AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead has aired three (of six) episodes so far and I’m happy to say it’s getting better. (See my less than positive review of the pilot episode.)
Basically, the show’s improved because the characters are coming to grips with the apocalypse and, as a result, are doing much less lounging around and whining about trivial things. We’re starting to see that fundamental divide opening up between those who can handle what’s happening and those who are living in denial—the divide, in other words, between the strong and the weak, between survivors and potential zombie food. Madison (Kim Dickens) is emerging as a leader, someone who can kill a walker when she has to. As is the enigmatic Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades), a refugee from El Salvador who projects an uncanny sense of “Been there, done that.” He gets to deliver the last, inscrutable, line of the episode. Looking out the window at the soldiers putting an X on the house across from him, he declares, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear: “It’s already too late.” Madison’s partner Travis (Cliff Curtis), on the other hand, seems unable to kill the undead (claiming they’re only sick) and, in contrast to Salazar, his last words are: “Cavalry’s arrived. It’s gonna get better now.” We know which one of them is right.
What intrigued me most about episode three, though, was the title. Why is it called “The Dog”? Yes, there is a dog in the episode (briefly)—but why is it so important that the episode is named after it?
We meet the dog when it tries to get into Madison’s house. Nick (Frank Dillane) lets it in and it then runs to the other side of the house and starts barking—alerting Madison, Nick and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) to the walker lurching toward them. So we learn several things about the dog: it sensibly wants to get inside and it has a very real instinctual sense of impending threat. Madison, Nick, and Alicia seem less attuned to the dangers around them, however, and they rush out the house (granted, they’re going to steal a gun) and leave the door open. The appearance of the dog, in short, compels a contrast between its wanting to get in, and the human characters fleeing out.
Tragically, for the much more sensible dog, the humans’ idiocy in leaving their door open allows the walker to get in, eat the dog, and endanger Travis and the others when they finally arrive. Tellingly, the walker is eating the dog in front of the open door.
The appearance and almost immediate death of the dog says a couple of things, I think. First of all, it made me realize how few animals we’ve seen in The Walking Dead—how few animals, in other words, seem to have survived the apocalypse. There’s the horse Rick rides into Atlanta in the very first episode; there’s the deer in season two (episode 1) that gets Carl shot; there are the pigs in the prison, in season four, which Rick ends up sacrificing (episode 2); and there are the baby rabbits Lizzie kills in season four (episode 10). Otherwise, animals seem strangely absent. What happened to them?
You would think that animals would be better equipped to survive than the humans. Indeed, in its first episode, FTWD featured Travis, in class, lecturing on Jack London’s story, “To Build a Fire.” He tells the class, when it’s “man versus nature,” “nature always wins.” And London’s story bears that claim out: the bitter Alaskan cold kills the human protagonist—because he doesn’t know, respect, and fear it enough—while the dog survives. In FTWD, however, the dog dies.
I’d argue that The Walking Dead, in general, shows how interwoven the fates of humans and animals are—and, more particularly, that animals are casualties of humans’ various sins: the dog in FTWD, as well as the horse, the deer, the pigs, and the rabbits in TWD, all die because of humans.
This fact gives the lie to Travis’s claim that “nature always wins.” In fact, in the Anthropocene (the world as profoundly shaped by humans), nature always loses.
I suspect, then, that if TWD franchise ever offers us a reason for the end of the world, it’ll be a human reason. Both TWD and its spin-off seem interested in signaling, every chance they get, that humans are the problem.
As an aside, there are plans to show a 30 minute “special” during season six of The Walking Dead (airing October 11) about an outbreak on a plane en route to Los Angeles. The episode will apparently introduce a new character, who’ll be appearing in season two of Fear the Walking Dead.[i] I’m wondering if we saw this plane near the end of the episode. Its engine sounds like it’s in trouble and Nick looks up, pointedly drawing our attention to it.
[i] James Hibberd, “The Walking Dead to Show Airline Zombie Attack in Stand-Alone Special,” Entertainment Weekly, August 28, 2015. http://www.ew.com/article/2015/08/28/walking-dead-airline.