So here it is: the episode that tells us why John (Garret Dillahunt) is looking for “Laura”, who we now know is/was Naomi (Jenna Elfman). Let’s not waste any time, okay?
A Day In the Life:
John has a solitary life and we start out with him cleaning those six-shooters, one of which he had when the audience first met him. He lives on a river–probably the Colorado–has water and power–we see a windmill and, I’m guessing, he cooks with propane–and he has a moat between his house and the river to stop zombies from getting from him when they wash up on shore. He watches old movies like Meet Joe Doe and The Road to Bali; he plays Scrabble and we see him going about his day collecting berries and cactus fruit thinking of all the word combinations he can make with his current letter selection. He has coffee but no sugar, so he flavors his coffee with a toffee.
He has it all.
Except for companionship.
Note: I have to point out one of the more humorous aspects of the episode is John waking up to his alarm clock triggering one of those talking bass singing Take Me To the River. Seriously, it was such a nice, small touch about John, that he enjoys just a touch of levity in his life, that speaks volumes about his character without telling us. Of course I had to get a screen cap of this clock, because why not?
RT: I loved the alarm clock — and the fact that, even in the zombie apocalypse, he still sets it!
CF: I think it all goes back the what he does during the day. He has chores, so he needs to stay on schedule. He doesn’t just do “stuff and things…”
RT: Which totally makes him a much better cop.
Then Comes a Visitor:
Then one night someone washes up on shore and it’s not a zombie and they are alive. We know it’s Naomi, but John knows nothing other than she’s alive and she’s hurt: she has a huge cut in her side, but at least it’s not a bite.
He manages to patch her up by giving her stitches, which makes him realize she’s either a doctor or a nurse (she admits to the later). John gives her a name: “Laura”. Why? ‘Cause she looks like a Laura. Of course, Naomi says nothing and goes along with his choice–as will I from this point out. He tells her she can stay as long as she likes, but Laura starts singing a well-known tune: as soon as she’s better she’s moving on.
RT: I wonder if Naomi is even her real name?
CF: I don’t know that we’ll ever know. I think it could be something completely different.
John has routine and part of that involves “shopping”, which is to say he heads off down the river in a canoe and gets supplies on Tuesday. Laura tags along and manages to discover John was a cop back in the day–as well as discovering the reasons for all the zombies floating down the river is due to the guardrail missing from a bridge. While they’re getting supplies John picks up a few movies while Laura sets aside all the things necessary for one to splint a broken bone because she wants to help. Before leaving they remove some tin panels and do their best to patch the open section of the bridge.
Not All That it Seems:
John sets up a privacy curtain for Laura so she can sleep in his bed and not be bothered: after all, John lives in a one-room shack and everything’s out in the open. She discovers that John hardly sleeps: he says he gets maybe a couple of hours of sleep each night. On one of these nights, she discovers him on his porch once again cleaning his prized pistols–which he never takes out of their box or shoots, so there’s really no need for more cleaning. (We have learned that John used to make extra money working a Wild West Show and he used the pistols for trick shooting.) One night while John is watching movies Laura sits by him on the sofa and tells him in an almost inaudible voice, “I lost my child”. Then she gets up and heads back to bed.
Note: Normally Laura’s confession would have led to a long talk between the two, but this is the only time there’s ever mention of the matter. Again, we learn a lot about the characters from a simple statement: “Laura” lost her child, probably to the zombie apocalypse, it’s scared her and she doesn’t want to talk about what happened. To me, it was one of the more powerful moments in the episode.
RT: I need to give the writers credit here for this episode. After watching it, I suspected my daughter would not be impressed with such a slow moving episode. She’s not a slow-burner fan like I am. However, she was riveted. And, I put it down to lines like this, where more is said by not being said.
Let Us Come Together:
Wanting something to do Laura asks John to show her how to fish and in time she not only catches one that they eat that night–along with the reminder that she can now use this skill when she leaves–but we see Laura becoming a part of John’s routine. She fishes and cleans them while John keeps the water tank full. They watch movies together. They play Scrabble. They enjoy each other’s company. And when more zombies appear on the river Laura suggests they move a car in front of the guardrail.
It’s during this moment when they begin attracting too many zombies and Laura tells John to shoot one that’s getting too close. (We’ve already seen John admonishing Laura for bringing one of his prized pistols, saying they cause too much trouble.) He has trouble getting close to the zombie as it comes through the driver side window because it’s got a machete sticking through its shoulder and Laura is now shouting to shoot it, SHOOT IT, and once John manages to get a knife in its skull he goes bat shit nuts and carves it up, splattering them both with blood.
