The die is cast! What began as a story about a dysfunctional blended family struggling to survive the undead apocalypse has become the story of the survival of the Clark family. The Manawa family (Liza, Chris, and now Travis) are gone. I am all for writers having the courage to take on major character deaths and shocking fans with the unexpected. Travis’ death, I fear, represents so much more than that. Travis’ death feels as if it was the moment #FearTheWalkingDead jumped the shark, an entire herd of sharks, and fell short. There are promises that we will learn the identity of the gunman taking Travis’ life (best guess: Ofelia). Worrying about “the reveal” plot point falls short of the implications or the loss of this particular character.
What I have always found interesting about the blended family is that that Manawa side often softened and humanized the Clark side. I have never been a fan of the Clark family, though saw that there was a necessary use for them. They were hard, unhappy, and narcissistic – made for survival in the new world. Alicia, the perennial understudy in her own life, was the most sympathetic and even she was too caught up in her own feelings. No scene exemplified Alicia’s inability to get out of her own head, and her own pain, than those of her disclosing identifying information to a voice over the radio. The voice belonged to a young man she didn’t know, but someone she reached out to in her loneliness and in the weariness of dealing with the constant drama between her mother and brother. He made her feel special and wanted. Her unreported disclosures nearly cost all of the survivors their lives as they first had to fight off her radio-love’s pirate crew, and again as they risked their lives, on Madison’s insistence, to rescue her from the hijacking gang.
It was easy for viewers with our own moody, sullen, emotional teens at home to immediately recognize how well-acted the character was – but (pre-Chris) we tuned her out for the sake of our own survival. Post-apocalypse, Chris appeared to be there to mirror Alicia’s teen angst and to help us see her as more insecure than narcissistic and angry. Chris’ later rage at her once again softened and humanized her, as a survivor. The girl with the physically present, emotionally absent, mother learned to stand up for herself. Alicia later transformed from a self-focused, obnoxious, teen to a young woman whose wisdom was hard won. She was again alone as the rest of her clan never changed. My interest in Alicia’s transformation increased as my interest in Maddie and Nick decreased exponentially. Scenes with Maddie and Nick became fast-forward material. Nick, equally as self-indulgent as his much younger, teen, sister, never found an appropriate coping strategy. He identified with the dead because he was one of them, in some ways. He was never fully socially connected to, or emotionally bonded with, those around him. He was a scavenger, a survivor, and saving himself was his first priority, even if he hurt others to do it.
Maddie is worse. On the surface she seems connected. In reality her connections are always about her needs. ]Nick’s addiction was at least, in part, explained by his worldview of always being alone and never wanting to deal with his life (as we learned in season 2). We have no real history for Maddie other than hints of a difficult childhood. We are left with a woman whose entire life centers around her needs, her desires – all others be damned. She is unable to parent Nick, given her need to control him. She is unable to parent Alicia, given her need to control Nick. She is unable to be a true partner to Travis, given her focus on her relationship with her son. She is unable to understand Chris’ inability to trust or love her, given the fact that her relationship with Travis is all about her son and not about encouraging Travis’ relationship with his own son. When Chris needed her most, Maddie wasn’t there for him. The rationale was supposed to be clear. She had to protect her children, most especially Alicia, against an emotionally and psychologically wounded Chris. The trouble with that argument is that we’ve seen her put Alicia’s life at risk to save Nick, time and again, no matter how bad things were or how great the risk was to everyone else. Nick had to be saved no matter who had to be sacrificed to make that happen. That brings us back to Travis.
Nick made a choice. He chose a new family, a new group, and abandoned his mother and sister in Mexico, during one of the most dangerous situations the family had yet faced. He was not concerned about whether they lived or died. He was finally happy while away from them For Nick, Madison’s greatest sin was that by destroying the Abigail estate, she had once again taken from him his place in the world. His departure gave the mother and daughter time to begin to heal. Travis’ own departure from the dysfunction of the Clark family, gave him the opportunity to put his son before Nick and the Clarks, for once. Travis finally realized how deeply affected his son had been by Liza’s death. Prior to Mexico and the Abigail estate, Travis’ focus on tracking Nick from drug den to repeated rehab stints made it almost impossible for him to really know Chris and what he needed. Think about how long it took him to realize that his motherless son not only lost the one person who always put him first, but he then lost his home, and everything else that gave him a sense of purpose and place in the world. By the time he finally made the choice to put Chris first, it was too late.
Chris’ death precipitated the return to normal we’d come to expect from Travis. His role, for as long as the show has aired, was to “contain” Madison, to protect her from her worst impulses and to humanize her as merely a mother fighting to save her son – even when she killed others, destroyed communities, and put her other loved ones at risk to make that happen. There was Travis, the voice of reason – even in deep stages of grief, taking Madison’s absurd and reckless impulses and giving them a moderating shape and form. They were free and clear of the hotel community. Travis, Alicia, and Maddie had the chance to start over and move forward. We knew it would never be enough for Maddie, though it was clear that a new start was what Alicia and Travis needed. Travis, who was still grieving the loss of his son, would again have to risk his life to help save Madison’s son. Alicia would also have to go along for the ride. The season premiere opens to the surviving members of the Clark-Manawa family being held captive. Madison’s plans to find Nick led to yet another risky capture. In the end, Madison, Nick and Alicia barely made it out alive. Travis? Dies. The bullet that takes his life is a reminder that not following Madison’s hare-brained search for Nick might have led to Travis being anywhere but on the helicopter, taking sniper fire.
I am out, dead fans. I have no doubt that Alicia will become the new Travis, in some ways. Her role will be to soften Madison and try to tamp down her reckless tendencies. Alicia will have to sacrifice herself for her mother, for Nick and Luciana, for the love of anything that will make her whole. I hope I am wrong, but I don’t plan to stick around and watch it happen. I am not channeling my inner Alicia 1.0, emotional and lost in my own feelings. I am a day one Walking Dead/Fear the Walking Dead fan and have come to accept difficult losses. Travis’ loss isn’t just about the loss of a major character, it is the figurative loss of the soul of the show. Hopefully the writers will find it, again, but until then…I’m out. I am counting on you continuing #FTWD fans to keep me updated.