‘Fear The Walking Dead’ Midseason Finale 2016 Review: Death and Revelations Abound In ‘Shiva’
Recap and review of Fear the Walking Dead – Midseason Finale 2016 – Shiva:
As I write this, the Fear the Walking Dead midseason finale has only just ended, and yet I feel it’s going to take me much, much longer to truly process how I feel about it. In a sense, it’s the best episode of the series, because there are changes that fundamentally upset the status quo. “Shiva” is progress for a show that had seemed diametrically opposed to such narrative urgency at the start of the season. Ultimately, I’m going to lean towards a thumbs up. Sure, we lost a great character in Daniel, but we gained an interesting conflict in the bargain, as Nick makes a break from his family.
But first, Daniel (Ruben Blades). I haven’t been shy about proclaiming Daniel as my favorite character, since he’s the most nuanced of the entire bunch, in my opinion. He’s a man who’s long been haunted by his actions in El Salvador, and we learn just how much after he hallucinates an image of his late wife, Griselda, who urges him to atone for the sins he’s committed, dating all the way back to his childhood as part of the junta. It becomes too much for Daniel to take, and so he pours gasoline, lights a match, and…well, that’s basically it for him. It’s a sad end to one of the more sensible characters in the lineup, but it’s hard to imagine how it could have ended any other way. On the one hand, he could have been written to eventually overcome the horrors of what he did in El Salvador, and make peace with the fact of all the people he’s killed. But I’m not sure the character of Daniel, as written, would have ever been able to let those horrors go.
I know there are a lot of people who take issue with how sudden Daniel’s descent into madness was, but I didn’t think it was sudden at all. He’s been quiet, reserved, and contemplative ever since the premiere, furthering himself from the group more and more with each passing episode, until he’s basically left with little else to do but dwell on his sins and failings. As much as I wish he were still around, and as much as I would have liked to have seen him overcome his issues (particularly since it’s hard to believe the Daniel we’ve known would leave Ofelia), I’d have been surprised if it didn’t end this way for Daniel. And it’s an arc that works not just because it feels like a natural end to Daniel’s character, but because it also has immediacy in the story itself. In much the same way fire purged Hershel’s farm in The Walking Dead‘s second season, Daniel’s fire consumes Celia’s compound and provides the group with the impetus to escape. Granted, it’s clear the remaining group would have fled anyway, since Celia was out of her damn mind, but this helped make everything feel more connected than it might have felt without Daniel’s storyline.
Of course, Celia continues to take center stage with her ongoing madness. It’s kind of intriguing to see the different interactions she has with various members of the group. For instance, she doesn’t get why Madison (Kim Dickens) understands what she’s trying to do by preserving the zombies, believing that, as a mother, she should understand better than anybody. And yet, Madison doesn’t understand. In fact, the one person who does is Nick (Frank Dillane), who’s reached a sort of harmony with the walkers, frequently walking among them thanks to his little trick of covering himself in walker guts. Hell, he even retrieves the zombified Luis and returns him to Celia, earning not only her gratitude, but a permanent spot for his family on the compound. This is big coming from Celia, whose inherent distrust of everyone manifests when she kicks Strand (Colman Domingo) and the rest of the group out of the compound.
With that said, she did at least have a reason when she ordered Strand to leave: turns out, she really thought Strand would kill himself and allow both he and Thomas to be turned. Shooting Thomas in the head last week basically took that option off the table, so she’d rather he just left altogether. Celia is a large enough presence that she damn near overwhelms the story, which is why it’s so shocking when she’s eventually killed off by Madison, who locks her down below with her own family of walkers. It creates a complication in that Nick was slowly beginning to identify more with Celia’s way of thinking than his own mother’s, and this makes the ending of the episode, in which Nick abandons his family once Celia’s compound is destroyed, feel all the more strange. I suppose if we’d spent more time with Celia, this might have worked better. But, for me, it felt like the show just arbitrarily making another character crazy to propel the story forward. With Daniel and Chris, I could see the building blocks in the story that led towards their mental break. But with Nick, not so much. Maybe it’ll seem more apparent on a rewatch.
But back to the other problems for the group: Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) is still out there, and Travis (Cliff Curtis) is still trying desperately to help him. This latter plotline ends up being surprisingly engaging, because we get to see the degree to which Chris has declined, psychologically. Not only does he take an innocent boy hostage, he damn near kills Travis when he tries to stop him. I haven’t always liked Chris, but I found that his story landed emotionally here, due to the overarching question of the episode: who are the REAL monsters here? Chris believes it’s too late for him, that he’s some irredeemable monster. But Travis refuses to give up on his son, choosing to remain with him rather than return to the group. Nick, who tracked down the two missing survivors, is told to tell Madison that he couldn’t find them.
And that’s basically what he intends to do…until he returns home to find Celia’s compound up in smoke. Rather than join the group (Strand, Madison, Alicia and Ofelia) to hopefully find a new, safer destination, Nick chooses to abandon his family altogether, declaring that Celia was right all along. They really were the monsters. As if recoiling from this realization, Nick leaves to an uncertain fate, the group divided with no clear sense of if/when they’ll be reunited. It’s one of the most impactful moves Fear the Walking Dead has made in its run so far, and it bodes well for the second half of season two, since we know the story will essentially be taking a different path. We’ll basically be following three separate sets of survivors (Team Strand, Travis/Chris, and Nick) and it’ll hopefully result in three separately compelling stories. But even if it doesn’t, I don’t think it diminishes “Shiva” as an engrossing hour of television, and the best episode of Fear the Walking Dead yet, in my opinion.
But what did you think of the Fear the Walking Dead Midseason Finale 2016, “Shiva”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on Fear the Walking Dead, read our review of last week’s penultimate episode, “Sicut Cervus”!