Sixteen-year-old Chris Manua is slowly unravelling and his father, Travis, cannot seem to stop it, seemingly blamed by his son for his mother’s death by his hand (she had been bitten and was going to zombify if he didn’t put a bullet in her brain). The retrieval of her body from the beach in LA and her funeral at sea open Season 2 of the AMC series Fear the Walking Dead.
We see how attitudes towards dying and the dead divide the characters at the villa in Baja California, and the events at that place break the group. Chris Manua heads off into the landscape, keen to escape his father and his step-family (Nick, Alicia and Madison Clark). However, Travis follows him, confronts him, and together they head out in search of somehwere safe. Key to this is the divided loyalties of Travis, who felt he had to take care of his son away from other people to whom he might cause harm. Thus, he leaves behind Madison and her children. However, once they hitch up with James, Derek and Brandon, three US white teenage idiots from San Diego who are slaying and pillaging their way through the Mexican landscape heading home, Chris finds a way of finally leaving his father, latching on to individuals he regards naively as ‘strong’ in this new world because they will what others won’t.
The young men attempt to get back to San Diego even though Travis tries to explain that the city is ‘gone’: destroyed by the US military in an attempt to control the spread of the virus. In the north Mexican landscape, they arrive at a farm. A series of graves have been freshly dug outside the farmhouse beside the track, clearly recently.
Deserted at first glance, they look around and try to capture chickens in the barn. At this point, however, they are confronted by the sole survivor of the Suarez family whom own the farm (we later learn is called Elias). He raises his gun to them, demanding that they leave. Travis tries to mediate matters, but when James breaks one of the chicken’s necks in defiance at Elias, the farmer shoots James in the leg. Chris doesn’t hesitate in firing back with his pistol, slaying the farmer. Subsequently, Chris shows no remorse for his act, to the horror of Travis. Chris is completely uninterested in the identity of his victim and won’t participate in the burial of the man.
Travis is left alone to bury Elias next to his family, mimicking the style of wooden cross and the inscription of his name which he retrieves from effects in the farmhouse. The act of grave-digging, cross-making and mourning define Travis as still ‘civilized’ and the failure of the young men to participate marks them as ‘lost’ to barbarity: lacking compassion or any moral compass.
But it doesn’t end there, for James’ gunshot wound festers and he cannot leave the farm, despite their attempt. Suspecting the others want to kill James, Travis ends up defending the boy from Derek, Brandon and Chris’s aspirations to euthanase their friend in order to move on. However, tricked by Chris, Travis is overpowdered and James is slain. Again, Travis alone digs a grave and creates a new cross within the same row as the Suarez family.
Through his participation in death-dealing and honouring the family and James, Travis is ‘saved’ in the eyes of viewers: he won’t turn his back on his humanity articulated through his care for the dead as individuals. In contrast, Chris’s descent into amorality and his divorce from his father’s influence are both manifested in his disregard for the dead. The farm and its graves materialise this transition for both Travis and Chris, marking their separation as Chris leaves with Derek and Brandon, with Travis left behind alone with the graves of the dead beside the track approaching the farm.
Again, we are shown the centrality of mourning and mortuary practice in defining what it means to be human in this fictional apocalyptic horror series.