In ‘Buried’, episode 4 of season 4 of Fear the Walking Dead, the combined two groups (Al, John Dorie and Morgan, and Strand, Luciana and Alicia) head for a specific location to bury one of their own: Nick.
At night, in the light of the armoured vehicle’s headlights, Alicia, Luciana and Strand dig while the others watch. The assumption is they are grave-digging together for their former comrade, Strand’s friend, Luciana’s lover and Alicia’s brother.
However, we learn to Al, John and Morgan’s dismay that they are not digging a grave at all. Instead, they are uncovering an arms cache with which to continue their revenge against The Vultures who were responsible for the stadium’s destruction and many deaths.
Once the weapons are retrieved, Morgan has to prompt them, reminding them regarding what they should do with Nick’s body: ‘you aren’t going to just bury him by the side of the road.’ It is stated as part-question, part-command.
Alicia thinks and says: ‘we’ll bury him here.’ Morgan’s expression is difficult to read, does he approve of the makeshift nature of the burial, or disapprove still of their seemingly callous disregard for Nick’s burial location?
We don’t see the burial itself, but we join the scene of the survivors standing over the grave. Strand, Luciana and Alicia stand closest, articulating their affinity to Nick. The others stand respectfully back from the grave.
Luciana walks forward and touches the soil of the grave by way of saying farewell and walks away. But then Morgan approaches and rests the blue flower Nick had when he died on it. We pan back and realise that the grave is marked by an old tree: the locational logic that made the cache rediscoverable was the same marker than will honour Nick’s burial place: an old tree.
There are three points of archaeological interest here.
- Building on the tradition of Eastman, Morgan wishes to treat the dead and the undead with respectful intermet alike, where possible. Yet Strand, Luciana and Alicia’s path hasn’t led them to a respectful treatment of loved ones. Only with Thomas Abigail, and for him grave-digging had a special place for Strand, have we seen a respectful inhumation burial. Travis is dead, and with him died the desire to honour and respect the dead. Revenge takes priority for Alicia, Luciana and Strand. They seem unable to process Nick’s death and consider how to dispose of him. Only a stranger, Morgan’s, intervention prompts them to do the bare minimum: reuse the empty cache as a grave. In many cultures strangers to the dead have a special role in funerary ritual: here it is in providing guidance and a sense of expectation, rather than fulfilling specific obligations and rites.
- The burial place harbours a life-history. The cache becomes a grave. Yet while seemingly prosaic in this act of reuse, the site acquires significance again. I suspect the same locational strategy that made the cache rediscoverable makes it a striking landmark for a grave. Rather than a weapon grave, it is a weaponless grave, situated where weapons had once lain. The place has a biography of deposition, retrieval and then deposition again.
- The cache site is readily located close to the tree. By happenstance Nick is afforded a respectful burial in a tranquil, beautiful and memorable spot.