Zombie rock climbers? That’s a new one. Fear the Walking Dead sets aside most of the main cast this week to finally tell us what happened to Althea (Maggie Grace). The answer is surprisingly interesting, even if you don’t typically care about the character.
Believe me, I’d understand if you don’t care about Althea. She’s rarely given much to do on the show, except pretend to be a badass while constantly fretting about her video camera and collection of tapes, often putting her life in danger for fruitless reasons. Even the setup for her kidnapping was kind of dumb. Against everyone else’s pleading and against common sense, Al returned to the scene of the airplane crash in the middle of the night to hunt for another “story” that she has no audience to ever tell, only to get tazed by someone who snuck up behind her.
In flashback, Al wakes up in the woods and sees her masked assailant burning corpses. She grabs her camera and runs. The assailant eventually catches up and we learn that a woman (Sydney Lemmon) is under the body armor. She demands Al’s camera and tape, but Al hid the tape and won’t tell her where it is.
The unnamed kidnapper locks Al in a car surrounded by a barb wire fence. Using some ingenuity, Al lures a random zombie toward her in order to snag a piece of the fence and use it to cut herself free. Nearby, she finds a helicopter hidden beneath a cover of bushes and branches. Sadly, it won’t start. She tries to use the radio to contact her friends, but instead hears a voice call for “Ground 17” and ask, “Is the payload secure?” The woman comes up behind Al with a pistol. She takes the radio and responds that the chopper is out of fuel and her partner has died. She needs 72 hours to refuel. The voice on the other end ominously says that a “reclamation team” will be dispatched. Whatever that is, the woman does not look happy about it.
Al still refuses to give up her tape, and tries to get the woman to tell her story, to no avail. The woman drags her along on a quest to reach a fuel drop point on top of a nearby mountain. Al sarcastically names her “Happy.” They begin to grudgingly bond.
On the way, they lose their car to a rockslide. The woman finds a hidden compartment in Al’s bag, with a tape inside labeled “The Bog.” Al insists that it’s not the one she’s looking for. The woman watches it and sees a recording of Al in the middle of a war zone between military forces failing to stem the zombie tide. The tape was a goodbye message to her brother, but she never got to deliver it. Now it’s all she has to remember him by.
At the base of the mountain, they find an abandoned car loaded with climbing gear. They set up a tent suspended from a tree to bed down for the night, then begin their ascent the next morning.
On the way up, a zombified climber dangling from a rope claws at them, and they have to work their way around it. Happy falls, but Al saves her, and the two slowly learn to trust each other. When they reach the summit, Happy finally gives up a few details of what she’s doing. Without being too specific, she says that the organization she works for is very dangerous and ruthless, but that they’re going to restore order and rebuild the world. She was on a mission to obtain supplies for water purification when her chopper ran out of fuel. Her partner lost his shit and she had to kill him. If the reclamation team gets to them first, it’s bad news for Althea, and probably for Happy too. She begs Al to give her the tape. Whatever the project is, keeping it a secret is of the utmost importance.
After they gather a couple cans of gas, Al relents and agrees to take the woman back to find the tape. She stashed it on a zombie trapped along a river bank. Happy immediately burns it, then pulls her gun on Al again. Al seems resigned to die now, but Happy can’t go through with it. She tells Al that her name is Isabelle, and asks her not to chase this story. They have a moment and kiss before going their separate ways. Isabelle returns to the chopper and radios her base that she has refueled and is ready to return. She says that the payload is secure and she had no complications. She doesn’t mention anything about Al. To her relief, the voice on the other end announces that the reclamation team will be called off.
As the helicopter takes off, Al reaches Morgan on her walkie-talkie. He, Alicia, and the kids form the summer camp are near her location. They meet up and ask if she knows what the deal is with the helicopter. Al lies and says that she’s just as clueless about it as they are. She makes up a story about being attacked by zombies and wandering through the woods alone for a couple days, never running into anyone else until now.
When Morgan and Alicia turn to leave, Al suddenly blurts out that her last name is Szewczek-Przygocki. Her parents were both Polish and insisted on hyphenating. They think it’s pretty weird that she felt the need to tell them this out of the blue, but Al seems relieved, even happy, to get such a mundane detail off her chest. It’s time for the woman obsessed with getting everyone else’s story to stop being so secretive about her own.
Some of the details of the plotting are a little too convenient (Al just happens to be an experienced rock climber, for example), and I don’t buy the sudden romance at the end, but otherwise this is an unexpectedly compelling episode with some good character work from a character I don’t usually give much thought to.
The introduction of Isabelle’s mysterious organization could potentially be a very interesting development for this series, if not the whole Walking Dead universe. Up to now, we’ve never had any sort of truly organized effort to “fix” the world and restore normalcy. If that becomes a major story direction, it could take us some more interesting places than the usual day-to-day struggle for survival and squabbling between groups of survivors. On the other hand, I wouldn’t put it past this show to botch it, either. For now, I’m cautiously optimistic.