The reflection on the morality of violence has been a central theme in this season of Fear the Walking Dead. In previous seasons, we have seen our main characters accepting killing as a necessity in the collapse of law and order that followed the apocalypse. They were ‘doing what it takes’. They got accustomed to killing walkers and then even people in the name of security and survival – though it did not seem to be working all that well. Throughout this season, however, there is a shift towards moving away from violence. Opting for nonviolence at this point comes hand in hand with the underlying message of moving forward and building a new civilisation.
‘I lose people, and I lose myself’. The test to overcome this curse is the core theme of the season, and not just for Morgan. Loss, violence, and the effort to help others to make up for past acts of violence is something that most of the characters have in common: Morgan, as we have seen in TWD, ‘lost himself’ in the past, resulting in significant killing sprees. Here we are just told that‘ he did things’; Madison committed several murders in the past seasons; Nick killed the Vulture Ennis, Charlie’s guardian; Charlie killed Nick; Alicia and her group massacred the whole group of the Vultures and shot John; June and John accidentally caused someone’s death in their past as a result of their actions. Sarah and Wendell kidnapped Jim.
Good violence vs evil violence
The sense of guilt for the violence they have committed is frequently brought up, and our heroes seem broken by it. This guilt makes them feel more human and we feel for them. This is also something that distinguishes the good guys from the bad guys: the villains in this season show no remorse. For example, the Filthy Woman, smiles and laughs whenever she kills or threatens to.
Nonetheless, the remorse for the violence that Alicia and her group have committed in this season is rather impersonal and lacks real emotional connection with the victims. The emphasis is always on the heroes and ‘who they had become’, which they now regret. Yet, the victims killed by the group are never mentioned. Not only we forget of how Alicia’s group wiped out an entire group, but also that Alicia almost killed John for no reason, and there are no apologies for it.
In contrast, we are constantly reminded of the effects of the violence committed by the villains and the suffering it brings. For example, in the first part of the season, the Vultures’s violence is amplified by all the reminders about Madison’s efforts to build something good and her selfless sacrifice.
The only character who is truly confronted about the crime she has committed in this season is Charlie. The emotional sequence in which Alicia confronts Charlie about killing Nick, she stresses the pain she caused to Nick, someone who, we are reminded, tried to save her. No mention of the fact that Nick had killed someone Charlie loved, too. Hence, despite the remorse that does tell us that killing was wrong, the violence of the good guys is not the same of the violence of the bad guys. Amplifying the remorse of the heroes and overlooking the victims makes us feel that, after all, and no matter what, our heroes are good, and their violence is fine.
From killing to helping
Just as the guilt remains vague and impersonal, so does the whole rhetoric about helping the other. Though Morgan and the rest of the group keep talking about their new mission of helping strangers, there is no emotional connection, no scene that make us feel that empathy. Again, while trying to do the ‘good thing’ to feel better, the emphasis is on the heroes, while the other is invisible and anonymous. Morgan’s determination to ‘help’ the Filthy Woman could not have worked out because he failed to create an emotional bond with her. We do sense some empathy and momentum through the Morgan’s efforts and sacrifice -when his leg is once again injured – to rescue his new friends and fulfil the expectations of leadership.
Overall, we get a positive and hopeful message at the end. Helping (almost) nonviolently is not dismissed as the way to go. We are shown that the qualities of a good leader is to help his people without falling into the temptation of harming others. Strength is staying away from violence. Is the whole group going to follow on a nonviolent path in the next seasons? We will see.
In this season, most of the characters are increasingly depicted with a special inseparable weapon that becomes part of their identity. Morgan has his stick, Alicia a new fancy rod, Luciana an axe, John a vintage revolver, Wandell a big gun and wheelchair blades, and Al is rather attached to her military van with guns. We know or we are shown their skills with their special weapons, and when they wield them it generates a ‘wow effect’. The ‘wow effect’ is even sexier in sequences when there is an audience, someone who witnesses and comments on the fighting skills. Despite the nonviolent turn, fighting skills are still sexy and needed.
There is an effort in this series to represent women as tough and strong. We never get the feeling that the women are less physically capable of dealing with walkers, human threats or looking after themselves than the men. Madison‘s leadership has been a key theme until the first half of the season. That role is partially taken over by Alicia, though under Morgan’s guidance.
Among the new characters there are also compelling strong women. Al, in particular, is always portrayed as very independent, fearless, and is very resourceful when it comes to the fight. While other characters wait for and follow Morgan’s lead, she takes her own decisions.
Luciana has been playing a secondary role so far. Her role was mainly that of a love interest, and here she is several times seen as vulnerable and in need of support, despite we know that she is also a good fighter. In this season, she does not make any significant contribution to the decisions taken by the group.
Charlie is the symbol of innocence, as the children’s book The Little Prince reminds us. She has little agency of her own, and seems manipulated by others, reason why she is repeatedly rescued despite her betrayals. Her innocence evokes empathy, and it is a sort of test for our group who need to choose between being human and taking care of her despite she could represent a threat, or security and vengeance. Charlie really starts talking and telling something about herself only after her confrontation with Alicia. Even then, her character appears in need of protection and parental bonds, which she is developing with Alicia, John and June.
Until this season, Fear was essentially the story of a white family, though surrounded by black and Latino characters. These include some of our favourites – Victor, Travis, the Salazars, and Luciana among others. In this season, we have black characters playing key roles in the narrative: a new black lead, as well as a black villain.
In this season we have, for the first time, a character with a disability joining the team: Wendall. His introduction in a toilet for people with disability and the dialogue about bit sound quite stereotypical. We are still getting to know him and his qualities. So far, he is a secondary character, but has a prominent role on the fights, showing that he is capable of looking after himself. He is the one to injure the villain in the second part of the season, eventually leading to her death.
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