Fear the Walking Dead
Season 2, Episode 13 - "Date of Death"
Kim Dickens, Cliff Curtis, Lorenzo James Henrie, Alycia Debnam-Carey
Regular airtime: Sundays, 8pm
US: 25 Sep 2016
Fear the Generational Divide
In this week’s episode of Fear the Walking Dead, “Date of Death”, the conflict that’s been steadily building between Travis (Cliff Curtis) and his son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) finally comes to a head, with Chris abandoning his father in favor of a gang of teenagers heading to San Diego. Family has played a larger role in Fear the Walking Dead than it has played in The Walking Dead, with the blended family of Travis and Madison as the central focus.
Particularly in this second season, the relationships between parents and children, and the efforts of children to redefine themselves in this new world, have taken center stage. For an entire episode, for example, Nick wandered the desert in search of his own identity, attempting to rationalize the various parts of himself and the many different experiences in his past, into a single coherent personality. He traveled with the walkers; he ate with dogs; near the end of the episode he seemed to rise from the dead, a new man.
In the beginning of The Walking Dead universe, there was Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Sophia (Madison Lintz), who were especially vulnerable, because they were children, to the many dangers of this new world. Interestingly, both faced life and death moments at virtually the same time, with Sophia disappearing and Carl shot by a huntsman’s arrow. These moments forced their parents to think about the reality of the situation in new ways: in an environment that’s difficult enough to survive on your own, how do you survive with a child in tow? Or, as Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) asks at one point, is it even ethical to raise a child in this sort of world?
Beyond the character’s reactions, we as an audience faced our own set of questions about future of humanity. Knowing that a newborn’s cries (Judith’s cries) put everyone in danger, how’s the human race meant to survive at all? The outcome was different for each child. Sophia turned, and Rick was forced to put her down. Carl slowly healed, and although he’s struggled at times with an urge to kill walkers, he’s grown into an important leader in the group, a symbol of what the future might hold.
The children in Fear the Walking Dead are of a different sort, and they raise other questions. The simplest difference is in age: Chris, Nick (Frank Dillane), and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) are all on the verge of adulthood, and Ofelia (Mercedes Mason)—the Salazar’s daughter—is a grown woman. In short, none of them need to be protected in the ways Carl and Sophie required. Their parents are far less worried about keeping them away from walkers than about keeping them away from dangerous ideas.
In this sense, the show has set itself up—at least for now—as a series about family conflict, generational differences, and coming of age. Those issues are dealt with against the backdrop of an apocalyptic event, but the fact is—especially on this series—the apocalypse isn’t scary in and of itself. Rather, it’s scary because it represents radical change, because it opens up the possibilities of new ideas. It’s the adults who fear this new world; for the most part, their children seem to thrive, each in his or her own way. Nick reinvents himself as a leader of sorts; Alicia shows off her problem-solving skills; even Chris turns out to have useful and sought-after talents. After all, isn’t change always a part of life? Perhaps this one seems more extreme, but how different does the world look now from the one we inhabited pre-9/11?
Last week I happened to be holding a class discussion with my Gen-Z students about airport scanners. They asked me why it bothered me for a government official to see me naked in order to ensure I didn’t have a weapon. My response was that I grew up in the shadow of World War II and the Cold War, during the time of Watergate, when allowing the government too much information could be deadly. As they pointed out to me, they grew up in a post-9/11 world, where not allowing the government to have enough information can be even more deadly.
In other words, the show might be viewed as a parable of sorts for the decline of one generation and the rise of the next. Such moments are always accompanied by anxiety on the part of both the old and new, from Ed Sullivan’s fear of the Beatles in the ‘60s to Tipper Gore’s denunciations of MTV in the ‘80s. In Fear the Walking Dead, the change seems more dramatic, but ultimately the effects are roughly the same: the children have learned—faster than their parents—how to adapt to this change; not only how to survive, but how to leverage what they find to establish their own independence.
Watching this Sunday’s episode, I found myself initially horrified at Chris’s attitude towards death. I felt much like Travis: stunned that Chris could be so callous about the rancher he shot, incredulous at his disinterest in burying the man or even considering for one moment what this man’s past life must have been. I was even more deeply disturbed by Chris’s willingness to trick his own father so that he and his new friends could kill their compatriot as he lay recovering from a gunshot wound.
Was my horror at the show really that much worse than what I—and others my age—sometimes feel about generation Z and their obsession with cell phones and social media? I’ve a lot of fears about this new digital reality, partly because it’s so different from the reality I grew up in, but mostly because I do’’t know how to survive in it. I have the same fears Travis does: that one of these days my daughter is going to blink out of my reality and into her digital one, and then I’ll be left behind, alone.
In Fear the Walking Dead, this divide is manifested in the argument Chris and his new friends offer to Travis. Although it’s one I don’t subscribe to, it isn’t entirely unreasonable. As Chris points out, Travis himself had to kill his ex-wife, Chris’s mother, when she became ill. In this new world, people sometimes have to die, even people we might care for. Equally compelling is the story Chris’s new friends tell, of their friend who turned suddenly and almost killed them all. There are dangers in this world, dangers Travis doesn’t always want to face. These teens understand that danger—and the new world they live in—on a level he perhaps never will.