This review contains spoilers.
5.11 You’re Still Here
I think I finally understand what this season of Fear The Walking Dead is trying to accomplish with its many paeans to hope. And all it took was cynical newcomer Wes (Colby Hollman) to open my eyes. This is a stroke of genius on Fear’s part, meeting its own relentless optimism head on with someone whose cynical mantra is “People are people.” But more on Wes in a bit.
Written by Mallory Westfall and Alex Delyle and directed by K.C. Colwell, You’re Still Here marks a welcome return to form for the series. And by that I mean a renewed, fresh focus on the undead, positioning them more as scavengers, feasting on dead livestock while the living roll past seemingly unnoticed and unhindered. Impressively, five seasons in, Fear also still somehow delivers zombies we haven’t seen yet in either Walking Dead series. The zombie caught in the undergrowth trying to attack Alicia is suitably gory, tearing itself apart in its mindless quest to eat. The teargas zombie is also a notable entry in the undead canon. While I still think the fast, feral zombies of Netflix’s Black Summer are more terrifying, I appreciate that this episode remembers that unique zombies (and zombie kills) will create a lot of buzz (no pun intended).
But as we all know, Fear is still very much a drama. The writers lean very heavily into the human stakes by way of Wes, who we first met in Channel 4. If you’ll recall, Wes has become embroiled in Logan’s feud with Morgan’s crew of do-gooders, simply by sheer dint of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. He and his motorcycle are collateral damage in the battle for the mysterious oil fields.
As it turns out, Wes has his own score to settle, which is where Alicia and Strand come in, rolling up in time to lend him a hand. Helping people is what they do, after all, though Wes is having none of it. “People are people” is his way of explaining away the darker, more predictable side of human nature. Not that he’s a saint himself, bending the truth just enough to put the group’s good intentions to the test. In other words, Alicia and Strand are pawns, a means to someone else’s end. Plus, like Logan, Wes isn’t buying into the group’s feel-good mentality. He’s an effective audience surrogate in this way, reacting to the relentless altruism like any rational person would—with healthy cynicism. He doesn’t need healing, doesn’t want to be saved. Rather than inspire him, the tape has had the opposite effect on him. And it’s here that the episode really shines.
Wes doesn’t want to hear a relatable story, isn’t interested in being dragged into Alicia’s morality play. He simply wants what’s his, what was taken from him—without the constant preaching; for Wes, the time for that is over. Honestly, his pessimism is a breath of fresh air, especially this late in the season. Sometimes vinegar is better than honey. Sometimes you need someone to tell it like it is without mincing words. Anyone who has watched five seasons of this show has already heard their share of melodramatic monologues. Fear wins points for taking this trope and turning it on its head. By doing so, Fear allows Wes to steal Alicia’s thunder, to undercut her tendency to somehow make other people’s problems about her—something that hadn’t really occurred to me until this episode. The way Colby Hollman plays it, Wes is about speaking a particular kind of truth that cuts to the bone. “This is the way things are now,” he says at one point. “We shoot. We kill.”
This has broader context beyond Fear, of course. Gun violence runs rampant in the US. People die needlessly every day. But this isn’t Fear preaching so much as it is holding up a mirror to an angry society hell-bent on destroying itself. Whether you live in the apocalypse or not, death is inevitable. It just comes sooner for some people. Alicia doesn’t want to be part of the problem. She’s hell-bent on moving the needle away from all the wanton destruction.
Which is where this episode scores points again, teasing viewers with the possibility that maybe it’s Madison who’s painting those inspiring messages on the trees. If Daniel could seemingly survive a dam collapse, why couldn’t Madison have gotten out of the stadium? After dangling this possibility, the episode subverts expectations by revealing Wes as the mystery tree artist. Obviously, this twist sheds a whole new light on the fleeting nature of hope, and how chasing it can be a burden to those who need it the most.
Of course, there’s more to this episode than Wes—he’s just the most compelling part. Logan (Matt Frewer) and his crew continue to be the requisite flies in the ointment, turning up at inopportune times to remind Morgan that there are still bad people in the world. Which is a disappointment, given how the episode has successfully endeavoured to upend the very tropes that tend to bog down Walking Dead storylines.
Toward the end of You’re Still Here, Wes damns Alicia and her saviour complex with faint praise when he says with great regret, “You made me care.” When it comes to season five of Fear itself, truer words have never been spoken.