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DON’T ‘FEAR THE WALKING DEAD’: A BIZARRE SERIAL KILLER IS REVEALED, SURVIVORS FACE NEW THREAT

The latest threat to hit the survivors takes its first victim as well as something personal, setting the stage for an epic confrontation to come.

Okay, so the “Fear the Walking Dead” storm was a bust, but we’re past it and we’re over it because the show got back on track in a big way this week.

After two weeks of solo adventures, “FTWD” converged multiple storylines just enough to make the show work better as a cohesive unit. One of the reasons “The Walking Dead” has lost viewers is because of its formulaic approach to storytelling and saving money. Split the cast and then have episodes just featuring one or a few of them until the next finale or premiere.

We feared the spinoff was going to follow in the footsteps of the parent a little too closely when we weathered the storm with Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) two weeks ago and then met a group of new survivors last week with Morgan (Lennie James).

The new episode kicked off with Al (Maggie Grace) and June (Jenna Elfman), so it looked like it was going to happen again, but then we checked back in on Morgan and his new friends and breathed a sigh of relief. This new ensemble is one worth exploring, and they’re dynamic together is where the true character development is going to lie.

Luckily, the new cast additions showed some great character moments, while Al and June were absolutely wonderful together. It was fantastic that the writers chose to let their story breathe through the bulk of the hour, without consuming it outright. Producers have said one of the joys of “FTWD” is that they have the room to delve into the characters more with a smaller cast, and both Elfman and Grace reaped the benefits of that.

THE STRONG SURVIVE

Al and June have been largely mysterious characters since their premiere, so this was a long overdue showcase. It also proved a showcase for the acting capabilities of both women, with Elfman really embracing June’s internal struggles to be the best version of herself. She really stepped outside of her comfort when she took on the task of trying to save Al’s van all by herself once the intrepid/obsessive reporter fell ill.

She even stayed mostly true to that path after she was held at gunpoint by the guy who stole it, trying to convince him that there was a better way. In many ways, June is Madison’s legacy, as it was Madison who took her in and first started to show her that there is a better way, and then John (Garret Dillahunt) solidified her hope in humanity’s future by being a genuinely decent and kindhearted person.

The jury’s still out on Al, who callously sent June into known danger alone on a lie. After falling ill, she lied and told June there was medicine on the van, which precipitated June’s showdown with the thief. “I almost killed someone to get medicine that wasn’t there,” June chastised her.

“You say the truth matters. Are you telling me the truth? The whole thing?” June asked Al. And we’re with her. There’s clearly more to her obsession with that SWAT van that she’s willing to admit, which makes her a bit of a hypocrite. She hides behind the lens so she doesn’t have to out her truth, and Grace played that tortured secrecy brilliantly. You could see that she wanted to open up, but just couldn’t.

Instead, she brushed off the fact that she endangered someone she supposedly cares about. And the fact that she nearly walked away from a chance to reconnect with Morgan, and possibly their other friends, for that damned van speaks volumes. Someday, we’re gonna need that origin story!

The WEAK DIE

First, though, they’re gonna need to get the van back. June thought she was in danger when she came upon the guy who stole it, she’s in for a world of surprise when they reconnect again. The mysterious woman (Tonya Pinkins) introduced in the last episode is sabotaging the good works of the “find-take-leave” initiative, and she’s doing it with the corpse of the guy who started it on hand.

We saw her writing his message on his face in the previous episode, and now we see that this is her signature move, effectively making her a serial killer. Only her victims don’t stay dead, so instead, she keeps their undead bodies along as unwitting servants to her murder schemes.

This week, she changed the number on a highway sign to trick the original van’s thief into thinking that’s where June was. She called out on the radio with an offer for him to join her on the better path of doing good for others. Unfortunately, her recruitment efforts didn’t go quite as well as Morgan’s, though it’s not her fault.

We’re not gonna quibble over the fact that if he was looking for Mile Marker 27, he’d have likely been counting them up or down, so wouldn’t he have noticed he went from 20 to 27, or 22 to 27? Well, he didn’t and by changing 21 to 27, our serial killer was able to kill him. She then marked his face with his message about only looking out for the “people you know” in this world.

She thinks these people are weak, so she’s freeing them from their weakness and making them strong as undead walkers. But she still needs to mark them with the sign of their weakness. Maybe it’s like those pet-shaming posts on Facebook, only if you killed your pet before hanging a sign around their neck. Wow, that’s a terrible idea.

Callan McAuliffe as Alden, Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS

Rather than spend every episode on a single character, the narrative now is that Morgan, June, Al and their new friends are going to try and reunite the gang, like the original “Muppet Movie.” It’s a much better driving focus for this back half of the season than disparate stories.

What we care about is this new group of characters and their dynamics together. We’ve seen them fractured and broken, but bit by bit they’re learning that it really is better out here together than it is to try and go it alone. Morgan seems to have finally learned the lesson, and even Al ultimately chose people over her precious van … for now.

Alicia even found common ground with the young girl who killed her brother, rather than kills her and is alone. We’re hopeful that this group can eventually come together and actually form a “family” unit to face these new threats together. We saw them splintered and in-fighting during the first half of the season. We’re ready for something different.

Plus, we’re still awaiting the fates of Victor (Colman Domingo, Luciana (Danny Garcia) and John post-storm. Oh, and since “If Daryl dies, we riot” became a thing for “The Walking Dead,” we’d like to propose a new mantra. “If John dies, we will forgive whoever did it.” It’s what John would want.

“Fear the Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.

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