Spoilers ahead for Fear the Walking Dead's “Brother's Keeper,” because hey... it's a TV Recap.
One of my biggest complaints about Fear The Walking Dead has been the lack of walkers as anything more than an inconvenience for the characters over the last three seasons. Well, the walkers finally have risen, thanks to Troy, as a walker horde (not a herd as it would have been called in The Walking Dead) heads toward The Ranch.
The twisty episode stands with the show's best, even though the strongest characters (aka Madison, Strand, and Salazar) are absent as the focus goes back on The Ranch, lack of water, and crazy Troy. We also get a surprise death that makes it feel like things are ramping up as the season heads to its end.
God Help Those Who Help Themselves
“Brother's Keeper” opens with Troy out in the desert, writing in his journal by a camp fire where he's roasting a rattlesnake he killed. He's alone and looks at the gun he was given when he as banned from The Ranch. It still has only one bullet in it. He walks down a road and finds the old outpost with the hole-in-the-head-dead-guy-in-a-chair from the first part of the season.
Troy explores the outpost and finds a cross stitch sign that reads “God help those who help themselves.” He studies the wall for a moment, and then props open a secret compartment with a really big rifle and some huge bullets hiding in the wall.
Outside, he digs a hole and buries chair-guy, then writes in his journal again by a fire. The next day he looks out on the beautiful vista of hills and rock and sparse vegetation, and raises his gun. Is he going to shoot himself in the head? No, he raises the gun in the air and fires. The distant rasp of walkers answer his shot and Troy smiles. Crazy Troy is back with a vengeance.
While I was wondering if it was going to be weeks before we saw Troy again, the writer's didn't pull an Ofelia here. It's a powerful opening and it tells us volumes about Troy's state of mind.
Meanwhile, Back at The Ranch
Nick and Crazy Dog are killing walkers that are after the cattle. With the water due to run out in six weeks, they're not going to be able to keep the herd alive, so they decide to kill the cattle and make beef jerky. Jake isn't happy about the decision, but Alicia tells him she agrees with it. It doesn't really make any sense why everyone is in such a rush to make decisions they can't come back from when they have six weeks of water. And for some reason, they don't want to wait for Madison and Taca to get back. However, as we soon find out, lack of water isn't their biggest problem.
Jake tells Alicia there are other places they can go to live, and that his family has a cabin in the low desert where there's enough game to hunt to keep two people alive. “Everything I was fighting for is gone. Dead land. Just a bunker full of supplies,” he tells her. But Alicia admits that they are lucky to have that. She doesn't want to go anywhere.
Jake's disillusion with the state of The Ranch grows, and he wonders if Alicia really loves him, or if she was just trying to manipulate him and the situation. It's been interesting to see how Jake has fallen apart and gotten weaker since his dad died. And it makes perfect sense that he'd want to hole up with a pretty girl in an isolated cabin with all the worries of The Ranch behind him, as they wait for the world to either die or come back. But the fact that Alicia isn't willing to do that for him is another blow following his father's death, Troy's banning, and the Nation's take over.
Meanwhile, Nick has problems of his own. He's having trouble coming to terms with killing Otto. “I killed a man and now I'm sleeping in his house,” he tells Alicia. For some reason, Nick and Alicia take up smoking. Sure. Why not? It's not like cancer is likely to kill them.
Later that night, a noise wakes up Nick. It's Troy, and he tells Nick he's on a mission. “There's a reckoning at hand, something new, something to delight in,” Troy tells him. And that in a few hours, the entire place will be “obliterated.” He wants Nick to get Jake so he can show them that something. Then he runs off.
Nick goes to Jake, and Alicia and lets him know that Troy was at the cabin, and that there is something big he wanted to show them. Jake and Nick head out to find Troy, but not before Alicia can tell Jake that she cares about him, and that “you're the last good man I know.”
As Nick and Jake drive along the empty highway, Jake admits that there's always been something wrong with Troy, and that, “he's not going to stop. He's not going to get better. I warned him.”
Then, as Nick looks off on the horizon, he says the one word you're really not supposed to say on TV. At first it looks like a dust storm, but no. As he tells Alicia over the walkie-talkie: “It's a horde and it's coming.” Finally we get our first walker herd/horde on Fear.
