Picking up exactly where the last episode left off, “The Dog” begins with Travis and Madison separated and both under siege: Madison and her children trying to maintain some sense of normalcy with a game of Monopoly – its flimsy paper play money now seemingly just as valuable as the kind that comes from the U.S. Mint – while undead neighbors scratch at the door and eventually eat the dog; and Travis and his ex-wife and son, still holed up with the Salazar family in their barber shop, forced to make a break for it when the storefront next door catches fire. Griselda, the barber’s wife, gets her foot crushed in the escape, prompting a trip to the nearest hospital that fills in a blank or two about how Rick Grimes wound up abandoned in an Atlanta hospital back in The Walking Dead pilot.
Even as our horrified heroes watch the mounting evidence that Things Are Different Now – a cop eating another cop in the street, for example – they continue to hold out hope that The Authorities are going to get things under control and restore normalcy. You know the rules: Loser puts away the game. Even after killing the undead neighbor who just ate the family dog, Travis puts the blanket he used to move his body into the trash can and drags it out to the curb for collection.
One of the most interesting things about these first three episodes of Fear the Walking Dead has been the way it plays with audience expectations, and what we know (or think we know) about how things are going to go, since we’ve already seen the aftermath. This episode was the most effective yet in that department, leading us to assume that Los Angeles' descent into chaos was total and irreversible, and that the combined Clark-Manawa-Salazar clans would be heading into the desert.
But then, unexpected signs that Hope was not entirely inappropriate: The sight of a passenger jetliner overhead, and another, not undead neighbor dragging out his garbage – who knows what he might be tossing? – followed by the arrival of the U.S. military on a house-to-house sweep of the neighborhood. We may know how this battle is going to end, but it’s not at all clear how exactly it will play out, which is the best sign we could ask for at this point.
Noel Murray of Rolling Stone is grateful that the episode didn’t fall into the same trap as the original series:
You know the old advice that good stories should send their heroes up a tree in the first act and then throw rocks at them in the second? To wit: The Walking Dead has usually been a lot better at treeing than stoning. Just think of all the time that show’s second season wasted on the farm, or at the prison during Season Three. So, so many un-thrown rocks. Given that history, there was maybe just a little cause for concern when Fear the Walking Dead’s second episode ended with Madison Clark holed-up in the ‘burbs with her son Nick and daughter Alicia, while her boyfriend Travis Manawa was stuck in a riot-zone in downtown Los Angeles. It really wouldn’t have been off-model for this spin-off to spend the next several chapters dividing time between a barricaded barbershop and a tasteful ranch house. Instead, this week’s episode — “The Dog” — gets everybody moving, early and often. (The title refers to the neighbor’s pet who comes scratching at the Clarks’ door, in one of the episode’s most nerve-wracking and ultimately bittersweet scenes.) Even before the opening credits, Travis is forced to flee into the streets with his ex-wife Lisa, their son Chris, and their reluctant host Daniel Salazar; the barbershop’s windows and doors may be secure, but that won’t stop rioters from breaking into the store next door and setting it on fire. There’s no safe shelter when the whole city’s burning.
The A.V. Club’s Josh Modell points out that while Travis and Madison are together, they’re not exactly united:
Madison knows the danger of the walkers, and she accepts that they’re too far gone to save. Travis, almost unbelievably, is still clinging to a notion that pacifism might be an option here—he’ll cling to humanity, at least for a while. Daniel is so deep into the zombie apocalypse in his mind that he’s preparing for the worst, even as he has no hope. (The episode’s last line, “It’s already too late,” was nicely chilling.) The kids are still the stupid fucking kids, and let’s all pray that this series doesn’t consist of ten seasons of Nick scrounging around methadone clinics while everyone else hoards canned peaches and ammunition. Chris is a whiner, and Alicia is worried about her walker boyfriend. (Trust me, Alicia, zombie-human relationships don’t work.)
Jeremy Egner of the New York Times follows on:
The challenge of letting go of the old ways is a core theme of Fear the Walking Dead, as the fictional Angelenos try to adapt to the swift, unexplained collapse of order and normal human behavior. Sunday’s episode was especially thick with the weight of history, an anchor that, amid cataclysmic upheaval, can leave people vulnerable to ghastly fates. Though we got glimpses of practices that we know as standard operating procedure in The Walking Dead — strangers coming together to form makeshift families, say — Sunday was largely about people straining against the new changes demanded of them. For Travis the humanist, that translated as a refusal to recognize the inhumanity of the walkers, something you think would’ve sunk in after he watched Nick run over Calvin a few times without killing him. For Daniel, haunted or perhaps demented by his experiences in what I’m guessing was the Salvadoran Civil War (more on that in a minute), it was a stubbornness to embrace the safety-in-numbers strategy that will come in handy later. For Nick, it was a failure to accept that a zombie apocalypse is no place for junkies. For Chris, it was a failure to accept that it’s no place for crybabies, either. That said, they all deserve a break for now — only a few days have passed in the world of the show. If everything was fine on Monday and then my friend tried to eat me on Wednesday, I’d probably be pretty whiny, too. As Tobias the wise nerd once noted, when society collapses, it collapses fast. And while our civic structures can seem rock solid, The Walking Dead franchise wants us to ponder whether they’re flimsier than we believe.
And the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Vigna defends some of the characters' more questionable behavior:
What’s really fascinating is that the Los Angeles being portrayed is halfway between the world it’s always been, and the circle of hell it’s about to become. People are still putting their garbage at the curb. A husband rents a car and drives back from a business trip because his flight was canceled (only to find the love of his life a flesh-eating corpse). Some planes are still flying, though the one that Nick sees overhead looks like it’s about to crash. The birthday-party tent across the street is still in the front yard, albeit deflated – and smeared with blood. This is the moment this show was created to portray, the last days of society, before the world is turned over to the zombies, Governors, Negans, and Rick Grimeses of the world. Now, there’s an aspect of the way the characters are portrayed that isn’t really accurate, but the writers don’t actually have much of a choice. Consider a world where this is really happening. People are really dying and coming back as violent, reanimated corpses. Everything is collapsing. The Army is shooting civilians. People you know are dying, and coming back, to attack you. You wouldn’t say, “let’s go to the desert,” or “we’ll leave in the morning.” You’d say, well, you probably wouldn’t say anything, you’d be too busy screaming. To actually show people living through this vision of hell, you’d have to show people losing their minds, and fast, while the world crumbled around them. The quick and the dumb would die in equal numbers. The smart wouldn’t have any better odds than the slow, and the ones who did survive would be so mentally deranged that you’d be left with a sixty-minute show of people curled up in a fetal position, babbling incoherently. Everybody likes to think they’d be Rick Grimes. Most of us would be lucky to be Crazy Clara.
All three episodes of Fear the Walking Dead are available On Demand; the next new episode airs at 9pm ET Sunday on AMC.