Despite a couple of unbelievable plot developments, "We All Fall Down" is easily the best episode of Fear the Walking Dead to date. We're introduced to a new family — good-hearted fatalist George and his clan of survivalists — who immediately become the show's most complex characters. They aren't defined by a single trait like Travis and his family are (the less said about Chris's usual angsty shenanigans, the better), but rather by impulses to keep their heads down and be suspicious of any outsiders. George and his family are proof that another worldview is possible.
As played by David Warshofsky, George feels like a flesh-and-blood person, equally inviting and morose. He seems to know what he's doing, but doesn't have the courage to put his firewood-chopping, game-shooting, fence-mending skills to their fullest use — which makes him the perfect foil for Travis, a character whose biggest asset is his indomitable reserves of optimism. George has taught his family to be pragmatic, and they therefore don't expect anything but to stay put and survive as long as they can. Their only goal is to delay the inevitable, avoiding what the zombie apocalypse has already done to San Diego and several other major cities.
Viewers may spend much of "We All Fall Down" wondering if George and his family can be trusted. Once we get past the shocking revelation that they are, in fact, as nice as they seem, the episode develops a fascinating split between the two families. The biggest difference is a matter of perspective: Travis decisively tells George that his family has chosen to "survive," one of the few times he's dared to make an unqualified declaration of intent. They may not know where they're going by episode's end, and they definitely don't know if they have the resources to take care of George's children, Harry and Willa. But they choose to do both because they know it's what they should do.
This stands in stark contrast to George's down-to-earth outlook, as well as his insistence that he hasn't given up, but rather has chosen to focus his limited resources on defending his family. George's philosophy is expanded by his wife, Alyssa, when she tells Madison that their family has chosen to "[bide] our time ’til it's over." The ambiguity inherent in "’til it's over" says a lot about George's family: Come what may, they will hunker down and wait things out.
In some ways, George is a tragic figure: His children will grow up knowing that the world is not the ideal place it should be, but they also will be prepared for the worst. Harry plays with zombified GI Joe dolls, while his older brother, Seth, dispatches stray walkers like he's doing a common household chore. These kids will outlast their parents because they've been taught vital coping strategies at perilously young ages.
Then again, by refusing to do more than mend his family's fences, George inadvertently welcomes trouble. His clan is ready to deal with almost every threat that comes their way — except venturing away from home. Fear the Walking Dead is, after all, a family drama, where the loss of domestic security looms large. It's telling that the best episode of the series takes place after we've moved away from the comfort of the (quarantined) suburbs to a yacht without a port. Fear the Walking Dead is at its best when it poses questions without easy answers.
"We All Fall Down" also gives Daniel some much-needed character development. We've come to expect Chris to rebel against Travis, so the scenes where Chris takes a pickaxe to several zombies aren't that surprising. Still, it's refreshing to see Ofelia take Daniel to task when she laments, "I'm starting to understand this world better [...] It helps me to understand you. It's cruel." George disproves Ofelia's cynicism by offering Travis resources, books, and even some heart-felt advice. He's a good man who also happens to have given up hope beyond a certain finite point. Daniel, by contrast, is stingy and mistrustful: He saves his energy whenever he can — he doesn't lift a finger when Seth has to kill his undead mother — and looks for more information on Strand while he is away. Daniel doesn't do anything that season one hadn't prepared us to see. But it is refreshing to see the character's unsavory behavior get rebuked by George's counterexample. Survivors can be both good-natured and self-reliant, a sentiment that more supporting characters ought to exemplify.
The weakest moments in this episode are conversely those we can see coming from a mile away. There's the trite scene where Seth teaches Chris how to let off steam. And then there's the completely ineffective sequence where Nick finds a hidden stash of poisonous pills. It doesn't really prove Nick's theory about George being a bad person — wouldn't you want a contingency plan in case things went south fast? — and instead reveals the series's weak characterization of Nick. He may have quit using, but he's still defined by his past as a junkie. Characters are never as complicated as they seem on Fear the Walking Dead; they're either what they used to be, or unconvincing bizarro versions of their past selves.
But that doesn't really matter in "We All Fall Down," an episode that shifts the show's spotlight away from Travis's family for some much-needed world-building. Here's hoping that there's a lot more of it coming.
- Nick: "Something is off here." Alicia: "Everything's off. Everywhere." Thanks for clearing that one up, Alicia. Big help.
- Alicia: "I drank too much wine. My mind is racing." That's not how wine works …
- Nick: "Hey, Travis, I can help if you want though. I know at-risk youth. I am at-risk youth." Not only a good line, but a great line delivery.
- Anybody else think of Italian horror master Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2 while watching the dreamlike opening sequence? That's a great cold opening.
- Good news, zed-heads: Fear the Walking Dead was just renewed for a third season. I wonder how that's going to affect the show's long-term narrative plans. Does that mean we'll get an open-ended season finale, or a tidy wrap-up? I'm hoping that the show does what The Walking Dead hasn't, and kills off a major character — like, for instance, Chris.