Just as they're about to try and lead the horde away from The Ranch, they hear a boom. Down below, they see Troy with his really big gun with several of its enormous bullets missing. “It's a cleansing,” Troy says. He admits he's led the horde (which I'm pretty sure he created) to The Ranch for two days. Jake's ready to kill Troy, but Troy tells him enough to let Jake know that Nick killed their father. Jake says it doesn't matter. Just as Jake's ready to kill Troy, Nick hits him in the head with the butt of the rifle, and Jake tumbles down the hill where a walker grabs him and takes a chunk out of his arm. Nick and Troy fight off the few walkers, and Nick cuts off Jake's arm to save him.
The way the scene plays out, you don't really know whether Troy or Jake is most at risk. When Nick interferes and saves Troy, and in the end sacrifices Nick, it's a big surprise. Sadly for Troy, he has to give up his crazy to try and save his brother's life.
At The Ranch, they see the walker dust horde coming, and mobilize to protect themselves. They break out the guns and pull motor homes in a line to give the dead a path, and to keep them from hitting The Ranch. But it seems like in moments the walkers are upon them, hitting up against the motor homes with the humans on the other side. They kill the few walkers that come at them under the vehicles.
From above, Nick watches through binoculars, with Troy attending to a dead Jake. “He wasn't supposed to die, not like this. He was the one who wasn't supposed to die,” says Troy. He asks Nick to kill him, but Nick tells him to do it himself. Even with Jake's death, Troy's made it all about him.
Jake's death is shocking and unexpected. It's a great twist for a sad character, who never was really the survivor his father raised him to be. And once again, Nick is responsible for a major death. For some reason, he feels he has to save Troy, and that hit on Jake's head ends up being the death of him. It will be interesting to see if he rides the guilt about Jake the way he has with Otto.
Nick watches as the walkers, through shear force of numbers, push one of the motor homes out of the way and begin to swarm toward Alicia and the rest of the living. Alicia leads the ranchers and the Nation toward the pantry bunker. She gets kind of kick ass in a not-to-comfortable-killing-walkers-and-taking-out-the-living-that-have-been-swarmed-by-walkers sort of way, and Alicia, Crazy Dog, and Ofelia fight their way to the bunker, past the dead that seem to be everywhere. With the doors bolted, the shell-shocked survivors huddle together inside.
Up on the hill, Jake has turned, and Troy struggles with him until he finally puts a knife in his brother's brain. Troy tells Nick he's tired. Nick responds: “We've got to find a way to save everyone you tried to kill. You can sleep when you're dead.” Kind of one of the best lines ever.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
I like Nick a lot. He's an interesting, unpredictable character. I'm not sure why he's intent on saving Troy, since Troy and his guys murdered most of those in the Mexican community that Nick led over the border, along with dozens of others; he killed the family that was trying to leave The Ranch; and he created and led the walker dust horde to The Ranch's gates. The world, even in the apocalypse, would be a better place without Troy.
Alicia believes that Nick likes Troy because they are both self-destructive. Perhaps. But more likely it's because Nick was never able to save anyone during his drug-addled, pre-apocalyptic life, or in his sober, post-apocalyptic life either. But Nick really needs to stop saving Psycho Troy.
While I can come to terms with most the character's actions as being consistent with their characters, there's a couple other aspects of the episode that are problematic. You have a walker dust herd that isn't hiding behind trees or in buildings waiting to pop up and chow down on the characters. You can see them coming for miles, and they've got the dust cloud to prove it. The walkers seem to have magical abilities to travel along faster than a speeding truck.
And at The Ranch, why didn't they line up the trailers and then immediately get everyone into the pantry bunker to wait out the horde's passing? They'd have all the food and supplies they'd need to last for days, where they could make a plan to clear out the herd/horde at some point.
And finally, it's Walker 101, as Nick well knew: you kill a walker, smear some blood and guts on you, and you become invisible to the walkers. And walkers like sound. If you set someone up in an area you want them to go and start firing shots off or revving an engine, they'd at least disperse to some extent. Nick had the big elephant gun, and could have started firing shots off when he saw the walkers hitting The Ranch. But no. He just watches. What's up with that?
In the end, despite the magical walker speed and forgetting their basic Walker 101 survival skills, “Brother's Keeper” was a powerful episode that sets up the coming finale in a few weeks. And it should be fun to see how Nick and Troy end up saving the people Troy was trying to kill.
Here's a look at next week's Fear the Walking Dead: