When we last checked in with “Fear the Walking Dead” in the midseason finale, “Shiva,” everyone was going a little — make that a lot — nuts, to put it bluntly. And out of everyone’s erratic behavior, Nick’s was perhaps the most jarring. Adopting Celia’s belief of seeing the undead as still-living people just didn’t match up with the strategizing and practicality we had started to see from him since leaving Los Angeles. Like Larry Underwood in “The Stand” before him, one of the best things about Nick’s character was seeing how he was able to thrive and be healthier in a world that was crumbling, much more so than in the stable one that used to exist. I expect that’s how it would be in a real-life apocalypse. Many people whom struggle with everyday life — addicts, the mentally ill, you name it — may find it easier to get by in a tougher set of external circumstances. “Shiva” betrayed that.
Or maybe it didn’t. Because throughout “Grotesque,” the show’s mid-season premiere, we get some of the old Nick back in a story that strikes the perfect balance between his resourcefulness and his tripped-out spirituality. While it feels a bit like cheating (he has his shit together far more than when we last saw him), it’s also a relief to see the show not abandon the persevering aspects of his character. As he makes his way through the desert — his destination still unclear, although he ends up somewhere comforting by the end — his life is threatened by walkers, other survivors, and even wild dogs. Yet, he manages to survive it all.
A large part of that relies on his newfound beliefs of connecting with the undead. While walking among them, disguised in their gore, he thinks he hears them talking, and seemingly uses this to lead a charge against a group of armed men taking aim at the zombies for target practice. He’s not being completely cold-blooded though; he’s also avenging a helpless elderly man whom the group killed earlier for sport.
Elsewhere in the episode, where most of the dialogue occurs in flashback and among a group of mysterious travelers who are tracking Nick, he constructs a makeshift splint for his dog-bitten leg and takes shelter on the roof of a baking-hot bus. This all plays like a zombie-apocalypse version of “Into the Wild” — a hazy, tripped-out desert quest that sees Nick resorting to eating a cactus (it makes him sick) and drinking his own urine.
Besides the sun-soaked Western veneer making for one of the strongest, most focused hours in the series, “Grotesque” also gives the writers plenty of time to justify some of the crazier things that happened in “Shiva.” Because the episode centers almost entirely on Nick and shows how useful his skewed philosophy is turning out to be, it somewhat justifies the whole “I talk to zombies” thing. Again, the show’s bending the rules ever so slightly with his motivation right now, but I’d rather them slow down to flesh out some of the previous, hastier storytelling choices as opposed to straight-up dumping them on viewers like they did in the last chapter. Does this mean we’ll get entire episodes devoted to each character in the now-splintered Clark/Manawa/Salazar/Strand party? It wouldn’t be a bad way to start, and maybe even end the uneven second season.
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