By setting much of “Fear the Walking Dead’s” second season in Mexico, the show’s writers have been able to explore some unconventional views of walkers, most of which are rooted in the Day of the Dead. Where the main characters have spent most of the show fleeing from zombies, many of the people they’ve encountered have gone as far as worshiping the undead, using them for protection, and even caring for them.
But how different is it, really? “The Walking Dead’s” Hershel Greene didn’t live in Mexico, but he had a similarly fearless and compassionate attitude towards the walkers, at least for a time. Then, last season, we were introduced to Celia, who also had a penchant for viewing the undead as people. And now, we have Nick stumbling into another sort of death cult not long afterwards, albeit one with slight alterations. Alejandro (Paul Calderón) and his people regularly sacrifice the sick to a horde of walkers around the perimeter, further fortifying the zombie forces as a means of protection. There’s also an element of supposed comfort derived from being so close to their loved ones, regardless of whether or not their flesh is rotting.
Like Hershel’s farm and Celia’s compound, Alejandro’s camp seems to be a well-functioning community, and will likely fall apart at some point due to keeping the walkers so close. As always, everything’s well-acted and well-shot, and the scorching Mexican landscape gives the show an advantage over other pieces of zombie fiction. But there’s no escaping the fact that we’ve already seen this before; just a few episodes ago, in fact. On the subsequent episode of “Talking Dead,” Kim Dickens noted how Nick’s time with Celia “planted the seed” for him falling in with a similarly-minded group like Alejandro’s. But that also begs the question: why even have two similarly-minded groups in the first place? Why not just one? Suddenly, a huge portion of season 2’s story feels wasted.
I’m all about exploring the idea of how a different country would view the walkers, how they wouldn’t necessarily see them as a total threat. But the device of Nick stumbling upon group after group, being somewhat appalled by their actions, then embracing them is beginning to lose its novelty. Even so, “Muertos” does have one ace in the hole with all the new death-cult business. Alejandro claims to have been bitten by a walker and survived, which opens all sorts of exciting possibilities for the series. In all honesty, I hope that he is telling the truth. It would be far more interesting to see a character who’s immune to a walker bite than a crazed cult leader who’s lying about it. We’ll see what happens.
If the Nick storyline is a repetitive — albeit well-structured — component of “Muertos,” the show manages to cover some new ground in the episode’s secondary story. When Madison, Strand, Alicia, and Ofelia discover that The Abigail is missing, they seek shelter in a nearby hotel. Since it looks mostly abandoned, they get to catch their collective breath for a bit, with Madison and Strand getting loaded in the lobby’s bar and Alicia and Ofelia taking advantage of the hot water for a shower. These types of quieter moments have always been some of “Fear the Walking Dead’s” best; ponderous conversations where the characters realize that horror also comes in more mundane forms in a post-apocalyptic world. While Alicia and Ofelia speculate about the merits of survival versus suicide, Strand and Madison grow depressed at there not being as much to talk about in this new environment. So many things simply aren’t around anymore, which gives the still-living less and less material for conversation. Boredom can be just as frightening as a salivating zombie.
Strand ends up alleviating their chat by drunkenly pounding the piano, resulting in a terrific sequence where a mob of walkers are drawn towards the music. In a deformed parody of Alicia and Ofelia’s suicide discussion, some of the undead even leap to the ground from the upper levels of the hotel. Viewers will undoubtedly complain about Strand’s decision to play music being stupid, but then again, human beings (even a smart one like Strand) can act pretty stupid, especially under the mind-numbing haze of being fatigued, dehydrated and bored. At this point, that feels like a fresher idea on “Fear the Walking Dead” than yet another group of survivors keeping walkers alive.
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