‘Fear the Walking Dead’ Season 4 Returns With Approaching Storms and Hard Decisions

Season 4 of AMC’s “Fear the Walking Dead” begins its mid-season march right where it should, amid apocalyptic despair and approaching storm clouds (literally). The walkers are being washed down river streams and lashed by incoming winds as the survivors are trying to figure out which roads to follow in order to survive. After a very active season featuring deaths and discoveries, this midpoint pick up is serene and minimalist, almost like a small break from the gut-wrenching suspense.

As walkers stalk the land the main characters are all in their own, separate but inter-linked corners. Strand (Colman Domingo) and Luciana (Danay Garcia) are still barricaded inside an abandoned mansion. Luciana sits in a daze playing records, trying to block out the chaotic world around her, while Strand drinks and rants. Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) is keeping watch by the house’s fencing, purposefully attracting walkers to stab and impale them before searching their clothing for any valuables. Elsewhere John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) recovers from his wounds sustained two episodes ago, while June (Jenna Elfman) watches over him in the small space they’ve carved out for themselves amongst abandoned items. They are also keeping watch over Charlie (Alexa Nisenson), who killed Nick (Frank Dillane). Althea (Maggie Grace) is still moving around with her heavily-armed truck, getting video and collecting evidence of everything that’s happening. But the character who becomes the true focus here is Morgan (Lennie James), who has decided it’s time to head back home to Alexandria, Virginia and find his old friend Rick. Morgan tries to convince the others to come with him, but only Althea agrees to tag along. As they prepare to get moving a giant storm is approaching, lashing at everyone with rain and wind which can only make the standoff with the zombies harder to bare.

After a first half of deaths and near misses, the second half of season four is all about these characters now assessing their situation and attempting to make careful choices. “Fear the Walking Dead,” like its predecessor, “The Walking Dead,” always manages to find the deeper drama within the blood, gore and terror of zombie warfare. In a way it’s like good, classic post-apocalyptic literature where the big scares are just decoration for deeper themes. In this episode human relationships become much more important than the contorted, snarling zombies. Morgan tries to get John and June to leave this apocalyptic landscape and try to find something better with him. But John makes it clear that he wants to take June and Charlie back to his cabin and start over. Simple yet eloquent dreams amid the end of the world. Morgan himself doesn’t want to return to Alexandria because of any macho heroics, he just wants to find Rick and tell his friend he was right all along. This is key because now “Fear the Walking Dead” begins to slowly move closer to bridging with “The Walking Dead,” binding both story arcs in a way that nicely expands the universe of these shows. Now that Morgan has crossed the United States on his quest, he feels as if now he is coming full circle. Other characters like Strand and Luciana here become the typical, nihilistic personas you find in catastrophes. They decide to just drink and listen to some tunes, hoping they won’t have to feel the real pain of everything happening beyond the mansion. But when a zombie makes its way in, it’s a startling reminder that you can’t block away the real world for too long.

Small but interesting new developments are also used in this episode to add new layers of mystery. Alicia begins finding strange notes tagged to some of the zombies reading, “Help.” She is determined to find out who has been writing these messages, in part because she knows her mother would have done the same. Fans of the show will surely smile at such small flourishes. The relationship between John, June and Charlie also takes on interesting forms as John tries to get close to the child, but Charlie eventually finds a way to run and sneak into the mansion, of course Strand flips out and tries to grab her, just as the storm approaches outside. Other questions remain essential however. Does John truly love June, or her other identity, “Laura?” Can Morgan and Althea make it through the growing storm even as it tosses zombies right into their path? There’s still quite a few episodes left to find out.

This episode is passive, but not devoid of some classic moments involving the walking dead. There’s almost a haunting quality to the image of cavorting zombies floating down a river, and Alicia knows how to chop them up real good. The best scene involves the zombie who breaks into the mansion where Strand and Luciana are hanging out, creeping up on them as they are too distracted getting drunk and listening to music. When Strand realizes what’s happening he uses his wine glass for protection. This show never forgets its genre despite all the human drama. If it is any indication, fans of the “Walking Dead” shows will still find plenty to munch on as season four of “Fear the Walking Dead” carries on.

The second half of “Fear the Walking Dead” season four premieres Aug. 12 and airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.