"Fear the Walking Dead" has been navigating two very different timelines so far in this fourth season, but this week they chose a more interesting and effective way to connect them, not to mention revealing a surprising revelation that tightens that connection even more.
Rather than simply jump back and forth, in the NOW timeline, Althea finally convinces Alicia, Luciana and Victor to tell their story, in the aftermath of Nick's death at the tail end of last week's episode. They did so while she and her new allies, John and Morgan, drove them to what they thought was a proper burial place to bury Nick, but it turns out they were being lied to.
"There was one day when we could have stopped all of this from happening," Luciana told Althea at the top of the hour, and that became their story, and the story of this episode.
On the surface, it looked like any other day. The Vultures had been sitting outside the stadium for a few weeks now, living large and eating well while the stadium survivors aren't doing so well. And so, three pairs of scavengers set out to find supplies. But what they find is motivation and desire to leave.
Victor finally found some alone time with Cole, the pretty boy survivor who'd been following him around like a lost puppy all season. As expected, Victor was keeping him at arm's length precisely because he was interested in him. But that's because Victor Strand is Victor Strand and nothing seems able to fully change that. Just as the Vultures are the ultimate scavengers, Victor is the ultimate survivor.
He finally broke down and revealed to Cole that he had been hoarding supplies (a month's worth so far for one) because he anticipated the stadium didn't have a very bright future, so he was planning his next move. Cole, though, was disgusted by it and rejected Victor's cowardly selfishness outright.
Alicia and Naomi got to know one another in the episode's most innovative and enjoyable sequence, as they scavenged an abandoned water park, completely with surprise walkers at the bottom of the water slides. Now that's a ride you'll never want to take again!
Naomi told Alicia she could see that the stadium had no future, as she tried again to leave. But it seems that no matter how many of the survivors saw the writing on the wall, they all adopted Madison's can-do stubbornness to try and make things work against not only all odds, and common sense.
Luciana partnered up with Nick on the scavenger run, where she revealed that she was thinking of leaving the stadium as well. With this, we saw how Frank Dillane will become the first "Walking Dead" franchise character to survive his death as a main character on the show. He may be dead in the NOW, but back THEN, Nick was alive and ... well, making decisions that Luciana would come to regret NOW.
All three stadium survivors agreed that this was the day that everything went wrong, and each of them regrets not leaving right then and there. If they had done so, Nick would still be alive. But there's a lot more to their story to tell, including what happened to the Vulture leader Mel, and what happened with Charlie. Last we saw Nick THEN, he was still trying to save her. Clearly, that didn't work out considering she's the one who put a bullet in him.
Of course, we could be experiencing this same thing with Madison and even Naomi, as we've seen no evidence of them or any of the other stadium survivors in the NOW. Certainly, it's possible that the foursome Althea and her new friends encountered was a scouting party for Madison and the rest of the stadium founders, but that remains a huge unknown.
Parceling out the story of THEN piecemeal like this is proving a stroke of genius for this revitalized season of "Fear the Walking Dead." Each episode moves both narratives forward, while simultaneously teasing what happened THEN, leaving us theorizing and speculating between airings. That's the kind of excitement that builds a rabid fan base, which is something "FTWD" definitely deserves the chance to do.
We still don't even know the character and motivation of Alicia, Victor and Luciana at this point. Sure, they are technically the stars of this show, but this new season has shifted the narrative so that it's Althea, Morgan and John who are the stars. The others are just mysterious survivors they encountered on the road.
That was evidenced again by them lying to Althea just to get her to drive them to a stash of weaponry. The war with the Vultures is apparently nowhere near done with the death of Ennis. And there's no way they're arming up to take on a little girl all by her lonesome in the apocalypse. Clearly, the Vultures are out there and revenge is the only meal on the menu.
But the vitriol with which they've been acting, and their drive makes us think this is about more than just Nick. As we've said, we know Nick is dead in the NOW, but what about Madison or Naomi or anyone else they got to know in their year at the stadium? Certainly the death of her entire family would be motivation for Alicia, and Victor has shown a surprising affection for and loyalty to Madison. At this point, even if they were a scouting party for a larger settlement -- and they were getting this weapons stash for everyone -- their priorities have changed.
As evidence, it was a little startling that it was Morgan who had to remind them that the ruse was that they were looking to bury Nick's body. Was the plan now to just ditch him on the side of the road? Luciana and Alicia seemed surprised to be reminded of that, as if they'd already forgotten his body in their blind rage to avenge his death.
We thought for sure John's quest to find Laura, who had the matching pistol to his engraved set, would be a through line that would run the season. But it was more than just a throwaway motivation to add some depth to the character. It tied John directly to the stadium, thus giving this ragtag group of survivors in the NOW a reason to work together.
It turns out that Laura is none other than the mysterious Naomi. Now, John said he'd been on his own for about a year, which if we think Naomi showed up at the stadium shortly before all hell broke loose, we're now ready to speculate that the gap between THEN and NOW is roughly a year. That lines up as well with Charlie looking barely any older, despite being a child.
So now we have a secondary reason for wanting to know what happened to Naomi (and Madison) and the rest of the stadium survivors. Alicia tells John that Naomi is dead, but she says it with a cold, dispassionate voice, clearly trying to lure him into her revenge quest. In other words, we think she's lying ... again.
Nevertheless, we are stoked to think that John and Naomi might have a reunion in the future. Plus, her revealed identity makes her more than just a random character who showed up in the THEN. The new trio in the NOW makes sense because they are our eyes into the "FTWD" universe, but Naomi felt totally random, until now.
As the stadium's fall looms, there are more secrets and lies to uncover as "Fear the Walking Dead" continues Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on AMC.