After a fiery mid-season finale, it was quite a different story for the Fear the Walking Dead mid-season premiere. Episode 8, "Grotesque" followed a different format than what we've seen in the series thus far, and solely focused on Nick, who left the group at the end of Episode 7.
The episode followed Nick's journey from leaving Juan and Sofia (who are headed by car to La Paz in Baja California Sur), and his long dangerous 100 mile trek in the unforgiving Mexican landscape to eventually end up at Tijuana. There he came across a new group who embrace the dead, much like Celia did.
Despite the episode being focused on one character, it still managed to give us a bit of action and some decent character development all in one. I can't help but feel that Season 2b might do the same as Season 2a, with a slower premiere episode before picking up the speed in subsequent episodes. But even though there was just one character on his own journey, there was still a pile of things scattered through the episode. Take a look at the five things you might have missed in Episode 8, "Grotesque."
1. Nick's journey was pretty well reflected in the soundtrack
While both Fear the Walking Dead and The Walking Dead have impressive scores, both shows use actual songs sparingly, ensuring when they do pop up it's for maximum effect. The mid-season premiere did this beautifully when it played the José González song "How Low" during the montage of Nick beginning his journey North.
The song is not only beautiful, but its lyrics — which are all about the human condition — also really fit Nick's circumstances and story. Take a read:
How low are you willing to go
Before you reach all your selfish goals
Punch line after punch line
Leaving us sore, leaving us sore
Absorbed in your ill hustling
You're feeding a monster, just feeding a monster
Invasion after invasion
This means war, this means war
Someday you'll be up to your knees
In the shit you seed
All the gullible that you mislead
Won't be up for it
Obviously some of these lyrics seem to fit Nick to a t. For example, going to extreme lengths to reach his goal of finding a community of people who embrace the dead, meanwhile abandoning his worried family. However, I would also say that there are lines that seem to apply to people like Celia, who took the impressionable, gullible young man, and planted this idea that the dead should almost be revered, driving a wedge between him and his mother and sister.
2. Nick has had people manipulating/controlling him for a long time
There were a few flashbacks sprinkled throughout Episode 8, giving us a new look into what Nick's life was like before the outbreak. During the first flashback to his time in rehab, we see him chatting with Gloria (yes, Gloria from Episode 1!) who is trying to coach him into shitting on his parents, so his rehab sentence won't be extended. Despite Nick's insistence that he couldn't do that to his family, by the second flashback it looks like she's talked him into it, though that plan is derailed by his father's death.
What was interest though, is to see that Nick has clearly been pretty easily manipulated or lead by people for some time. Celia being the big example, but Gloria as well, who clearly aided his slip back into addiction. Now that Nick is with a whole new group, will be as lead by them as he has been in the past?
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3. There were a couple of nods to 'The Walking Dead'
They were small, but there were surely a couple of references to Fear's companion series The Walking Dead spread throughout "Grotesque." First up was the obviously similarities between the shots of Nick, alone on a deserted road in Mexico, and Rick (and his ill-fated horse), on a deserted road in Atlanta. The shot from The Walking Dead is fairly iconic, and it was pretty cool to see Fear the Walking Dead pay homage to it.
The other obvious reference was a little on the nose, but one that many Walking Dead fans would have loved after the frustrating events of the Season 6 finale - the use of a baseball bat as a weapon. Sure, it could have been coincidence that the woman chose to pick up a baseball bat, but it's more like that it was a little nod for fans of Negan and Lucille. And hey, at least this time we got to actually see who was being hit!
3. We finally know what happened to Nick and Alicia's father
There had been some mention of Nick and Alicia's father throughout Fear the Walking Dead, but it wasn't until Episode 8 that we actually learned a bit about him, including how he died.
During the first flashback in the episode, Nick explained to Gloria in rehab that his father was a kindly man who "wouldn't hurt a fly." However he also revealed that although his dad used to be there for him, something happened and since then has become constantly tired, preferring to isolate himself from his family. During his rant, Nick talks about how although his father listens to what he might say, he's not present, and believes he hasn't done his duty of teaching his son to be a man.
Sadly, in the second flashback it's revealed that his father died, with his mother Madison telling him that it was a car accident. The death is devastating for Nick, who is already struggling to overcome an addiction, and it seems like this was likely the event that sent Nick spiraling deeper into his addiction. It really explains a lot about his character.
But I do have one issue with the story about his father's death. During the first flashback when Nick imagines he's talking to his father, he says "I guess the world is too much for you." Now, I'm not sure about you, but I can't help but think that this indicated his dad was severely depressed, or struggling from a mental illness of some sort. Does any one else think that perhaps his crash was an intentional act, and that Madison lied to spare her emotionally vulnerable son from the truth? I definitely think so.
4. There was a great piece of symbolism
Props to Redditor firelights for spotting this very cool piece of symbolism within the episode. Just after Nick is attacked by the dogs, and the herd of walkers are drawn away by the noise of the horn, he grabs a belt from an injured walker in order to use it as a tourniquet on his leg. This was is stark contrast to the other time we saw Nick with a belt tourniquet, which was during the flashback scene when he and Gloria were about to shoot up.
It was a small moment, but it served to show how Nick's outlook on life had really changed since the apocalypse began. Despite having everything to live for pre-apocalypse, Nick was constantly on the verging of killing himself. But, now when it looks likes there's very little to live for, Nick was still doing everything in his power to stay alive.
5. A very different type of group has been introduced
So, now that Nick has travelled the hard road to Tijuana, he finds himself inside a compound with a new community, called Colonia el Porvenir. Nick's motive for the long trek was to find a community who believe that the dead aren't monsters, but has he achieved his aim, or does this group have a seedy underside? Given their rough and brutal tactics on the highway, it definitely seems like life here may not be quite as idyllic as Nick was expecting.
Fear the Walking Dead returns with Episode 9, "Los Muertos" on Sunday, August 28