified of back when she was a living leader of her own survivor community, and as it turns out, they don’t seem so bad at first glance. They even provide a shocking emotional reunion for one key character on the series! As you can imagine though, not everything is as it seems with these seemingly benevolent characters, whose sinister secrets don’t take long to spill forth.
“The Holding” ostensibly places the spotlight on Wes for Fear the Walking Dead’s latest anthology-style episode this season, though I’d argue that this episode just as much spotlights Alicia as it does her artistic buddy. Al and Luciana also tag along for the show’s latest storyline, being a supporting presence that helps to further flesh out the agenda and implications of this new survivor group. Right from the start of this episode, it’s apparent that this new group is another post-apocalyptic cult of personality (shocker), and said cult, whose recruitment is handled by a new character called Riley, appears to follow the dogma of a mysterious man called, “Teddy”, who isn’t ultimately revealed until the final moments of this episode. Well, he’s supposed to be saved for then anyway. Fear the Walking Dead’s marketing already all but directly spoiled that, “Teddy” is the sinister new antagonist played by Smallville’s John Glover.
Despite the buildup to Teddy being largely wasted for any Walking Dead fan that’s kept up with Fear the Walking Dead’s current marketing however, the setup behind this new ‘Doomsday Cult’ is nonetheless brilliantly executed. There’s a great sense of ominous foreshadowing and morally challenging debate surrounding this new group, who appear to be building a fully self-sustaining society underground. All the while, Teddy’s voice plays on loudspeakers around the underground parking garage where the Doomsday Cult is situated, telling them that death is part of the natural order, and that from death springs new life. Hell, this cult’s big punishment for traitors and non-believers is to embalm them and prevent them from decomposing, which effectively denies them a place in the new world to come. I have to admit, that’s pretty creative!
That challenge for the lead survivors also effectively comes into focus when Wes sees that his brother, Derek, formerly thought dead since Wes’ introduction to this series, is actually alive and well, and part of the Doomsday Cult! This is not only a surprisingly heartwarming turn for Wes’ character, who’s been largely neglected all season so far, but it also provides a logical ‘in’ to this new group for the protagonists, something Alicia quickly points out. That ‘in’ delivers an unfortunate twist when Wes soon learns that Derek was responsible for overseeing the destruction of Tank Town however, and that Derek was actually aware that his brother was alive there, only to put him in danger anyway. This emotional roller coaster with Derek is over pretty quickly, sadly, since Wes is ultimately forced to kill Derek for real towards the end of this episode, pushing him into Teddy’s ceremonial walker in order to get him chomped. Still, it was nice for Wes to have something worthwhile to do in Season 6 for a change, beyond getting knocked around by Virginia.
Right before Derek’s untimely demise however, Wes, Alicia, Al and Luciana are inevitably found out by the rest of the Doomsday Cult, after they fail to turn Derek. This leads to the gruesome threat of all of them being exsanguinated and embalmed, though they are able to escape in the confusion. Alicia volunteers to stay behind and light a whole storage area of embalmed walkers on fire in order to seemingly destroy the Doomsday Cult’s operation, though this is the point where this otherwise great episode starts to come apart. Fear the Walking Dead seems to like using ridiculously contrived, fire-themed scenarios as a convenient way to move the plot along, as it previously did for Madison and Daniel, and just as Daniel’s own big, fiery moment from Season 3 conveniently separated him from the other Fear the Walking Dead characters for quite a while, Alicia is now conveniently separated from the rest of the group, somehow surviving a contained, highly-catalyzed blaze that she inexplicably thought would destroy this cult area. Yeah, I don’t get it either.
There isn’t really any logical reason for Alicia to stay behind, and that’s distracting. Still, I suppose we did need an excuse to properly introduce Teddy, and that finally happens, right as Alicia uses the exsanguination equipment to take out one of her captors. Despite Teddy being angry about Alicia and her allies destroying his cult’s efforts to eliminate all functional life above ground so that the new world order can restart however (this was the impetus for Derek and his group to destroy Tank Town earlier in the season), Teddy is still impressed by Alicia, appearing to present an offer to her, one that threatens to turn her against her friends. Again, this is more than a little convenient to the plot, but seeing Alicia turned into an antagonist, even temporarily, could be another inspired way for Fear the Walking Dead’s current season to keep the emotional punches coming. That twist would hit all the more painfully when you recall that Alicia is one of Fear the Walking Dead’s sole surviving OG characters to boot, alongside Strand and Daniel, the only other characters who have remained a living presence on Fear the Walking Dead since its very first season in 2015.
With Alicia now imprisoned by Teddy, the final moments of this episode thus prepare a series of new scenarios, as Morgan tries to determine how to reclaim Alicia, while Al decides to warn Isabelle about the increased activity about Teddy’s cult. Oh yeah, the CRM comes back into play here, in a very cool way, when intel is discovered that indicates Teddy’s cult plans to target them as part of their new world agenda. Considering that the CRM is still standing and more powerful than ever on The Walking Dead and The Walking Dead: World Beyond however, both of which take place several years after Fear the Walking Dead’s current place in AMC’s Walking Dead TV universe timeline, Teddy’s mission against the CRM is obviously going to be unsuccessful. Still, I’m interested to see exactly how Teddy’s cult develops from here, and whether Alicia would ever truly defect to their side, especially while Morgan’s new survivor community is beginning to flourish in earnest.
“The Holding” can’t quite stretch its potent intrigue all the way to the end, where it suddenly has to awkwardly shoehorn necessary new plot developments into place, but its extended showcase of Fear the Walking Dead’s new antagonists, alongside an emotional reunion for Wes that nonetheless turns tragic, all contribute to another very strong episode for this spin-off series. Teddy’s Doomsday Cult already appear to be worthy, interesting successors to Virginia’s Pioneers, having a naturalistic dogma that manages to better separate them from threats we’ve already seen on AMC’s flagship Walking Dead series. There’s also a lot of gruesome creativity behind how the cult punishes dissenters, especially when it involves stolen equipment from the funeral home that Al and Dwight previously explored. Top all that off with John Glover making a strong first impression as Teddy himself, and you have a recipe for another harrowing, unpredictable threat to come for Morgan and his surviving allies, a threat that will become all the more dangerous if it proves capable of turning Morgan’s most reliable allies.
- Suspenseful, intriguing introduction to the new Doomsday Cult
- Wes' initially uplifting, eventually tragic reunion with his brother
- John Glover's strong first impression as Teddy
- Alicia's contrived separation from the group