I say it every week, but considering how low it set the bar when it started two years ago, it astounds me how Fear The Walking Dead has become one of the best shows on television…
With Madison, Walker and Strand out searching for water, this parallel story entitled Brother’s Keeper began well, trod aformentioned water for a wee while, then dove head first into the story of Jake and Troy Otto before going full-on biblical (Cain and Abel, obviously) via Shakespeare and Steinbeck.
The episode’s cold open began with sociopath but highly compelling Troy, banished for crimes against the ranch community, surviving by eating rattlsnakes in the desert. His crazed scribbling in his journal showing, not telling his deteriorating mind until finally – just as he’s about to use his one and only bullet to end his life, Troy sees something in the distance. Something he soon relays to Nick when he breaks back onto the ranch as “Biblical” and “a reckoning.”
Together with Troy’s less-deranged brother, Jake – now fully an item with Alicia after suggesting they run away together (to get a little place and have a cow) – Nick ventures off to investigate, and with the show’s first ever F-bomb, a delightfully well-placed “Fuuuuuck”, he discovers Troy’s “beautiful beast” is a horde of undead walkers so big it leaves a Grapes of Wrath-like, 1930’s dustbowl America-sized storm in its wake.
For the first time in Fear The Walking Dead, I was overcome by a genuine sense of dread.
Turns out, Troy had spent countless, sleepless days and nights drawing the horde within half a mile of the ranch with well-placed explosions from a grenade launcher. In an altercation of Biblical proportions, elder brother Jake warns Troy he will kill him if he fires another shell.
BOOM! Troy lets one fly and Jake attacks him at the end of a superbly choreographed, expertly written, well-acted and nuanced scene.
With the butt of the grenade launcher, Nick sends Jake rolling down the hill into the path of the oncoming horde. In the melee, Jake is bitten by a walker and Nick must cut off his arm to try to save his life before Jake becomes infected and turns.
Meanwhile, back at Broke Jaw Ranch, after Nick’s walkie-talkie warning, Alicia steps up to role of leader as The Nation ironically circle their wagons (modern-day motorhomes) to stave off the appraching undead in scenes that excellently cranked up the tension.
The wagon-circling plan doesn’t work and the walkers breach first the fence and then the R.V. blockade. A zombie attack/shootout ensues and for a moment, when Ofelia and Alicia were encircled, I genuinely thought she was going to die. After her step-father, Travis died in S03E02, anything can happen in this show…
As Nick and Troy watch the chaos unfold from a nearby hillock, it’s revealed that Nick cutting off Jake’s arm didn’t save him after all. He awakes as a zombie and Troy must kill him (again.)
Am I brother’s keeper? Yes I am.
One good thing to come from all this devastation – after numerous attempts at working together, it now seems The Nation and the jolly ranchers have something terrible enough to unite them. In the bunker.
On top of the largest horde this show has ever seen, Brother’s Keeper included some of the three season’s best and most natural dialogue so far, thanks to writer Wes Brown.
No, not that Wes Brown.
The performances of the three young English actors were a joy to watch especially the interplay between the Otto brothers – Sam Underwood and Daniel Sharman while Frank Dillane has come a long way since his days doing a knock-off, junkie Johnny Depp impersonation in season one.
I wondered if this episode would hold its own when I realised the grown-ups (Kim Dickens, Domingo Colman, Rueben Blades and Michael Greyeyes) would be in absentia throughout, but Australian Alycia Debnam-Carey also stepped up just as much as her character namesake.
After telegraphing Jake’s death with the line “You’re the last good man alive”, actually killing him off was a masterstroke as it sets up an interesting dynamic moving forward. Alicia will be out for some good ‘ole Shakespearian revenge with her trusty AK and we are left with Frank and the sleep-deprived, insane Otto brother, Troy to work out their differences and come up with a plan to save the ranch from certain oblivion before (or more likely, as) Madison et al arrive back with the water truck.
The Steinbeck reference was as smile-inducing for me as it was beautifully written. In the scene when Jake knelt, gun in hand, on top of his mentally-ill brother (and after telling an earlier story about a rabbit) Troy, quite knowingly, delivered the line “Tell me about the rabbits.”
If you don’t know already – where the hell didn’t you go to school? The line is borrowed from John Steinbeck’s brilliant Of Mice and Men, specifically the final scene when George has to kill best friend Lenny as his mental illness has caused them both one too many problems.
By killing sensible Jake and keeping cray-cray Troy alive, Fear The Walking Dead has just delivered us a glorious alternative version of Of Mice and Men in which Lenny kills George.
You wouldn’t see that in The Walking Dead. Let’s hope every future episode contains a nod to a great American author – next week I’d like to see gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear And Loathing The Walking Dead In Las Vegas.
In summary, wonderful, wonderful TV. And, on a day that should have belonged to Star Trek: Discovery, that’s some platitude. Thank you, AMC!
Fear The Walking Dead S03E13 “This Land Is Your Land” airs on October 1st on AMC.