*SPOILERS AHEAD … AND ZOMBIE-OBSESSED PEOPLE WITH AN UNNATURAL AFFINITY TO DEATH*
So the apocalypse huh?
Can’t live with its side-effects – all those pesky, flesh-craving zombies and humanity’s basest desires writ large – and you can’t hang onto your sanity.
Well, not if you’re Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) Person Most Likely to Die Next (PMLTDN)/ Person Most Likely to Lose His Mind and Kill Next (PMLTLAKN) who spends “Sicut Cervus”, which is the Latin title of a a famous piece of church music by Palestrina, lifted from Psalm 41:2, which is all about longing for God, either failing to kill the zombies who are trying to kill Madison (Kim Dickens) or walking into the bedroom where Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and her mother are sleeping and creepily staring at them, knife in purposeful hand, while they sleep.
Yup, all his marbles are most definitely not present and accounted for; for his part at least Travis (Cliff Curtis) accepts that PMLTDN/PMLYLAKN is a few zombies short of a shuffling herd and beseeches Madison aka Mother of the Month who would do anything to save her own kids, to help him bring Chris back from the abyss.
Having spent the better of this episode, and indeed all of season 2 snarling threateningly at whoever is within reach – be it Strand (Colman Domingo), their host Celia Flores (Marlene Forte) – and doing whatever was needed to save her kids, Madison naturally … completely and utterly refuses to lift a finger.
Ha! Take that Travis – poor choice in girlfriends there my friend. Wait, wait not so fast …
In fact, in this instance, I blame the writers of The Walking Dead franchise who for reasons unknown seem unable to write strong women characters without turning them into nasty, screeching self-centred harridans.
A cold, heartless woman is no more a strong woman that a cold, heartless man; they are simply lacking in any recognisable forms of humanity, which robs them of likability and relatability, irrespective of their gender.
And Madison, who seems to have left any ability to interact socially with pretty much anyone but her kids back in L.A. has become little more than a dislikable screeching caricature.
It’s a pity really because “Sicut Cervus” which examined with some insight and understanding peoples’ varied reactions to death and the dead, and which would have benefited from some nuanced storytelling, instead ended up with characters behaving in fairly un-subtle, fairly one-note ways.
Chris is just one example.
Another is Celia Forte, mother of Luis (Arturo Del Puerto) who died trying to get them to the Baja, Maxico estate of Strand’s husband Thomas (Dougray Scott), and who had a real opportunity for bringing some real depth to the way in which people react to the way death has gone from something consigned to the Afterlife to an ever-present reality that cannot be easily ignored or dismissed.
Uncanningly relaxed about the fact that her son was left to turn into a zombie – it was, apparently his rather bizarre dying wish, at odds with just about everyone else dying on planet earth at the moment – Celia expounds long and hard on how beautiful it is that death is now everywhere, as much a part of life as life itself.
It’s a twisted viewpoint granted but she says with such grace and calm eloquence that you accept that she is at peace with this odd turn of events, that it fits her cultural view of death, drawn from Aztec beliefs, which sees it not so much as something to be feared but as an extension of living that should be embraced.
That’s why she’s locked away all the zombified family members of the workers on the estate in the cellar, Hershel’s barn-like, where she feeds them with dogs and encourages their kids to come and stand and talk to them like they’re still alive.
Again, a touching if unsettling acceptance of the apocalypse that makes sense to her and those around her and if left in the initial nuanced tones in which its first presented, would have made perfect sense.
However as “Sicut Cervus” progresses, she increasingly comes to resemble some sort of weird Angel of Death, less a woman steeped in her own cultural beliefs and more a mad woman whom people like Daniel (Rubén Blades) seemed destined to have a big run in with sooner rather than later.
In other words, less a woman finding meaning in an impossible-to-understand situation through her cultural views on death and more a looming unhinged Big Bad of sorts who must be stopped.
Again, any cultural or character nuance is lost and we’re left with a woman who’s less a fully-rounded person and more a prisoner of narrative momentum.
The one thing “Sicut Cervus” gets right – part from the opening scene, replete with the kind of fear and misunderstanding that it’s entirely natural people would have in the face of zombies rising among us, and Nick (Frank Dillane) bonding with Celia – is the tender reunion between Strand and Thomas, who sadly has been bitten and is not long for this world.
The grief on Strand’s face when he realises he is about to lose the one thing, the one person that matters to him in this world is heartbreaking, a lovely grounding of a man who for much of the series run has been painted in broad, rather heartless mercenary brushstrokes.
In his scenes with Thomas, in which for one brief moment Madison is allowed to act like a caring person and not a nasty avenging angel when she brings them dinner in bed, he is a fully-rounded fleshed out person who despite his obvious vivacious love of life is willing to imbibe person if it means he is not left behind when Thomas goes to join the other dead in the cellar (it’s strongly intimated by an admiring Celia that this is where Thomas and Victor will head once they die).
That he is unable to follow through on his vow to Thomas to join him in the Afterlife matters not one bit – the fact that he was willing to give up everything to be with his beloved, and bring a whole group of strangers with him, speaks volumes about his character; he isn’t a perfect person by any stretch but he does care about the people to whom he is committed and people like Madison would do well to remember that going into the future.
By and large “Sicut cervus” which leaves us with a lit dramatic powder keg in preparation for next week’s mid-season finale, “Shiva”, an ominous title if ever there was one, was a typical well-realised slow-burning Fear the Walking Dead episode, albeit one saddled with rather too obvious characterisations and a growing needed for big bombastic dramatic moments, the siren song of which I hope the show, which has benefited from a more languid, thoughtful storytelling style from the outset, can avoid.
- Mid-season finale already? Well didn’t that, in contrast to the show’s meditative narrative style, come fast? So what’s in store as death, both welcomed and unwelcomed, got in store as we finish off the first half of season 2?