By Nicole Prieto | Staff Writer
Drawing a close to what is possibly the greatest epoch in The Walking Dead TV-universe, Season 3 of Fear the Walking Dead literally blows things of the water in an action-packed, two-episode finale.
Madison fulfilled her promise to Daniel to reunite him with his bitten daughter, Ofelia — even though he arrived just moments too late. Alicia struck out on her own and joined forces with the pickaxe-wielding Diana to make a “killing” selling walker parts at the trade post. Nick fell back into bad habits and, with Troy in tow, goes on a drug-addled night on the town. Last episode, Victor appears to make a shady offer to the Proctor Gang, apparently putting his loyalty to the Clark family on the line. Season 3’s second half set us up for an impressive finale.
If you have not watched “Things Bad Begun” and “Sleigh Ride,” this is your final warning — because here is the good, the OK, and the ugly of FTWD’s magnum-opus finisher.
If performances in the midseason premiere were good, the ones in the finale are beyond compare.
The finale reflects a breaking point for several characters without giving any unnecessary melodrama. Alicia’s need to be away from her family always made sense, especially after her traumatizing experience in the food storage bunker. At one of the lowest points in her life, her good sense is put to the test when Proctor John, kingpin of a notorious gang controlling the trading post, requires her to help out his gang’s resident doctor, Eddie. John has a paralyzing growth on his spine. If Alicia fails to help out Eddie during the surgery to remove it, both of them will be gunned down by John’s men.
The surgical scene is brief but is one of the show’s most memorable so far. John elects to stay awake during the surgery. The most Alicia can do as Eddie cuts into John’s back is to keep him distracted from the pain. She grasps his hand and keeps him focused on telling her stories about his aunt and uncle. In just a few moments, actor Ray McKinnon paints John as a complicated villain — without putting any cards up. Alycia Debnam-Carey, for her own part, convinces us that Alicia is still the strong, quick-witted woman we have seen grow on the show so far.
The TWD world loves its meaningless deaths (see Jessie Anderson from Season 6 and Chris Manawa from FTWD Season 2), but FTWD has now thankfully bucked that trend. The finale saw the deaths of Lola and Troy, both of which were set up well and given an appropriate amount of dramatic breathing space.
After being shielded by Nick’s lies, the truth finally comes out: Troy was the one who guided the devastating walker herd toward the ranch. Madison, with little fanfare, strikes Troy down with a hammer when she realizes he does not regret what he did. His unremarkable death is scarily appropriate; his actions against others were always big — whether devastating the ranch with a walker horde or conducting twisted experiments on others at the militia camp.
Lola’s death, on the other hand, is appropriately tragic. The show is not subtle about how Daniel regards her like a daughter. On the dam, she manages to gun down some of Proctor John’s men before John kills her. Her body is later propped up to a side of the dam with a note left on her chest; Daniel pays his respects by laying Ofelia’s rosary in Lola’s hand.
The deaths this season, overall, were packed with meaning and did not come off as convenient ways to advance the story. If FTWD can keep up this trend in tandem with the rest of its dramatic successes, we might be looking at one of the greatest zombie entries in contemporary culture.
Sincere surprises are hard to come by in TWD and early FTWD seasons. (That is, surprises not just consisting of cheap shock tactics and gory deaths.) While Nick is surrounded by Proctor John’s gang on the dam, the men are inexplicably sniped off at a distance by Taqa and Crazy Dog, whose appearance is unexpected. Earlier in the finale, Nick initially warns everyone of the gang’s raid, and Madison says her goodbyes to both men. They intend to find any of their surviving people up north but promise to do some scouting on their way out.
For all intents and purposes, it would have made sense not to see them again until next season. Their sudden appearance was, frankly, just good storytelling. Plus, Taqa’s compliment to Crazy Dog about making a good headshot lightened the tone of the scene without being cheesy. Hopefully, this is a sign that future seasons will be as subtly compelling.
Nick’s attempted sacrifice is interesting in how underwhelming it is treated by the show. When he flips the trigger, the dam’s foundations start to crumble apart — with the rest following kind of slowly. It is a far cry from the over-dramatic explosion of the CDC building from TWD’s Season 1 finale. There is enough time for Daniel to walk up to Nick and snap him out of his reverie, indicating that we are likely to see both men again in Season 4.
Really, Madison’s Christmas-themed dream sequences in “Sleigh Ride” were long, unnecessary and a little awkward. Season 3 hit a lot of punches with strong content and scary-good villains. The finale saw Madison truly shine as a character. But Madison serving a turkey dinner/Jeremiah’s head as a vehicle for her to confront her past undermines the show’s subtle storytelling thus far.
Nick sets off the bombs lining the dam’s foundation, releasing the water to the people as Efrain wanted. As Proctor John is escorted off the crumbling dam, Nick is soon joined by Daniel. Madison, Alicia and Victor speed off in one of the Proctor Gang’s motorboats but are quickly overwhelmed by the released dam water. Taqa and Crazy Dog, who have done what they can, decide to continue on north. Madison, alive, washes up on a concrete riverbed as people from the area flock to get bucketfuls of the released water.
After Season 2’s comparatively abysmal end, this writer was blindsided by how well Season 3 carried itself. From beautiful character arcs to heart-stopping episodes, FTWD upped its standard beyond anything we have seen in the show before. Here’s to looking forward to Season 4.