The Fellowship Splinters
Fear the Walking Dead
Season 2, Episode 7 - "Shiva"
Kim Dickens, Frank Dillane
Regular airtime: Sundays, 8pm
US: 22 May 2016
The Fellowship that had developed over the first 13 episodes of Fear the Walking Dead has, at least for now, been broken. To this point, we spent the first six episodes (season one) putting that fellowship together piece by piece and defining the quest itself. Two families—the Salazars and the Clark-Manawas—came together with a wild card: the mysterious Victor Strand (Colman Domingo). Each person brought a different personality and skill set to the group, but interacted with one another in complex and often unexpected ways.
During the first half of this season, the quest itself emerged: a refuge in Mexico. But like all good quest stories, achieving the end goal, finding the Grail, only winds up re-defining the quest itself into the search for a new object. In the midseason finale, “Shiva”, the relative safety our survivors had found in Celia Flores’s (Marlene Forte) compound implodes in a spectacular fireball, scattering the fellowship and redefining its objectives.
Television’s made great use of the quest myth over the past 20 years, realizing that it offers the perfect structure for serial narrative: an overarching goal that, to reach, involves a number of individual adventures. In short, the monster of the week set within a larger conspiracy, pioneered most notably by The X-Files, is simply a clever adaptation of the story of King Arthur and the search for the Holy Grail to television; clever, because it suits serial storytelling so well. Where a novel or a film is most often limited by a linear structure and a finite conclusion, TV needs circularity and rhythms to satisfy its potentially endless stories. The Grail myth delivers: when one quest seems complete, you simply set out on another one or, better yet, suggest that the initial quest was only a smaller part of a much larger mystery all along.
One of the more obvious ways recent series have managed to adapt this genre to contemporary story-telling demands is by using the rhythm of the fellowship itself. That is, part of the quest myth always involves a middle point during which the fellowship breaks apart, allowing us to travel with multiple characters, ultimately involving them in many more adventures than they might have undertaken together. Thus, a good quest myth, The Lord of the Rings, for example, provides a middle book, The Two Towers, in which we follow many of the members of the original fellowship on many different adventures, creating a complexity that’s then resolved once again at quest’s end.
To give but one example of how this structure can be used, we might consider Fear the Walking Dead‘s sister series, The Walking Dead. There, by the second season, characters were off on their own, Daryl (Norman Reedus) searching for Sophia (Madison Lintz) and Shane (Jon Bernthal) off on a mission to the local school for medical supplies. More recently, the group splintered once again after the standoff at the prison, with different factions all making their way toward one goal: the hope offered by Terminus.
It’s an important rhythmic cycle of the quest, this breaking up and coming together again, and we find it at work as Fear the Walking Dead reaches its second midseason break. The fellowship has been carefully shaped since the series began, so that the relationships between the various members offer a complex tapestry: Strand’s relationship with Madison (Kim Dickens), Strand’s relationship with Nick (Frank Dillane), Nick’s relationship with Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), Chris’s (Lorenzo James Henrie) relationship with Daniel (Ruben Blades), and on and on. In many ways, even the conflicts between the characters serve to bind them together, the many different threads now difficult to untangle. Simultaneously, however, as they continued their quest towards safety, the challenges they faced from outsiders brought them closer together as well. Not just the walkers, but idealistic survivalists, pirates, and militias have stood in their way, forcing them to work as a unit.
Then again, there are problems to be had when reaching the end of a quest. For one thing, the quest may not turn out to be all it was cracked up to. Here, for instance, the motherly Celia who welcomes them all to the compound turns out to have some very troubling and potentially dangerous ideas about the nature of life and death, ideas that threaten the ability of our survivors to feel truly safe. Likewise, the apparent end of the quest can fracture a fellowship, as each member finds something of her own in that quest. Call it an inability to share the Grail, call it a fracturing that comes from too much freedom; it amounts to the same thing: suddenly the conflicts that had bound the group together now tear them apart.
So, it’s here, as Daniel begins to lose his sanity, facing his bloody past through the figure of his dead wife; Nick comes to believe himself a kind of king of the walkers, plastering himself in blood and walking among them; Chris finds himself unable to accept his new family in the wake of his mother’s death; Strand battles his own enigmatic demons, having buried his friend and lover. All of these issues explode in their own small ways, a fact symbolized by the enormous explosion of the compound itself, an event that hurls everyone out of the Garden of Eden in their own directions. Strand, Madison, Alicia, and Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) speed off in a truck. Nick wanders among the dead. Chris and Travis (Cliff Curtis) head off alone on foot. Meanwhile, Daniel and Celia appear to be consumed in the actual explosion.
Of course, when a fellowship breaks apart, as this one has, we can eventually expect them to come back together; I expect that reunion to occur over the second half of the season (beginning in August). In the meantime, however, Fear the Walking Dead has both created a point of suspense to maintain interest in these characters, and opened up the possibility for a series of individual stories, a storytelling approach the producers, as we’ve seen in The Walking Dead, do really well (see, for example, the brilliant stand-alone episode, “Here’s Not Here”). I’m anxious to see how things will come back together over the second half of the season, but I’m perhaps more interested to see how these characters are allowed to grow and develop when they’re given a new format in which to do so.