As Morgan and Grace find themselves trapped in a mall filled with walkers, Dwight makes a risky move by luring Logan's men to him alone on the road.
Considering the entire "Walking Dead" franchise owes almost as much to George A. Romero as it does Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Tony Moore, it was appropriate that they tipped their hat to the father of the modern zombie in the latest episode of "Fear the Walking Dead."
And what better way to do that than by moving the action inside a mall, the setting for what many argue is Romero's finest zombie film, "Dawn of the Dead." After receiving a call for help, Morgan was joined by Dwight and Grace on a trip to honor the man's last wishes as he'd revealed he'd recently been bitten.
He also revealed that the mall was effectively un-ransacked, which seems improbable bordering on insane. And yet, that's exactly what they found when they got there. Fully stocked clothing stores, supplies, even food. It's absolutely insane to think that a mall of this size could have remained untouched all these years, but perhaps there are gems like that scattered about.
If the locals died off in massive enough numbers quickly enough, they wouldn't have had time to ransack it. Later people, seeing it covered in walker, may have decided it's not worth the trouble.
Still, it was a little bit of a stretch and just a hint of the stretching that would occur throughout the episode.
There were essentially two stories in this episode. And aside from two brief appearances by Daniel, no other principal character made an appearance. No, this was about choosing to do "right" over what's "safe." It was about choosing to live life fully and embrace the world around you. It was, as Morgan told Alicia, about finding a way to live for themselves and not just for others.
So why did Morgan run away from that?
Grace Under Pressure
A big part of the job of this episode was to flesh out Grace's character and make her feel as fully lived in as most of the other characters. Unlike Dwight, who came with seasons of character development from the parent series, Grace has been largely a blank canvas, save for her radiation poisoning. And yet, she is getting top billing after the main credits; even above last season newcomers like Daryl Mitchell and Mo Collins.
Clearly Grace is a character who is going to mean something, and we got a hint of that through her interactions with Morgan this week. From the start, there's been hints of a mutual attraction between them. We learned that overthinking is what kept Grace single all these years. For Morgan, he has yet to grieve his wife and son.
The writers worked so hard to build their relationship, they even created a pointless dinner date in a supplement store. Why did they sit in view of the door if there were walkers piled up there? Why did they say they had to wait for Dwight there if they could have gone to the generator through the back halls at any time?
Oh yeah, so they could talk and Grace could say she's afraid to live for tomorrow, so she doesn't do anything she doesn't think she can accomplish in a single day. Then she tries to help Morgan with his grief ... but that can't be fixed in a day.
Character development in an incredibly contrived situation! You have to forgive the hackneyed writing to force the conversation to appreciate that the conversation existed.
They had plenty of other stupid moments, like when they moved the barricade at the bottom of the escalator rather than just climb over it. It was effectively keeping the walkers at bay, so why mess that up? Oh right, to create the kind of drama that brings TV and movie characters closer together.
And it totally worked.
Morgan Catches Feels
For the first time since we met him, Morgan catches feels for someone and he doesn't know what to do with it. After opening up to him and really making a connection that certainly felt genuine, Morgan absolutely chickened out and chose to run away from his feelings rather than face something real.
It's more than likely about his not being ready to live his life in the now because he still has so much grief wrapped up in the past. He was right in that it can't be fixed, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't try. And presumably -- since suddenly we're talking about his wife and child every episode -- that will be addressed this season and Grace will probably be who he falls for.
And then because Morgan is the star of this show, Grace will die from radiation poisoning. Okay, we hope that's not the plan because then she's nothing more than a plot device, an accessory to his stardom on the show rather than an independent character in her own right. We hope the writers have more integrity than that ... but we've seen a lot of TV at this point.
Morgan could use some closure on his past so he can be fully present in the here and now. It will make him a more effective leader to the group, and a better mentor and friend to Alicia as she struggles with her own demons and guilt over losing her entire family.
We still think these characters need a little more inner conflict, so we suppose we're happy to see Morgan struggling with someone, and Grace feeling a little dejected.
At least it creates some minor character tension so we don't have a dozen heroes one hundred percent on the right page and on the side of righteousness. External conflict is what movies are made on. Long-form entertainment, like TV, needs internal conflict to thrive and grow.
Dwight Makes Right
As an example, Dwight had a chance to show some internal conflict of his own, when he intentionally lured one of Logan's men to him after leaving the mall. In the end, what did he gain by doing that? It seemed like it was a test he put on himself.
Was he still the same asshole Negan relied on for all that time? Or had he truly grown beyond that person and become someone worthy of a second chance.
We hope that was it, otherwise it was a rather pointless exercise that seemed to exist for two possible reasons. One, it showed that Dwight is trying to do "right" over "cautious," and that he won't take the easy way out by killing the henchman after he got the upper hand.
Two, he may have made a huge mistake by letting the guy go, even though he gave him no intel about the mall, the caravan or anything. Oh, and the writers missed a great opportunity to get deeper into this conversation between the two men.
Logan's guy told Dwight he'd basically always been an asshole, but it would have been nicer to dig into his motivations and reasoning a little more as to why he was following Logan at this point. And why he was so ready to die as soon as the tables were turned.
Perhaps because of his own ruffian nature and the mystery around his reasons and thoughts, this nameless henchman was one of the most interesting characters of the episode. And we get it, the villains are almost always more interesting than the heroes, but we've got a lot of heroes.
"Game of Thrones" and "The Walking Dead" succeed because even forces for good (Daryl, Tyrion, Rick, Varys) have layers of complexity and darkness within them that makes them exciting and unpredictable at times. Even Victor has lost his layers and this entire cast is nothing more than surface goodness at all times.
It's just not sustainable. We were almost hoping Dwight would shoot the guy, which he would not have to admit to doing, just so we could see someone struggling a little to be the person they want to be. The path they are choosing is incredibly difficult. We saw Rick struggle mightily in the parent series, and Daryl and Michonne have struggled in his absence.
Hell, even Morgan struggled more than most when he was part of that ensemble. Here and now, though, Morgan and everyone else in this cast is just so committed, so on board and damned near perfect it's made the whole show even more implausible. Cartoon casts have more internal conflict than this and people loved both Daffy and Bugs even as they argued over which season it was.
Next week, Alicia takes center stage and we have another great candidate for depth and internal conflict. Alicia seems to have the most potential to be a three-dimensional and flawed character still, but nothing has really manifested from that so far this season. Maybe next week? It seems weird to root for these characters to falter or fall apart or show weakness, but the show really could use it.
There's nothing scary these days about "Fear the Walking Dead," Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.
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