The biggest question we have as we go into next week's midseason finale of "Fear the Walking Dead" is how the original heroes of this show became its ultimate villains? We've seen the obsessive drive that they have to eliminate all of the Vultures, but we still don't know how that turn came.
This week, the question flew to the forefront of our minds as the newest cast members effectively left the originals quite literally in the dust, and we were happy to see it happen. More notably, the narrative flow of the story stayed with the newcomers as well, telling us everything we need to know about who the "good guys" are in this muted present time.
The penultimate episode took us as close to the final battle at the stadium as we could get and it did so from both eras we've been following. In the BEFORE chapters, Madison's (Kim Dicken) stubbornness put everyone in jeopardy as the Vultures returned to exact their final revenge. As for the NOW, it was Naomi (Jenna Elfman) who returned our new protagonists to the aftermath of that battle so we could see what things looked like.
OUT THEN, IN NOW
It wasn't pretty. Aside from a burned out ice cream truck outside of the stadium, things were pretty quiet when Althea (Maggie Grace) first pulled up outside the stadium. In fact, considering how we'd last seen things THEN, it was perhaps too quiet, as the old cliche goes. Turns out that was true.
When Naomi insisted they needed to go inside, it became pretty obvious what we would find ... especially when the gate was revealed to still be locked. But Al went ahead and crashed through it anyway (with neither Charlie nor Naomi bothering to tell her what she might find in there) only to have her heavily-armored vehicle immediately swarmed by burnt walkers. The thousands of walkers the Vultures brought to the stadium THEN had been locked inside.
Charlie (Alexia Nisenson), the least trustworthy ten-year old in the apocalypse returned to the stadium THEN to convince Madison and the group to help her save the Vulture leader, Mel (Kevin Zegers). She spun a story about Mel and Ennis (Evan Gamble) having a falling out, with Ennis swearing that if they couldn't have the stadium, then no one could. It all sounded like a three year old's temper tantrum.
Of course, we totally know that Charlie was lying, don't we? She got Mel into the stadium for medical help where he had a conversation with Naomi we weren't privy to. We do know that Naomi ultimately betrayed the Clarks and stole their "just-in-case" vehicle, siding with the Vultures. Or did she?
We also know that Charlie blames herself for what happened at the stadium, but she was on the inside. Subterfuge seems the most likely reason she might be to blame (and it's not like she hasn't done it before). When we closed the THEN chapters for this episode, the Vultures had unleashed their zombie horde outside the stadium, where it quickly overwhelmed a vehicle with Nick (Frank Dillane), Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Mel inside of it. Of course, we've seen them all NOW so we know they'll get out of this, but there are still so many questions.
For one thing, what happened between THEN and NOW to so completely change the demeanor of Nick and Alicia, not to mention Victor (Colman Domingo) and Luciana (Danay Garcia)? The Clark kids risked absolutely everything, and defied their mother with their decision to go after Mel shortly after Madison essentially banished him, still wounded, from the stadium. They've barely known this guy, and he's essentially been an antagonist the entire time, but they nevertheless went out to save him.
That's a far cry from the NOW versions of our one-time heroes as they are so consumed with revenge and obsession that they're almost unrecognizable. Compare their gentle treatment of a villain THEN to Alicia's cold-hearted dismissal and ruthless killing of that same man NOW.
After failing to escape unscathed in the ambulance (which Alicia blew to kingdom come), Mel came crawling out, covered in burns and barely hanging on. Alicia stopped the vehicle and got out to go and confront him. She first asked how long Naomi had been with him, but then decided it didn't matter before callously plunging a knife into his still-living head.
This is the same young woman who had no regrets about risking her life to save Mel THEN. While she was trapped outside the stadium, surrounded by oil-soaked walkers and with no hope of survival, Alicia radioed Madison to tell her she was sorry that they had put Madison in this position, but she had no regrets about going out to save Mel because it was the right thing to do.
At the same moment, when Madison made the decision to brave the fire and the oil-soaked walkers outside the stadium, Victor and Luciana didn't hesitate to say they were going with her. This was a statement both of love and family from both of them, as well as potentially stupid bravery. It was also heroism in its purest form.
So what turned all four of them into bloodthirsty villains by the time NOW came around? We know it has to do with the culmination of this Vulture battle at the stadium, but there must be more yet to reveal. Victor noted several times that Madison went out of her way to save him, even if he wasn't always deserving, which is why he supported Alicia and Nick "saving" Mel. Her death (and especially if Mel was involved in it) could be a catalyst to turn him to darkness.
But would her death be enough to bring about the depths of villainous behavior we've seen from all four of them in this first half of the season? Nick ruthlessly attacked Ennis, and even though he seemed to be struggling with remorse that had more to do with Morgan (Lennie James) getting into his head than anything else. And sure, his death only compounded Alicia's overall grief -- that is, assuming Madison is dead -- but it was chilling watching he dispassionately dispatch Mel. Alicia was the heart of the series to this point.
Are they too far gone? That's going to be a big question for the show moving forward. Frankly, we wouldn't be too upset if they were, because we've already grown more attached to Morgan, Al, John and Naomi than the original crew managed in three seasons. We're more invested in their stories and their relationships (we have so many questions about Al) and we're not struggling to root for them like we have the Clarks since Day One.
At the same time, this villainous turn may be the most interesting thing to happen to the OG cast in the show's lifespan, so whether they come back or not, at least they've become worth watching as antagonists. If they do get a chance at redemption, the focus of the show has already shifted from them, so they would have to slide into supporting roles, and certainly regain the trust of both the newcomers and the audience. If written well enough on that redemption arc, we might come back around to caring about them. As it stands now, we're really more curious as to how they got the way they are than anything else.
The midseason finale of "Fear the Walking Dead" airs next Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.