The Untold Truth:
Laura’s pissed at John for not shooting the zombies: they were covered in blood and she knows people had died from getting it on them. Finally, John comes clean about why he doesn’t like to use a gun. One night he was coming back from the wild west show and walked in on a gas station robbery. He identified himself as a cop and tried to get the robber to surrender. The guy didn’t and John tried to wing him in the leg, because he was that good a shot. Unfortunately, the robber turned as John fired: the bullet went through the middle of the leg, the guy bleed out, and he died before the EMTs got there.
In the aftermath of the robbery, John found himself being lauded as a hero, but he didn’t feel that way. A real hero would have brought the bad guy down without killing him: that didn’t happen, so John doesn’t feel like a hero. And to avoid all the worship that comes with that moniker, John moved to the river and kept to himself.
And then it comes out: John doesn’t want Laura to leave because he loves her. He loves her so much he’ll leave and let her kept the cabin. Why? Because if he knows she’s alive, it makes the world feel alive.
Laura comes over to him and they grow close. They look into each other’s eyes. They kiss–
Come the next morning John wakes up alone. Laura’s not in the house. He sees that she’s taken the heavy boots he’s wanted her to wear from day one and leaves her sneakers. He surmises she’d taken one of his pistols, as he offered her one for when she was alone. But there’s something on the table, spelled out in Scrabble tiles:
Back to the Real World:
We see the Scrabble tiles in a tin that John shows to Morgan (Lennie James). John doesn’t know what to think any more. He wonders what’s right in the world with Laura leaving him like that. Morgan says they aren’t like the others, who think the way to live is to fight and kill and die. Which leads to this exchange:
(John) “Maybe they’re right.”
(Morgan) “Hey, you don’t believe that. Look me in the eyes and tell me you believe that and we can go our separate ways.”
(John) “I do not believe that. I do not.”
(Morgan) “We’re alive. We are part of the world. Let’s not waste another second.”
They get up and walk down the road together.
As they should.
Note: After watching this episode I told Rachel that she was gonna love this episode. I know I did. Why? Because it’s one of those moments of character development that you hardly ever get in either of the Walking Dead shows. Given what we knew of John we suspected he’d formed a bond with “Laura”, perhaps even loved her, and these suspicions were confirmed. And it didn’t happen over grand things: it happens over the course of fishing and cooking and shopping and Scrabble… it came from being alive.
RT: I am so glad they went with the love story rather than the creepy stalker one I was suspecting.
CF: Yeah, this could have turned creepy in a bad way in the hands of a lesser writer, but Anna Fishko did a fantastic job giving John real motivation over Laura, not some crazy-ass feeling about her that was never reciprocated.
I said when the season started I felt John was like one of those cowboys you saw in the movies, the ones who have a code of honor they never break, and John certainly lives up to that code. As for Naomi/Laura… you sense she’s hurt, she’s scared that whatever took her child will soon take others close to her, but as long as she keeps running it’ll never happen. And you know–you just know–she’ll either end up alone in the end, or she’ll stay somewhere with a group a little too long and die. Given what was said in the episode Buried, Naomi’s dead. But given the amount of bullshit being thrown around in the last episode, I’ll believe it when I see her body.
I love character-building episodes. I loved Laura. And during the ad breaks on AMC I wondered if we could ever seen an episode like this on The Walking Dead–and I came to the conclusion that we won’t. Rick and Co. are spoiled for me these days and they seem to have headed off down a path from which there is no redemption. I can’t remember the last time The Walking Dead had a good character building episode. These days the only character we see building is Rick’s, and it shows how much of an asshole he’s become in the last couple of years.
But Season 4 of Fear has, to me, reinvigorated the show. It’s about people–the good, the bad, and the ugly–but it’s presenting them as real people, not characters who are just stereotypes. Sure, John and Naomi played off well-known tropes, but they played them by their rules and it felt real. It made me get invested in the story and made the episode fly by.
Three episodes to go before we take a summer break. Let’s hope we seen the writing remain as good as it’s been up to this point. Because if it does, we’re in for one hell of a mid-season finale.
Next Week is the episode Just in Case, and the official synopsis tells us:
Strand wrestles with Madison’s decisions; things take an unexpected turn at the Stadium.
As always, leave a comment and tell us what you think!
John Dorie — Garret Dillahunt
Laura/Naomi — Jenna Elfman
Morgan Jones — Lennie James
Fear the Walking Dead airs Sunday on AMC, 9 PM EDT.