Caught Between the Living and the Dead
Fear the Walking Dead
Season 2, Episode 6 - "Sicut Cervus"
Kim Dickens, Frank Dillane
Regular airtime: Sundays, 8pm
US: 15 May 2016
In many ways, “Sicut Cervus”, serves as a transition episode, moving us from the high seas and, most recently, a standoff with a band of pirates, onto land—specifically, Mexico—and what seems like a refuge run by the maternal if very mysterious Celia Flores (Marlene Forte). As a transition, the episode brings together a number of strands we’ve been dealing with while introducing new ones. More than anything else, though, “Sicut Cervus” offers an entirely new way of seeing the walkers, one that imagines them as figures caught between life and death.
Family remains one of those major strands: we’ve seen the Clark-Manawas deal with family dysfunction throughout this second season. The stresses they face continue, with Madison (Kim Dickens) and Travis (Cliff Curtis) now beginning to take the sides of their respective children. In contrast, Daniel (Ruben Blades) and Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) operate more as a family unit this week, as Ofelia begins to worry about her father’s unusual behavior.
Perhaps the most surprising revelation in terms of this theme, however, has been that Strand (Colman Domingo) too is deeply motivated by family ties. His relationship with Thomas (Dougray Scott) has made him an intimate of the close-knit Flores family, and now that the group find themselves settled within the Flores compound, it appears the producers intend to redefine yet again the nature of family in the wake of apocalypse.
At the same time, individual characters continue to define themselves against this new landscape. Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) continues to spiral out of control in the wake of his mother’s death last season, failing to step in to save his stepmother from a walker attack and, when confronted by Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) afterwards, apparently threatening her life as well. Madison, for her part, seems more and more drawn into the “leader’s circle”. She’s the one survivor who seems comfortable calling Strand by his first name of Victor, the one member who spends time at the wheel of the Abigail, and the one member allowed into strategy meetings with Strand and Luis (Arturo del Puerto). Meanwhile, Nick (Frank Dillane) continues to vacillate between feelings of fear and power.
Yet, this episode also offers a new theme, one having to do with the walkers themselves: what they are, how they should be regarded, and how they should be treated. By the end of the episode, it’s revealed that Celia’s been poisoning members of her community and keeping them alive in her basement once they turn. We’ve seen something like this before in The Walking Dead, when we discover Herschel (Scott Wilson) is keeping a number of his turned friends and family “alive” in his barn; further, that part of what drives the Governor (David Morrissey) is his desperate hope to save his turned daughter. Those events tell us something important about the difficulty survivors face in letting go of their turned family members, a theme established in The Walking Dead‘s first episode, when Morgan (Lennie James) had to confront his walker wife. Although the situation in Fear the Walking Dead may seem similar, this episode reveals that it’s in fact very different.
Fear the Walking Dead’s ability to pull new meaning from events we’ve seen before is why it stands on its own as a series. Family, for instance, matters to both series, but where in The Walking Dead the central issues have to do with how far characters will go in order to protect their families, here family serves a different function. In keeping with the title, it’s the suspicion of each other that most drives the Clark-Manawas. Family weighs characters down like a ball and chain, rather than serving as a source of inspiration or motivation.
In the same way, while the turned in both series work as symbols of life in death, in Fear the Walking Dead, that symbolism takes a far more spiritual turn. The very title of the original series reminds us that our characters occupy a space between death and life; they, as Rick has noted, are the walking dead, unable to ever truly find safety, but never quite willing to admit defeat either. Travis, Madison, Daniel and the rest of the characters in Fear the Walking Dead have, at least up to this point, managed to avoid serious encounters with walkers. In that sense, they’re not the ones who occupy the middle ground. This allows them, as this episode begins to make clear, to consider the walkers as those occupying that middle ground.
The episode opens on a Catholic church service, the taking of the host—considered to be literally Christ’s body—pointing to the thin line between the physical and the spiritual; yet the wafers have been poisoned, yet another turn on the idea of death and life. Meanwhile, Daniel begins to struggle in this episode with flashbacks to his time as a military rebel. He’s hearing voices, and sees himself strangling a young boy. These instances, too, offer a view of life and death mixed together, the past bleeding into the present, its ghosts returning to haunt us.
Ultimately, though, it’s Celia’s deep spiritual beliefs that most connect to this theme. As both Herschel and the Governor did, she’s holding on to the turned, but her attitude towards them seems quite different. Where those two The Walking Dead characters were motivated by their hope to perhaps return these walkers to normal, Celia seems almost to prefer the walkers as they are. Celia’s not alone in her faith, her belief in a spiritual realm that communicates with our own: near the episode’s end, Ofelia visits a shrine, telling Nick “I need to talk to my mother.” Celia’s views are more literal: “The dead have always been around us,” she says at one point, “it’s just that we can see them now.” Later, when Nick asks, “They’re not dead are they?” she responds, “They are what comes next.” This suggests that, for her, the turned are simply a new manifestation of the spiritual, the middle ground between life and death.
It remains to be seen whether her views are simply a passing danger for the family, or a more fundamental attitude within this series. It’s certainly worth remembering though that we have already seen the “dead” come back to life: in the form of the plane crash survivor Chris stumbles on in “Ouroboros”; in the form of Alex, who’s cut loose from the Abigail but returns with the pirates; and in the form of Liza Otiz, whose death still continues to motivate many of the characters’ actions.